Zouave troops in the Civil War
A report from the [Richmond] Daily Dispatch, June 20, 1861:
Monday morning early, four of the New Orleans Zouaves left camp without leave, and directed their steps towards Newport News, alleging as a reason that they desired to reconnoiter the fortifications at that place. Some five or six hours after their departure, one of the Zouaves returned to camp at Bethel, in a somewhat exhausted condition, and exhibited a bloody bowie-knife of appalling dimensions. He represents that his party extended their advance to within a mile and a half of Newport News, when they found themselves suddenly surrounded by a Yankee scouting party, numbering some twenty or thirty. They determined to cut their way out if possible, and being armed with nothing but bowie knives, went to work with a will. But one escaped, the other three having been taken prisoners. The one who returned declares that several of the Yankees were killed by himself and friends. His own assertion is all the evidence we have, but we give the story as he relates it.Early in the war, poorly equipped Confederate troops were still investing great faith in the bowie knife, of which they had an ample supply. This report of a bowie-knife exploit may have been intended to boost morale.
The business of Zouave troops may require explanation. Originally, Zouaves were natives of North Africa who served in the French Army in the 1830s. Their distinctive uniforms, which were usually brightly colored, consisted of a fez and turban, very baggy pants, a vest, a short cutaway jacket, a sash, and lots of brass buttons and gold braid. This look became a fashion in the United States before the Civil War, with many local militia units dressing as Zouaves and competing in drill practice.