The historical origin of the Zouave uniform
Although the uniform
obviously has heavy North African influence, the Zouaves’ origin is
French. Here is how it started and
Remember that in the 1800s
But the French monarchy was
restored in 1815. One of the royal
priorities was suppressing republican, Jacobin and radical influences. Among these tainted ideas was the
skirmishing technique which the French revolutionary armies had used well. In
The Zouaves were so valuable that a general who was a member of the French royal family decided to raise French Zouave battalions. With royal sponsorship the Jacobin taint was taken off of skirmishing tactics. The French Zouave battalions became an elite, and NCOs from other units would take a reduction to private to be part of the glamorous and expert Zouaves. Among other things, the Zouaves were the first units to train using the obstacle course, which is a modern military standard. The French Zouave battalions retained the North African style of dress, standardized to a uniform with blue jacket, red square-cut pants (really a square bag with leg holes), and the fez ( brimless hat named after the city of Fez) and a turban wrapped around the fez.
The French Zouaves’
reputation was known in the
When the war started, many people raising regiments both North and South, raised Zouave regiments because they wanted to be elite and exotic, and the young troops were under the illusion that dressing like one will make you one. Zouave uniforms were designed uniquely for each regiment, and some Western Federal Zouaves had rather plain uniforms. On the Confederate side the famous Louisiana Tigers were Zouaves, with blue jackets but instead of red pants theirs were made of striped mattress ticking. Some of the Zouave regiments actually were better drilled than most troops and practiced skirmishing, and taking the name did indicate a certain commitment to excel and high morale. But American Zouave units turned out not to be unusually elite.
Incidentally the Zouave uniforms did persist throughout the war, at least in the North, and new uniforms were supplied as needed. We know this not only because of surviving orders referring to turbans and such unique items, but also because at the end of the war thousands of Zouave uniforms were sold as surplus.