Numerous Zouave regiments were organized from soldiers of the United States of America who adopted the name and the North African–inspired uniforms during the American Civil War. The Union army had more than seventy volunteer Zouave regiments throughout the conflict, while the Confederates fielded about twenty-five Zouave companies.
In the United States, Zouaves were brought to public attention by Elmer E. Ellsworth. Inspired by his French friend Charles De Villers, who had been a surgeon in the North African Zouaves, he obtained a Zouave drill manual. In 1859, Ellsworth took over a drill company and renamed them the "Zouave Cadets". The drill company toured nationally, performing the light infantry drill of the North African Zouaves with many theatrical additions. "Zouave" units were then raised on both sides of the American Civil War of 1861-5, including a regiment under Ellsworth's command, the New York "Fire Zouaves".
A feature of some American Zouave units, at least in the opening stages of the American Civil War, was the light infantry tactics and drill they employed. Zouaves: "...utilized light infantry tactics that emphasized open-order formations, with several feet between soldiers, rather than the customary close order, with its characteristic 'touch of elbows'. They moved at double-time, rather than marching to a stately cadence, and they lay on their backs to load their rifles rather than standing to do so. To fire, they rolled prone and sometimes rose on one knee."
Arguably the most famous Union Zouave regiments were from New York and Pennsylvania: the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, "Duryee's Zouaves" (after its first colonel, Abram Duryee), the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry; "Collis's Zouaves" (after their colonel, Charles H. T. Collis); and the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, the "Fire Zouaves". The 11th New York was initially led by Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, until his death in 1861. The 11th New York was badly mauled during the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 as it acted as the rear guard for the retreating Army of the Potomac. The History of the Fighting Fourteenth: Published in Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Muster of the Regiment Into the United States Service, May 23, 1861. The 5th New York was considered one of the elite units of the Army of the Potomac; it was one of only two volunteer regiments serving with the regular division commanded by George Sykes. At the Second Battle of Bull Run, the 5th New York, along with another Zouave regiment, the 10th New York "National Zouaves," held off the flanking attack of James Longstreet's Corps for ten crucial minutes before it was overrun. The 5th New York thus suffered the highest percentage of casualties in the shortest amount of time of any unit in the Civil War (of 525 men, approximately 120 were killed and 330 were wounded in less than 10 minutes).
American Zouave ambulance crew demonstrating removal of wounded soldiers from the field, during the American Civil War.
In 1863 and 1864, three Union regiments (146th New York, 140th New York, and 155th Pennsylvania) were issued with Zouave uniforms to reward their proficiency in drill and battlefield performance. Difficulties in supply and replacement meant that Zouave and other exotic militia uniforms tended to be replaced by standard issue uniforms throughout the conflict. However, the tradition remained strong, and the last Union casualty of the fighting in Virginia was reported to be a Zouave of the 155th Pennsylvania, killed at Farmville, Virginia, on the morning of April 9, 1865.
A number of Confederate Zouave units were also raised. In contrast to the many Federal units, most Confederate Zouaves were not full "regiments;" many were companies within larger units. The cognomen "Louisiana Tiger" dates from the Mexican–American War; it refers to any Louisiana state trooper (and more recently, to the state's athletic teams. But none of the Mexican War Louisiana "Tigers" were Zouaves. The earliest, and most famous, Louisiana Zouave unit was White's Company B (the "Tiger Rifles") of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat's 1st Special Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers, a.k.a. "Louisiana Tigers." Another notable Zouave unit on the Confederate side was the "1st (Coppens') Louisiana Zouave Battalion," which was raised by Georges Augustus Gaston De Coppens in 1861. They saw action from the Peninsula Campaign to the Siege of Petersburg, all the while being short of supplies. They were disbanded in 1865.