The Zouave Drum Major

In the previous two posts, I discussed Oliver’s references to the “Zouave Drum Major” which left me a bit puzzled. At first glance, it appeared that this “drum major” might have been connected with the 9th New York known as “Hawkins’ Zouaves.” However, after more research, I’ve discovered another New York Zouave Regiment that fits with the description given by Oliver in some of his letters of November/December 1861.

In those letters, Oliver makes mention of a regiment of Zouaves at Annapolis that is a rowdy bunch of troublemakers. Although I have not blogged on these references, in his letter of November 28, 1861 Oliver writes:

It has been rumored that we shall spend the winter here but the last rumor is that the 51st N.Y. is the one to be left. If they stay, I guess the citizens will get enough of the soldiers before winter is over for they are the hardest set of boys that encamp here (not excepting the zouaves which are bad enough in a conscience [word unclear]).

The 51st NY was known for its fondness for alcohol, but the Zouave regiment referenced here by Oliver is likely the 53rd New York Infantry.

The 53rd New York Infantry was organized at organized at New York City August 27 to November 15, 1861. The regiment left New York bound for Washington, D. C. on the 18th of November 1861, but apparently never made it there and continued on to Annapolis which is where Oliver Case first encountered them. The regiment was known as D’Epineuil’s Zouaves after their commanding officer, Colonel Lionel Jobert D’Epineuil, a Frenchman with a colorful story put forward in the interest of self-promotion, but lacking in truthfulness. D’Epineuil claimed to have served in the French army for 17 years prior to his recent arrival in America. However, it appears that he never served a day in the French army, but possibly had some limited service in the French naval forces. 

The colonel seems to have struggled to fill the regiment with Frenchmen from New York, but vigorously defended his efforts to the New York Times in a letter published October 9, 1861. Due to his lack of success in finding a large number of French recruits, D’Epineuil signed up many recruits from various ethnic groups in New York City including one company of Tuscarora Indians from upstate New York.

In outward appearance, the Zouaves were impressive sporting one of the most colorful versions of the Zouave uniform. In demeanor and bearing, the officers and soldiers of the 53rd seemed to have been undisciplined and insubordinate. It all started at the top. Colonel D’Epineuil appears to have known little to nothing about command of a regiment and was described by one of his officers as “a gentleman, but no officer and knew nothing of military matters.” Although many of the officers and soldiers fought with Burnside’s Expedition in battle of Roanoke Island in early February 1862, the commanding officer lost all control of his command creating a situation so bad that General McClellan finally published Special Order No. 42 to disband the regiment on February 26, 1862.

So what about Oliver’s drum major who died aboard the hospital ship on January 18, 1862? Although I have been unable to confirm his identity with a complete roster for the 53rd, I believe he may have been Victor Dubigney who is often listed a Band Master or Chief Musician. Two other individuals listed as drum majors don’t seem to fit the description for various reasons. I would appreciate assistance from anyone with more complete info on this individual or the D’Epineuil’s Zouaves.

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2 thoughts on “The Zouave Drum Major

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your interest in Oliver’s experiences, even though you are not related. I have just recently started digging through my family history, and started with the Civil War veterans figuring they would be easiest to follow. Oliver is quite the distant relative, but due to his death on the battlefield, I feel he deserves the effort required. Thank you again for sharing him with me.

    • Steven,
      Thank you so much for the encouragement. I like to think that my dedication to tell his story is driven by the bond between Soldiers, he for one year and me for 25 years. I welcome your comments at anytime in the future. Thanks again.
      JP Rogers

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