Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Two Louisiana Zouaves (Harper's Weekly, 17 August 1861)
By Mike Jones
The Tiger Rifles, Company B, 1st Special Battalion (Wheat's) Louisiana Volunteers, was one of most famous company level units in American military history. It gained its reputation for being Tigers both on and off the battlefield. It was this unit's early fame in the war that gave Wheat's Battalion the nickname "Wheat's Tigers" which soon became attached to all Louisiania infantry serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. Part of their fame, besides their fighting qualities, was their stand-out zouave uniforms. The Tigers were outfitted by wealthy New Orleans businessman A. Keene Richards before they left Louisiana for the seat of war. Unfortunately, there appears to be no known photographs enlisted men of the Tiger Rifles in their glorious zouave uniforms. There are only eye-witness descriptions, which tend to be highly contradictory, and two wartime sketches that give some idea of their general appearance.

One of the two sketches is by a Harper's Weekly artist who showed, from a distance, a group of New Orleans Tiger Zouaves standing around their camp after just arriving in Lynchburg, Va. in June of 1861. The sketch didn't run in Harper's Weekly until 28 Sept. 1861. The other is a water color sketch done by Captain Leon Fremaux of the 8th Louisiana Infantry. It shows two Tigers on a road with one giving the other a drink from his canteen. The color of the jackets is reportedly light brown. Presuming these sketches are accurate, they show the Tigers wore fairly traditional zouave uniforms, but with blue and white striped pants made of ticking material rather than red wool.

There is photographic evidence for the 1st Battalion (Coppen's) Louisiana Zouave Battalion. Coppen's Zouaves were photographed in Pensacola, Florida at the beginning of the war in two published photos, one with arms stacked and the other with them holding their arms at the "charge bayonet" position. The photos also show possibly the only known wartime image of a fully uniformed Confederate vivandiere, a woman who provided water and medical assistance. There is also a Harper's Weekly sketch of a group of Coppen's Zouave prisoners-of-war, which ran 27 July 1861. They were stationed on the Yorktown peninsula under Brig. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder while The Tiger Rifles were on the Centreville line with Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard.

The above sketch from Harper's Weekly of 17 August 1861 is identified only as two Louisiana Zouaves with no identification as to unit. The figure at left is wearing a long side knife, which was typical of the Tiger Rifles, who had 1841 Mississippi Rifles, with no bayonet. However he also has a bayonet on his other side,which would seem to be contradictory since the Tiger Rifles had no bayonets. The figure at right is holding a musket with attached bayonet. Coppen's Zouaves had bayonets for their weapons, but no long side knives as best can be determined from the known photographs. Both figures have striped pants, but is this just artist shading or a clear indication they were Tiger Rifles?

Of course the sketch could be a composite of both zouave units with embellishments such as bayonets and long side-knives to make it a more interesting picture. I think it fair to say they are good representative images of Louisiana zouaves. There were other company level units which also wore zouave uniforms or used the word zouave in their names , but the Tiger Rifles and Coppen's Battalion are the best documented.

No comments: