The 53rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, was more commonly referred to as D'Epineuil's Zouaves. Thirty one year old Lionel Jobert D'Epineuil, recently arrived from France, received permission to form a regiment of New York Frenchmen. Convincing the War Department that he had 17 years of French military service, he was enrolled as a provision colonel. By October 16, 1861, the regiment was only half filled, but was mustered anyway into Federal service at New York, designated the 53rd Infantry Regiment.
The leadership was decidedly French, but the ranks were made up of the "melting pot" of New York City. One company of Indians from the Tuscarora Reservation of western New York joined to battle for the Union. The Zouaves were sent to Camp Leslie on Staten Island. A reporter for the New York Daily Tribune who visited their camp was impressed with the military bearing of the sentries on guard duty, and with their uniforms, which he described as having short, hooded cloaks, yellow tassled red fez, tan leggins, white gaiters, blue sash, vest, jacket and baggy trousers.
The regiment consisted of two battalions of 850 men each. When the first battalion embarked for Annapolis, there were only 130 Frenchmen on the rolls, which were to swell "Burnside's Expeditionary Force." It soon became apparent that D'Epineuil knew nothing about the most elemental field maneuvering. He had never served a day in the French or any other army; disciplined his officers like enlisted men and in the presence of their subordinates; he physically abused both officers and enlisted men; he kept his wife in camp dressed as a male. He was never tried in a court martial, but his military career was at an end when Gen. McClellan on February 26, 1862, signed Special Order 42 directing the breakup of the 53rd. The officers were mustered out of the service and the enlisted men were allowed to enroll in the regular Army. Two companies, A and I, were incorporated into other regiments of New York with their officers. On March 11, D'Epineuil was paid off and mustered out and on March 21, 1862, the books were closed on the 53rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers.
Organized at New York City August 27 to November 15, 1861. Left State for Washington, D.C., November 18; thence moved to Annapolis, Md. Attached to Parke's 3rd Brigade, Burnside's North Carolina Expeditionary Corps.
SERVICE.--Duty at Annapolis, Md., until January 3, 1862. Burnside's Expedition to Hatteras Inlet and Roanoke Island, N. C., January 7-February 8. Vessel wrecked at Roanoke Island. A Detachment at battle of Roanoke Island, N. C., February 8. Duty at Fort Monroe, Va., Suffolk, Va., Annapolis, Md., and Washington, D.C., until March. Mustered out March 21, 1862, except Company "A," which was transferred to 17th New York Infantry as Company "G."
Regiment lost during service 1 Officer and 3 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 7 Enlisted men by disease. Total 11.