Racine Zouave Cadets

1st Regiment, WI State Militia

By the end of 1862 the state of Wisconsin still had no state-wide militia organization. Nonetheless, independant companies were being organized across the state with mixed success. One of these companies was the Racine Zouave Cadets. The company, which started with about 20 students and young men, made its first public appearance in Racine on New Year's Day 1863. By the end of May 1863, the company had grown to "between 60 and 70 muskets".

A local newspaper described their uniform as follows: very tasty, consisting of a jaunty cap of red and blue, a neat blue jacket, scarlet pants and canvas leggings, and is altogether a much better style of uniform for the soldier than the close fitting garments in which the Infantry soldiers of the U.S. army are clothed.

A photograph of company members (SG: See above) shows the short open jackets were edged with wide trim, probably red, to compliment the caps and trowsers. Under the jackets a variety of white civilian dress shirts and neckties were worn. The red trowsers were not the true zouave pattern, but were rather of the standard military fashion (SG: chasseur pattern), tucked into (SG: metal)buttoned white canvas gaiters. White gloves were worn, and photographic evidence indicates that the uniforms were homemade, with a good deal of difference in hue and tailoring.

The only difference in the officers' uniforms were the addition of shoulder straps, a narrow sky blue welt down the trowsers, and what appears to be a solid blue forage cap in place of the red and blue enlisted man's cap. Captain Frederic Ullman wore a brass letter device of RZC on the crown of his cap. His uniform was in direct violation of an 8 May 1863 order from the state Adjutant General, requiring militia officers to wear U.S. regulation uniforms, "substituting the State button for the regulation button, and the letters 'W.M' upon the ornament of their hat or cap". Zouave Cadet officers completed their kit with regulation officers' sword belts and U.S. Model 1850 foot officer swords. Cadet officers omitted the crimson sash.

The company was first armed with .69 caliber U.S. Model 1816 Type II muskets, also known as the M1822, which had been converted to percussion by the cone-in-barrel method. In early July 1863, the zouaves received new arms in the form of "Austrian Rifled Muskets, Cal. .58 and bayonets," which in all likelihood were rebored .54 cal. M1854 Lorenz rifled muskets. At an unspecified date, the company also received current regulation .58 cal. black leather cartridge boxes with (SG: white buff leather)straps, (SG: white buff leather)waistbelts, cap boxes, and all appropriate plates. The third soldier from the left (SG: See above) exhibits these new issuances. Non-commissioned officers were eventually outfitted with regulation M1840 NCO swords, waistbelts, and NCO beltplates.

In September 1863, the Racine Zouave Cadets were assigned to the 1st Regiment, Wisonsin State Militia. At that time, they were 84 men strong, and one of the most fully-uniformed companies in the state. However, recruiting for the newly forming Company C, 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery took many of the zouaves eager for active militiary service. By the end of 1863, the Wisconsin Militia was floundering due to ongoing volunteer enlistments, the Federal Draft, and a poorly written 1863 state Militia Act which failed to compensate the men for their time or uniform expense. Due to dwindling membership, the Racine Zouave Cadets finally turned in their arms and equipment in June 1864, and faded into history.

The above article is Racine Zouave Cadets, Wisconsin State Militia, 1863-1864 by Dennis Yeider and Richard K. Tibbals, of the Company of Military Historians.

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