Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Zouaves..Wait, What?

I'm a curious person, and my curiosity often sabotages my plans. I can be in the midst of tasks, but get sidetracked when something of interest pops up in my memory or in a conversation, and I have to research it before I forget I was curious about it in the first place.

Earlier this week, I spotted "Zouave" while reading Bushwackers. I instantly recognized the term. After all, little Rene Picard and his flamboyant Zouave costume are mentioned several times in Gone with the Wind, and the character is seen in the movie. Zince, I mean, since the term sounds French, Rene's name is French, and he has a French accent, I assumed Zouave was a French unit and left it at that. So what if Rene hailed from Louisiana. They have a strong French presence there, no?

Years passed, and the word once again jumped at me as I read about Thomas' Legion. In that chapter, I learned Zouave was part of the name given to the first Indian unit formed in western NC, the Junaluska Zouaves. I saw no indication of anything French related to the unit or even the commander, so my curiosity was duly peaked.

It didn't take long to find the answer. Merriam-Webster defines Zouave (from what I've gleaned, it's pronounced zoo-ah-ve) as "a member of a French infantry unit originally composed of Algerians wearing a brilliant uniform and conducting a quick spirited drill". 

Wikipedia and two other sites confirm Zouave was the title given to some French infantry regiments, natives of, or serving in North Africa "between 1831 and 1962". However, as Merriam Webster confirms in its definition, other armies adopted the term, in particular, volunteer units. Apparently, the most famous of which in American history was the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry who served in the War Between the States.

I'd dropped everything to figure that out. Was it worth it? Of course. Learning is always worth the effort.

If your curiosity is now in full bloom, learn more about the Zouaves at the following sites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zouave
http://www.zouave.org/
http://www.americancivilwar.com/kids_zone/zouave_civil_war.html

Graphic Courtesy of Free Vintage Graphics
http://theoldentimes.com/pa_zouave.html

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