Make Your Own Zouave Fez

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Arkansas Connections
In the summer of1863, several officers from the Confederate 1st Arkansas infantry were taken captive by Union forces near Port Hudson, Louisiana. After their imprisonment at New Orleans, they were sent to Fortress Monroe in Virginia. On June 2,  the Confederate officers were loaded aboard a steamer called the Cahawba. Their Union guards on this journey, the 6th New York Volunteer Infantry, were also known as “Wilson’s Zouaves.” They got their name from the type of uniforms they wore.

Movies and books mainly show only two types of uniforms worn by soldiers during the Civil War: the Union blues and the Confederate grays. In reality, soldiers wore several different types of uniforms. The uniform a particular soldier wore depended on a soldier’s loyalties, his personal circumstances, his unit or regiment, and even what type of fabric was available at a specific time. 

“Wilson’s Zouaves” wore a very distinctive uniform that usually consisted of a short coat, a “fez” style hat, pants that billowed out at the knee or the ankle, a sash around the waist, and gaiters over the legs. This uniform was inspired by the French Zouave soldiers, who took the idea for the uniform from North African soldiers during the 1830s. The Zouaves inspired popular imagination all over Europe and America.

Prior to the American Civil War several volunteer militias, like the 6th New York Volunteer Infantry, adopted the Zouave uniform. These units continued their use during the war. Around 75 Union units and 25 Confederate units wore the Zouave style uniform.
Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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