Algerian tribesmen), made up of NYC Firefighters. As a boy, Ellsworth dreamed of military glory, and at the age of 18, he joined a Chicago militia group in the mid-1850s at a time when Americans were far more serious about their local militias. Ellsworth approached his militia much like a coach that was getting his team ready for a big game. Ellsworth proved to be a natural leader, and popular with his fellow militia members; at 19, he was elected to be the leader of the militia, with the rank of Major.
In both the North and South, by the late-1850s it was a short step from militancy to militarism; attitudes towards war had changed, and militant attitudes were in vogue. Local militias were an extension of the nationwide celebration of a voluntary military tradition while opposing a large professional army . . . the highest expression of Democratic values was to volunteer and sacrifice (even by death) for a region.
Ellsworth and the 60 Chicago Zouaves (with their unique eye-catching uniforms; pictured) toured America, demonstrating their military and gymnastic skills on a road trip that exceeded one-thousand miles. In New York City, they were welcomed with huge fanfare; it was official - America had caught "Zouave Fever". Ellsworth showed America that personal freedom could exist within military regimentation; it seemed to be truly Democratic soldiering.
Ellsworth was probably the first American to become famous solely due to charisma; during the Pre-Civil War Summer of 1860, it seemed all eyes were on Elmer Ellsworth. He became what today would be described as a sex symbol; photographs of Ellsworth were seemingly everywhere - he was the first pin-up figure in US History.
The surrender of Fort Sumter in April, 1861, must have felt like Manna from Heaven to Ellsworth; he was sure that his chance for glory would occur soon. The real question to Ellsworth was not when his chance for glory would occur, but WHERE it would happen. However, the landscape changed after Fort Sumter, and the Northern media actually turned on Ellsworth, portraying him and his Zouaves as "silly soldiers" that weren't ready for a real war.
As events unfolded, even Ellsworth was in demand, in that there was a severe shortage of officers to lead the tens of thousands of incoming volunteers. Ellsworth, with a letter of introduction from President Lincoln, met with the most famous and influential newspaper man in America, Horace Greeley (pictured), asking for his help. Ellsworth wanted to raise a regiment of NYC Firefighters, men he believed were immediately ready for war. With Greeley's help, Ellsworth recruited over 1000 NYC Firefighters to his regiment, boasting to make all of them Zouaves. As Ellsworth's regiment marched into Washington, D.C., much was expected of him and his new group of Zouaves.
Below: A WGN (Chicago) news segment on Elmer Ellsworth