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4th Vermont Infantry

Bennington Zouaves

To Arms, To Arms

One Hundred Able Bodied MEN WANTED for
the Zouave Company now being organized in
Bennington and soon to join the

First Zouave Regiment of Vermont,

to be mustered into the State service as soon as
the same shall be filled -- to serve three years
unless sooner discharged.

Those who enlist in this Company will receive
the full pay of the United States soldiers and $7
per month additional from the State. They will al-
so be entitled to the bounty lands and additional
pay, granted by the United States to Volunteers.
This regiment will be supplied with the latest
improved arms.

J. E. Pratt
Recruiting Officer

Bennington, Aug. 10th, 1861

Source: Bennington Banner, August 15th and 22nd, 1861.


by Charles G. Bennett

WHEN THE Civil War broke out early in 1861, many states, including several in the north, were not prepared for any major conflict. Many of the nation's leaders thought the whole fracas would be mopped up in a few months, anyway.

Vermont was one state that was not ready in April, 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 militia to serve for three months -- all the time it was then estimated would be needed -- to aid in enforcing the laws banning insurrection.

The nature of the president's call gave faint indications of the actual extent and proportions of the difficulty. As the early call to battle was sounded from the nation's capital, the State of Vermont was caught destitute of a militia law of any practical value, was nearly destitute of an organized militia, and the state's officers were entirely without experience in the raising, organizing, arming and equipping of troops for service.

So little had Vermont expected ever again to be called upon for military service that by a legislative act of Oct. 30, 1844, all existing legislation requiring the enrolled militia to do military duty, except in cases of insurrection, invasion or the suppression of riots, were repealed.


AN ATTEMPT was made by the same statute to provide for a limited active militia. But the attempt proved futile and the several companies of the then existing uniform militia were from time to time disbanded, or ceased to exist. Therefore, by the year 1855 there was not in Vermont -- and had not been for 10 years -- even the semblance of a military setup.

Between 1855 and 1861 efforts were made in different parts of the state to revive the militia, but the effort was sluggish and ineptly performed. By April, 1861, there were 22 organized companies on the state Adjutant General's roster. But several of the companies lacked adequate arms. In many towns, no reports of militia had been made and neither records nor files existed.

With the militia law and the militia itself in this dilapidated condition, the officers of the state were required, early in 1861, to raise, organize, arm, equip and sent into the service of the United States the quota of troops called for from Vermont.

One device employed in Vermont and several other states to speed men into military service and make the experience seem attractive and glamour was, where possible, to form an elite corps with an offer of faster training, more attractive uniforms and even, in some cases, higher pay.


ALTHOUGH THE patters of the elite outfits varied from state to state, almost without exception they were called Zouaves, a name historically given to certain infantry regiments in the French army. The corps were first raised in Algeria in 1831 with one and later two battalions and recruited solely from the Zouaves, a tribe of Berbers, dwelling in the mountains of the Jurjura Range.

Eventually, they became a purely French body. three regiments were formed in 1852 and a fourth, the Zouaves of the imperial guard, in 1854. The Crimean War was the first service the regiments saw outside Algeria. The Zouaves were noted for their strict discipline, fighting ability and exotic, oriental costumes.

In 1859, Elmer E. Ellsworth (1837-1861) organized and trained in Chicago, Ill., a volunteer militia company patterned after the original Zouaves. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Ellsworth recruited a regiment of New York firemen which was mustered into the Union service in May, 1861, as the first New York fire Zouaves. Other states were quick to organize zouave units and hustle them into battle.

A Bennington army man who was quick to see the possibilities of the Zouave idea was John E. Pratt, who ultimately rose in field promotions to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and established a record as an outstanding Civil War officer.1

In early 1861 Pratt was recruiting officer in Bennington and he immediately sought to enlist a company of "Zouaves" from the Bennington area. His goal for the unit was 100 men; he went about his task enthusiastically.


WITH THE creation of Zouave units and their counterparts, many states, including Vermont, were establishing an aura of marching bands, colorful uniforms and a military elite atmosphere to give the just-beginning Civil War an atmosphere of celebration and jubilation.

Scarcely anywhere in those early days of the conflict was there any realization that the conflict might drag on for four years, drain the nation's human and other resources and even draw into its wake the assassination of a president of the United States. (to be continued).

Source: Bennington Banner, Wednesday, January 20, 1982. Reprinted with permission of the Managing Editor, 12/29/2000.

The Zouaves: Vermont's crack war unit
by Charles Bennett

IN THE Bennington Museum's church gallery, encased in a black frame, hangs a Civil War recruiting poster issued by John E. Pratt of Bennington calling on "one hundred able-bodied men" to help form a military elite unit to be known as "Zouaves."2

Who and what, Museum visitors ask, were Zouaves? Last week in this space we told how, early in 1861, most of the states of the North, including Vermont were ill-prepared and ill-equipped to answer President Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 militiamen at the outset of the war.

States tried various ways to speed enlistments and training. One device employed in Vermont and elsewhere was to make the war seem more attractive and glamorous. Here and there, elite corps were formed with offers of faster training, more attractive uniforms and, in some cases, higher pay.

Usually these elite units were called Zouaves, a name taken from the French, specifically from an army corps first raised in Algeria in 1831. Like their French counterparts, the Americans effected colorful costumes of vivid hues.


IN VERMONT, it apparently was Pratts, intention to form at the outset a 100-man all-Zouave Company A of the Fourth Regiment Vermont Volunteers -- with the regiment itself perhaps becoming solidly Zouave. But his idea never got quite that far.

In October, 1861, two months after the August recruiting appeal by PRatt, a military poster appeared in Washington, D.C., giving "the names and residence of the Zouave Company, being Company A, Fourth Regiment Vermont Volunteers, as recruited in Bennington by John E. Pratt, August, 1861."

The October post displayed in Washington showed that Pratt had signed up 79 men for his proposed Zouave Company A. In addition to himself as captain, he had enlisted from the Bennington area two lieutenants, five sergeants, eight corporals, one drummer, thirty privates from Bennington, 13 privates from Shaftsbury, eight privates from Woodford, five privates from Readsboro, three from Wallingford, two from Pownal, two from Whitingham, one from Danby, one for Charlemont, Mass., one from North Adams, Mass., and one from New Haven Conn.

That apparently was the last mention of the Bennington unit as Zouaves. No one knows when the name "Zouaves" slipped from usage. The next time we pick up Company A of the Fourth Regiment Vermont Volunteers is in the official record of Vermont's participation in the conflict -- "Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion (1861-1866)," compiled by Vermont's Adjutant-General Theodore S. Peck in 1892.

There we find Pratt's complete 79-man list, together with many others, comprising Company A, and a full complement of the Fourth Regiment from all over the state. All were just plain officers and soldiers; there was no reference to Zouaves. The Fourth Vermont hung up an enviable Civil War record. One historian paid this tribute:

"(The Fourth Regiment's) history is everywhere a part of the history of a brigade famed throughout our nation, and whose losses in battle, killed and mortally wounded, exceed those of every other brigade in the Union armies, east or west."

Some states actually fielded Zouave units in the early months of the Civil War. Among the Zouave units were the "Salem Zouaves" (8th Mass. Vol. militia); 146th New York Infantry; "Duryee's Zouaves" (5th New Your Infantry; Wilson's Zouaves (6th New York Infantry); 4th Michigan Infantry and the 44th New York Infantry, also called "Ellsworth Avengers."


ZOUAVE UNIFORMS were colorful. Zouave officers wore a braided jacket of the same general color and cut as that worn by the enlisted men of their regiment. In the 165th New York Infantry, the officers wore a braided jacket, a cap, vest and scarlet trousers. The jacket was adorned with gold braid and small sleeve buttons.

Many of the Zouave units -- probably most of them -- were abandoned early in the Civil War. It was quickly found that their colorful uniforms made them perfect targets in battle.

All of which probably quietly explains why, in Vermont, Pratt's "Zouaves" disappeared while the same men went into combat as plain soldiers and turned in a fighting record that became the envy of the nation.

Source: Bennington Banner, Wednesday, January 20, 1982. Reprinted with permission of the Managing Editor, 12/29/2000.


1John Edward Pratt, credited to Bennington, was commissioned Captain, Co. A, Fourth Vermont Volunteer Infantry 8/27/1861. He was promoted to Major 5/9/1864 with an effective date of 4/30/1864. Taken prisoner 6/23/1864 at Weldon Railroad, he was held until paroled on 3/1/1865, mainly in Columbia, North Carolina. Pratt was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment on 3/20/1865, with an effective date of 3/14/1865, and mustered out 7/13/1865. He died before 1885 and is buried in the Village Cemetery, in Bennington. The Vermont Historical Society has a photograph of him in their Officers Reunion Society collection. (1892 Revised Roster).

2The recruiting poster was not on display at the museum in December, 2000. We will try to locate it.

Note: Archives of the Bennington Banner for the years covering the Civil War are held by the Bennington Museum.