The American Zouave Craze

Gunned down at the beginning of the American Civil War, Elmer F. F.I Is worth never even tasted battle, but lie sparked a Zouave craze across America. Born in the village of Malta near Mechanicv ille, New York State, on 11 April 1837, Fllsworth became a military enthusiast at an early age, putting his friends armed with sticks through drill movements in the schoolyard. When he moved to New York City, Ellsworth frequently visited the drill sessions of the 'Dandy Seventh', the 7th Regiment, New York State Militia, a crack unit who were also nicknamed the 'Old Grey backs' because of their grey uniforms. Later, as a struggling law student in Chicago, Ellsworth met up with Charles A. DeYilliers, a former French Army surgeon who had served with a Zouave regiment in the Crimea.

Ellsworth's imagination was fired, and he formed his own Zouave unit, proudly named the United States Zouave Cadets, from a company of the Illinois State Militia. Ellsworth issued a challenge to any volunteer or regular regiment in the United States to take on his men in a drill competition, but no other outfits took up the challenge.

Instead, in I860 Ellsworth took his cadets on a drill display tour of 19 East Coast cities. The public loved the Zouave Cadets, and Ellsworth became a celebrity: bis portrait sold by the thousand, and ladies swooned over the dashing young officer and bis men. The Old Greybacks, whom Ellsworth had lovingly watched in bis youth, freely admitted that no other unit could touch the Zouave Cadets for their precision; at the call of a bugle, Ellsworth's men performed gymnastic drill movements, including square, triangle and double cross formations.

Newspapers were full of stories about Zouave exploits. 'A Zouave is a fellow who can climb a greased pole feet first, carry ing a barrel of pork in his teeth that is a Zouave,' ran one enthusiastic account in a Chicago newspaper. 'A fellow who can lake a five shooting revolver in each hand and knock the spots out of the ten of diamonds at SO paces, turning somersaults all the time and firing every shot in the air that is a Zouave.

Ellsworth and his men had established a Zouave craze in \mcrica, bur maintaining the crack unit proved too expensive, and the Zouave Cadets were eventually disbanded. Ellsworth moved to Springfield, Illinois, entered Abraham Lincoln's law office and campaigned on the future president's behalf. He was invited by Lincoln to

The United Stales Zouave ('inlets run through their display in Xew Y ork ill IHfill. Captain Ellsworth, their founder, is the officer with drawn sword at the right of the picture. I'art drill and part gymnastics, the displays given by the Cadets were military theatre on a grand scale, lapped up by crowds everywhere. In the audience in Sew York was Colonel Aliram Duryee, who was impressed by the display and went on to found the famed 5th Xew York Volunteer Infantry, Duryee's Zouaves. (Michael J McAfee)

These Trench Zouaves on exercise around 191.1 wear uniforms that wouldn't have been oul oj place in the Crimean War. Trench Zouaves wore their traditional uniforms ¡luring the first months of World War I, but sus-tained such heavy casualties thai they were ordered to wear less conspicuous dress. (Author's collection)

World War One Zouave Zouave Uniform

tor rinraoo xoravm tYtxmx<i nitm

Fire Zouaves Uniforms

This engraving shows the Fire //¡nin es in their distinctive grey ttnijorms marching down Broadway and off to the war. The /ouaves were the pride of Xew York' in the heady days of 1H(>I, hut the solid citizens of II nshington, where the lire /ouaves were first stationed, didn't take kindly to their wild unties. (Brian I'olianka)

accompany him to Washington, and lie saw (his as a chance to enter the War Office and start a National Militia Bureau in the Federal Government, with himself at the head. But, his dream was never realised.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment