Identification Badge and Medal Grouping of Sergeant William Eckerson 73rd New York Infantry, “Second Fire Zouaves”, with Unique Gettysburg History - Inventory Number: IDE 211 / ON- HOLD
Grouping of three medals owned by William Eckerson, who enlisted in May 1861 as a private in the 73rd New York Infantry, a regiment primarily recruited from the firehouses of New York City and dubbed the “Second Fire Zouaves.” The regiment formed part of New York “Excelsior Brigade,” and was heavily engaged on the Peninsula, the Seven Days Battles, Second Manassas, and Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg the regiment suffered severe loss near the Peach Orchard, with 51 killed, 103 wounded and 8 missing out of 324 engaged. Among the wounded were William Eckerson, who slowly recovered and transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps. Eckerson’s identification badge consists of a disc measuring 1 3/16” in diameter, constructed of silver-plated white metal, suspended from a shield pin bearing the likeness of George McClellan. The obverse is stamped “Wm. W. ECKERSON / 2d REG. / NY / FIRE / ZOAVES / ELIZABETH CITY NJ.” The reverse is decorated with a foliate design and text "WAR OF 1861 / ENGAGED IN THE ABOVE BATTLES / YORKTOWN / WILLIAMSBURG / FAIR OAKS / 7 DAYS BEFORE RICHMOND / BRISTOW STATION / BULL RUN / CHANTILLY / FREDERICKSBURG.”
Eckerson’s second badge is an ornate design from the Veteran Zouave Association of New York. It measured 3 ¼” in length and depicts Lt. Colonel Thomas F. Sheehan surrounded by the corps badges of the Union Army and the legend “VETERAN ZOUAVE ASSOCIATION NEW YORK, suspended by a pin back with spread wing eagle and crossed cannons. The third is a membership badge from the Elizabeth Veteran Zouaves, formed in 1867 by Brigadier General Madison Drake. Its 75 members included three Medal of Honor recipients. Drake unfurled the first Union flag on Virginia soil during the Civil War, May 24, 1861. Drake was one of those Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The Elizabeth Veteran Zouaves became a Company of the National Guard of NJ and were active in the G.A.R. They were the most traveled military unit of their time. The men toured Gettysburg and other battlefield sites and gave drill performances around the country during their cross-country tour to San Francisco in 1886. In 1890 the Zouaves did a Southern Tour to New Orleans. The ornate bronze medal is decorated with crossed cannons, rifles, sabers and an anchor, and depicts Drake surrounded by the corps badges of the Union Army and the engraving “Wm. ECHERSON.” Suspended from a pin bar with spread wing eagle and flag motif. The badges are accompanied by a softcover reprint of Madison Drake’s 1908 book Historical Sketches of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, which recounts Eckerson’s encounter with a rattlesnake while lying wounded on the Gettysburg Battlefield. This is a fantastic grouping for a Civil War zouave or Gettysburg collection.
“EXCITING INCIDENT AT GETTYSBURG. The recent nauseating pose of a so-called " society woman "one of New York's “ smart set ” -at an entertainment, with a hideous snake encircled about her body, neck and arms, sending cold chills along the spinal cords of the spectators, recalls to my mind a thrilling adventure Sergeant William Eckerson, for many years the efficient overseer of the poor in this city, had on the second night of the battle of Gettysburg with a deadly ophidian of the largest size on its native heath.
Sergeant Eckerson, then whom the Army of the Potomac, to which he belonged for nearly four years, never had a braver representative, was a member of the Fourth Excelsior (73d New York) Regiment. Although but a mere lad, a delicate stripling, he enlisted in that command and participated with it in all the battles in which it engaged. I shall not here tell of the forced and fatiguing march , through clouds of stifling dust, his command made from Taney town, in Maryland, all that terribly hot first day of July, 1863, and far into the sultry night, only halting as it rushed into the front line of the almost exhausted and disheartened Unionists on the left of Cemetery Hill, to confront Longstreet's magnificent veterans, old-time antagonists of the Army of Northern Virginia, but merely relate an extraordinary incident that has ever been considered of thrilling interest to those familiar with the strange circumstance.
It was on the afternoon of the second day that the five regiments of the Excelsior Brigade lost 778 officers and men in killed and wounded, nearly one-half it numbered on reaching the field. As the shades of night were falling, when it was hoped there would be a cessation of the bloody work in which 200,000 of the bravest men on earth had been remorselessly engaged throughout the previous forty -eight hours, Longstreet made a desperate charge to gain possession of the hill firmly held by our thin line of blue, and succeeded in forcing it back some distance, capturing three field pieces, which had greatly annoyed the Confederates. This so enraged Colonel Brewster, commanding the brigade, that he called for volunteers to advance and retake the trophies. Sergeant Eckerson was one of these volunteers. The guns were quickly recaptured, and with them the tattered colors and a major and some fifty men of the Eighth Florida Regiment.
In the fierce hand-to-hand struggle which my comrade had in attempting to wrest the Florida flag from its plucky bearer, he was knocked down with the butt-end of a rifle, shot in two places in the lower part of his body, and left for dead beside one of the big boulders deposited on the ridge in the long ago by glaciers which came down from the frozen north, only to find lodgment and disintegration in that sunny vale, familiarly known as the “Devil's Den."
Helpless and racked by incessant and excruciating pains, weakened by the loss of blood from ghastly wounds, half famished and nearly crazed for the want of water, nothing could equal the anguish that absorbed the distressed mind of my comrade as he lay prostrate upon his back on the hard and stony ground all through that seemingly interminable night, with nerves paralyzed , unable to move hand or foot, listening, as he was compelled to do, to the dreadful groans and agonizing cries of the wounded surrounding him . Overpowered with intense pains, as well as a sense of terror, he flattered himself that sleep, if it could be obtained, would release him from the frightful recollections which crowded upon him, and all the horrors of the day again passed in review before his disordered mind. His wearied senses at last sank into repose, but often in the stillness of the night he was ruthlessly startled by the report of cannon, which, passing across the fields and over the multitudinous hills, sounded in a peculiarly mournful and horrible manner. These unexpected sounds, repeated by the echoes of the valley, which till then had only resounded with the husbandman's call and the warbling of birds, were lengthened into dismal reverberations, and often when his harassed nerves were sinking into calm and refreshing repose, so sorely needed by him, he was roused, fearful that the bewildered line of gray, but a few rods away, was again about to advance against the shattered line of blue.
It was only when the burning rays of that July sun were disseminated over and among the grand old hills on the morning of that eventful day in which Pickett's immortals made a desperate but vain attempt to break through three Union lines of battle, that Sergeant Eckerson, greatly weakened by the ebbing of his life's blood, which all through the long night had poured from awful wounds, chilled to the very marrow by exposure to the night air, with no covering save the blue canopy above, and who had foully dreamed of never again seeing the light of another day, resuscitated by the pitiless heat, opened his weary eyes, only to be stricken almost senseless with horror, on beholding coiled upon his breast (much less capacious than at a later period of his life , when it measured something less than one hundred inches), a rattlesnake of the largest and most formidable species, whose hideous and fearful head, with open, gaping mouth, exposing threatening fangs, from which darted, with lightning rapidity, a long, forked tongue , emitting a vile, sickening odor, and two basilisk eyes, which he momentarily thought were a reflection from his own eye-balls , gleaming terribly before him. As he thus lay prostrate and helpless, he feared the pulsations of his heart, to him sounding like trip -hammers, produced by the rapid coursing of his blood, would incite the reptile to deliver the fatal blow, which he knew it was ever ready to do. A spring of cold sweat trickled down his face and covered his body.
Profound horror and the fantasies of his awakening, combined with the peculiar situation in which he found himself, froze his heart, turning it into marble. He did not dare permit himself to make the slightest movement of hand or body. He dreamed of home, and the minutest incidents of his life passed in instantaneous review before his agonized mind. Frightful despair overwhelmed his very soul, and all courage fled. In this supreme moment of intense and bitter agony, the imperiled soldier instinctively closed his eyes, utterly abandoning all hope of rescue, and mentally appealed to his Creator, to whom alone, like all those in awful peril, he besought preservation. Who can picture his despair at this horrible discovery? Who can tell of his sense of feeling, in thus finding himself in the coils of a monster ophidian, whom the slightest movement on his part would incite to fatal action? How long my comrade thus lay I may not tell. However disposed or able, he abstained from making the slightest movement, fully aware of danger in exciting the reptile. His weakened condition no way qualified him for any kind of a contest with the monster, which could not fail to be unequal and fatal to him in its termination. In those moments of awful agony, during which he lived a thousand years, Sergeant Eckerson, to whom all hope for rescue seemed gone, and whose nerves were strung to the utmost tension , was startled by the discharge of a rifle, a few feet away, and the sudden and altogether unlooked- for appearance of a soldier, who, happening along in that valley of the shadow of death, fortunately saw the snake coiled upon what he supposed to be the body of a dead soldier. This inference was perfectly natural under the circumstances.
The shot that thus preserved the life of Sergeant Eckerson for further usefulness to his country had been unerring — the big Minnie bullet had completely severed the head of the reptile. While the soldier, thus providentially sent to save the life of my comrade, was admiring and removing the still wriggling snake from the prostrate form of the sergeant, to whom he had given no heed, believing him to be dead, he was greatly surprised to hear him speak. Kneeling beside the sergeant, whose weak voice sounded as if from a tomb, the new-comer speedily satisfied himself that life was not extinct, and calling some soldiers who were in the vicinity gathering the dead and wounded , my comrade was placed on a stretcher, and tenderly carried to a field hospital, from which , after his wounds had been dressed, he was with others conveyed in an improvised ambulance, a farmer's wagon, to the general hospital at Baltimore, where he hovered between life and death for many long months, and at length recovering, was offered his discharge from the service, but with a grim determination to remain until the last shot was fired, he refused to return home, and was attached to the Veteran Reserve Corps , in which he did duty till late in 1865.
NEW YORK SEVENTY-THIRD INFANTRY (Three Years)
Seventy-third Infantry.-Cols., William R. Brewster, Michael W. Burns, James Fairman; Lieut.-Cols., William McCanley, Michael W. Burns, James McKenna, Lewis Benedict, Jr.; Majs., Michael W. Burns, John P. Lawrence, Lawrence H. Thompson, John D. Moriarty.
The 73d, the 4th regiment of the Excelsior brigade, was sometimes known as the 2nd Fire Zouaves, having for its nucleus the New York fire department. It was recruited principally in New York city and mustered into the U. S. service at Staten Island, July 8 to Oct. 8, 1861. It left New York for Washington Oct. 8; was assigned to Sickles' brigade, Hooker's division, which became in March, 1862, the 2nd brigade, 2nd division, 3d corps of the Army of the Potomac, and served during the first winter at Good Hope, Md.
It moved to the Peninsula with McClellan's army in April, 1862; participated in the siege of Yorktown and the battle of Williamsburg, meeting with its first severe loss in the latter engagement, where 104 of the regiment were killed, wounded or reported missing and the troops displayed great courage and steadiness. At Fair Oaks and during the Seven Days' battles the 73d was constantly in action and was much in need of rest by the time it reached the camp at Harrison's landing. On its way from the Peninsula to join Pope's forces the brigade had a sharp engagement at Bristoe Station, in which the regiment lost 46 killed or wounded.
It was active at the second Bull Run, was then withdrawn to the defenses of Washington with the Excelsior brigade to recuperate, and left for Falmouth in November. In the autumn of 1862, a new company joined the regiment and in Jan., 1863, it received the members of the 163d N. Y. infantry into its ranks.The 73d was active at Fredericksburg; returned to its quarters at Falmouth; engaged at Chancellorsville in May, 1863, but met its greatest losses at Gettysburg on the second day of the battle, where 51 were killed, 103 wounded and 8 missing out of 324 engaged, or 50 percent. The loss of the regiment at Gettysburg included 4 officers killed and 1 wounded, and during its term of service it lost 18 officers killed or mortally wounded, a loss only exceeded by four other regiments in the army. It was engaged at Wapping heights, Catlett's station, Brandy Station, at Kelly's ford and Locust Grove, and went into winter quarters at Brandy Station.
During the winter of 1863-64 a sufficient number of men reenlisted to secure the continuance of the regiment in the field as a veteran organization and in April, 1864, camp was broken for the Wilderness campaign in which the regiment served with the 2nd brigade, 4th division, 2nd corps until May 13, when it was assigned to the 4th brigade, 3d division, 2nd corps. It lost 66 in the first two days' fighting in the Wilderness, 30 at Spotsylvania, and continued in service during the battles leading up to Petersburg. At the expiration of their term of service the original members not reenlisted were mustered out and the veterans and recruits consolidated into seven companies, which served from July in the 1st brigade of the same division before Petersburg, where the regiment participated in the various engagements of the brigade, the final assault and pursuit to Appomattox.
The 73d was mustered out at Washington, June 29, 1865, having received on June 1, the veterans and recruits of the 120th N. Y. infantry. The total enrollment of the regiment was 1,326, of whom 153 died from wounds and 76 died from accident, imprisonment or disease. The regiment sustained its part nobly in a brigade which became famous for its fighting qualities and well deserves its reputation as a crack fighting regiment.
Source: The Union Army, Vol. 2, p. 104
William Eckerson - 18 years old. Enlisted on 5/3/1861 at Camp Decker, NY as a Private. On 8/14/1861 he mustered into "E" Co. NY 73rd Infantry. He was Mustered Out on 8/20/1864 at Petersburg, VA. Promotions: Corpl. Sergt. Intra Regimental Company Transfers: 9/1/1861 from company E to company K. 7/15/1864 from company K to company B.
Comes housed in an 12 x 16 inch display case with black velvet backing and descriptive card.
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Inventory Number: IDE 211 / ON-HOLD