The following is a guest post from Retired Music Cataloger Sharon McKinley.
My fascination with the Library of Congress collections is unbounded. I’m always running across interesting items, seemingly at random. My latest sheet music find: Zouaves. In a search for something else entirely, I found the “Zouave mazourka.” On the cover was a handsome man, clad in an exotic-looking hat and jacket. The unusual costume made me want to look further. Who were the Zouaves, and where did they come from? I soon discovered an entire world of Zouaves, tying together many different parts of the Library’s collections.
An online search quickly led me to the history of the French infantry units which inspired the appellation. Originally made up of Zwawa Berber troops in Algeria in 1830, these units and their successors won fame as fierce fighters for over a century. Given their reputation and colorful costume, it is no surprise that military units in other countries chose to emulate them. It may be hard to imagine Civil War units in short jackets, baggy pants and North African fezzes, but there were a few hundred such units, on both sides of the conflict, that either called themselves Zouaves, or adopted parts of the costume. They were considered elite fighters, and having a distinctive uniform set them proudly apart from the rest. And the costumes made for eye-catching sheet music covers. Most of the Zouave-themed music I found in the collection are stirring instrumentals, written in honor of specific units, and featuring their unique uniforms on the cover.
This next piece was written for the Burnside Zouaves. Ambrose E. Burnside (the man behind sideburns and the Burnside carbine) had commanded the 1st Rhode Island Infantry in 1861, and a Rhode Island Zouave company took his name. The figures in the illustration appear to have been modeled on real soldiers, which would have been a selling point back home.
Our next piece: ‘The Zoo Zoo boy.” I ran into this song in a volume of mixed sheet music I was working on, and it immediately caught my attention, as there was an illustration of a young boy in an instantly-recognizable Zouave costume. I paged through the song, a typical maudlin tune of the time, as sung by a poor orphan, about to freeze to death in the cold and snow, begging for help. For once, the child survives, when a woman who had lost her own son in the war plucks him from the jaws of death. I later discovered that Zoo Zoos was a common nickname for Zouave units. This 1878 edition is not the first. The original edition of this one was published in Rhode Island, home of Burnside’s Zouaves, in 1865. It was still popular 13 years later.
Each find led me on to something else:
From the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, here is the Zoo zoo boy in person, probably with his daddy (at right).
And, in a final surprise tie-in, here is a Zouave where you might least expect to find one. A Library blog post about Civil War letters and illiteracy featured letters sent between a husband and wife. Check out the writing paper used for the first letter in the post. That’s a Zouave gracing the commercial writing paper printed by J. McGee of Philadelphia. The writer wasn’t in a Zouave unit, but it’s interesting that he found and used this particular, very patriotic writing paper.