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.
After waiting for months at Mandeville for the appearance of an officer to muster the battalion into the Confederate service, a proposition was made by the Adjutant General to the effect that, with four other companies ready for service, we form a full regiment of infantry, and the proposition was accepted. A few days after the camp was thrown into intense excitement by an order for the battalion to proceed to
Night falling as we got well under ways, as a means of pacification I suggested that the men sing songs of their native land, and soon a dozen voices were raised in as many languages, and the singing, interspersed with a few fights, continued until one after another the drunken soldiers fell asleep upon the deck, the only covering being the starry canopy of the heavens.
The four companies awaiting the Avegno Zouaves, or Governor's Guards, for the purpose of forming a regiment, were the Southern Celts, Captain Steve O'Leary (the famous ex-Chief of Police of New Orleans); the St. Mary Volunteers, Captain James Murphy; Norton Guards, Captain George Norton, and Crescent Rifles, Captain W. A. Metcalf.
Randall Lee Gibson, a captain of the First Louisiana Regular Artillery, was First Colonel. Aristide Gerard and Anatole Avegno Lieutenant Colonel and Major of the battalion, were given corresponding rank in the new organization. Lieutenant King, who had resigned a commission in the United States Army and cast his lot with the South, was appointed Adjutant. With these field officers and ten companies complete was formed a regiment with the unlucky number, the Thirteenth.
Tents pitched, drilling became the order of the day, and what some of our military college-bred officers did not know, but thought they knew, of tactics and company evolutions would fill more sheets of paper than I can well afford, and in strict deference to truth, I must say that the military knowledge of our Colonel was infinitesimal. Lieutenant-Colonel Gerard and Adjutant King were adepts in military science, and had been well and thoroughly trained, the former in the French army, and this, together with the fact that many of the company officers of the 13th Regiment had received initial training in the earlier-formed regiments, in which they had entered the service as privates, furnished a fairly good starting point.
Colonel Gibson, an exceedingly bright man, soon mastered tactics, and was never after at a loss in handling regiment or brigade. There were, however, company officers who firmly believed they possessed a knowledge of tactics equal to General Hardee, but who really ranked along with the Georgia captain, who, finding his company face to face with a rail fence which he wished to cross, gave the command: ‘Scatter, fellows, and cluster up on the other side.’ Yet the day came when General Hardee, at the close of a competitive drill at
Young men bearing such names as Norton, Cammack, Labouisse, Lallande, Luzenberg, Crouch, and many other of the best families of
One in particular, I remember, was so bloodthirsty that he fairly foamed at the mouth whenever Yankees were mentioned, and yet he let the regiment proceed to bloody fields without accompanying it, and I often thought that the war might have terminated differently had this indignation and anger been of a more enduring nature. Instead of remaining at home, after Yankee occupation, calmly transacting mercantile business, if the three or four individuals who quit the regiment at
Drilling and guard mounting became extremely irksome and monotonous, and if it had not been for our little games of poker and frequent trip to the sutler's store to indulge in convivial fellowship, it would have been almost unendurable. Wines and liquors were sold at the canteen to officers without regard to quantity, and to the enlisted men upon presentation of a written order signed by a company officer. Don't be shocked, gentle readers, when I say that many officers and the men that could do so, became liberal patrons of the deadfall, for I boldly assert that the average soldier, whether wearing the shoulder straps of an officer or the plain, unadorned jacket of a private, will indulge, to a greater or less extent, in ardent spirits when it is to be had, and it is generally to be had. Liquor was as easily procurable in the Thirteenth Louisiana as in any prohibition town you ever struck, and the latter is an easy proposition.
True, there were some who did not indulge, nor did I ever see an officer intoxicated at Camp Moore, but the whiskey was there to be sold, and was sold in vast quantities. The enlisted men secured the signatures of captains when they could do so, but to save time and chances of being met by a refusal most frequently forged the names of their officers. They were lively chaps, those soldiers of ours, to whom forgery of an officer's name to a pass or to a whiskey order was a small matter—a good joke. It was said parties high in authority  had an interest in the sutler's store, and for that reason signatures were not too closely scrutinized. This may not have been true; but that a wonderful number of men purchased liquor on forged orders is a fact.