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.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Coppens' Zouave Battalion

At the Confederate Historical Association of Belgium (CHAG) they have put together several great articles. One that caught my eye was on Coppens' Louisiana Zouave Battalion by Gerald Hawkins and Serge Noirsain. The story is 28 pages with 24 of those pages being on Coppens' Battalion. The piece on Coppens starts on page 4 (the first four being on the birth of the French zouave). The guys at the CHAG have allowed me to put a piece of the story below as a teaser. Its a great article on this Louisiana unit. Here is part of Hawkins' and Noirsain's article:

On June 10, 1861, Assistant Adjutant General J. Withers ordered George-Gaston Coppens, recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, “to proceed to Yorktown, Va., and report to Colonel J. B. Magruder, commanding”. John B. Magruder, later a brigadier general, was at the head of the little Army of the Peninsula.

The departure of the troops for Virginia was accompanied by a monstrous uproar and disorderly behavior. Moreover, the young demons did not leave alone. A New Orleans gazette published that Coppens’ Zouaves “had the good taste” to bring women with them to Pensacola to wash, cook, and clean their quarters. The well-thinking writer described them as “disgusting looking creatures all dressed up as men”. Rose Rooney, however, won the respect of all her soldier-comrades. She enlisted in the Crescent Blues (who later became Co. “G” in Coppens’ Battalion) and served the men as cook and nurse four years.49

On June 1, 1861, Coppens’ men left Pensacola for Richmond. Their trip was to be one of the wildest rides in the history of the Confederate railroads. Their journey covered a large part of the Confederate Territory. Because of the poor density of the railroad network, they steamed through Opelika and Montgomery (Alabama), Atlanta, Augusta, Florence (Georgia) and Wilmington (North Carolina). Finally, they had to travel to Goldsboro and Weldon (North Carolina) before disembarking at Richmond.

The journey of the Coppens’s Zouaves to Montgomery is a true epic. To describe it, historians generally paraphrase or refer to parts of the account left by one of its participants, the American writer Thomas C. DeLeon. As he reported this episode with an inimitable verve and since his text is no longer available in bookstores, we believe that it deserves a quote “in extenso”.

“Some Alabamians, two Georgia regiments, the Chasseurs-à-pied, the “Tigers” and the Zouaves were to go to Virginia ; and through the courtesy of the officers of the latter corps, we got seats to Montgomery in their car. Meantime, all was hum and bustle through the whole camp, and as the limited rolling stock on the still unfinished railroad could only accommodate a regiment at the time, they left at all hours of the day, or night, that the trains arrived. Constantly at midnight the dull tramp of marching men and the slow tap of the drum, passing our quarters, roused us from sleep ; and whatever the hour, the departing troops were escorted to the station by crowds of half-envious comrades, who ‘were left out in the cold’. And as the trains started – box cars, flats and tenders all crowded, inside and out – yell after yell went up in stentorian chorus, echoing through the still woods”.

“One gray dawn, 600 Zouaves filed out of the pines and got aboard our train. They were a splendid set of animals ; medium sized, sun burnt, muscular and wiry as Arabs ; and a long, swingy gait told of drill and endurance. But the faces were dull and brutish, generally.; and some of them would vie, for cunning villainy, with the features of the prettiest Turcos that Algeria could produce. The uniform was very picturesque and very dirty. Full, baggy scarlet trousers, confined round the waist by the broad blue band or sash, bearing the bowie knife and meeting, at mid-leg, the white gaiter ; blue shirt cut very low and exhibiting the brawny, sun burnt throat ; jacket heavily braided and embroidered, flying loosely off the shoulders, and the jaunty fez, surmounting the whole, made a bright ensemble that contrasted prettily with the gray and silver of the South Carolinians, or the rusty brown of the Georgians, who came in crowds to see them off. But the use of these uniforms about the grease and dust of Pensacola camp-fires had left marks that these soldiers considered badges of honor, not to be removed”.

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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