Civil War Hero Elmer Ellsworth Had Ties to Chicago
Byline: Diana Dretske
The first hero of the American Civil War (1861-1865) was Col. Elmer Ellsworth of the Zouave Corps. In the years before the war, Ellsworth was considered "the most talked about man in America."
Ellsworth (1837-1861) was born in Malta, N.Y. When he was 17, he moved to Chicago and became prominent in the State Militia. In 1857, he met Charles DeVilliers, a veteran of the French Zouaves (an Algerian infantry which wore an uniform consisting of gaiters, baggy trousers, short jacket and tasseled cap). The meeting prompted Ellsworth to learn more about French light infantry drill. After a brief period of studying law in Springfield, where Ellsworth became friends with Abraham Lincoln, he returned to Chicago and formed the United States Zouave Cadets.
By 1860, the Zouave cadets were considered the finest militia in the Midwest. Ellsworth promoted his Zouaves by challenging other state militias in drill competitions. The Zouaves handily beat their competitors and awed thousands of spectators, becoming known throughout the country for their "appearance of dashing ferocity."
Ellsworth's militia spawned a national Zouave craze. Overnight, Zouave units sprang into existence.
Even paper dolls were sold of the uniquely dressed young militia men.
Ellsworth went to Washington, D.C., when his friend Abraham Lincoln became president. When war seemed imminent, Ellsworth formed a new Zouave unit from Manhattan's volunteer firemen called the Fire Zouaves. …