The Zouave Guards were a pseudo-military unit from Cincinnati, Ohio that volunteered for duty in the Civil War. They served as the Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment and saw action at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
With the American Civil War's outbreak, neither the North nor the South had sufficient military forces to conduct a war. Both the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, at first, relied upon volunteers either to form or to bolster their respective militaries. Typically, individual states would recruit and send volunteers to their respective federal governments. Initially, many states relied on militia forces. Historically, every British colony in North America had established a militia. The militia usually consisted of adult, able-bodied men, who would rally to defend the colonies and, following the American Revolution, states during military crises. By the start of the American Civil War, unfortunately for both the Confederate States of America and the United States of America, most state militias were in a decline and unprepared for a major war.
In Ohio, Governor William Dennison hoped to supply the United States government with men and supplies from the Ohio militia. Ohio's militia system was virtually nonexistent by 1861. While militia forces played a vital role in Ohio's history from the American Revolution to the War of 1812, most major military threats to Ohio's security ended with the War of 1812. Following this conflict, the federal government quickly removed most Native Americans further west, and in the decades immediately following the war, no European or other major power attacked the United States. Facing no serious internal or external threats, most states, including Ohio, allowed their militia organizations to weaken. Most militia groups became mere social organizations and did not actively practice or study military maneuvers or tactics.
Dennison quickly discovered that Ohio's militia system could not play an active role in the American Civil War. Following the Battle of Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to return the seceded states to the Union in April 1861, Ohio's governor sent Jacob Cox, a state politician, and George McClellan, a former United States Army officer and current businessman, to Ohio's arsenal to assess the availability of weapons and supplies. Cox and McClellan found three or four crates of smoothbore muskets, a number of inoperable six-pound cannons, and some mildewed horse harnesses. Upon learning of the dire condition of the state's military supplies, Dennison still encouraged Ohioans to reestablish militia units to defend the state from Southern attack and to assist the federal government in reuniting the nation.
Ohioans quickly responded to the governor's and the federal government's call for troops. For example, upon President Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15, 1861, the Zouave Guards, a social and pseudo-military unit located in Cincinnati, Ohio, immediately offered its services to the United States government. Ohio's governor organized the Zouave Guards as Company D of the Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment on April 18, 1861, and on April 19, Governor Dennison dispatched the approximately ninety members of the Zouave Guards to Washington, DC. On April 29, 1861, the federal government formally mustered the Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment into service.
The Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment participated in the Battle of First Bull Run on July 21, 1861. At Bull Run, this regiment suffered two men killed, four wounded, eight captured, and one missing. Having only enlisted for three months of duty, on July 31, the Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment mustered out of service, but many of its former members quickly enlisted in other regiments.
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"Zouave Guards (Cincinnati)," Ohio Civil War Central, 2022, Ohio Civil War Central. 29 May 2022 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=139>
"Zouave Guards (Cincinnati)." (2022) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 29, 2022, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=139
This illustration from Harper's Weekly depicts the Zouave Guards leaving Cincinnati for Western Virginia.
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