Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Salem Zouaves

Salem Zouave Re-enactors
photo from their Facebook page
The Salem Zouaves were born in August 1860 when the Salem Light Infantry, under Captain Arthur F. Devereaux, was visited by the Chicago Zouaves under Colonel E. E. Ellsworth. The visiting Zouaves spent the night at the Salem Armory, and marched through the city to the common where they put on a drill that enthralled the citizens and members of the Salem Light Infantry. They marched in loose, but quick formations, and held bayonet exercises that were unlike anything ever seen before. Their uniforms, which were colorful and loose, were probably a hit, too. “Here was something quite new, no heavy cumbersome uniform, none of the stiffness and formality of the old drill, and in marching the men moved along in an easy swinging style with little or no attention to alignment or uniformity; in was entirely unlike the old drill, and it was no wonder that the Infantry boys found it catching. This occasion was the birth of the later renowned “Salem Zouaves”.” [The Essex Institute Historical Collections, Volume XXV, Salem, Massachusetts, 1888, pages 222 -223]

Re-enacting the 5th NY Volunteer Infantry
By April 1861 the Civil War had started and the Salem Zouaves were assigned to the 8th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, called to Baltimore with General Butler. It was at this time that the Zouaves participated in the “Rescue of Old Ironsides”. Most of the rest of their time in Baltimore was spent on guard duty. Many of these volunteers, after serving their initial time with the Zouaves, re-enlisted with the Massachusetts 19th Regiment and saw real action in the Civil War.

In 1862 the Zouaves were back in Salem, escorting funerals, putting on drills and parades in Essex County and Boston. They had nine months service at a camp in Boxford, Massachusetts. By November some of the Zouaves were in Port Hudson, near Baton Rouge performing picket duty with the 19th Army Corps. They were mustered out of service at Wenham, Massachusetts on 24 August 1863. The Salem Light Infantry continued until about 1890, but the Salem Zouaves unit was never reactivated.

During the Civil War, Zouave units were based on native North African troops in the French Army. They wore baggy harem style pants, usually red, and fez or turbans. During the Crimean War (1853-56) the Zouave troops became heroes, and illustrations of their uniforms influenced fashion in Europe and the United States. Their popularity spread to the United States and many local militias adopted the colorful uniforms and fancy drill programs. Colonel Ellsworth’s Chicago Zouave Cadets toured the United States and spread their popularity just before the start of the Civil War. This is when the local Salem militia “caught the fever”!

Zouave Style
Both sides of the Civil War had Zouave units, North and South. In New England they were popular with units made up by college boys, and often a benefactor would donate the fancy uniforms. Colonel Ellsworth, commander of the 11th NY “Fire Zouaves” was killed when he tried to pull down a Confederate flag in Virginia. His death was one of the first major casualties of the war, until Bull Run. The fashions he made famous in the United States military stayed famous even with ladies clothing all during the 1860s.

For more information:

Click here for my post yesterday about the Salem Zouave's and their rescue of the USS Constitution during the Civil War 

A Zouave Uniform from the Smithsonian Museum

Albany Zouave Cadets, by James Hilton Manning, Albany, New York, 1910 [available at Google Books]

Zouave Drill Book, by Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, King & Baird printers, 1861

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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