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York’s “Fighting Fowl” was a hero in the 11th Indiana Zouaves

Miniature wargaming layout by Jim Kopchak of Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Scott Mingus.
As the Civil War began 150 years ago, the vast majority of the new soldiers, both blue and gray, had never experienced combat and, other than local militia, most had never worn a military uniform before. Men wishing to make a good impression on their fellow soldiers, and especially on their officers, had to do it through leadership, dedication, patriotism, or fighting spirit.
One York, Pennsylvania, native, David Hays, early on developed quite a reputation as a fierce warrior, eliciting a comment from a Lancaster County soldier in the 2nd Pennsylvania that Corporate Hays was a “fighting fowl.”
Indeed, Dave Hays’ early reputation as a warrior was well deserved. He commanded the skirmishers of the 11th Indiana Zouaves, having moved to the Hoosier State from York County before the war.

On July 2, 1861, a soldier in the 2nd Pennsylvania (Col. Thomas Welsh’s regiment raised primarily in Columbia, PA) wrote to his hometown newspaper, the Columbia Spy. He and some of his friends ventured from their camp into Cumberland, Maryland, where they wanted to see the soldiers of a nearby Indiana regiment, the colorful 11th Indiana Zouaves. The correspondent encountered an old friend from Lancaster County, Harry Hamaker, whom he thought was “Union to the marrow.”
The writer continued, “He {Hamaker] was unfortunate in losing a very fine horse in the fight at Patterson’s creek, the other day. He had loaned him to the gallant Corporal Hays, under whom he was shot. I was in the Zouave Camp and had a long talk with Hays. He is a fighting fowl, and of our neighborhood–originally from York, where he has many relations. The Indiana boys are of the right stripe–fine, intelligent looking fellows. They are very anxious that our regiments shall join them, when they are prepared to again show their blood–and spill it if necessary, as they have already done.”
Dave Hays had impressed not only his friend from Columbia, but also his commanders for his actions at Patterson’s Creek.
A passage in The Rebellion Register, an 1867 book, also mentioned Dave Hays’ first successful battle action:
“Patterson Creek, Va.–On June 26, 1861, Corporal Hays, and 12 men of the 11th Indiana Zouaves, attacked and routed 40 Confederate cavalry near this place, killing 8 men and capturing 17 horses. The Confederates, being reinforced by about 70, resumed the attack, but were met with such firmness that 23 of them fell. Five hundred rebel cavalry captured a company of Union troops, near this place, January 2, 1862. The prisoners were retaken, and the cavalry routed, next day.”
News spread back home in Indiana of Hays’ exploits.
The regiment returned home in late July after its three-month term of enlistment had expired. The Indianapolis Journal of July 30, 1861, covered the speeches that accompanied the welcoming ceremony at the State House. The regimental surgeon was chosen to respond.

Source: Harper’s Weekly, June 22, 1861, p. 388
The Journal reported, “At the conclusion of his remarks, three rousing cheers and a tiger were given for Indiana and Indianapolis, when Governor Morton mounted the stand and said the reception tendered the regiment showed how warm a place the Zouaves held in the hearts of their fellow citizens. Indiana was proud of her volunteers. They had honored their state… In conclusion, the Governor gave the Zouaves a hearty welcome back to their homes. He said he would preserve their arms and equipment for them, as he would for the other regiments, and restore them in complete order on their return to service. Three hearty cheers were given the Governor, and loud calls for Dave Hays and his skirmishers. Hays had stopped in Dayton to see some friends and was not on the ground.”
So York County native David Hays was now a celebrated soldier in newspapers in two states, one of the earliest war heroes for the Union cause.
The book Indiana at Vicksburg recounts that President Abraham Lincoln and General George B. McClellan also sent their congratulations for a job well done.
“A company of mounted scouts was organized by Colonel {Lew] Wallace, who every day impressed the regiment with his keen foresight as if he were the educated soldier. Dave Hays, a corporal in Company A, was selected to be the leader of this small band of men who were soon to electrify the country with deeds of daring.
On the 27th of June, while Hays and his detail were scouting in the vicinity of the village of Frankfort, Hays discovered forty-one of the enemy, black horse cavalry. Hurriedly informing his detail of the number and saying, “What do you say, boys, shall we fight ’em?” the answer was. “Yes; all ready, Dave; go in.” The leader commanded “come on,” and, leading the way with pistol and saber, the fight was on, and in the short interval to follow eight of the Virginia Black Horse Cavalry lay dead. Later in the day, Hays having received two bullet wounds and several saber cuts, and being cared for by two of the men, Baker and Dunlap, the command devolved upon Farley. The enemy now being reinforced, the scene of conflict changed and the battle with ten of the scouts to meet it. Results show how they did it. They all dismounted, turning their horses loose, and took advantage of the rocks overhanging Patterson’s Creek at Kelly’s Island. Here the battle raged until sundown. On the porch of a farm house near by, as told by the owner, lay twenty-three Confederates, only three of whom were alive.
Richmond papers in commenting on this initiatory battle at Kelly’s Island gave their losses in killed and wounded at thirty-five, saying that two companies of Black Horse Cavalry had engaged the 11th Indiana Regiment at this point. Loss of our troop: Hollenback killed and Corporal Hays severely wounded. The writer, who belonged to Company I of the 11th, was there with it, and ever after during the entire service believes that the heroic conduct of this little hand of Indiana volunteers justifies the rental, the truth of which has been fully attested. The names of the thirteen are as follows:
Corporal Dave Hays, Co. A,
Private E. N. Baker, Co. A,
Private J. C. Hollenback, Co. B,
Private Tim Grover. Co. C,
Private James Hallowell, Co. C,
Private Thomas Brazier, Co. D,
Private George W. Wudbarger, Co. E.
Private C. E. Lewis, Co. F,
Private Frank Harrison, Co. Il,
Private P. M. Dunlap.
Private Robert Dunlap.
Private E. P. Thomas.
President Lincoln. General McClellan, General Patterson all sent congratulations in the most complimentary terms, General Patterson publishing it to his army in general orders. It began to look as though one Southerner was hardly a match for five Yankees.”
However, the Wheeling Intelligencer didn’t buy the story that Hays had been severely wounded at Patterson’s Creek. The paper noted, “Corporal David Hayes, commander of the outfit, was a ‘companion of the noted Kit Carson’ and ‘received two wounds, neither of which are considered dangerous.’ The reporter in Cumberland ‘saw him spring out of a hand-car when he arrived at Cumberland, without assistance, remarking gaily as he did so that he was worth half a dozen dead men yet.'” (Wheeling Intelligencer, June 29, 1861)
Nevertheless, Dave Hays was regarded as a hero.
And he was from right here in good old York, PA.