Zouave Fever at the VHS
The Virginia Historical Society received a wonderful addition to its collection in December 2012 that I had the great pleasure of preparing and presenting to the VHS board of trustees in January. During the board luncheon I showed off the uniform, overcoat, and other items belonging to Private Charles Sanford Hopkins of Company B of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, also known as “Duryée’s Zouaves.”
This donation is from a collection of Hopkins’s personal effects, which were returned to his family after his death on April 28, 1862, in Virginia.
The distinctive Zouave (pronounced Zoo’-ahv) uniform that Hopkins wore, and that I presented to the board, consisted of a blue wool jacket, red wool pantaloons (trousers), a red fez with yellow tassel and unit insignia “5 B,” a red sash, canvas leggings, and a U.S. regulation overcoat.
I also displayed a tinted salt-print photograph (shown above) of Hopkins wearing the colorful uniform, a second red fez with an upturned brim and yellow tassel, two additional pairs of canvas leggings, a pair of leather jambieres (shin guards), his pepperbox pocket revolver, and a fragile two-piece leather knapsack.
As if those items aren’t enough. The collection also includes correspondence between Charles, his brother William, and their parents. One of Charles’s letters is written on 5th New York Infantry stationary. In a letter dated February 9, 1862, Hopkins reported to his parents that he was in good health, but sometime between then and late April, Hopkins contracted pneumonia. He died on April 28, 1862, at Chesapeake General Hospital in Hampton, Virginia.
The donor of this wonderful collection, M. Cricket Bauer, shared some background with me about the uniform and explained its significance to her. Cricket’s husband, Brian C. Pohanka, was a noted historian and avid researcher of the 5th New York. Sadly, he passed away in 2005. The uniform was offered at auction in late 2006. Bauer shared, “I purchased the uniform a year after Brian passed, with the intention of keeping it for research purposes. Brian researched the unit for thirty years, but the documented examples of uniforms worn by 5th New Yorkers is small, and this lot was particularly complete. It presented a unique opportunity for me and other researchers, including the current 5th N.Y. reenactment groups, to examine the “real thing.”
Cricket always intended to eventually donate it to an institution that would benefit by its acquisition and also take good care of it. She continued, “at the point I was ready to let it go, I examined all possible institutions that would fit my criteria, and the Virginia Historical Society was the best fit. It also was particularly meaningful to me since both Brian and I consider Virginia to be, though not the place of our births, the home of our hearts.”
The VHS is particularly proud and honored to have this uniform in its collection. If you’re interested in learning more about Company B of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry (“Duryée’s Zouaves”), you should check out www.zouave.org and the newly published book, Vortex of Hell: History of the Fifth New York Volunteer Infantry 1861–1863, a detailed history of the unit by Brian C. Pohanka.
The uniform will be on display at the VHS this coming Saturday, April 6, 2013, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. as part of the society’s participation in this year’s Civil War and Emancipation Day events.