Most reenacting groups portray the traditional confederate or union soldiers in the western theater. Through this portrayal, the public sees soldiers wearing the traditional jean wool materials of the southern Army, or the dark union blue jacket with light blue kersey trousers. In an attempt to broaden the knowledge of people about units who fought in the western theater, the 9th Texas decided to develop a zouave impression based on the 165th New York State militia. These soldiers, commonly referred to as Zouaves, wore brightly colored uniforms. When the subject of Zouaves is discussed, most people think of them as being in either the eastern theater, or members of Wheat's Tigers from Louisiana. The 165th New York fought in various battles throughout the southern region. Their bright red trousers, turbans, and short, dark blue jackets were distinctively recognized on the battlefield. We pride ourselves on being able to field a minimum of two companies (at least 60 rifles) at a given event. Whether you visit us at Port Hudson, Louisiana in the Spring, or at Liendo Plantation near Hempsted, Texas in the Fall, you will see a brightly clad unit, versus the traditional blue/gray uniforms found at most events.
The 165th New York Regiment, 2nd Battalion Duryea's Zouaves; Smith's Zouaves
Part 1: Facts and Figures
By 1st Sgt. Jeff Gibbs; Co. F, 9th Texas Infantry, RRB
In 1862, Colonel Harmon D. Hull received authority to raise a regiment for a service of nine months. This term of service was soon changed to three years, and the regiment received its numerical designation of the 165th New York on November 29, 1862. At this time six companies were recruited; A, C, D, and E from New York City, B from New York and Jamaica, and F from New York City and Brooklyn. They were mustered into service during the months of August to December 1862. In March of 1864, Companies G, H, K, and I were organized from New York City and Long Island, but upon joining the battalion in the field they were at once consolidated with the six original companies. Originally they were mustered and drilled at Camp Washington on Staten Island.
The battalion was led by Lt. Col. Abel Smith Jr. when it left the state for New Orleans on December 2, 1862. Upon arrival it was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Sherman's Division, Department of the Gulf. In March of 1863, it was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 19th Corps. In July 1863 it was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 19th Corps. In January 1864 it was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division. 19th Corps. In March of 1865 it would become the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, Army of the Shenandoah. In April 1865, it was involved in the defenses of Washington. In June 1865, it was assigned to the 3rd Division, Department of the South. On September 1, 1865, under Major William W. Stephenson, it was honorably discharged and mustered out at Charleston, S.C. During its service the regiment lost by death: 1 officer and 36 enlisted killed in action; 1 officer and 15 enlisted by wounds received in action; 2 officers and 79 enlisted of disease and other causes; and 18 in the hands of the enemy. 70 men were reported missing and presumed captured. Approximate total casualties number 222-233 aggregate, depending on the source records.
The regiment's first payroll recorded 561 men on its roster. In March 1863, 409 recruits were added to make a total of 970 men on its roster. On September 1, 1865, 375 were mustered out.
Engagements (1863 - 1865)
Samples of General Orders
Transport Merrimac, Jan 4, 1863
Make ready to leave ship with complete clean uniform. Turban will be neatly folded; sash worn tight around body at its full width, the blue edge showing at top and bottom; belt buckled over sash. Knapsacks packed with overcoat rolled on top; the woolen blanket folded (inside of the rubber one, black side out) square with the knapsack.
G.O. #8 Jan 12, 1863
Immediately after evening parade all turbans and white leggings will be taken off and not put on again till the next morning. They will be placed in the knapsack: at all times all effects of the men will be placed in the knapsack, the knapsack packed and strapped ready for marching. In case a Company is ordered to parade after dark - at first alarm will instantly roll their blankets and ponchos, sling knapsacks, and take their places in the ranks without confusion. Overcoats to be worn on all occasions after retreat.
G.O. #18 Feb. 27, 1863
Regiment will parade tomorrow in full uniform: white turbans, leggings, and white gloves; knapsacks packed with only woolen blankets and ponchos; haversacks and canteens to be worn.
G.O. #29 March 20, 1863
From after this date the enlisted men of the regiment will be required by their company commander to bathe at least once a week. One company each day will be excused from drill and will go to bath at 4pm.
The Regimental Mascot
Tommy was a New York dog that inspired the men of the 165th. He is described as a "cur" that jumped on board the steamer Merrimac when she shoved off. He was simply a firm, compact fat little dog, with a sleek brown hide, who looked capable of undergoing considerable fatigue after a little training, but nothing about him to indicate the wonderful staying qualities and devotion afterward exhibited. He was devoted to the enlisted men, and never let an officer pet him; this was the cause of considerable amusement to the camp. He would drill each day with a different company and was always at the head. He was taken to Baton Rough shortly before the end of Port Hudson with some casualties. Five months passed and the hope that Tommy would ever come back was lost, when one day, to the astonishment and delight of the men, he returned. He had found his way on a boat and crossed the country on foot to be reunited with his men in Franklin. He was present in all of the engagements, except the Sabine River Campaign. He displayed every sign of fear and anxiety, but never deserted his post. At Pleasant Hill he was wounded, when a bullet took off the end of his tail. Tommy is noted, as having good judgment and he would hide behind the biggest object during lively musketry business. He made half a dozen trips to sea, traveled hundreds of miles by foot, river, and rail. When the war ended, Tommy, along with his men of the 165th, was discharged with papers noting meritorious service and he was officially recognized. When he landed back in New York, he ran off wagging his tail.
The 165th New York Regiment, Second Battalion Duryea's Zouaves; Smith's Zouaves
Part 2: The 165thNY Zouaves at the Battle of Port Hudson
By 1st Sgt. Jeff Gibbs; Co. F, 9th Texas Infantry, RRB
Why Port Hudson?
When the Civil War started in April 1861, both armies made controlling the Mississippi River a major part of their strategy. The Confederacy wanted to continue using the river to transport supplies. The Union wanted full control of the river to split the Confederacy in two, as well as thwarting the South's goal of a transportation highway. The stretch of river between Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana, was vitally important to the South because it's close proximity to the mouth of the Red River. This was the South's primary water route moving supplies East and West. In the spring of 1862, the Union took control of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee. It then set its sights on both Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Major Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began operations against Vicksburg in May of 1863. At the same time, Major Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks moved his forces against Port Hudson, Louisiana.
Port Hudson is situated on the Mississippi River north of Baton Rough. The fortifications are built upon an 80-foot bluff that is surrounded by ravines some 60 feet deep in areas. The area is heavily wooded with pine, oak, and magnolia, and many streams cut through its swampy area. Its major military advantage, as well as its geological and reason for being, is that the Mississippi River severely bends at this point, almost upon itself, making navigation slow and difficult, and defense very easy. Because of this military advantage the siege of Port Hudson lasted for 48 days.
The 165th NY Zouaves Role in the Assault
The 165th NY left Baton Rough on the morning of May 21, 1863, along with the rest of the Union Army, under the command of Gen. Banks. Their orders were to move north and strike at Port Hudson. It was at this time they were ordered to leave knapsacks and surplus baggage. These items were to be brought up on a transport ship in a few days. Unfortunately for the Zouaves, this never happened. They would spend the next 50 days in the clothes they stood in; along with overcoats, rubber blankets, haversacks, and canteens, before they were re-supplied.
Late in the afternoon of May 21, the 165th had its first skirmish with Confederates at Plain Store. On May 24, the 165th occupied camps deserted by the enemy. They stayed "down" in the trenches in the camp until the 27th, because Admiral Farragut's fleet was arcing shells and rockets over the 165th's heads, and into enemy fortifications. In these same trenches they were attacked by wood ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, ants, gnats and all sorts of biting insects.
At 9a.m. on the 27th, the 165th lead the brigade assault on the fortifications. Advancing, they came to a clearing that had trees toppled for hundreds of yards in all directions. The trees were toppled off their trunks, trunks cut low to the ground, and tops removed or burnt. They were ordered to discharge their pieces and advance through the fallen trees. As soon as the Zouaves got into the trees a horrible cannonade of grape and musket fire opened up. The men were mowed down. Hardly a man had a descent pair of trousers after going over all the trees. It was here that Colonel Abel Smith was wounded, and died on June 24th. Capt. Felix Agnus immediately took command. The 165th fell back as best they could; but were given no support from any other infantry. Later in the afternoon, the Confederates came out to take prisoners from the wounded, but 165th skirmishers kept them from occupying the whole field. The 165th had been repulsed with terrible slaughter. Their overcoats and blankets had been left in the woods and they were unable to get back to them the first night. On May 28, a flag of truce was presented by the Zouaves in order to gather wounded and bury the dead. The regimental losses in their first action were killed and wounded seven officers and 85 enlisted. Another 12 unaccounted for presumed captured.
On May 29, it rained hard and the men had still not found their overcoats or blankets. On May 31, sick and wounded were shipped to Baton Rough and New Orleans. The early part of June was spent on picket, guarding Negro workers as they lay trenches toward the enemy's works. On June 13, naval bombardment began again. At 2a.m. on June 14, the 165th left camp with canteens only, and ammo stuffed into pockets. They advanced from stump to stump on hands and knees. The assault proved a failure and they were pinned down with great loss of life and no water until the 15th. They went 32 hours without food or water. It was decided on the 15th to starve Port Hudson into submission.
The hot humid air and swampy still water made it difficult to obtain fresh drinking water. Water would be fetched up from the Mississippi when possible. Rations were available from with the navy just off in the river, but difficult to cook with the rain and rotted wet wood. Hardtack, beef, and salt pork were available, but not always able to be cooked. Dried apples and pickles were eaten often. Tobacco was the greatest delicacy and was in such demand people would pay gold for it. During the majority of the siege, with no comforts and being pinned down in trenches for their own fire overhead, they conducted "horse races." There was an abundance of all imaginable vermin and insect, and many a large wager was placed on an unsuspecting insect to take the blue ribbon in all manner of races and obstacle courses. Lice was the parasite of choice because the "owners" claimed their bug would win because it had his own blood flowing through its veins.
From June 19, to the June 25, they were on picket duty in the trenches. On the 25th, mines were placed at the end of the trenches to blow up the enemy works. On June 29, the 165th got so close to the works that they threw hand grenades into the works and water batteries, but were pinned down again and did not return to their lines until the 1st of July. On July 4th, the defenders of Vicksburg surrender to Grant. This news was relayed to the confederates at Port Hudson on the 6th, and on the 7th Port Hudson surrendered. On July 9th, the 165th is picked to march first into the fortifications of Port Hudson. The Confederates lay down their arms with no cheers from the Union soldiers, and the men mix together, swapping stories and food, as if they were brothers who had not seen each other in a long while.
On July 24, the 165th's knapsacks and baggage finally arrived from Baton Rough. Of the 561 men of the 165th NY that were possibly engaged at Port Hudson, 117 were either killed or wounded. Three were captured on the 27th of May, but dug out of their prison and returned in their undergarments on the 3rd of July. Up to 50% of this aggregate number was sick in hospital in Baton Rough and New Orleans.
Diary of Robert Welch, Co D 165th NY, compiled in 1903.
History of the Second Battalion; Duryea Zouaves, Register of US Army 1861-1865, written 27 May, 1905.
Diary of George H. Champlin, compiled in 1915
Port Hudson; article in Washington Tribune January 1, 1903, from the diary of Robert Welch, Co. D 165th NY
NY in Rebellion, 3d ed. Vol. V; pages 3920-3928
James R. Nichols
165th New York State Volunteers, Company C
Reprinted from the website at http://www.longwood.k12.ny.us/history/civil/nichols.htm
James Nichols was born September 29, 1844 to Martha (Ward) Nichols and James Nichols. His mother died from an illness when he was six, in 1850. He continued to live in Middle Island and grew up to be a farmer. Nichols enlisted with Captain Stephenson and the 165th New York Volunteers on September 10, 1862, for three years. He was eighteen years old, stood five feet eight inches tall, had blue eyes and light hair.
The regiment left Camp Washington on Staten Island on December 15, 1862. From the foot of Canal Street in New York City, they embarked on the troop transport, Merrimac, destined for New Orleans, Louisiana. On December 20, an engine onboard the Merrimac broke and they were forced to put into Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, for repairs. They stayed at Hilton Head for several days while the boat was repaired. On December 28, they were underway again, and arrived at New Orleans on January 4, 1863.
Nichols was stationed at Camp Parapet in Louisiana for January and February of 1863. He was ill in Charity Hospital in New Orleans for most of March and April. He returned to his unit in May, but fell sick again and was sent to a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The 165th was part of a Union force attempting to capture key cities on the southern part of the Mississippi. This strategy was coordinated with General Grant, who was attempting to capture Vicksburg up north. If the Union controlled the Mississippi River, they would prevent supplies from reaching the Confederate forces, including much-needed cattle and grain from Texas.
Nichols was well enough to be with the regiment during the siege at Port Hudson, which was located on a key bend on the Mississippi River. His company made a series of attacks against Confederate rifle pits on June 29, losing one man. The city was under siege from May 25 until July 8, 1863, when Confederate General Gardner surrendered. Nichols and the 165th were doing picket duty near the rebel works when Gardner surrendered. On the morning of July 9, the 165th was among the forces that entered and took possession of Port Hudson. Although this was a triumphant event, the 165th had lost 117 men during the siege.
Nichols fell sick again, suffering from malarial fever. Many camps were positioned next to swamps where malaria-carrying mosquitoes bred in the stagnant water. The soldiers referred to malaria as "the shakes," because of the intense shaking caused when the high fever broke. Epidemics of malaria spread rapidly through the camps. More than a million men came down with malaria during the war. Malaria put James Nichols in a hospital in Port Hudson in August. He remained there, with his condition continuing to deteriorate, until his death on September 27, 1863.