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.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Delta Rifles, Part VI

This is the last posting of John McGrath's account of the Delta Rifles of the 4th Louisiana Infantry. The author briefly served as a Sergeant in the company before being elected a Lieutenant in the 13th Louisiana Infantry. This account of The Deltas appeared on March 10, 1922 of the Woman's Enterprise.

The Delta Rifles
From Social Entertainment to Carrying Sand Bags in Ship
Island-Promoted I Sever My Connection With the Company

While at Mississippi City the Deltas were recipients of several social entertainments, one of which yet dwells in my memory withstanding all the intervening years. It was at the lovely summer home of the Maginess family, the ladies of which invited the entire company. Owing to the fact that up to that time our fatigue suits had been generally worn the dress uniforms were bright and clean so we presented an exceedingly fine military appearance when attired therein.

On the occasion referred to company was formed and with rifles and full accouterments, the captain at the head and lieutenants at their respective stations, was marched to the hospitable home where arms were stacked on the lawn and we were received as honored guests by the ladies of the household. After an hour of social intercourse delicious refreshments were served and so say they were greatly relished and greedily devoured is quite unnecessary as my readers can well imagine what a company of healthy young soldiers would do to delicious refreshments after a few months of living on army rations.

It was at this time and in this home that John T. Nolan first met the lady who subsequently became his wife. Private Nolan of that time, afterwards Captain Nolan of Miles Legion, was a son of Dr. Nolan, a prominent planter of West Baton Rouge and the same John Nolan who owned extensive sugar estate near Donaldsonville and lived thereon many years after the Civil War.

About this time boats were frequently sent by the warship Massachusetts to make reconnaissance, with a view no doubt of watching the movement of our troops scattered along the Coast. So to better guard certain points companies were sent to different localities and to one point the Deltas were assigned, every one regretting removal from where they were being so generously and handsomely entertained.

To supplement our rations we purchased a long seine with which to capture species of the finny tribe and also to give what pleasure might be derived from wading and swimming as we drew the long net. It was not only fun for the boys engaged in the task but for the spectators who duties kept them from indulging in the sport. Just after reveille the net, which was fully 150 feet long, was pulled ashore, generally with enough fish and crabs to feed the entire company. The fish were mostly turned loose as they boys claimed it was too much trouble to clean and cook them but with crabs all that was necessary was to throw them into a camp kettle of water with a handful of salt and they were ready. More provident and less lazy soldiers feasted on both fish and crabs.

By this time a number of our comrades had received commissions in other regiments, so great a number that it became necessary to recruit to fill vacancies and while the ranks were kept filled the personal was greatly changed from the original membership and military life, without accompanying excitement, became wearisome. The only hope for a break in monotonous daily routine was from time to time when the enemy's boats appeared in our front as if about to raid the main land. Then all was excitement as we fell into line and double quicked to the threatened point only to find the sailors resting on their oars just out of reach of our rifles which we discharged in their direction although to no purpose.

On one such occasion we were run out upon a wharf which extended a long way into the bay, summoned there by the appearance of cutters and other small craft as we supposed intent upon making a landing, but upon our appearance one of the number run closer in than formerly, and discharged a bow gun loaded with grape or cannister which falling short was lucky for us who were grouped up on the further end of the wharf, a position that would certainly not have been taken by officers and soldiers of greater experience.

An end was put to the practice of running out on the wharf and exposing ourselves to the danger likely to result sooner or later by the coming of an armed confederate schooner which patrolled the bay between the islands and the main land thus causing the Federals to keep outside in the open Gulf and at a safe distance.

The coming of the Confederate vessel boded ill luck for the Deltas for no sooner ahd she cleared the bay of the enemy's boats than orders were received to go to Ship Island accompanied by the National Guards where we would be marooned and all chance of receiving leave of absence to visit New Orleans, to say nothing of our pleasant surroundings on the main land lost, for aside from orders forbidding the granting of passes, a packet boat only visited the Island twice weekly, leaving again the same day. The boys could not see the sense of sending troops to that "pile of sand" as they termed the Island. "What can we do there? We cannot fight a ship with heavy guns beyond reach of our rifles while she will have no trouble in shelling us. This is sure a fool movement."

No sooner had we reached the Island than Colonel Allen, commanding our battalion, was ordered to report to General Twiggs for instruction. Reaching the old warrior's office in New Orleans, he was asked if the troops on the Island were ready for duty.

"Certainly," replied the Colonel.

"Well then," said Twiggs," the boat upon which you return will carry a cargo of gunny bags and entrenching tools and you will proceed at once under the direction of the engineer to construct fortifications to protect heavy guns to be sent to the Island."

"Will the negro laborers to over on the boat with the supplies, general?" said the Colonel.

"Laborers, have you not two companies of soldiers? What other laborers do you need? said bluff old Twiggs.

"Why General, my soldiers are gentlemen; you don't mean to say they must do the work of negroes."

"Gentlemen, you take your damn gentlemen and put bags of sand on their shoulders; gentlemen indeed."

So the boys who had never performed an hour's work i their lives were soon filling sacks of sand and piling them up to form parapets.

Having received a commission as First Lieutenant in another regiment I was kept in camp preparing papers and instructing my successor as sergeant as to the duties of the position and did not go out where my comrades were working, and a few days after, I reluctantly severed my connection with the Delta Rifles and saw nothing more of the company until we met at Corinth just previous to the battle of Shiloh when I found it so changed in personnel that I scarcely recognized it as the famous kid-gloved company I once knew. Thirty-five of the original members had been commissioned as officers, while others had been transferred to artillery or cavalry. Nevertheless, the company fought gallantry and suffered severe losses at Shiloh and elsewhere.

John McGrath


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I am looking for information on the flag of the 4th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, and the Delta Rifles company flag. Can anyone help?


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