John McGrath began his military career as a Sergeant in the Delta Rifles of the 4th Louisiana Regiment. We have several of his accounts posted at Louisiana Civil War documenting his role in the 4th Louisiana. McGrath also took the time to write the New Orleans Picayune and include a brief write up of his early days in 13th Louisiana. He actually focuses his attention on joining "Avegno's Zouaves" as a Lieutenant. The six companies of the Governor Guards' Battalion ("Avegno's Zouaves") combined with four independent companies to form the 13th Louisiana in September of 1861.
...The tattered old flag, discolored by the destroying hand of time, shorn of its beauty, hangs in Memorial Hall, a dingy and silent reminder of the past, with few to gaze upon it who know what it once represented or whence it came. With the exception of one or two others, the writer is the only survivor of the officers of the Avegno Zouaves, at least of those residing in
Long years have passed since the time of which I write, and yet it seems but yesterday, with bands playing stirring quick steps, arms aslant and steady, warlike tramp, we entered the sacred portals of St. Louis Cathedral, of New Orleans, that the venerable bishop might bless the banner, now drooping languidly, infirm with age, like unto the survivors of those who once wildly swore to defend it and bring it back in triumph to the Crescent City.
Alas! the victory was not ours, nor would anyone recognize the once strong battallion in the few war-worn and weary veterans who came straggling back at the end of four long, bloody years.
The official language of our battalion was French; we were drilled in French, commanded in French, and orders were issued in French, and as I was the only officer who did not understand the language, you can well imagine my awkwardness. However, I soon became familiar with the commands most frequently used, and it was not long before I could get my company through dress parade in a more or less creditable manner. Orders came after awhile from General Twiggs to discontinue the French language and to adopt English, and matters went along more smoothly as far as I was concerned. The company to which I was assigned was composed principally of Irishmen, who resented the change quite fiercely. One of our fellows, who enlisted under the name of Jones, but whose name was  Branagan, while somewhat more than half drunk, approached the writer, and, touching his kepi, said: ‘Leftenant, I don't know what oi'll do. You want us to drill in English, and the divil a wurd I know but French.’ Absurd as it may appear, he spoke the truth. He had never been a soldier before, and when he had learned to drill by French commands, they were all the military terms he knew. ‘Right shoulder shift arms’ was something far beyond his comprehension and he was forced to learn anew.
As the battalion was formed by the enlistment of recruits who were assigned to companies without regard to their wishes or desires, and as no two men had ever seen each other previous to enlistment, there was only one thing in common between them, and that was to get all the fun and all the whiskey possible, and this they did to the great annoyance of the officers. It must not be understood that by this statement that the men were low vagabonds, for they were not. They were simply young and wild and were going to war, probably never to return, and when the clash of battle came none were braver, none more loyal to the cause, and none more easily handled in fight or controlled in quarters. There were bad men among them, but good soldiers predominated.
We had barracks at the foot of
My recruits reached camp in due time, and most of them proved excellent soldiers, and many finally fell in the front ranks in battle, and are now sleeping in unknown and unmarked graves. Buddie was an exception all along the line. He spent most of his time in the guard-house or in the hospital, and was an unmitigated, all-around scamp. Knowing it would only be a matter of time before he would be sent in chains to work upon the fortification, I went one night to the guard tent, where he was a prisoner, and, taking him aside, informed him that I would secure him his release if he would desert. Agreeing, I gave him money to pay his way home and have never laid eyes on him since. Was I justified in encouraging desertion? I believe I was in this case.
I have dwelt longer than I should have done in relating this incident, but I had two objects in view—one was to show the trouble and annoyance frequently experienced by recruiting officers, and the other to emphasize the fact that respectable, law-abiding citizens invariable make the best soldiers.