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Zouave was the title given to certain light infantry regiments in the French Army, normally serving in French North Africa between 1831 and 1962. The name was also adopted during the 19th century by units in other armies, such as volunteer regiments raised for service in the American Civil War and Brazilian free black volunteers in the Paraguayan War,. The chief distinguishing characteristics of such units were the zouave uniform, which included short open-fronted jackets, baggy trousers (serouel) and often sashes and oriental headgear.
The Zouaves of the French Army were first raised in Algeria in 1831 with one and later two battalions, initially recruited solely from the Zouaoua (or Zwāwa), a tribe of Berbers located in the mountains of the Jurjura Range (see Kabyles). The Zouaoua had formerly provided soldiers for the deys of Algiers and in August 1830 the commander of the French expeditionary force which had occupied the city recommended their continued employment in this role. The existence of the new corps was formally recognised by a Royal decree dated 7 March 1833. In 1838 a third battalion was raised, and the regiment thus formed was commanded by Major de Lamoriciere. Shortly afterwards the formation of the Tirailleurs algériens, the Turcos, as the corps for Muslim troops, changed the enlistment for the Zouave battalions, and they became a purely French body.
The Zouaves saw extensive service during the French conquest of Algeria, initially at the Mouzaia Pass action (March 1836), then at Mitidja (September 1836) and the siege of Constantine (1837). Recruited through voluntary enlistment or transfer from other regiments of men with at least two years service, the Zouaves quickly achieved the status of an elite amongst the French Army of Africa.
By 1852, the French Army included three regiments of Zouaves. Each of the three line regiments of Zouaves was allocated to a different province of Algeria, where their depots and peace-time garrisons were located. The Crimean War was the first service which the regiments saw outside Algeria. They subsequently served in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, the Mexican Intervention (1864–66) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870). The distinctive dress and dash of the Zouaves made them well known outside France and they were frequently portrayed in the illustrated publications of the period. The 2nd Zouaves (popularly known as "the Jackals of Oran") had their eagle decorated with the Legion d' Honneur following the Battle of Magenta in 1859.
On 23 December 1854 a fourth regiment was created, the Zouaves of the Imperial Guard. The actual formation of this unit was delayed until 15 March 1855 when detachments from the Zouave regiments already serving in the Crimea were brought together for this purpose. The Zouaves of the Imperial Guard served through the remainder of the Crimean War and subsequently in all the campaigns of the Second Empire. Their peace-time garrisons were initially at Saint-Cloud and then Versailles from 1857. This regiment wore the classic zouave uniform but with yellow braiding and piping substituted for the red of the line regiments.
After 1871 the zouaves lost their status as an élite corps solely made up of long-service volunteers; they became a force mainly composed of conscripts from the French settlers in Algeria and Tunisia, undertaking their compulsory military service. Shortfalls in numbers were made up by detachments from the southern régions militaires of mainland France (Métropole). The zouave regiments did however retain significant numbers of long-service volunteers (engages volontiers et réengages) who contributed to the high morale and steadiness of these units.
Two zouave battalions (under chefs de bataillon Simon and Mignot) served in Tonkin during the closing weeks of the Sino-French War (August 1884 to April 1885). One of these battalions was roughly handled on 23 March 1885 in the Battle of Phu Lam Tao. A third zouave battalion (chef de bataillon Metzinger) joined the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps shortly after the end of the war, and took part in operations against Vietnamese insurgents.
In 1899 a law created for each regiment of Zouaves a 5th Battalion, "to be stationed in France" in groupes des 5e bataillons de Zouaves. The 5th battalions of the 1st and 4th Zouaves were stationed as part of the Gouvernement militaire de Paris. The 5th battalions of the 2nd and 3rd Zouaves were stationed in the région militaire de Lyon. Upon mobilization for war in France, these battalions would form the nucleus of Régiments de Marche de Zouaves, each of 3 battalions.
Zouave battalions subsequently saw active service in China during the Boxer Rising (1900–01) and in Morocco (1908-14). From the very beginning of World War I zouave regiments and detached battalions saw extensive service on the Western Front. Others served in Macedonia, Tonkin, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Twelve zouave battalions were recruited from prisoners-of-war and from deserters from German Alsace and Lorraine who had volunteered to join the French Army.
The four Zouave regiments of the French Army wore their traditional colorful dress during the early months of the First World War. The development of the machine gun, rapid-fire artillery and improved small-arms obliged them to adopt a plain khaki uniform from 1915 on. From 1927 to 1939 the "oriental dress" of red fez ("chichi"), blue sash, braided blue jackets with waistcoats and voluminous red trousers was reintroduced as off-duty dress for re-enlisted NCOs and other long-service regulars in the Zouave regiments. It was also worn by colour guards and other detachments on ceremonial occasions. White trousers of the same style had earlier been worn as an item of hot-weather dress. The four regiments were distinguished by the colours (red, blue, white and yellow) of the "tombeaus" or false pockets on the front of their open-fronted jackets.
The Zouaves played a major role in the 1914-18 War with their numbers being expanded to nine regiments de marche. These units retained much of their traditional panache, especially in attack. They became however less conspicuous in World War II, seeing service mainly during the opening stages of the war in the Battle of France (1940) and in the course of the liberation of France (1944).
As predominantly conscript units the Zouaves did not serve in Indochina between 1945 and 1954. They were, however, employed extensively during the Algerian War, before being finally disbanded in 1962 following Algerian independence. This was inevitable since their recruitment base was the European population of Algeria, which dispersed with the ending of French rule. The 9th Zouaves based in the Casbah, played a major role in the 1957 Battle of Algiers.
The traditions of the zouave regiments were maintained until 2006 by the French Army's Commando Training School (CEC), which occasionally paraded colour parties and other detachments in zouave dress. With the closure of the CEC school that year and the putting into store of the flag of the former 9th Zouaves in 2010, any direct link between the former zouaves and active units of the modern French Army ceased. While other branches of the old Armée d'Afrique have either survived or been reestablished as representative units in recent years (notably the Foreign Legion, Chasseurs d'Afrique, Tirailleurs and Spahis), France does not have any plans to recreate one of its most distinctive and best known military corps.
The Papal Zouaves was a corps of volunteers formed as part of the Army of the Papal States. The Zouaves evolved out of a unit formed by Lamoricière in 1860: the Franco-Belgian Tirailleurs. On January 1, 1861 the unit was renamed the Papal Zouaves.
The Zuavi Pontifici were mainly young men, unmarried and Roman Catholic, who volunteered to assist Pope Pius IX in his struggle against the Italian Risorgimento. They wore a similar style of uniform to that of the French Zouaves but in grey with red trim. A grey and red kepi was substituted for the North African fez.
All orders were given in French, and the unit was commanded by a Swiss Colonel, M. Allet. The regiment was truly international, and by May 1868 numbered 4,592 men including 1,910 Dutch, 1,301 French, 686 Belgians and 240 Italians A total of three hundred volunteers came from Canada, the United States and Ireland; while the remaining 155 Zouaves were mostly South American.
The Papal Zouaves assisted in the notable Franco/Papal victory at the Battle of Mentana on November 3, 1867. They suffered the brunt of the fighting, sustaining 81 casualties in the battle, including 24 killed (the Papal forces suffered only 30 dead in total). The official report of the battle prepared by the French commander, General de Failly cited the bravery of the Zouaves. They were also mentioned in Victor Hugo's poem Mentana.
The Zouaves also played a role in the final engagements against the forces of the newly united Kingdom of Italy in September 1870, in which the Papal forces were outnumbered almost seven to one. The Zouaves fought bravely before surrender. Several Zouaves were reportedly executed or murdered by the Italian forces following the surrender.
The French component of the Papal Zouaves regrouped as the Volontaires de l'Ouest (Volunteers of the West) to fight on the French side in the Franco-Prussian War, where they kept their grey and red Papal uniforms. The Zouaves saw action outside Orléans, Patay and the Battle of Loigny. The Volontaires de l'Ouest were disbanded after the entrance of Prussian troops into Paris.
An English veteran, Joseph Powell, published his account of his service with the Papal Zouaves, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves
In 1863, during the Polish January Uprising against the Russian Empire, a French ex-officer who had served previously in one of the French zouave regiments, François Rochebrune, organised the Zouaves of Death. Members of this Polish unit swore "to conquer or to die" and not to surrender. They wore a black uniform with white cross and red fez.
The unit's baptism by fire occurred at the Battle of Miechów, where under the command of adjutant Wojciech Komorowski, they successfully charged Russian forces defending the local cemetery. However, the overall engagement was a defeat for the Poles. On February 17, 1863. Lt. Tytus O'Brien de Lacy escaped with 400 zouaves to Galicia in March 1863. In the Battle of Chroberz the Zouaves covered the retreat of the main body of Polish forces under Marian Langiewicz. They also fought at the follow-up Battle of Grochowiska where they captured Russian artillery positions but suffered very high casualties.
Commanding officers of the regiment were:
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Numerous Zouave regiments were organized from soldiers of the United States of America who adopted the name and the North African–inspired uniforms during the American Civil War. The Union army had more than 70 volunteer Zouave regiments throughout the conflict, while the Confederates fielded about 25 Zouave companies. A feature of some American zouave units, at least in the opening stages of the American Civil War, was the light infantry tactics and drill they employed. Zouaves: "...utilised light infantry tactics that emphasised open-order formations, with several feet between soldiers, rather than the customary close order, with its characteristic 'touch of elbows'. They moved at double time, rather than marching at a stately cadence, and they lay on their backs to load their rifles rather than standing to do so. To fire they rolled prone and sometimes rose on one knee."
Arguably the most famous Union Zouave regiments were from New York and Pennsylvania: the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, "Duryee's Zouaves" (after its first colonel, Abram Duryee), the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry; "Collis's Zouaves" (after their colonel, Charles H. T. Collis); and the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, the "Fire Zouaves". The 11th New York was initially led by Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, until his death in 1861. The 11th New York was badly mauled during the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 as it acted as the rear guard for the retreating Army of the Potomac. The 5th New York was considered one of the elite units of the Army of the Potomac and was one of only two volunteer regiments brigaded with the regular division commanded by George Sykes. At the Second Battle of Bull Run, the 5th New York, along with another Zouave regiment, the 10th New York "National Zouaves", held off the flanking attack of James Longstreet's Corps for ten crucial minutes before it was overrun. The 5th New York thus suffered the highest percentage of casualties in the shortest amount of time of any unit in the Civil War (of 525 men, approximately 120 were killed and 330 were wounded in less than 10 minutes).
In 1863 and 1864, three Union regiments (146th New York, 140th New York, and 155th Pennsylvania) were issued with Zouave uniforms to reward their proficiency in drill and battlefield performance. Difficulties in supply and replacement meant that Zouave and other exotic militia uniforms tended to be replaced by standard issue uniforms throughout the conflict. However, the tradition remained strong, and the last Union casualty of the fighting in Virginia was reported to be a Zouave of the 155th Pennsylvania, killed at Farmville, Virginia on the morning of April 9, 1865.
A number of Confederate Zouave units were also raised. In contrast to the many Federal units, most Confederate Zouaves were not full "regiments": many were companies within larger units. The cognomen "Louisiana Tiger" dates from the Mexican War, and refers to any Louisiana state trooper (and more recently, to the state's athletic teams). But none of the Mexican War Louisiana "Tigers" were Zouaves. The earliest, and most famous, Louisiana Zouave unit was White's Company B (the "Tiger Rifles") of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat's First Special Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers, aka "Louisiana Tigers". Another notable Zouave regiment on the Confederate side was "Coppens Zouaves", which were raised by Georges Augustus Gaston De Coppens in 1861, and saw action in the Peninsula campaign and at the battle of Petersburg, all the while being constantly in need of supplies. They were disbanded in 1865.
Winters also notes that a group of itinerant actors who claimed to have served in European wars stimulated the Zouave craze. The actors attracted large crowds and inspired the formation of military companies. They visited several New Orleans companies and instructed the men in a new manual of arms. They toured the river towns and played to an overflow audience in Plaquemine. In Alexandria in Central Louisiana, the actors performed "a bloody drama of the Crimean War".
Among the Louisiana Zouaves were the "Louisiana Tigers" or "Coppen's Zouaves". These names have been confused with "Louisiana Tigers at Gettysburg". Coppen's Zouaves were at Gettysburg, but they were not then known as "Louisiana Tigers". Captain White's Company B, "Louisiana Tigers", of Major Wheats's First Special Battalion, were not at Gettysburg, having been disbanded after Wheat's death at Gaines Mill in 1862.
Zouaves gradually vanished from the U.S. military in the 1870s and 1880s, as the militia system slowly transformed into the National Guard. As an example, the Wisconsin militia still included one zouave unit in 1879, but the following year, in 1880, a standard Wisconsin Guard uniform was adopted, and the traditional distinctions of title and dress ceased. After the Civil War, veteran groups sometimes dressed as zouaves during honor guard ceremonies such as funeral processions, since zouave dress was considered colorful and distinctive. Modern American Civil War reenactments often feature zouave units.
The zouave uniform was sometimes quite elaborate, to the extent of being unwieldy. Some Zouave regiments wore a fez with a colored tassel (usually yellow, blue, green, or red) and turban, a tight fitting short jacket (some without buttons), a wide 10-foot-long (300 cm) sash, baggy pantaloons or "chasseur" trousers, white leggings, and a short leather cuff for the calf, called jambieres. The sash was especially difficult to put on, often requiring the help of another zouave. The zouave uniform was better suited for warm climates and rough terrain. The loose pantaloons allowed for greater freedom of movement than trousers, while the short jacket was much cooler than the long wool blouse worn by most armies of the time. One of the reasons for the smaller number of zouave units in the U.S. and Europe was the expense of the specialised uniform over that of mass-produced uniforms of a single color and cut.
Spanish zouaves in the Third Carlist War (1872–1876) were created by the pretender to the Spanish throne, Don Alfonso Carlos, who raised the Carlist Zouaves as an honor guard to accompany himself and his wife Maria de las Nieves Braganza. The Carlist Zouaves originated as the sixth company of the second battalion of the Pontifical Zouaves. Don Alfonso Carlos had attained the rank of lieutenant as part of the Pontifical Zouave. The Carlist Zouaves demonstrated their fierceness in battle and were used as shock troops within the army of Catalonia and the Maestrazgo. As the King's honour guard they were envied by other Carlist units. The uniforms of the Carlist Zouaves included the baggy trousers, short jacket, vest and sash of both the French and Pontifical Zouaves. However, the Carlist Zouaves also wore a distinctive feature that differentiated them from existing zouave regiments elsewhere, in the form of a beret of Basque influence with a characteristic tassel. In order to distinguish the troops from the officers, the color of the officer's jacket was a blue gray shade with a darker blue for the other ranks. The beret worn by the troops was white with a yellow tassel while the officers wore a red beret with yellow tassel. The baggy trousers were grayish for all ranks.
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