The Famous Ellsworth Zouaves (Visual Presentation)

The Famous Ellsworth Zouaves (Visual Presentation)

By Michael Bell

[click slides to advance]

The Ellsworth Zouaves were infantry created in New York by Col. Elmer Ellsworth. The regiment gained national attention when Ellsworth died in the earliest phases of the war while removing a confederate flag from a hotel in Virginia. After, Ellsworth was launched into Union martyrdom, becoming a symbol for a soldier's bravery. Soon, regiments of “Ellsworth Zouaves” were formed all throughout the Union and they upheld the belief that “Our cause is just. Fight on, remember Ellsworth.”

This image, entitled “The Famous Ellsworth Zouaves,” is part of the Becker Collection. The only clue as to the illustrators is an illusive inscription on the top right saying “Shaw + Skiff.” But the search for illustrators based on surnames proves overwhelming, as both Shaw and Skiff were popular.

So, in light of this, we begin to ask a few questions about the drawings with the desire of finding more information about what is being depicted as well as who drew it and if it was ever published.

A basic visual analysis of the image turns up a few clues that might help us decode this. Things of note: there is a date inscribed on the image (April 27, 1868), the word “used” is written in the right corner and suggests this drawing was indeed published, the flag in the background says “Illinois,” suggesting the location of the event. Finally, what is going on at this “social reunion?”

So, the first step was to look through archival slides of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated around April, May and June of 1868 to see if this image was published. It was not. Also, the Ellsworth Zouaves were a regiment that started out of New York, so what did it mean that they were in Illinois?

An initial judgment of the image suggests that the Ellsworth Zouaves in the image are the original Zouaves, formed and based in New York under Col. Elmer Ellsworth himself. But upon a closer look at the details of the drawing it becomes clear that it not the New York Zouaves, but instead a regiment from Illinois.

An article published in the Chicago Tribune on July 28, 1868 describes a “social gathering” that very much resembles the one happening in the Ellsworth Zouaves drawing. Here, it is confirmed that the Zouaves we see are the 19th Illinois Infantry. But a new inconsistency arises, as the image says April 27 not July 28, as the article states… could this be a typo?

As is the case with many of the drawings in the Becker Collection, there are inscriptions made after the drawing was originally used. These were usually notes by the publisher that helped the magazine archive the images. But information can be remembered incorrectly, and it seems that the date written on the drawing is indeed incorrect. The event actually took place on July 27, 1868, as the Chicago Tribune article was published on the 28th and references the event “the evening prior.”

It can be confirmed that this article is indeed describing the event being depicted. Above are some quotes from the article that match with the image.

Upon looking at another image that is part of the Becker Collection called “Camp of the 176th Regt. NYS Volunteers,” by someone named William V. Shaw, similarities appear between the drawing style of that image and the drawing style in the Zouaves image. Of specific note is the way the artist engages figures. The top three figures are from the NYS Volunteers image and the bottom are from the Zouaves drawing. See the similarity in line thickness, form, and style.

Also, see how neither drawing portrays perspective and depth correctly. The artist is clearly an amateur, and the lack of precision is seen in both drawings. In the Zouaves drawing, there is a morphing of scale and perspective, cartoonish figures, etc., and these are all characteristics of the NYS Volunteers drawing as well. This suggests that the “Shaw” in “Shaw + Skiff” is amateur artist William V. Shaw.

What what about Skiff? Now that we established the correct date of the event, a search through archival slides of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine around July and August of 1868 reveals a published engraving based on the Zouaves drawing! So it is confirmed that the image was used, but at a different time than indicated on the original sketch.

Underneath the published engraving in Leslie’s is inscribed, “Chicago, Ill. July 29th -- From a sketch by Frank D. Skiff -- See Page 364.” This evidence suggests that Frank D. Skiff is the “Skiff” in “Shaw + Skiff.” But July 29th? Why another discrepancy in dates?

This is the article that accompanied the drawing in Leslie’s on August 22, 1868. Although the article claims the event was held on July 29th, it later quotes an inscription of an award that was given that night, citing July 27th as the date. Also, Leslie’s was published less frequently than the Chicago Times, so this article appeared weeks after the event happened, rather than the next day as was the case with the daily Chicago Times. Hence, the Chicago Times is a more reliable source.

So, in light of our investigation, these are the facts we have found out about the previously unknown drawing.