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United States Zouave Cadets

United States Zouave Cadets
Chicago Zoauves.png
Country United States
Allegiance Illinois
TypeZouave infantry
RoleFoot guards
Size51 (1860)
ArmoryGarrett Block (Chicago, Illinois)
Nickname(s)Governor's Guard of Illinois[a]
March"Zouave Cadets Quickstep" (A. J. Vaas)[2]
Elmer Ellsworth
BadgeChicago Zouaves emblem.png

The United States Zouave Cadets (also known as the Chicago Zouaves, Zouave Cadets of Chicago, and the National Guard Cadets of Chicago) was a short-lived zouave (light infantry) unit of the Illinois militia that has been credited as the force behind the surge in popularity of zouave infantry in the United States and Confederate States in the mid-19th century. They were established in 1856 and adopted zouave uniforms and drill in 1859. The unit's 1860 tour of the United States popularized the distinctive zouave appearance and customs, directly and indirectly inspiring the formation of dozens of similar units on the eve of the American Civil War.

During the governorship of William Henry Bissell, the United States Zouave Cadets held the ceremonial designation of Governor's Guard of Illinois. Its march was called the "Zouave Cadets Quickstep".


"The members of the corps, with one exception, are all young men of extraordinary muscular power, and there is not one member who is not a gentleman as well as a soldier. The drill is most arduous, but; notwithstanding, every movement, no matter how complex, is executed to perfection."

The New York Times reporting on the United States Zouave Cadets' exhibition in New York City in July 1860[3]

Elmer Ellsworth was credited with transforming the moribund National Guard Cadets of Chicago into the United States Zouave Cadets.
Oil painting of the Chicago Zouaves in Utica, New York, in 1860

French origins

The Zouaves (French pronunciation: ​[zwav]) were a class of light infantry regiments of the French Army that began serving in 1830. It was initially intended in 1830 that the zouaves be a regiment of Berber volunteers from the Zwawa group of tribes in Algeria—thus the French term zouave—who had gained a martial reputation fighting for local rulers under the Ottoman Empire. In the 1860s, new units in several other countries called themselves "Zouaves". The distinctive uniforms of zouave units tended to include short open-fronted jackets, baggy trousers (serouel), sashes and oriental head gear.

Formation and early history

The National Guard Cadets of Chicago was formed as a volunteer militia company on March 19, 1856, under commanding officer Captain Joseph R. Scott.[4][5] Within three years, however, its size had dwindled to just 15 personnel.[4]

Chicago unit

While commanding officer of the Rockford Greys militia company, Elmer Ellsworth introduced his men to drills inspired by those used by French zouave units.[4] Ellsworth himself had been introduced to zouave military customs by Charles A. DeVilliers, a French physician, immigrant, and veteran of a zouave outfit during the Crimean War.[4] In 1859, soldiers of the National Guard Cadets of Chicago saw the Rockford Greys performing zouave-inspired drills and offered Ellsworth command of their unit. Ellsworth accepted the offer, transforming the National Guard Cadets of Chicago into the United States Zouave Cadets.[6]

On July 4, 1859, the United States Zouave Cadets – now 46 members strong – first publicly appeared in their new zouave uniforms and executed the unique Franco-Algerian zouave drill in front of Chicago's Tremont Hall.[4] With a training schedule of three evenings per week, the United States Zouave Cadets established a reputation for parade ground excellence called by one observer as "unsurpassed this side of West Point".[4] The United States Zouave Cadets saw their biggest audience, estimated to be 70,000 in number, the following September during the seventh annual United States Agricultural Society Fair which was hosted by Chicago.[6]

1860 tour

In July of 1860, the unit undertook a tour of the United States, appearing in parades and performing exhibition drills in Adrian, Michigan; Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York, Rochester, New York; Utica, New York; Troy, New York; Albany, New York; New York, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts.[6] Their tour closed with exhibition drills for General Winfield Scott at West Point, for President of the United States James Buchanan at the White House, and in one final public appearance in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[6]

Later history

The United States Zouave Cadets effectively ceased to exist with the outbreak of the American Civil War with most of its personnel scattering to other units.[6] Ellsworth himself took command of the 11th New York Infantry, a zouave regiment raised in New York City in May 1861, and was killed in action capturing a Confederate States flag in Alexandria, Virginia.[6] In April of 1861, officers of the United States Zouave Cadets formed three separate zouave companies each comprising between 80 and 89 men, which were integrated into the 19th Illinois Infantry Regiment.[6][7]

Charles De Villiers, the French physician and veteran of Crimea who had originally inspired Ellsworth's interest in zouaves, was later employed as an informal inspector of the Camp Dennison recruiting post. He was described in one account by a Camp Dennison soldier as "a dapper little gentleman of very dark complexion". The 11th Ohio Infantry later elected De Villiers its commander and he was commissioned a colonel. He was captured by Confederate forces during a skirmish at Gauley Bridge in Virginia in 1861.[8]


The popularity of the public appearances undertaken by the United States Zouave Cadets during their 1860 national tour helped inspire the formation of additional zouave units in other states, many of which saw service during the Civil War.[9] More than 50 zouave units existed in the Union Army alone, with additional zouave forces raised by the Confederate States.[10]

Unit march

The "Zouave Cadets Quickstep" by A. J. Vaas was registered for copyright on April 13, 1860; sheet music to the march was published by Root & Candy.[11] It became briefly popular, with the Chicago Daily Herald reporting that the publisher was – by August – receiving "daily orders in the hundreds" for it.[11] It was included in the Caxton Club's 2018 volume Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped the City and Its Image.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Illinois Governor William Henry Bissell named the Zouave Cadets the "Governor's Guard". His successor Governor Wood chose the Quincy City Guards as the executive escort.[1]


  1. ^ "Military Honor". Chicago Tribune. March 23, 1860. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  2. ^ "Zouave Cadets Quickstep". Chicago Tribune. August 20, 1860. Retrieved December 11, 2018.(subscription required)
  3. ^ "The Chicago Zouaves". The New York Times. July 9, 1860. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Swain, Martha (August 1956). "It Was Fun Soldier". American Heritage. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  5. ^ Currey, Josiah Seymour (2017). Chicago: Its History and its Builders. Jazzybee Verlag. p. 144. ISBN 3849648850.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Damman, Doug. "Elmer Ellsworth and His Zouaves". HistoryNet. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  7. ^ Dahlen, Richard L. (2006). From Conciliation to Conquest. University of Alabama Press. pp. 34–35. ISBN 0817315268.
  8. ^ "The War Spirit in the West". The New York Times. May 9, 1861. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Dretske, Diana. "Col. Elmer Ellsworth (1837–1861)". Lake County History. Dunn Museum. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  10. ^ Wise, Arthur M. (2007). Uniforms of the Civil War. Courier. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0486454207.
  11. ^ a b c Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped the City and Its Image. University of Chicago Press. 2018. p. 18. ISBN 022646864X.