Samuel Zook

Esteemed member (Robert W Lawrence) contributes:

Esteemed member "Bradley Eide replies:

I worked up a little bio of Zook:

During the Seven Days battles, he had shown his enterprise early. Personally scouting far out in front of his men, he had gotten behind enemy lines and discovered the ruse of the Confederate general Dan Magruder, who was shifting troops ostentatiously back and forth in view of the Union lines to make his numbers seem larger than they really were. Zook reported the Rebels' deception back to headquarters, but McClellan overlooked the report, the enemy maintained their elaborate illusion, and the desperately thin defensive line in front of Richmond was never attacked.

"Colonel Zook, who was field officer of the day, came in and reported most of the enemy's force in front had disappeared. He crept out in advance of the picket line, and saw a whole lot of blacks parading, beating drums, and making a great noise; with true military instinct he concluded the enemy in front had gone to join in the attack on Porter and immediately rode in to Sumner and demanded permission to lead an attack... General Sumner was afraid to act on his own responsibility, but sent an aide to General McClellan to report the colonel's conclusion, and that was the last we heard about the matter." Favill, Diary of a Young Officer, p.131

Zook was promoted to Brigadier General and took over command of the whole brigade after Antietam. He led it in battle at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At Fredericksburg, he was wounded during the attack on Marye's Heights, where he had a horse shot out from under him, and was praised in division commander Hancock's report for the "spirit" of his attack.

Zook was not present for the battle of Antietam. He assumed brigade command with the rank of Colonel. His promotion to brigadier general was due to his actions during the battle of Fredericksburg. He did have a horse shot from under him during the battle but the wounding, as far as I know, is not documented. In a letter dated Dec. 16, 1862 he mentions his horse being shot and his being "badly stunned but not seriously hurt."

Zook was a firm disciplinarian, a man known to be blunt, severe, and one who hated cowardice, but for all that, he was also known by the men who knew him as a good-hearted man.

Another characteristic of Zook's was his mastery of cursing. Many of the primary sources comment regarding his proficient use of the colorful language, from his early telegraph days to his cursing exchange with Hancock prior to Chancellorsville. Definitely not in keeping with his Menonite heritage.

Brad Eide 

Esteemed member "Bradley Eide" 

It's March 27th(EST) and the 175th birthday of Samuel K. Zook!

The following short(?) bio is in honor of his birthday:

Samuel Kurtz Zook was born March 27, 1822 (It was later that he changed his middle name to Kosciuszko). His interest in the military dates to an early age, according to family history. As a boy, he enjoyed commanding his schoolmates on the fortifications at Valley Forge around his home, even to the point of 'arresting' his sister for failure to obey an order.

After his schooling he joined the Pennsylvania Militia. In late 1842 he was commissioned Adjutant of the 110th Regiment. But the state militia could not provide a living, leading Zook to begin a career with the telegraph, then in its early development stages. He was very proficient in working the keys and also helped string the telegraph line between Norristown and Philadelphia. Al Gambone relates an incident during this work:

"Soon after those telegraphic operations began, a break in the line occurred somewhere west of Philadelphia. Zook, probably as the junior man, was assigned the duty to ride to Norristown and walk back along the railroad toward Philadelphia while searching for the line interruption. When he finally found the severed wire, as instructed, Zook inserted another wire into the ground and tapped upon it with the broken line to send a message to the office. To determine if his comments were received back in Philadelphia, Zook had been further instructed to stand in a puddle of water and lightly touch his tongue with the exposed, severed wire leading back to the City of Brotherly Love. Curious about the antics of this interesting looking technician, some of the locals began to gather and watched Zook with something approaching awe when, all of a sudden, the surge in the line touching his tongue sent him reeling onto the ground and into the muddy water. The roaring laughter of the observers only served to fire his anger the more and he instantly shot back a message across the wires that was promptly described as "the hugest of Pennsylvania profanity."...we learned our first lesson in the danger of line testing and repair." Gambone, _The Life of General Samuel K.

Zook_, p.61 He continued working with the telegraph and its expansion west. While working on the telegraph in Mississippi, Zook wrote "The past month has been wasted - utterly thrown away."(S.K. Zook letter to O'Reilly, Dec.1, 1849) when the lack of sufficient funds prevented one of his foremen, Jacob Campbell, from working. In 1851 Zook moved to New York City to manage the telegraph office of the Atlantic & Ohio. By 1855 his profession was as a broker and/or real

estate broker (scant info). He joined the New York Militia and was later commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 6th Regiment, Governor's Guard on June 11, 1855. When the Civil War began this unit volunteered as a 90 day regiment. It was during this time Zook began contacting friends to help him in his desire for an independent command. Charles Yates, in a letter to the governor (May 16, 1861), wrote that if New York were to organize three year regiments "...and appointments are to be made I can confidently recommend Lt Col Zook...", Wm. Thompkins wrote, June 6th, to Governor Morgan on Zook's behalf stating, "I say with emphasis, he has no superior, of his rank; in this vicinity." After the 6th NY's 90 days, Zook was discharged and was eventually given authorization to raise a regiment, which was to become the 57th New York. During this period Zook sent a letter(dated 9/11/61) to Capt. William Clark, responding to Clark's inquiry about joining the new unit. In the letter Zook states: "...I am certain of a regt. Indeed I have refused some (companies) ... I am determined to have none but gentlemen for my officers & no amount of men will induce me to depart from this determination. Some Colonels are so eager to get men they will receive the most ignorant & vulgar loafers for officers to secure the men they may have."

Zook was appointed colonel on Oct. 19, 1861 and his regiment was officially designated the 57th New York. The 57th NY was eventually transferred to Washington where they were assigned to French's brigade of Sumner's division and went into winter quarters at Camp California. Shortly after achieving his goal of forming a regiment, Zook began work on his next objective, a general's star. "I am applying through some friends to be made Brigadier. I suppose of course I won't succeed as I am neither a mason nor a politician." (S.K.Zook in a letter to his brother-in-law dated Dec. 5, 1861). But raising a regiment also had its cost for Zook as he wrote to one of his creditors, "I feel my obligation to you and other friends & intend to liquidate as fast as my pay will enable me to..." (S.K.Zook in a letter to E.B.Kinney, Dec. 9.1861). From Washington, Zook and his regiment were transferred to the Peninsula area of Virginia and took part in the campaign with McClellan. On June 27, with Lee moving against McClellan at Gaines Mill, Zook's discovery of the deception and troop movement by Magruder is mentioned by Favill:

"Colonel Zook, who was field officer of the day, came in and reported most of the enemy's force in front had disappeared. He crept out in advance of the picket line, and saw a whole lot of blacks parading, beating drums, and making a great noise; with true military instinct he concluded the enemy in front had gone to join in the attack on Porter and immediately rode in to Sumner and demanded permission to lead an attack... General Sumner was afraid to act on his own responsibility, but sent an aide to General McClellan to report the colonel's conclusion, and that was the last we heard about the matter." Favill, _Diary of a Young Officer_, p.131

He missed the battle at Antietam as he was on medical leave. All throughout the war Zook had a severe problem with rheumatism. Some days it was so severe he had trouble moving in the morning. For treatment, while on medical leave, he went to Russian vapor-baths in New York. In order to remain in the field Zook also took colchicine as a medication to help control the rheumatism. His use (excessive, the medical community NOW knows) exacerbated his health problems by adding intestinal disorders. Zook states he was "...obliged to use colchicum to such an extent as seriously to impair the functions of my bowels." (S.K. Zook letter to Potter dated 2/18/63)

His best performance, in my humble opinion, was at Fredericksburg. His was one of the first brigades to arrive at Fredericksburg and he wanted to cross as soon as possible. "Col. Zook's brigade ... seemed very anxious to distinguish themselves. Last evening they took a position at the ford opposite Fredericksburgh..."(Philadelphia "Inquirer", Nov. 18, 1862) The inability to receive the pontoon bridges led to delaying until December what could have been easily accomplished weeks earlier. "If we had had the pontoons promised when we arrived here we could have the hills on the other side of the river without cost over 50 men-- Now it will cost at least ten thousand if not more." (S.K. Zook in letter Dec. 10, 1862) Zook was appointed military governor of Falmouth while the Army of the Potomac was encamped waiting for the pontoons. An advantage with the appointment was that Zook was able to take up residence in a building in Falmouth instead of in a tent. "...we move in a day or two & then I shall lose my Governorship & my pleasant quarters & have to take to a cold tent once more." (S.K. Zook in a letter to Ellie, his youngest sister, dated Dec. 4, 1862)

The pontoon bridges finally arrived and the Rappahannock was crossed by the union troops several days prior to the assault upon Marye's Heights on the 13th. The first union troops to advance against the confederates behind the stone wall below Marye's Heights were those of General French. As French's advance ground to a halt, Hancock's troops began their advance. Zook, in command of the third brigade, was the first of Hancock's brigades. He lost a horse from under him, was momentarily stunned, quickly recovered and led his "...brigade further toward's the enemy's works than any other of the ten which went in. Mine was the fourth brigade, but I carried it over the other three clear beyond them all & kept it there till it was relieved by Sykes who only brought his men up _behind_ mine & never came up to the line, even after we had long since fired our last cartridge. Now by God! if I don't get my star, I'm coming home." (S.K. Zook letter to E.I. Wade, Dec 16, 1862). Zook was to earn his brigadier star for his actions at Fredericksburg.

A memorable quote from Sam Zook is in a letter written immediately after the battle of Fredericksburg in which he describes what war was and the effect upon himself. "I walked over the field, close under the enemy's picket line, last night about 3 o'clock. The ground was strewn thickly with corpses of the heroe's who perished there on Saturday. I never realized before what war was. I never before felt so horribly since I was born. To see men dashed to pieces by shot & torn into shreds by shells during the heat and crash of battle is bad enough God knows, but to walk alone amongst slaughtered brave in the "still small hours" of the night would make the bravest man living "blue". God grant I may never have to repeat my last night's experience." (Zook letter to E.I.Wade, a friend in New York, dated Dec. 16, 1862) Zook's rheumatism necessitated a 20 day medical leave beginning in February, 1863. Shortly after his return, Zook was informed of his confirmation as brigadier general. "General Hancock immediately contributed a pair of stars, which we lost no time in sewing on his coat.." Favill, _Diary of a Young Officer_, p.227

Zook mastery of "colorful" language, contrary to his Mennonite heritage, is well documented. Favill, Zook's adjutant, stated that, with regards to swearing, Zook "...always gives as good as he gets without fear of consequences..."(Favill, p.223). An incident "...took place between Hancock and Zook while the 140th was on the march to U.S.Ford, destined for Chancellorsville... It was the greatest cursing match I ever listened to; Zook took advantage of Hancock, by waiting until the latter got out of breath, and then he opened his pipe organ, and the air was very blue." (T.Henry to J. Ray in letter dated Jan.29, 1902 : both were members of the 140th Pa.)

At Chancellorsville, several of his units were assigned to picket duty along the east side of the Union formation. Since most of the action was west and south of his deployment, Zook's involvement was limited. As the Union line was pulling back from the Chancellor house toward the Rappahannock, Zook gave orders to men of the 140th Pa. to aid in the withdrawal of a battery of the 5th Maine. "...we advanced in double line of such a pace that General Zook, who superintended our part of the advance in person, could hardly keep his place ahead of the line." (Stewart, _140th Pa_, p.69) After Chancellorsville, Zook went on leave in Washington. He returned to his brigade as they began moving north toward Pennsylvania. Zook felt his brigade was prepared for what might happen as he wrote his father on June 28th, "The men are in good spirits, and will fight splendidly. If Ewell is not reinforced before we reach him, he'll get warmed."

At Gettysburg, en route to the aid of the III and V Corps, Zook's brigade, at the request of Tremain of Sickle's staff, was directed toward the wheatfield to reinforce de Trobriand and fill in the gap near "Stony Hill" and the rest of the III Corps. As Zook's brigade advanced toward the wheatfield they had to pass through the brigades of Tilton and Sweitzer of the V Corps which were moving in the opposite direction to reform along the edge of the Trostle Wood's. In addition to the mixing of the three brigades complicating Zook's orderly advance of his brigade, "The woods would have been thick with smoke, company officers shouting orders, tree branches falling from cannon shot, wounded from the Third Corps moving to the rear, soldiers checking and clearing cones to reduce the risk of misfires, and noise from the Third Corps fighting in their front." (Bertera & Oberholtzer, _The 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry at Gettysburg_, 1997, p.74) As Zook led his brigade up the "Stony Hill" his elevated position on horseback allowed him to better view the movement of his men but also drew the attention and resulting fire from the advancing men of the 3rd and 7th South Carolina of Kershaw's troops. Zook was wounded and was moved behind the lines for medical treatment. He spent some time at the Hoke Tollhouse on Baltimore Pike and was later moved to a more distant (as yet unknown) location. He died from his wound on the 3rd and is buried in Montgomery Cemetery in Norristown, Pa. along with Gen. Hancock, Gen. Hartranft, and Gen. Slemmer.

Brad Eide

"It was reported for three hours this side of the river that I was killed, but I'm worth a dozen dead men yet." S.K.Zook Dec.16, 1862