On September 18, 1861 roughly 850 men were mustered in as the 50th New York Infantry (later 50th NY engineers) and ordered to Washington without arms. The trip to the capital began with train ride to New York City. Arriving there on the 21st they were marched to the Battery where they made camp. Their brief stay would be highlighted by what would become known in regimental lore as the “Battle of the Zouaves.” As the men settled into camp they were surrounded by holdovers from Ellsworth’s Zouaves who were awaiting their final pay and muster out. As these veterans consumed more and more liquor they began to harass the 50th camp guards, some of who were finally seized up to be tossed in blankets. Foreseeing the result of the antagonism the men of the 50th were armed with axe handles and clubs. Before long the inevitable happened and a riot broke out. Several attacks were made into camp by the Zouaves but each was beaten back. The fighting lasted until the arrival of the muskets for men. After arming themselves they reversed the harassment and challenged the Zouaves to come over again. Cooler heads prevailed and the Zouaves dispersed. Captain Wesley Brainerd of the 50th New York enumerated the casualties for this affair as; killed, none; bloody noses, 19; black eyes, 11; badly frightened 850.
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