- Historic Sites
It Was Fun Soldier
— until the shooting started
August 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 5
“Their uniform was loose scarlet trousers, gaiter bootS, and buff-leather leggings, a blue jacket trimmed with orange-colored braid, and a red cap with orange trimmings; their scarlet blankets were rolled on the top of their knapsacks. They drilled as light infantry, and moved like electric clocks. … The step of the Zouaves was in itself a peculiarity and strongly suggestive of thorough pedestrian and gymnastic: preparation. The diminutive stature of the men [Ellsworth was five feet six inches and most of his men were about the same] and their precision in accomplishing the allotted length of the step, gave to it something of a steady loping movement, but yet so firm and springy that its elfect was most animated.”
When they returned to Chicago, the Zouaves were greeted with fireworks and a torchlight parade, and treated like conquering heroes. They gave one last exhibition in Chicago, and then Ellsworth resigned and disbanded the company.
When Lincoln called for 75,000 troops on April 15, Ellsworth determined to raise the first regiment and decided to recruit from the firemen of New York. In less than four days his 1,100-man regiment was full—the First New York Fire Zouaves—and he and ten officers from his original Zouaves drilled them intensively. On May 7, in the presence of the President, they were mustered into service in Washington, and little more than two weeks later, they began their night march over the Long Bridge to Alexandria.
Despite the obvious disadvantages of the uniform in wartime, the Zouave craze begun by Ellsworth persisted for some time alter his own death.
Not until the Peninsula campaign did the men with the gay red pants, yellow sashes, and Turkish-style yellow sashes begin to realize that their costume was not only very hard to keep neat, but extremely conspicuous, and undoubtedly this led to the eventual abandonment of the colorful outfits. But while they lasted, they were a striking addition to a war whose beginning reflected the ardor of the men who wore them. And years afterward veterans still recalled the brilliant picture of a Zouave outfit swinging down the road anil singing their own little song:
Oh we belong to the Zoo-Zoo-Zoo — Don’t you think we oughter? We’re going down to Washing-town To fight for Abraham’s daughter.