Zouaves, Tirailleurs, & Chasseurs a Pied
Of the United States of America, 1840 to Present
Antebellum Zouaves, 1840 to 1860
With the fighting in the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856 came worldwide coverage of the conflict, and especially the services of the French Zouaves, Tirailleurs, and Chasseurs a Pied. Newspapers, books, letters, and other forms of media and mass communications were filled with accounts of the colorful French soldiers and their fights at the Alma, Inkerman, Sebastopol, and the Malakoff; and again they were center stage during the Italian (Austro-Sardinian) War in 1859 during the battle of Solferino. As coverage of these soldiers and their battles reached the various corners of the globe local military units began to adopt the dress of the French units in imitation, and the United States was no exception. In his report regarding the Crimean War Captain George B. McClellan of the United States Army, who had been sent to the Crimea as a military observer, would write that "The Zouaves are all French; they are selected from among the old Campaigners, for their fine physique and tried courage, and have certainly proved that they are, what their appearance would indicate, the most reckless, self-reliant, and complete infantry that Europe can produce....With his graceful dress, soldierly bearing, and vigilant attitude, the Zouave at an outpost is the beau ideal of a Soldier...The Zouaves have, combined with all the activity and energy of the others, that solid ensemble, and reckless, dare-devil individuality, which would render them alike formidable, when attacking in mass, or in defending a position in the most desperate hand to hand encounter. Of all the troops that I have ever seen, I should esteem it the greatest honor to assist in defeating the Zouaves."
With such reports and articles appearing in newspapers in the United States it is no surprise that in the larger cities of the country there were organized units such as the "Pittsburgh Zouaves" and the "Philadelphia Zouave Corps" of Pennsylvania, and the "Gardes LaFayette" of New York. However in 1857 a young man named Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth happened to meet Charles A. DeVilliers, a French physician who had served in the Crimean War with the French Zouaves & Chasseurs d'Afrique, at a local gymnasium in Chicago, Illinois, where DeVilliers was serving as a fencing instructor, this chance meeting would lead to a new 'craze' in the United States, the "Zouave Craze."
Two years after their meeting Ellsworth (now serving as the Major of an Illinois State Militia unit known as the "Rockford Grays") accepted the position as Captain of a company known as the "National Guard Cadets" which had been organized in 1856, but since that time had fallen to such a degree that at the time of his acceptance (1859) the company was on the verge of disbanding. He immediately went to work reorganizing the company, re-naming them the "United States Zouave Cadets: and then starting the work of teaching them a Zouave style of drill that (with the assistance of Charles DeVilliers) he created himself, in addition to this he also adopted a Zouave style of dress of his own design (which bore little resemblance to the French style uniform) for the company. After several months of drilling, training, and improving the overall condition of the company Ellsworth lead his Zouaves to the 7th Annual United States Agricultural Fair in Chicago, Illinois, in September of 1859 where there was taking place a drill competition between the various militia's from across the county, however aside from the Zouaves only the "Highland Guards" of Chicago attended the competition, which then took place in front of a crowd of an estimated 70,000 people, the Zouaves easily won the competition and were declared the National Champions and presented with a stand of colors valued at $500. The title proved somewhat controversial however as other companies from throughout the country felt that the U.S. Agricultural Fair did not properly represent the entire United States, and as only one company had competed against them, that it was invalid. In response to this Ellsworth issued an open challenge in newspapers throughout the country to any militia company in the United States to come to Chicago and compete against them for the title and the colors, however after several months the challenge went unanswered, in May of 1860 the challenge was amended and re-issued stating the Zouave Cadets would pay all of the expenses for any group willing to accept the challenge, however still there were no takers to the challenge.
As a result of the failure to receive any response to this challenge it was decided that the Zouave Cadets would launch a 20-city tour of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to challenge the local militia's in those areas, as the members agreed that "no efforts in the way of hard and continuous drill, and strictest and most exacting discipline, should be spared to carry out their resolve to defend their colors and save them from capture." Ellsworth and the members of the company raised thousands of dollars to finance the trip, and on July 2nd, 1860, with 50 members of the Zouave Cadets, and accompanied by the Light Guard Band, Ellsworth proceeded with the tour. The tour's first stop was Adrian, Michigan, on July 3rd, from there they went to Detroit (Michigan), Cleveland (Ohio), Niagara Falls (New York), Rochester (New York), Syracuse (New York), Utica (New York), Troy (New York), Albany (New York), West Point (New York) where they preformed their exhibition for Lieutenant General Winfield Scott & Brevet Major William J. Hardee, at New York City on July 14th, and then onto Boston (Massachusetts), Salem (Massachusetts), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) where they were greeted by the members of the "Philadelphia Zouave Corps," at Baltimore, Maryland, at Washington, D.C., on August 5th, where they drilled on the White Hose lawn for President James Buchanan, at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Cincinnati (Ohio), at St. Louis (Missouri), and the final stop at Springfield (Illinois). They arrived back in Chicago on August 14th, 1860, to a great deal of fanfare from the public who had kept track of the movements of the company throughout its tour. On August 19th the Zouave Cadets gave what would be their final drill exhibition for the Home of the Friendless in Chicago, two months late (October) Ellsworth disbanded his Cadets and moved to Springfield. However the tour of the Zouave Cadets had a long lasting effect, wherever the company went they made lasting impressions (some good and some bad), however upon their departure new Zouave Companies would suddenly spring up, as in the case of the "Salem Zouaves" of Salem, Massachusetts, and the "Albany Zouave Cadets" of Albany, New York.
The following is a listing of the Zouave, Chasseur, and Trillauers units that were organized in the United States prior to January 1st, 1861. Some of these units were organized with the name of Zouaves, Chasseur's or Trillauers, however did not always adopt the style of dress associated with those names, and in other cases some units did not refer to themselves as them, but did adopt the dress of the units. Where possible it will be endeavored to indicate if the unit was a “name only” unit or an actual unit. Any corrections, additional names that should be added, or any additional information is more than welcome and should be sent to the Webmaster.
The "Philadelphia Zouave Corps" of Pennsylvania, ca. 1860
|San Francisco Zouaves (1860-1861)Stratman Zouaves (1855-????)
||Canton Zouaves (1860-1900)
|Thomasville Zouaves (1860-1861)Young Zouaves (1860-1861)
||Gymnast Zouaves (18??-1861)Philadelphia Zouave Corps (18??-1???)Pittsburgh Zouaves (18??-1???)
|Rockford Zouaves (1860-1865)Springfield Zouave Grays (1858-1861)United States Zouave Cadets (1859-1860)
||Charleston Zouave Cadets (1860-1862)
| Fort Harrison Guard Zouaves (1860-1861)
|| Harris Zouave Cadets (1860-1861)
|Gardes LaFayette (18??-1861)New York Zouaves (1860-1861)
||Milwaukee Zouaves (1857-1865)
Resources & References
Books & Published Material
- "American Civil War Zouaves" Robin Smith; Ospery Publishing, United Kingdom; 1996.
- Volume I, "Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from its organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903." Francis B. Heitman, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1903.
- "List of Synonyms of organizations in the volunteer service of the United States during the years 1861, '62, '63, '64, and '65." Richard C. Drum & John T. Fallon, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1885.
- "Zouaves. The First and the Bravest." Michael J. McAfee,; Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; 1991.
Websites & Online Resources
- Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.