What is a Zouave?
ZOUAVE (zoo-ahh-vah) was the name given to native North African troops employed by the French Army as fighters and mercenaries. Their dash, spirit, and heroic style of warfare caught the fancy of many military observers worldwide in the 1800's, including a young American named Elmer Ellsworth. Ellsworth organized the "US Zouave Cadets", the first zouave organization in this country, and
toured the north where they participated in parades and drill competitions. The popularity of the cadets caught on in other areas of the nation and it was this idea that gave birth to "zouave regiments" during the American Civil War. A number of zouave regiments were organized in the North and South in 1861, modeled after the zouave regiments of North Africa and Ellsworth's Cadets. The uniforms
of these regiments were very distinctive and made them stand out in camp and on the drill field. Regrettably, their bright red trousers and sashes also made them good targets on the battlefield. Never the less, a number of zouave regiments were raised, uniformed, and marched off to war to serve both sides.
Zouaves of the 114th PA Volunteers
Zouave uniforms were difficult to obtain in America, so manufacturers of specialty clothing were employed to make the uniforms. There were many distinct styles and colors, depending on the design submitted by the benefactor of the regiment. Friends of the organizer provided money to pay for the uniforms along with donations from the town where the regiment was organized. John M. Gosline, a
prominent citizen of Philadelphia who raised the 95th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry ("Gosline's Zouaves"), secured sufficient funds to purchase a full set of clothing for 1,000 men with enough cash left over to insure that the uniforms could be replenished as they were worn out. When the uniforms of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry began to wear out, Colonel Charles Collis used his influence
with political friends in the state legislature to secure state money to supply new uniforms to those men who needed them. Despite these efforts, a zouave regiment only retained its distinctive dress if the men repaired their clothing and the distinctive zouave uniforms slowly disappeared from the army as time passed. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg,
many of these regiments had lost or worn out their original uniforms and adopted the standard Union uniform. Still, there were a handful of regiments that still had a portion of the zouave uniform- the jacket- such as the 23rd Pennsylvania Infantry and the 95th Pennsylvania Infantry.
A Zouave of the 95th PA
(Miller's Photographic History)
Even though many original zouave regiments had gone to standard Union uniforms, there some Union regiments that became zouave regiments. The 146th New York Infantry did not start the service in zouave uniforms, but adopted them in June 1863 jus before the Gettysburg Campaign began. Some of the other regiments in that brigade, including the 140th New York and 155th Pennsylvania Infantry,
adopted zouave uniforms later in the war.
A unique presence in zouave regiments was the vivandiere (vi-van-de-air). This was a special person in the regiment because they were female and dressed in a uniform similar to the men. Many zouave regiments had vivandieres who performed a variety of duties, most notably nursing on the battlefield. Mary Tepee, or "French Mary" as she was called, was the vivandiere of the 114th
Pennsylvania Infantry. Mary was present on almost every battlefield where the regiment fought and acted as a battlefield nurse and aide. She carried water and bandages into battle and was wounded during the war. Mary was present with the regiment at Gettysburg and was one of the few women with the army to ever experience combat. Her regiment, the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry or "Collis' Zouaves",
were one of the more well known zouave regiments of the war, heralded for their precision on the drill field dressed in flashy zouave-style uniforms featuring bright red trousers, white leggings, blue jacket, and red fez. The 114th fought in almost every major battle of the Army of the Potomac, including Gettysburg. In 1864, the regiment was appointed headquarters guard for General Meade.
One of the original uniforms that belonged to a solder of the 114th Pennsylvania is currently on display at the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.
The young man who started the zouave craze in America did not live long enough to see the zouave regiments his example inspired, march to the battlefield. In 1861, Ellsworth returned to New York (his home state) and organized the 11th New York Infantry, "Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves". The men in the regiment recruited from the many different fire departments in New York City. The 11th New York moved
to the defenses of Washington that April where their commander, Colonel Ellsworth, paid a courtesy call on the president. Ellsworth had become an acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln while living in Illinois, and the president was very fond of the dashing 24 year-old officer, viewing him as a symbol of Union and patriotism. On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded from the Union, the 11th New
York Infantry was ordered to seize Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. While securing the city, Colonel Ellsworth personally removed a Confederate flag from the front of an inn known as the Marshall House and was gunned down by the furious innkeeper. A grief stricken President Lincoln ordered Ellsworth's body be laid in state at the White House before the body was
taken home to New York for burial. Ellsworth's tragic death became a symbol of the Union cause while northern newspapers and politicians eulogized him as one of the North's greatest patriots. Soon after his burial, his old regiment changed their nickname to "Ellsworth's Avengers".
Ellsworth in his Zouave Cadet uniform,