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The Parade and Drill of the Chicago Zouaves.


July/August 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, August 13, 1860.

The Parade and Drill of the Chicago Zouaves.

The ever wide-awake population of this excitement-loving city flowed out in holiday multitudes to the Fair Grounds last Saturday afternoon, to see the far-famed Zouaves from Chicago. Every car the Citizens’ Railroad Company could furnish was crammed and rammed almost to bursting, with the Zouave-struck people, while each of the numerous livery stables was exhausted, and nearly every vehicle elsewhere obtainable called into requisition, to convey the popular sovereigns and their regal families to the scene of interest. The fact is, St. Louisans can safely be matched against the world for a more than juvenile passion for military show, and an intensely vivid appreciation of whatever is novel and admirable.

At to early an hour as 3 P. M., the wide and verdant plane [sic] just west of the Fair Grounds enclosure, and the fair areas within and around the amphitheater, were thronged with expectant and rapidly increasing crowds. Other multitudes had gathered on Fourth street, at and near Pine, where the Illinois Cadets, escorted by their attentive hosts, the First Company of the National Guards, and also by the Brigade and Battalion Staff, were preparing for their excursion. Thousands who could not attend at the Fair Grounds, had here and opportunity, which was well improved, to see and to admire. The admiration, though not uncritical, was universal and sincerely enthusiastic. Taking the cars of the Citizens’ Railway, the guests and their escort enjoyed a pleasant ride to the selected ground, where they arrived soon after four o’clock, and were hailed with heartiest cheers by the impatiently waiting multitudes. At least ten or twelve thousand persons must have been collected at the spot. The area in which it was intended to maneuver was densely occupied by ladies and gentlemen and children, by various itinerating candy and peanut merchants, and sundry fine carriages of gay people, all of whom it was necessary to remove. The steady Guards and the Staff Officers, with their prancing steeds, at last succeeded in clearing the square.

In truth, it was a very beautiful square, of green sward decked so bravely with soldiery so gallant and gay, and bounded so charmingly and nobly by the elite of the loveliness and manliness of St. Louis. Our Chicago friends evidently drew inspiration from the gentle eyes and bright smiles around them, albeit their own clear orbs appeared undiverted as their geometrically parallel bayonets. Certainly the Guards never bore themselves better, and, in their Zouave attire, seemed to be rather desperately emulous of their accomplished guests. If any thing were wanting to fill to overflowing the felicity of the hour, it was richly afforded by the spirited yet delicious strains of the Cadets’ “Light Guard Band.”

The exhibition began with a review of both companies by the Staff, and in a march of platoons around the square. It was the general sentiment that St. Louis had no occasion to blush for Captain Haseltine’s command. They acquitted themselves as usual, handsomely. Yet the bearing and port of their long and arduously disciplined guests gave to each observer a new ideal of the soldier, and a fresh significancy for the term. Thousands felt that they had never seen military accuracy and harmony before, and that the art military was at times like the art Terpsichorean, an exhilarating interfusion of melody and measure. But the acme of interest was reserved for the drill of Col. Ellsworth’s corps. There were critical eyes present from the United States Arsenal, but no optics were more intent than those of the captivated people. From all, there was one expression of enthusiastic delight, while the various performances of the Light Infantry drill, the skirmishing maneuvers and the bayonet exercises, were proceeding. In the infantry drill, the corps appeared like a perfect automatic machine, all the parts of which were responding magically to a single volition, as if every muscle belonged equally to one and the same will. The startling activity and accuracy of the deploy movements in the skirmishing exercise, the rapid but mathematical precision with which the lines broke and re-formed, now apparently confused and anon emerging in faultless order, the swift combining in squads, and in hollow square, executing the bayonet guard against imagined attacking artillery and infantry, and the covert and fleet approach and firing of lines alternately prostrate and advancing over each other, all formed a novel and unique exhibition of transcendent interest. The plaudits of the multitudes were irrepressible and fervent. Not one was present who did not feel richly rewarded for being there. The bayonet exercise was probably the performance of most interest to military observers, as the subject is slightly treated in the manual principally used by our companies—that of Hardee. The other performances, as we are given to understand, are fully described in, and inculcated by “Hardee’s Tactics,” although the skirmishing discipline is rarely practiced by our volunteer companies. But the bayonet exercise is learned principally from those adepts in the art of war, the French, and is taught in our military schools from a translation from the language of La Belle France. Yet Colonel Ellsworth has engrafted or inwoven many suggestions of his own military genius and experience in the practice of each of the three departments above named, and is generally awarded much credit for his modifications. To these, however, certain “old line” tacticians incline to take exception, and on this point of military orthodoxy occurs the only serious criticism upon the Colonel’s consummately disciplined corps. From this divergence we may return to say with greater significancy than was possible without it, that the bayonet exercise of the Zouaves especially elicited the warm applause of learned tacticians, as well as of the enraptured mass of charmed spectators.

The rather arduous evolutions over, there was a grand rush of the crowds for the cars and other vehicles for the city. The scenes of crowding and jamming that are familiar to visitors to the Fair Grounds on festive occasions were repeated. It is exceedingly to be hoped that the facilities for going to and returning from that popular and beautiful spot will be efficiently increased before they are again needed.

The Zouaves have commended themselves, in a style above praise, to the genuine respect as well as unstinted admiration of our citizens. Their deportment has been that of refined and perfectly self-controlled gentlemen. Their influence upon the soldiery of the cities they have visited, in elevating the standard of military discipline by illustrating so signally its vital connection with the manly virtues, will, we cannot doubt, prove invaluable. They leave us at six o’clock this morning, for Chicago, via Springfield. May the truest and dearest blessings of life attend each of them.