The Vortex of Hell
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The 5th New York Duryee's Zouaves
Second Battle of Manassas
August 30th, 1862
At four o'clock on the afternoon of August 30, 1862 - the climactic day of the Second Battle of Manassas -- General James Longstreet's corps of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia launched a smashing attack on the Federal forces of General John Pope. Longstreet's onslaught was the decisive turning point that ensured a second Southern victory on the old battlefield of Bull Run. Pope's left flank was largely undefended, save for one small brigade comprised of the 5th and 10th New York under the command of Col. Gouverneur Kemble Warren. When the Rebel tide swept down upon the Federal left, Warren sacrificed his force of roughly 1100 men to cover the retreat of Lt. Charles Hazlett's Battery D, 5th US Artillery - and to buy what time he could for Pope to avert an even greater disaster. It was a brave but futile gesture, and Warren's troops were virtually annihilated by the hard-charging veterans of the famed Texas Brigade.
Both of Warren's regiments had marched to war in colorful uniforms modeled on those worn by the French colonial troops called Zouaves. At Second Bull Run, the 10th New York was awaiting a new shipment of Zouave attire, and were clad for the most part in regulation issue. But the 500-plus soldiers of the 5th New York, "Duryée's Zouaves," still sported their exotic regalia of red and blue. Their ranks had been increased only days before by more than 70 new recruits, but the bulk of the regiment were battle-tested veterans of the Peninsula and Seven Days. Commanded by Capt. Cleveland Winslow, the Zouaves were used to strict discipline and renowned for their proficiency in company and battalion drill. But nothing could have prepared them for the slaughter that awaited them that hot August day.
The advanced skirmish line of the 10th New York was driven back on their support, and the supporting companies thrown back upon the 5th New York with the Texas Brigade hot on their heels. The Zouaves managed to fire a volley, but before they could reload their line was caught in a deadly crossfire, raked with lead that scythed down scores of men where they stood. "Where the Regiment stood that day was the very vortex of hell," a survivor recalled; "not only were men wounded or killed, they were riddled."
Mark Maritato's painting captures those deadly moments at the Vortex of Hell. Captain Winslow oversees his embattled line, his horse soon to fall beneath him with seven wounds. Captain Wilbur Lewis, acting as field officer, is shot dead from the saddle of his horse "Black Jack," while the Zouave ranks - Companies K and C in the foreground -- begin to disintegrate in a hail of bullets. The Color Guard, some of them armed with Sharps Rifles, cluster about their flags in a desperate attempt to protect their precious banners. Both Color Sergeants - Andrew Allison bearing the Stars and Stripes, and Francis Spelman with the Regimental flag - were fatally wounded, as were seven of the eight men in the Color Guard. Longstreet's juggernaut plowed ahead, and the Federal lines collapsed in carnage-strewn retreat across Young's Branch and up the slopes of Chinn Ridge. But the torn and bloodstained banners were preserved from capture, as were the guns of Hazlett's battery - saved by the New Yorker's brief but valorous stand.
The soldiers of the 5th New York paid a heavy price for their devotion. In less than ten minutes time 332 of approximately 525 Zouaves present were killed, wounded or captured. The losses included 85 killed outright, and another 34 who succumbed to their wounds - the greatest fatality of any Federal infantry regiment in a single battle during the entire War. This painting is a fitting tribute to that gallant and terrible event.
Written by the late Brian C. Pohanka
Original Oil Painting Sold
Oil on Linen Canvas
40" x 30"
Year Created 2000