AskDefine | Define Zouave

Extensive Definition

Zouave was the name given to certain infantry regiments in the French army, as well as to units in other armies which imitated the dress or drill of the French zouaves.

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 algeriens, the Turcos, as the corps for Muslim troops, changed the enlistment for the Zouave battalions, and they became a purely French body. Three regiments had been formed by 1852, and a fourth, the Zouaves of the Imperial Guard, in 1854.
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

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' Honeur following the Battle of Magenta in 1859. 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 Third Republic

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). 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 batallions 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.
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
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. during World War I. 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 Indo-China 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

The Papal Zouaves were formed in defence of the Papal States by Lamoricière in 1860. 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 formed an international regiment, coming from Flanders, France, The Netherlands, Bavaria, and even Canada. After the occupation of Rome by Victor Emmanuel in 1870, the Papal Zouaves served the government of National Defence in France during the Franco-Prussian War, and were disbanded after the entrance of Prussian troops into Paris. 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.

Zouaves 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, François Rochebrune, organized 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 cannons 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.

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

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 United States Civil War. The Union army had Zouave regiments throughout the conflict, while the Confederates fielded only a handful of Zouave units. 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). From 1863 onward, Zouave uniforms were often used to reward Union army regiments for exceptional battlefield performance. Zouaves gradually vanished from the U.S. military in the 1870s and 1880s, as the militia system slowly transformed into the National Guard, however some Zouaves saw service in the Spanish-American War.
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 specialized uniform over that of mass-produced uniforms of a single color and cut.

Zouave Influence

  • 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.


  • 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
Zouave in German: Zuaven
Zouave in Estonian: Suaavid
Zouave in Spanish: Zuavo
Zouave in Esperanto: Zuavo
Zouave in French: Zouaves
Zouave in Italian: Zuavi
Zouave in Dutch: Zouaaf
Zouave in Polish: Żuawi
Zouave in Portuguese: Zouaves
Zouave in Romanian: Zuav
Zouave in Russian: Зуав
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1