Civil War Period Vivandiere Outfit



Civil War Period Vivandiere Outfit – American vivandieres (or vivandere), influenced by their analogs in France, served in various U.S. Zouave regiments as combination nurses, cooks, seamstresses and laundresses.  Primarily attached to Zouaves, vivandieres adopted the style of clothing of their parent regiments, albeit wearing men’s pants under a knee-length skirt. Some, under fire, would carry a cask, slung over a shoulder, which was generally filled with water, brandy or wine. Several vivandieres were recorded in period photographs; perhaps the most well known vivandiere was Marie Tepe who served with the 114th Pa. Volunteer Infantry (Collis’ Zouaves) – born in France, she would become known as “French Mary”, during the war – she would see actual combat duty during the war. We have never seen any Vivandiere articles of “uniform” clothing before, so this skirt and cape are a first for us. The cape, fitted to extend to just above the skirt, is constructed of a heavy, blue, kersey-weave wool; it has five, original sewn, flat, buttons, that insert into hand-whipped buttonholes. The cape is lined in a darker blue, kersey blue wool. The skirt is constructed of a light, kersey weave, deep red wool, with a crocheted, decorative hem area; there is a hand sewn, attached, dark blue waist band at the top of the skirt. The skirt would have extended to knee length, to accommodate the pants worn by the vivandiere, beneath the skirt. Both the cape and skirt were produced by a combination of hand work and chain-stitched, treadle machine sewing. Both articles remain in overall good condition, with both retaining strong, original color; both exhibit some areas of modest insect nips, with one slightly larger area at the left collar area of the cape; overall both are structurally strong. This is an extremely rare outfit, and, as mentioned, the only one of its type we have ever encountered. Please read the articles attached to this posting that offer more research about Civil War vivandieres; please note the additional images we have attached, depicting war period vivandieres.

Vivandieres: Forgotten Women of the Civil War

By Kaitlin Mihalov, Army Heritage and Education Center August 5, 2008

Seeing a woman in the midst of the hotly contested Civil War battlefield of Spotsylvania surprised the veteran officer of the 8th Ohio Infantry Regiment! Seeing her in uniform – a Zouave uniform at that – astonished him all the more. She was the famous Vivandiere, Marie Tepe, who served with in the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Vivandieres appeared in European armies, especially in France, as women who were part of a regiment and provided the sale of spirits and other comforts, and attended to the sick. The women were known to wear the uniform of the regiment. Over the years the status of Vivandieres changed, and in 1865 a regulation appointed a certain number of women to each section of the French army. Some of these women, swept into some of the most dangerous parts of the battlefield, displayed enormous courage. Such courage existed among women in America, and when the Civil War began in 1861, there were women who were ready to join with the men to defend their country.

Marie Tepe was one such courageous woman. Originally born in France in 1834, Marie was raised by her father and later moved to the United States following his death. When she was nearly 20 years of age, she married Bernhard Tepe, a Philadelphia tailor. When the Civil War began, her husband joined the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. As soon as her husband left so did Marie, despite Bernhard wanting her to stay and mind the tailor shop in Philadelphia.

In the spring of 1861, Marie Tepe became a vivandiere with the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteers. She is better known as the vivandiere of the 114th Pennsylvania. The original company of that regiment was organized in the early weeks of August, 1861, by Captain Charles H. T. Collis as the Zouaves d’Afrique. Then in mid-August of 1862, Collis raised nine more companies to form the 114th, with himself as colonel. Like the original company, the 114th was a Zouave unit, based on the renowned North African and European Zouave regiments of the French army. The soldiers wore a Zouave uniform; so did Mrs. Tepe, who left the 27th and went with Collis’s outfit. She wore a blue jacket and red pants; to distinguish herself from the men, she wore a skirt trimmed in red. “French Mary,” as she was often called, participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. During the battle, she received a bullet wound to the ankle. For her bravery during the battle she received the coveted Kearny Cross, which was awarded to valorous veterans of the First Division of the III Army Corps in memory of its late division commander, General Philip Kearny.

After a short hospitalization she rejoined the regiment. In July 1863, Marie and her regiment joined the fight at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When the battle was over, “French Mary” volunteered her services as a nurse to help the wounded. After a few weeks of tending to the injured she continued on with her regiment. Marie Tepe served through the rest of the war and later moved to Pittsburgh. She attended the reunion of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1893. The famous “French Mary” died in 1901.

The Vivandieres who served in the Civil War showed great courage in the face of battle. These daring souls, like Marie Tepe, are the forgotten women of the Civil War. They went above and beyond the duties of a vivandiere to serve their country. French Mary and other vivandieres earned the recognition and respect of their regiments. They deserve to be remembered.


Vivandieres first appeared in France as women who were part of a regiment and sold spirits (an alcoholic drink) and other items and cared for the sick. These women wore uniforms similar to that of the regiment in which they served, and they displayed great courage by giving immediate medical assistance to the wounded in the midst of battle. When the Civil War began in 1861, hundreds of American women were ready to brave those same conditions for the Union Army.

Uniforms of vivandieres in the American Civil War varied from regiment to regiment. All had in common a knee-length skirt worn over full trousers, a tunic or jacket, and a hat. This style of costume was similar to bathing costumes depicted in fashion magazines of the period and was suitable for the outside exercise required of vivandieres who lived and marched with their regiments. There was a great deal of variation in trim and materials.

Kady Brownell (see attached image)
In the early 1860s, Kady McKenzie worked as a weaver in the mills of Providence, where she met and fell in love with Robert Brownell. With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Robert joined the 1st Rhode Island Infantry; Kady was determined to serve with him. She asked Rhode Island governor William Sprague to take her with him to Washington DC where she found Robert, and they were married.

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment’s commander, Colonel Ambrose Burnside appointed Kady Brownell vivandiere and color bearer of the regiment. At the First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861), she held the regimental flag high as Confederate bullets were flying all around her. After enlisting in the 5th Rhode Island Infantry with her new husband, she served at the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina (1862). Brownell remained in New Bern after the battle, caring for her wounded husband. After his recovery he was deemed unfit for battle, and both Brownells were discharged.