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 16, 2010

18th Louisiana from Camp Moore

Wayne Cosby with the Camp Moore Association forward the letters of Private Thomas Bellow of Co. E, 18th Louisiana to us. Bellow's letters appeared in local paper from St. Charles Parish titled Le Meschacebe. Bellow's two letters give us a good description of live at Camp Moore in September 1861. Before jumping into Bellow's letters, I would like to give some background information leading up to his regiment's formation at the camp.

After the initial flurry to get units to Virginia (April-June) and after a subsequent call for regiments to "defend the Mississippi River valley" in late June (which accounted for the formation of the 11th, 12th and 13th Louisiana Regiments). Eventually the 14th and 15th Louisiana Regiments were sorted out of the numerous different units sent to Virginia.

All the while, volunteer companies were being raised around the state and still moving toward Camp Moore. As the 11th, 12th and 13th Regiments were formed and shipped off companies were congregating at the camp to form new regiments. From September 29th - November 19th four additional regiments were put together: 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Regiments (2 companies added on December to make it a full 10 company regiment). Bellow's 18th Louisiana was organized on October 5, 1861. The two letters below are from September while his company sat at Camp Moore waiting to be attached to a regiment. GREAT letters, enjoy!

In camp, 12 September 1861
My dear Dumez,
It is while seated on the bank of a little creek that bounds our camp to the west that I am scribbling these lines to you. Let's go back a little
We arrived in town Thursday evening about ten o'clock; we were received in a very fraternal manner by the Orleans Guards [Gardes d' Orle'ans], who led us to their arsenal, where they had prepared a punch for us, which was thirstily absorbed by the parched throats of the Chasseurs. One of the Orleans Guards in a toast predicted to us that we would be decimated because we had in our ranks the "aim".
It was not until the time came to go to bed that I began to taste the pleasures of a soldier's life. I was cozily stretched out on my bed and dreamed that I was drilling some Yankees. At four o'clock in the morning, I was awakened by the pleasant roll of a drum. We had an excellent breakfast (another courtesy of the Gardes d' Orle'ans), then we set in march to get ourselves to the wagon depot. We did not leave, and I don't know exactly why, until nine-thirty for camp. We were saluted all along the route, and we arrived here about four o'clock, faithfully escorted by a beating and refreshing rain. Then we set up our tents and settled down as well as possible.
The camp is rather vast and offers a fine parade ground. It is an elevated place, which means that, despite the daily rains, we have no mud. We are one mile to the east of the Town of Tangipahoa and a half mile west of the river of the same name. [Editor's note - Pvt. Bellow's sense of direction was incredibly faulty!] General Tracy is the commandant of the camp. There are about 1,000 to 1,200 soldiers here. On the western boundary of the camp are found some restaurants, shops, canteens, etc., etc.
Yesterday I was on guard duty in the village, which makes it possible for me to give you a little description. The streets are laid out, several even have names; but for the most part, the houses shine by their absence. There are many shops, groceries and a hotel. Business is flourishing, and whatever place you enter, you are sure to find everything, except what you ask for. Yesterday evening our officer having allowed us to leave the guard corps, I went for a walk with one of the Chasseurs. We stopped before a fine-looking grocery. A charming woman presented herself and invited us to come in while asking us what we wanted. We asked for some sardines. All gone. Butter. All gone. Cheese. All gone. Finally we ran through the entire gamut of groceries both imaginable and unimaginable, and we left with a piece of bread that must have barely seen the oven. We went a little further and saw written on a board 'Groceries and Provisions of all Kinds'. We entered; it was a dealer in old beds. Far from being discouraged, we were developing a taste for this business. A little further, we saw a kind of canteen where was written in red letters 'Soda Water & Coffee'. We entered. No barkeeper. We waited ten minutes, a quarter of an hour. My word, since no one came, we served ourselves, promising ourselves not to pay in order to punish the proprietor for having made us wait. This morning, when we had finished mounting guard, we went back there, and since the barkeeper was still absent, we repeated the same manoeuvre. One must take the rough with the smooth. To tell the whole truth, the Tangipahoans seem to me as lazy as lizards. But to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, the Tangipahoa women are as beautiful as Creoles.
We are living on pork and biscuits; sometimes we have some fresh meat. One anomaly that I had not considered is that, living in the middle of pines, we can't eat bread.
Honore' and I are getting visibly fat, and we have never felt better. Finally, we are happy. For me, I regret only one thing -- not having come sooner.
Felix and Numa are doing well. Arsene Breaud is tireless; he distinguishes himself above all by his culinary talents. I forgot to tell you that we do our own cooking -- soldiers in every sense of the word. The other men from our area are fine.
T. B.

To the Meschace'be'
17 September 1861
Everything moves briskly in the camp, and we are beginning to acquire the symmetry of movement and the mechanical perfection that are the principal qualities of the soldier. In the morning, we have exercises from nine o'clock until eleven-thirty; in the afternoon, battalion exercise from five o'clock until six-thirty, under the command of General Tracy. Captain Roman will command the battalion this evening.
Now here is how we mount guard. We take fifteen men that are divided into three groups of five. Each group is sent out and posted with a distance between each man. The group is relieved every two hours, and the entire guard is replaced at the end of twenty-four hours. Beaver Creek, with which I have already acquainted you and near which I myself was on guard, well deserves the reputation it enjoys for the rapidity and clearness of its waters. But its banks are populated with mosquitoes, whatever anyone says, and mosquitoes that seem especially spoiled by Creole blood. They have really made a treaty of offensive alliance with Lincoln, unless, being no less devoted than we to the common nation that makes them live at our expense, they have undertaken to keep us in a state of alertness and to prevent us from attaining a dangerous sleep.
Would you like a description of our interior, or our furniture? We have a board for a bed - a bed of high vegetation - and our military sack for a pillow. I think we sleep as well on this pillow as the old French skeptic Montaigne slept on his pillow of doubt, because we have faith that we are serving our country. The same thought makes us accept the diet happily: pork in the morning, beefsteak at noon, coffee and biscuit in the evening. Today the cooks are Samuel Lorio, from St. Charles, Honore' and I. The small number of dishes in use in camp life certainly has its charm also, even if this might not be the charm of novelty. We take the extra dishes to the restaurant, which allows us to keep a well-lined purse, more or less - - and one's purse has to be passably well-lined, because the restaurants here don't post their prices at the door for everyone to see.
With all that, the troops enjoy excellent health. Except for the hours of duty, we play games. The favorite game is bouchon
[Note, The only definition I found for Bouchon says the following: The French equivalent of Spoons known as Bouchon (meaning cork) is played with corks. The loser of each hand gets a letter of the word B-O-U-C-H-O-N, so you are not eliminated until you have lost six times.].
There are some soldiers who excel in it, notably a soldier from St. John the Baptist, who won some fine prizes and used them for a party in the aristocratic restaurants of this place.
There are now about 2,000 men in the camp, and new companies arrive every day. We ask ourselves where we will be sent, but we don't know much more about it than you do. The opinion is, however, that we shall have the honor of defending Louisiana and sweeping out the first Yankees who present themselves. We are ready.
I am going back a little to my last letter, where I'm afraid I got the points of the compass mixed up. Beaver Creek runs to the south of the camp. It is there that we draw water for cooking; this water also serves us for drinking. For my part, I consume at least two gallons a day, I'm made so thirsty by the 'pork and biscuit'.
As for springs, they exist for me only in the state of the philosopher's stone. It is true that I have never been far from camp. Every time I want to go beyond the boundaries, I meet an exclamation point that we call a sentinel, who seems to have been placed there for the sole purpose of saying to me, "You cannot pass!" This simple apostrophe certainly would not suffice to stop me, were it not accompanied by a mechanical movement that puts you face to face with a respectable but dangerous instrument.
I have visited the Tangipahoa River, which is a mile from camp. To get there, it is necessary to cross a half dozen little streams, almost all choked with dead trees, and which race -- not the trees -- on hasty feet in the forest, making turns to the left, then half-turns to the right, and a bunch of other turns more or less military -- finishing up by coming into alignment with the Tangipahoa. Let's talk about that. It really is a charming little river, which makes as many turns and detours as its little tributaries. The environs, though uncultivated, seem very fertile. One finds there magnolias, holly trees, wild olives, etc. On the banks, the trees dip their green leaves in the cold, clear water. In several places you can see the bottom of the river, which is covered with little pebbles. Tell the poets who adorn the first page of the Meschace'be' with their products to come here to court the muse; everything inspires it. As for me, if I had found an Eve, I would believe myself to be in an earthly paradise. But alas, one sees only Irish and German women, who have the masculine habit of smoking and the rest.
The bank of the stream is covered almost everywhere with a yellow sand that miraculously replaces soap. If I come back from the war, I want to establish a factory to make pumice soap. With the little pebbles of the Tangipahoa, I shall make gun flints. There are several fortunes in my head.
They are sounding recall.
T. B.

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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