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A French zouave from 1888 wearing white summer trousers instead of the usual red.

Zouave was the title given to certain 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, especially volunteer regiments raised for service in the American Civil War. The characteristic zouave uniform included short open fronted jackets, baggy trousers and often sashes and oriental headgear.


French Zouaves

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 finding homes in the mountains of the Jurjura range (see Kabyles). 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.


The Second Empire

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. In 1854 a fourth regiment was added, the Zouaves of the Imperial Guard. 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.

The Third Republic

French zouave officer in Tonkin, Spring 1885

After 1871 the Zouaves lost their status as an elite corps of long service volunteers and 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 recruiting and conscription from the southern régions militaires of mainland France (Métropole).

Two zouave battalions (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 the law of that year 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 mobilisation for war in France, these battalions would form the nucleus of Régiments de Marche de Zouaves , each of 3 battalions.

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 ("chechia"), 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

French Zouaves in the First World War

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 the attack.[1] They were however less conspicuous in World War II, seeing service mainly during the opening stages of the War (1940) and in the course of the liberation of France (1944).

Post 1945

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 traditions of the Zouave regiments are maintained at the present time by the French Army's Commando Training School, which occasionally parades colour parties and other detachments in Zouave dress. 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) the French Army does not appear to have any plans to recreate one of its most distinctive and best known corps.

Papal Zouaves

Pontifical Zouave of Major O'Reilley's Papal Brigade, and a veteran of the battles against Garibaldi. Fully armed and equipped with a .71 cal. Model 1842 French Rifle with sword bayonet, and backpack.

The Papal Zouaves were formed in defence of the Papal States. The Zouaves evolved out of a unit formed by Lamoricière in 1860, the Franco-Belgian Tirailleurs.[2] On January 1, 1861 the unit was renamed the Papal Zouaves.[3]

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.[4]

Nonetheless, the regiment was truly international, and by May 1868 numbered 4,592 men. At that time the unit was composed of 1,910 Dutch, 1,301 French, 686 Belgians, 157 Romans and Pontifical subjects, 135 Canadians, 101 Irish, 87 Prussians, 50 English, 32 Spaniards, 22 Germans from beyond Prussia, 19 Swiss, 14 Americans, 14 Neapolitans, 12 Modenese, 12 Poles, 10 Scots, 7 Austrians, 6 Portuguese, 6 Tuscans, three Maltese, two Russians and one volunteer each from the South Sea Islands, India, "Africa", Mexico, Peru and Circassia.[5]

A British volunteer noted that at least three "blacks" (doubtless Africans) and one person from China served in the Zouaves.[4]

Between February 1868 and September 1870 the number of Canadian volunteers, mainly from the francophone and Catholic province of Quebec, rose to seven contingents numbering some 500 men in total - with a contingent of 114 turning back to Canada because news had reached them of the surrender of the Papal States in September 1870.[6]

1500 Papal Zouaves assisted in the notable Papal victory at the Battle of Mentana, fought on November 3, 1867 between French-Papal troops and Italian volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi.[7]

In his report to the Pope, the commander of the Papal forces, General Kanzler, praised the elan of the Zouaves, citing a determined bayonette charge as a particular example.[8]

The Zouaves suffered the brunt of the fighting, sustaining 81 casualties in the battle, including 24 killed (the Papal forces suffered only 30 dead in total) and 57 wounded.[9] The official French report of the battle prepared by the French commander, General de Failly, also cited the bravery of the Papal Zouaves.[10]

The Zouaves are mentioned in Victor Hugo's poem Mentana.[11]

The Zouaves also played a role in the final engagements in September 1870, in which the Papal forces where outnumbered almost seven to one.[12] The Zouaves fought off enemy lancers on the 13th [13], withdrew with Papal artillery under heavy fire on the 20th [14] and made preparations for a counterattack against the Garbaldians before being told of the surrender, whereupon they destroyed their weapons.[15]

Several Zouaves were executed or murdered by the Italian forces following the surrender, including a Belgian officer who refused to give up his sword.[16]

After the Capture of Rome by Victor Emmanuel in 1870, the Papal Zouaves served the government of National Defence in France during the Franco-Prussian War. The former Papal Zouaves fought the Prussians and their German allies outside Orléans, with 15 killed or wounded between the 11th and 12 October 1870, and also engaged the enemy at Patay.[17] The unit was disbanded after the entrance of Prussian troops into Paris.

One Englishman, Joseph Powell, published his account of his service with the Papal Zouaves, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, which is now available from Google Books.[18]

Polish Zouaves of Death

François Rochebrune in uniform of Zouave of Death

In 1863, during the Lithuanian and Polish uprising against the Russian Empire, a French ex-officer who had served previously in one of the French zouave regiments, pl: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 Zouaves of Death first saw active service at the Battle of Miechów on February 17, 1863. Lt. Tytus O'Brien de Lacy escaped with 400 zouaves to Galicia in March 1863.

Commanding officers of the regiment were:

  • Colonel François Rochebrune;
  • Lieutenant Count Wojciech Komorowski;
  • Lieutenant Tytus O'Brien de Lacy;
  • Lieutenant Antoni Wojcicki; and
  • Lieutenant Tenente Bella.

Chronology of the Zouaves of Death:

  • clashed with Russian dragoons at the Battle of Chrobrz on March 17, 1863;
  • captured six cannon at the Battle of Grochowiska on March 18, 1863;
  • following the Battle of Grochowiska 400 zouaves escaped to Galicia.
  • twenty-one remaining zouaves were killed in the Battle of Igołomia on May 5, 1863.

See January Uprising

Zouaves of the United States of America and of the Confederate States

Sergt Francis E. Brownell, 11th N.Y. Regt, 1861
Goslin Zouave, 95th Regt, Pv by Xanthus Smith, 1861
Battle Dress Uniform of the 14th Brooklyn, worn throughout its three-year enlistment

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 only about 25 Zouave units.[19] Arguably the most famous Union Zouave regiments were from New York: the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, "Duryee's Zouaves" (after its first colonel, Abram Duryee), and the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, "Fire Zouaves". The 11th New York was initially led by Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, until his death in 1861. The regiment 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 only one of 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.[20] 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 War was reported to be a Zouave of the 155th Pennsylvania.[21]

There were a number of Confederate Zouave units. 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 Captain Alexander White's Company B (the "Tiger Rifles") of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat's First Special Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers, aka "Louisiana Tigers".

The Civil War period "Louisiana Tiger" cognomen has come to be associated with the various Louisiana units uniformed as Zouaves, e.g., Coppen's Zouaves. This had led to much confusion, e.g., "Louisiana Tigers at Gettysburg." That is, 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.

Post Civil War

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 a standard Wisconsin Guard uniform was adopted and the traditional distinctions of title and dress ceased.[22]

American Zouave uniforms

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 ten-foot long 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

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.

Zouave influence elsewhere

  • Features of the zouave dress were widely copied by the colonial units of various European armies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These included African regiments raised by Portugal, Britain, Spain, and Italy, as well as West Indian troops in the British service. Amongst the French North African forces the Spahis (Algerian cavalry with French officers) and the Turcos (Algerian infantry) were both dressed in the same style as the Zouaves but with different colours.
  • Between 1880 and 1893 the Turkish Imperial Guard included two Zouave regiments. The Abdul Hamid II Collection in the US Library of Congress has a number of photographs of these soldiers. They wore a uniform similar to that of the French Zouaves but with green turbans and less widely cut red breeches.
  • Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia still have zouave-style dress uniforms for their ceremonial guard units, and American Civil War reenactments often feature zouave units.

Zouaves in popular culture

  • In the Buster Keaton film The Playhouse, a Zouave drill routine is one of the acts at the theatre. One of the gags involves Buster's boss telling him to get him some Zouaves and Buster first hands him a pack of cigarettes. See 12:23 at [1]
  • In the film The 40 Year Old Virgin, the main character Andy says, while painting a toy soldier of a Zouave with the help of a magnifying glass, "And now I am going to make your silver pants blue." See the relevant article on Wikiquote.
  • In French vernacular speech the phrase "faire le Zouave" can be translated as "to play the goat" i.e. to behave wildly[23].
  • In the film Gods and Generals the 11th New York and the 14th Brooklyn are shown fighting the Stonewall Brigade at First Mannasas. Also later in the film at the battle of Fredricksburg you can see both the 114th Pennsylvania defending the pontoon bridges aganist general Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade, and the 5th New York briefly as the Union are looting Fredricksburg.
  • In the film Gettysburg one can see the 14th Brooklyn during the first day of battle, and the 114th Pennsylvania briefly as the Union are building up defenses on the highgrounds outside Gettysburg that night after the first day of battle. In the opening credits for the movie one of the background pictures shows 3 zouaves of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry regiment guarding a union battery. This is a major historical flaw in the movie because the 5th New York was mustered out of service two months before the Battle of Gettysburg.

See also


  1. ^ Furlong, Charles Wellington (1914). "Turcos And The Legion: The Spahis, The Zouaves, The Tirailleurs, And The Foreign Legion". The World's Work, Second War Manual: The Conduct Of The War: 35–37. Retrieved 2009-08-16. 
  2. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves (London: R. Washburne, 1871), at p. 1
  3. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 2
  4. ^ a b Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 287
  5. ^ Howard R. Marraro, "Canadian and American Zouaves in the Papal Army, 1868–1870" CCHA Report, 12 (1944–45), 83-102 at 83, who cites the New York Herald, June 10, 1868 for the numbers. Available online at:
  6. ^
  7. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 26
  8. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 28
  9. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 32
  10. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 35-6
  11. ^
  12. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 260, quoting the Evening Freeman, September 29, 1870
  13. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 256
  14. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 257
  15. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 259
  16. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 260
  17. ^ Joseph Powell, Two Years in the Pontifical Zouaves, p. 297pp.
  18. ^,M1
  19. ^ "U.S. Civil War Zouave Uniform Jacket". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-06-12. 
  20. ^ page 30 American Civil War Zouaves, Robin Smith ISBN 1 85532 571 3
  21. ^ page 55 American Civil War Zouaves, Robin Smith ISBN 1 85532 571 3
  22. ^ Parade Ground Soldiers, J. Phillip Langellier ISBN 0-87020-174-3
  23. ^ Harrap's Shorter French and English Dictionary
  • Smith, Robin. American Civil War Zouaves. London: Osprey Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-85532-571-3
  • Jean-Louis Larcade. Zouaves & Tirailleurs Vols 1 and 2 Editions des Argonautes ISBN 2-9515171-0-6

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. Plural form of zouave.


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