The Schroeder Books
The First and The Bravest
Michael J. McAfee
Published by SCHROEDER PUBLICATIONS 2013.
Soft cover, 122 pages, index. ISBN
1-889246-72-7. Price $16.95.
Warfare in the nineteenth century was no
less bloody than today, yet people of the Victorian era saw it as a romantic
adventure. Their vision of the
battlefield was largely formed by the art of the period.
Normally, early nineteenth century military art was limited to depictions
of immense fields of battle, miraculously devoid of smoke and confusion, with
any action centering around a prominent general on horseback.
The most common of military art, created for the masses, consisted of
cheap lithographs, crudely drawn and even though filled with blood and gore,
curiously unrealistic. As a result,
the Victorian mind was able to view war through a veil of romanticism and hide
from sight those aspects it preferred not to see.
As warfare was then associated with glory, patriotism and heroism, it was
only natural that the warrior should share in those virtues.
The wretched, often brutal, life of the common soldier was ignored as was
his lowly status in society. Only
the most visible, colorful or romantic of soldiers were allowed to intrude upon
society in the Victorian age. In
England, the proud Guards regiments and romantic Highlanders were the chosen
representatives of the British soldier. They
were the ideal types. In France it
was the Chasseurs and the Zouaves who received similar public notice.
They became the stereotypes for bravery and to a degree their own lives
as soldiers were enhanced by this attention.
None were more heroic in lithographs
or paintings than the Zouave. He
seemed the “beau-ideal of a solider,” as
General Geroge B. McClellan, of Civil War fame, described him.
The French Zouaves enjoyed a reputation of being recklessly brave on the
battlefield, as though warfare was merely a game and their lives simply the
Their conduct off the battlefield
was equally notable, for they tended to be undisciplined, resourceful foragers
who provided for their personal comfort in any manner which was practical and
the “liberation” of goods meant little to men who could expect to die in
their next combat. Yet, there were
not brigands. They were members of
an elite unit with an esprit de corps which
bound them together as a family, with the regimental commander, known as
“Father” among the Zouaves, as the family head.
They were also bound together by their distinctive dress.
The Arab-inspired short jacket, baggy trousers and fez were key parts of
The Zouave became a Victorian ideal
of a soldier. He was not afraid to
die in combat for he looked upon battle as a field of honor.
Yet, he was human and capable of emotion, whether rage on the battlefield
or deep sorrow at the death of a comrade.
The end of the Victorian era—and
it died in the muddy Flanders fields in 1914 with thousands of brave
soldiers—also menat the end of the Zouave.
He was a product of Victorian sentimentality and could survive the
twentieth century in the same form. The
French Army retains unites of Zouaves, but they no longer wear distinctive
uniforms. In America Zouaves lasted
into the 1950s in the form of an American Legion drill team, even appearing on
the Ed Sullivan show in their twilight years.
But the true Zouave, the gallant rascal of the nineteenth century, is
The First and The Bravest
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