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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.”

Tinted salt- print photograph of Private Charles Sanford Hopkins (Virginia Historical Society 2012.109.1 )

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.

Uniform of Charles S. Hopkins, “Duryee Zouaves,” Co. B, 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1862 (Virginia Historical Society 2012.109 )

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.

Fez with upturned brim. This is the second fez with the Hopkins uniform. (Virginia Historical Society 2012.109.6 )

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.

Pepperbox pocket revolver (Virginia Historical Society 2012.109.11 )

Leather jambieres (shin guards) would have been worn over the canvas leggings (Virginia Historical Society 2012.109.10.A-B )

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.”

Close-up of Fifth New York Zouave stationary from a letter written by Charles Hopkins to his mother, February 9, 1862 (Virginia Historical Society Mss2h7745a10)

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.”

Great Coat, U.S. Army regulation overcoat of Charles S. Hopkins (Virginia Historical Society 2012.109.12 )

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  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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe Maghe permalink
    04/02/2013 7:31 pm

    Oh my. When will the collection go on display? I cannot believe your good fortune.


    • Rebecca Rose permalink
      04/03/2013 11:47 am

      Hi Joe, Yes we are thrilled…We’ll have the uniform on display Sat. April 6. Future plans for display have not yet been finalized!


  2. doug harvey permalink
    04/03/2013 3:27 pm

    Brian Pohanka was a friend to the Manassas Museum System when I worked there and brought his 5th New York reenactor group to events on several occasions. Dressed in the zouave uniforms, they were a powerful presence when they marched onto the scene. What a wonderful addition to the VHS collections.

    Doug Harvey, Lynchburg Museum System


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