I had heard of Zouaves before, but my first experience of meeting a modern day Zouaves was at the recent CW 150 Frederick Douglass Event at Trumbull County Courthouse. Marching into Courtroom No. 1 along with Civil War reenactors in conventional Union uniforms was a 15-year-old boy dressed in an uncommonly colorful uniform consisting of brick-red baggy pants, a dark blue short, a tight jacket embroidered in red with light blue cuffs over a white linen shirt, with white canvas leggings, Civil War style brogans and a red fez with a yellow tassel and embroidered trim.
Hugh Mullen, a member of the CW 150 Committee, had met Brandon Russo five years ago at a reenactment event of the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Since then, he has been encouraging Brandon's enthusiasm and eagerness to participate in reenactments.
Brandon's interests are directed toward Zouaves, as many other boys are interested in the Boy Scouts.
Mullen invited Brandon to participate in the Frederick Douglass event, and I was able to talk with him there. I learned from him, and other sources of information, that Zouave participation in the Union Army was quite broad.
There were more than 70 Union Zouave volunteer regiments during the Civil War. That would mean about 5,000 men if all the regiments were at full strength. There also were about 25 companies of Zouaves in the Confederate army.
They all wore exotic uniforms modeled after French and North African uniforms. There was some variation that differentiated groups. Most often, they consisted of brightly colored yellow or red baggy pants, white canvas leggings, red or yellow sashes, and short tight jackets, often elaborately embroidered. Some wore Turkish style red fezzes with tassels, some wore turbans.
The baggy pants allowed for great freedom of movement, and the jackets were not as hot as the long woolen ones worn by the rest of the armed forces. However, some wondered if it was wise to be so conspicuous on the firing line.
Some of the Zouave units utilized light infantry tactics and open order formations. They marched at double time and lay on their backs to load their rifles, rolling over into a prone position to fire at their opponents.
One of the Zouaves most well known to students of the Civil War was Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth. He had helped to recruit a new regiment, the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, from New York City volunteer firemen. They were known as the Fire Zouaves, and they led the first Union invasion of Confederate territory at Alexandria, Va., on May 14, 1861, where Ellsworth was the first Union officer to be killed in the war.
His body lay in state in the White House, mourned by President Lincoln. He had studied law with Lincoln in Illinois and had become almost like a nephew to him. Lincoln called Ellsworth "the greatest little man I've ever met."
Ellsworth became a folk hero, and many poems, songs and eulogies were written about him. "Remember Ellsworth" became the slogan of the 11th and 44th New York volunteer Infantries.
On the other hand, the Southerners viewed Ellsworth and his Zouaves as "execrable cutthroats and jailbirds" according to the Richmond Virginia Examiner.
Brandon shared a good deal of this information with me.
At the CW 150 Gettysburg Commemoration in the Eastwood Mall in July 2013, Brandon was called upon to say a few words. The reenactor who was to speak as Confederate General Longstreet had not appeared. Brandon came to the rescue.
With no prior notice and no preparation, he spoke with composure and confidence for around 10 minutes about the Zouaves.
Brandon is in the eighth grade at Boardman Glenwood School. I asked him if his reenacting experiences helped him in school at all. He must know more about the Civil War than the other students in his classes.
"Yes," he said, "and more than the teacher sometimes. When my history teacher says something that is incorrect, I raise my hand and correct him."
Brandon said his teacher told him he has to support his position on an issue from a recent class, and must write a paper on the symbolism of the Confederate flag.
I think Brandon is a smart young man, most refreshing to meet.