The Chicago Zouaves Cadet Drill Team at Utica

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The Chicago Zouaves Cadet Drill Team at Utica
c. 1860
J. Graff
Oil on panel
34 x 51¼ in.
Chicago History Museum
1980.227, ICHi-62631

Have you ever seen soldiers dressed like this before? Probably not! They belonged to a volunteer drill team organized in 1859 by Elmer Ellsworth (1837-1861) of Chicago. He copied their name and colorful uniforms after the French Zouaves of the Crimean War. In the summer of 1860, Ellsworth led his troupe on a triumphant tour of twenty eastern cities, including Utica, New York, where J. Graff, a local painter, captured the festive scene. He also included some members of the Untica Brass Band in his painting. Can you find them? Graff was an amateur artist, and the style of this painting shows the simplicity and attention to detail that untrained artists are known for. Notice the flat, bright colors, and the carefully painted buttons on the uniforms. The boldly painted title of the image resembles sign paintings, which many amateur artists often made.

Ellsworth and the Zouaves returned to Chicago after their tour and disbanded. Ellsworth moved to Springfield to study law with Abraham Lincoln, and campaigned for him in the 1860 presidential campaign. When the Civil War began, Ellsworth volunteered as the Colonel of the 11th New York Infantry, also known as the “Fire Zouaves” because the members were firefighters in New York City. Ellsworth died on May 24, 1861 while trying to take down a Confederate flag in Alexandria, Virginia, the first Union officer to die in the war. Lincoln mourned his death deeply and gave him a state funeral at the White House. Other Chicago Zouaves also joined the Union army, serving with the Nineteenth Illinois Infantry and wearing the colorful uniforms that Graff documented in his 1859 portrait.

Questions:
1. Compare this scene to that of General Grant at Fort Donelson. What differences can you find in the artists’ styles? What elements are present in both?

2. What purpose do uniforms serve?

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