Any American school kid with a passing knowledge of the American Civil War will be able to immediately recognize the classic blue uniform of Northern forces and the less regular gray and earth-toned make-up of Southern troops. What’s lesser-known is the fanciful variety that was found in uniforms of some units during the war.
Immediately preceding the American Civil War, Europe’s Crimean War of the 1850s saw the Russian Empire facing off against an alliance of the French, British and Ottomans. The French Zoauve uniform of the Crimean War went on to inspire military uniforms in the United States, and one of the more notable Zouave regiments of the Civil War period was the 5th New York Volunteers or Duryee’s Zouaves.
Formed in New York City in 1861 by Colonel Abram Duryée, the 5th NY Volunteers would find action throughout the war at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. But it’s the uniforms that make the 5th NY a memorable unit for me. Dressed in baggy red chasseur trousers, dark blue jackets with red braiding and topped in fezzes with yellow tassels, Duryee’s Zouaves offer up one of the more colorful units to deploy on a Civil War gaming table. While some period drawings and photos exist in black and white, the true whimsy of these uniforms can really only be found in the work of modern artists like Don Troiani (see above) or with active 5th NY Volunteer re-enactor groups.
For miniatures, I love the affordable and well-sculpted variety to be found in the line of 28mm American Civil War models from Perry Brothers. My 5th NY Volunteers are a mix of a Perry Brothers plastic Zouave box set and two sets of their metal Zouave firing/skirmishing line. Perry Brothers offer a nice variety in optional poses and heads in their plastics, and the metal figures offer just a bit more crisp detail. I chose to model most of my Zouaves in their fezzes, as this is how they usually appeared in battle. For variety’s sake, I modeled one unit with turbans which were more common in ceremonial and parade settings. The box set also offers arm options to represent units advancing at “right shoulder shift” and “at the charge” with bayonets leveled at the enemy lines.
Below is an overview of my completed five squads from the 5th NY Volunteers along with their company command stand.
I painted most of the company in their more common battlefield fez headgear, shown below in detail. These figures are the metal Perry Miniatures firing line, while the rest of the company are plastics.
Painting Duryée’s Zoauves was a great break from my usual painting, and now I’m already thinking of some other specific units from the Civil War to mix up the walls of blue and gray lining my tabletop battlefield.