Richard Kingston, Zouave

By Rich MacAlpine

Richard Kingston in Zouave Costume

Richard Kingston

There is an indirect Yates County connection to Richard Kingston (1843-1922), the man in this photo. One of his great grandsons is Bob Evans, currently the Town of Jerusalem Historian (and YCGHS member) who loaned us the photo as well as a very detailed article that appeared in the Rochester paper at the time of his great grandfather’s death.  Of special interest is his uniform and the story behind it. Kingston lived in Rochester and joined the 140th New York Volunteer Regiment (the “Rochester Racehorses”) in the summer of 1862 at the age of nineteen. The 140th was a Zouave regiment and along with the 146th New York and 155th Pennsylvania formed a Zouave brigade.  The regiment served in defense of Washington and as part of the Army of the Potomac and fought in several key battles in Virginia (Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor). They also served at Gettysburg.

Zouave units existed on both sides of the Civil War. There were seventy on the Union side

Zouave Re-enactors

Zouave Re-enactors

and 25 on the Confederate side. Their uniforms, from the modern perspective, seemed to scream “Hey! Shoot at ME!” but in their time they were considered fashionable and the men took great pride in them. The 140th received theirs as a reward for their proficiency in drill and their performance on the battlefield. The Turkish style was popularized by the French army stationed in northern Africa in the 1830s.  Richard Kingston’s uniform was made in France and was described in his 1922 death notice: “This uniform is of a very dark blue material. The trousers are of a baggy Turkish type. The jacket, also of dark blue, is trimmed with bright red braid and brass buttons. This is, of course, Turkish too. Under it was worn a bright red shirt, low at the neck and collarless. There is a sash of blue, trimmed with red, worn with the trousers. The hat is a Turkish turban of white, with a dark blue tassel and an edging of red at the bottom. The leggings are of canvas with leather tops.”

Kingston was one lucky soldier. According to his death notice, “Sergeant Kingston swam the North Anne River in Virginia and almost died of exhaustion after he reached the bank because the trousers became like barrels of water. Several times the uniform became so stiff with mud that it would stand alone.” Four times the baggy pants were penetrated by bullets. One bullet clipped the chevron on his sleeve and nearly removed it from the uniform, but through all that he was never wounded. Another time “He had gone into action wearing a new Kossuth slouch hat sent him by his father and never before worn. As with several others he deployed along some bushes. He thought a branch of a bush had slapped him across the face, but it proved that a discharge from a Confederate rifle had cut his hat brim straight through at the front and off around the brim as clean as if done with a knife, leaving it hanging by only a shred. And the charge never touched him.”

After he was mustered out of the army in June of 1865, when most of his comrades tossed their uniforms away, he kept his to “show his children.” He eventually donated it to a museum in Rochester believing it was the last of 1,700 of those uniforms used by his regiment. As one can see in the photo, unlike many veterans, the uniform fit Richard Kingston as well in old age as it did during the war.

About Ray

Ray Copson worked for many years at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress before coming to Yates County in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of New York State. He chairs the Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee of the Yates County Genealogical and Historical Society.
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