You’ve probably heard of the French Foreign Legion, and whatever you may think of French colonial enterprises you probably also know that the legion captured the imagination of Americans—Gary Cooper, Laurel and Hardy, and even Marty Feldman served.
Only slightly less famous were the Zouaves, prestigious French battalions famous for serving in North Africa in the decades before the American Civil War. American volunteers who answered Lincoln’s call in 1861, especially wealthier urbane ones, thought to borrow some of the French units’ prestige by adopting the name and buy more of that prestige by commissioning mannered knockoffs of the Zouaves’ distinctive North African-styled uniforms (figure 3). They were not alone in this.
The uniform in figure 3 is merely to illustrate a typical American one; it helps us add life to the black-and-white image of a Zouave “in the wild,” as it were, on duty near Charleston, South Carolina, in 1863 (figure 2).
We are concerned here with ‘Hawkins’ Zouaves, the 9th New York Volunteers. These men volunteered in May 1861 for a term of two years and were attached to New York State infantry early in the summer. The commander (and drummer-up-of-volunteers-in-chief) was New Yorker Rush Hawkins, and so the Zouaves unofficially bear his name.
Hawkins may have drummed-up recruits, but he scarcely stooped to literal drumming. For that office he had Julius Langbein, a fifteen-year-old drummer boy in Company B. His records exist, and we can actually see him in the muster of his company (figure 4), where he is listed as a ‘musician’. We can also see him ‘in the flesh’ in a portrait statue on the porch of his mausoleum (figure 5). We’ll come back to the statue.
There’s a lot going on in and around Langbein’s mausoleum. The porch is supported by two slender Tuscan Doric shafts in polished grey granite; the rest of the porch, roof, and inscribed architrave over the door are in cut granite; the body of the mausoleum is in rusticated granite. A 46- or 48-star flag lives in the pediment, suited to 1910, when our man died or when the mausoleum was built, respectively.
A statue of Langbein as drummer boy now stands upon a plinth that rests upon the stylobate of the porch (figure 6):
9th N. Y. Vols.
The bronze valves of the doorway to Langbein’s mausoleum bear interesting—I should really say, arresting—iconography. On the left valve is an image of the obverse of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor (figure 7). This is the highest honor conferred upon soldiers by the United States, and its image is not to be used lightly. A quick check reveals that Langbein was indeed awarded the Medal of Honor for action at Camden, North Carolina, on 19 April 1862. The Pedia of Wiki page for Civil War recipients summarizes the citation:
“A drummer boy, 15 years of age, he voluntarily and under a heavy fire went to the aid of a wounded officer, procured medical assistance for him, and aided in carrying him to a place of safety.”
The right-hand valve of the door bears the image of a quite similar medal which is consciously modeled on the Medal of Honor, and its bearers would have said that it betokened just as much honor, for it is the membership badge of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Army’s alumni organization, an immensely influential political force which had (among other things) forced William McKinley upon the nation as president. By 1910, the cold hand of demography ensured that it was a waning, though not spent, force.
Langbein might well have considered himself worthy of leaving a portrait: he had survived the war, for a start, and done so with conspicuous valor in a dashing, prestige unit. Sadly, the portrait statue is dreadfully worn by vicissitudes and the elements and today bears only a slight resemblance to the man around the eyes.
From the side (figure 11) we can see his fez with tassel.
We learn from the Gray Lady that the statue had been stolen from the mausoleum in 2002; how it got back for me to see it in 2021 the interwebs do not reveal. Woodlawn reports that in 2002 it had stood on the ‘portico’ for 86 years since Langbein was entombed there in 1916. I actually wonder about that, since the brown staining of the marble, most severe in the lowest parts of the statue, suggest that it stood on or near the earth for a long time. The statue’s theft might, of course, explain the staining and some of the damage: see the lost drumstick and the damage to the drum, which go beyond the terrible (natural) weathering around the face.
The Langbein mausoleum throws light on social competition in gilded- and Edwardian-age America. What Langbein—or his commemorators—thought essential to know about him once he was no longer around to speak for himself was that he had been one of the legion that saved the Union and ended slavery, when he was but a 15-year-old drummer boy. And he was, by acclaim of his nation, one of the MVPs in that great game. He volunteered for this service and when the war ended he maintained faith with his fellow veterans in the G.A.R. Was this merely the equivalent of a middle-aged man who lives in the past and can never grow beyond forcing everyone to relive his winning touchdown in the big game during senior year?
I’m reminded at this point of an observation made about Confederate veterans by Gaines Foster:
Many a Democratic candidate in the late nineteenth century called on his fellow southerners to stand with him now as he had stood with those at Gettysburg or some other battlefield. If he could substantiate his claim by displaying an empty sleeve, his chances of victory improved, unless, of course, he campaigned against a one-legged veteran.Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South (Oxford University Press, 1987) 195.
Civil War veterans, like humans generally, competed against others for office, status, and privilege. Foster’s sardonic observation merely concretizes in a southern context a more general fact: Civil War veterans exploited their service to advance a claim to worthiness, and, specifically, to outdo the claims of fellow veterans or to tacitly demote those who had not served, whether by luck, choice, or age. Julius Langbein’s mausoleum is a monumental example of such social posturing by a Union veteran.
I published this essay yesterday, 6 August, 2021. Just today, in Hamlin Cemetery, in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, I came across the following monument, of Dwight Chapman (figure 12):
Co. E. 179 Regt. Pa. Inft.
Promoted to Corporal
Promotion to corporal is a real achievement, to be sure; yet I think not many would play that bathetic card upon their eternal tombstone. But if Chapman could not hope to compete with grandees like Langbein, there was no need to. In deeply rural Hamlin, Pennsylvania, he could compete with the Union veterans around him who had been privates, and the way to put his best foot forward was to point to a promotion, however undistinguished. See, too, that at his death in 1914, it was still his wartime service he chose to point to, no matter what he had achieved in the mean time.
Wonderfully, the cutter originally cut ‘Pronoted’ but altered the ‘N’ to try to give it an ‘M’ shape.