Many of us take stock of our lives during the first couple of weeks of the New Year. We look at what went well, and what went poorly, what could have been better, and what could have been worse. Then, we all resolve to do better.
Resolutions are nothing new, but at least most of us are not in the position of losing our jobs if we fail to make good on our vague promises. The United States Zouave Cadets, under the strict eye of their commander, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, were not so lucky.
As of March 9, 1860, these young men unanimously adopted a set of regulations called “The Golden Resolutions.” Talk about strict! These guys ALL agreed to leave home for almost a month, travel to New York, Boston, DC, and cities in between, and . . . behave like complete gentlemen twenty four-seven. We are talking sixty-one Cadets, fifteen band members, with an average age of twenty-two. Imagine this happening today. Wait! No, I can’t!
Such stringent rules of conduct would have been totally ignored by the true Zouaves of France, but then, perhaps they were not so concerned about “conduct unbecoming to a gentleman.”
According to the St. Louis Republican, “This company is composed of young men entirely; all of them well-bred and well-educated. They tolerate no bad practices among their members, and a visit to a gambling house, drinking shop, or any place of bad repute, by any member, is sufficient cause for his expulsion.”
The Urbana Union claimed them, “ . . . the finest talent, the finest muscle, and the purest morals to be found among the young gentlemen of his (Ellsworth’s) city.”
And just what did these “Golden Resolutions” consist of?
Resolved, That from the date of these resolutions, the following acts shall be, and are, declared offenses against our organization, punishable by expulsion, and publication in the Chicago papers of the offender’s name, and forfeiture of his uniform and equipments to the company:
First, Entering drinking saloons at any hour of the day or night, except when compelled by imperative business which cannot be transacted by proxy, in which case a statement of the facts should be made to the company immediately after the occurrence.
Second, Entering houses of ill-fame under any circumstances or pretext whatsoever.
Third, Entering gambling saloon, or gambling for any sum of money or article, under any circumstances or pretext.
Fourth,Entering any private room attached to any hotel or saloon, for drinking or gambling purposes, under any circumstances.
Fifth, Playing billiards in any public billiard hall or saloon. Playing billiards is interdicted not because of any objection to the game as an elegant amusement to those who can afford it, but because for young men it is a step toward the other offenses named, and the excitement and the associations of the billiard saloon naturally lead to drinking.
Resolved, That it is the first duty of every Cadet to avoid temptation to break the rules, so it is his second, when any infraction of them comes to his knowledge, to report the same to the company in the manner prescribed in Section 12, Company Regulations, that they may take such action as will guard against any repetition of the offense; Therefore when it is proved that any Cadet has been cognizant of any infraction of these rules, and has not communicated the same to the company, he shall receive the same penalty as the delinquent.
Resolved, That as want of occupation and amusement are the chief causes of dissipation, we will at once complete our reading and chess rooms, and add, by every means in our power, to the attractions of our armory.
Resolved, That hereafter, in the event of the sickness of one of our number, we will, if circumstances require it, take care of him and afford him all the assistance in our power.
Resolved, That these resolutions go into effect Friday, March 9th, 1860.
Resolved,That each member of the company provide himself, as soon as possible, with the company badge, consisting of a gold star shield with a tiger’s head in the center, and name of the corps engraved on the star, which shall be worn conspicuously on the vest or watch chain, that the public may know them as cadets, and judge for themselves of the manner in which the foregoing resolutions are observed.
Resolved, That in case of one of our number losing his situation, each member of the corps shall be bound to make all reasonable effort to procure him employment, and if his necessities require it, he shall, as long as he remains in good standing and out of employment, receive from the company an allowance weekly, sufficient for his subsistence.
I am guessing that Elmer Ellsworth would not have appreciated the trashed hotel rooms of rock stars today. And yet, the United States Zouave Cadets were the rock stars of their time.
Women flocked to their performances, swooned over the dashing uniforms of the Zouaves, and sent notes hidden in bouquets of flowers begging to meet the young men. Ellsworth himself became, for the duration of the tour, “ . . . the most talked about man in the country.” His long, curling dark hair created a styling fad, and his CDV was the hottest selling visage of the summer of 1860. Serious cases of Zouave Fever broke out all over the Northwest!
But, except for one Cadet, early in the tour, who was guilty of imbibing in a singular shot of whiskey, the men held true to their “Golden Resolutions.” Not a booted foot was set inside a bar room or billiard parlor, and no one woke up hung over!
I find this amazing, and yet, in my work with Ellsworth’s life over the past year plus some months, it is just one more amazing thing about this little-known soldier. The Resolutions would be a hard sell in today’s market of immediate gratification and immediate glorification.
Somehow, in the summer of 1860, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth made being a gentleman the fashionable thing to do.