Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)

Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)
CWLA seeks to provide an online resource of any and all material of the Civil War relating to Louisiana with a special interest in the war in Acadiana in southwest Louisiana.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Delta Rifles, Part II

We continue John McGrath's account of the Delta Rifles of the 4th Louisiana Infantry. This story ran in the December 16, 1921 edition of the Woman's Enterprise:

The Delta Rifles
Get off at Last and Proceed to New
Orleans on the Way to Camp
Moore-Lost Liquor and First
Delta to Be Placed Und-
er Arrest - Stump

In the November number of Woman's Enterprise I left the Delta Rifles awaiting the Steamer A.J. Cotten upon which they were to embark for New Orleans on the way to Camp Moore. The landing at that time was at the railroad depot near the levee and just opposite the Court House of to-day and here on that morning were gathered nearly every resident of West Baton Rouge. Every family of the upper portion of the parish was represented on the roll of the Deltas as well as several from the lower end. Barrows, Popes, Herefords, Duvaides, Nolans, Lobdells, Clarks, LeBlances, Lejunes, Robertsons, and others and every mother, wife, sister or sweet heart was present, tears and smiles alternating on their sweet faces, tears in eyes, forced smiles on cheeks, tears of sorrows and smiles of encouraging that loved one might not be saddened, or their patriotic ardor dampened and there was in all that multitude not a lady who would have had her loved one recreant to call country. While fearful of the future they were exceedingly proud of their boys armed for the protection of home and fireside.

It was with feelings of relief we bade the last farwell and marched aboard the steamer which immediately backed out into the strem, followed by lusty cheeers and waiving of handkerchiefs. However the ending of tears and cheers was not yet for as we approached th eeast side we beheld an awaiting crowd reaching from Florida to North street and here occurred a repetition of the farewell scenes on the opposite side of the river. In addition to relatives there was a brass band which welcomed us with the "Bonny Blue Flag," accompanied by the roar of a piece of artillery in charge of Mr. Douglas Mouton. there were nearly as many men in our company from Baton Rouge as from the opposite parish so to gratify the mothers, sisters and sweet hearts Capt. Cotten consented to lay to for half an hour while the second leave taking was being enacted and that was some leave taking, believe me.
The local brass band blared out with martial music, Mr. Douglas Mouton fired his old cannon as rapidly as it could be loaded, women and girls hugged and kissed, not only kinsmen but any of the boys, for be it known that nearly every man from this side has been born and bred in Baton Rouge and if not relative they were near neighbors and, besides and above all, the boys were going away to fight for home and fireside and nothing was considered too good for them.
As all things have an ending so had the leave taking and we were afloat again to the enjoy within a few hours one of the most sumptuous banquets I ever was a guest at.
The Bayou Sara packets were known far and near for th magnificent manner in which guests were treated. Those depending up on the patronage of planters along the river and as fully two thirds of the members of the Delta Rifles were sons of sugar planters they were entertained as princes rather than private soldiers.
In the entire company from Captain down I was the only one familiar with army routine, consequently I was kept exceedingly busy assigning men to births, looking after the baggage, and must I say it, keeping the wild youngsters from patronizing the boat's bar. To do the latter successfully I detailed a guard from the older men and placed it in close proximity to the tabooed spot. This kept the boys away and was about the first disciplinary method adopted. However, when dinner was announced and the boys were seated about the elegantly decorated tables more champagne was consumed than should have been and several of the boys grew somewhat hilarious through its effects. Now none of them were addicted to liquor drinking but it seems that soldiers will drink through sheer recklessness and ours were no exception to the rule.

Arriving at New Orleans during the early hours of night the men were quite indignant when informed that no one would be permitted to go ashore until they did so in company formation the next day. they had counted on a good time in the city, and could not understand why they could not be trusted to return in time to proceed on their journey. When the boat docked sentinels were placed at the gangway with orders to allow no soldier to pass out, but bless you, we had a wild and undisciplined set to deal with and one to laugh at sentinels so as the boat lay alongside the wharf a dozen or more of the younger element dropped from the top of the side wheels and thus avoided the officers and guards. However, next morning at roll call previous to disembarking every man answered to his name even though four or five showed they had indulged in more or less dissipation during the night.
Leaving the boat we marched to a restaurant at which the Captain had ordered breakfast to be prepared and there we remained about an hour, long enough for those who so desired to secure a supply of liquor to last the journey out. When refreshed by a substantial breakfast company was again formed and a march was taken up for what was then the old Jackson railroad depot and a long march it was for those weighted down with heavily packed knapsacks, rifles and accouterments to say nothing of well filled canteens and several of the boys soon showed signs of a night's dissipation and wabbled about in ranks to evident chagrin of our good Captain.
Arriving at the depot where open flat and cotton cars were awaiting our coming the Captain ordered me to empty every canteen in the company as he did not wish to enter camp with even one intoxicated man, an order which caused intense indignation among the men. "What," said they, "are gentlemen to be treated as toughs? Are we to be searched as arrested pickpockets?" Now nine tenths of our men were not to be classed as liquor drinkers and it is certain that many of them had never indulged in anything stronger than wine at a meal time, but it would not have done to pick out and mortify two or three so the entire company must submit to what was considered an outrage. They were an intelligent body of young men, however, who understand that having voluntarily entered military service they must obey all orders and did so without protest. Ranks were then opened, front rank about faced, canteens unslung and soon costly brandy was running along the street gutters.
Then on open flat cars to ride under a hot sun for hours with no other seats than our knapsacks, some of the boys stretching full length to catch up the sleep lost while on their night's frolic. We had not proceeded a long distance before one of the roysterers became unruly and troublesome to the annoyance of the better behaved soldiers so it became necessary to place him under guard. He was a clerk before he enlisted and was a sober and reliable young man but being unaccustomed to strong liquor a few drinks upset him. With a guard over him he soon fell asleep to awaken sad and repentant and to beg his comrades when writing home not to mention his arrests.

We will pick back up next post when the Delta Rifles arrive at Camp Moore. To be continued...

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Coppens' Zouave Battalion

Coppens' Zouave Battalion
Lt. Colonel George Coppens (seated) and brother, Captain Marie Alfred Coppens.Image sold at auction on Cowan Auctions, for $14,375