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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Delta Rifles, Part IV

This is the fourth 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 January 13, 1922 of the Woman's Enterprise.

The Delta Rifles
Kid Gloves and a Bogus Officer - Organization of a
Regimental Band - First Appearance

Among the members of the Deltas were two who wore buff colored kid gloves at all times whether on guard, fatigue duty or dress parade and for what I know to the contrary while asleep, a practice that drew considerable unfavorable criticism from other members who thought private soldiers should be somewhat less pretentious or prone to showing their social status in civil life.

"Sergeant, you should make those blasted dudes discard kid gloves. Wearing them is to make less favored soldiers feel as if the wearers wished to show their superiority. Doggone them, some of us could buy the dudes and all they possess in the way of worldly goods and not spend more than a month's income," said one.
"No," said I, "the boys are vain, I'll admit, but they are willing and obedient soldiers and should be permitted to wear anything not prohibited by military orders or army regulations."

A few days after this conversation two of the boys approached my tent and handed me a small package which upon opening I found to contain a pair of buff colored gloves which had been purchased in New Orleans.

"What does this mean?" said I.

"Why, if kid gloves are to be worn by men in this company our sergeant is the one to wear them. We present them for the reason that you have been fair, impartical and just, treating all alike. You don't play favorites and we admire you for it," said they.

Of course I was highly gratified and somewhat proud to think I was held in such high esteem by my comrades but was to learn within a very short time that another motive and not respect for me had moved the donors in providing the gloves.

I said in my first paper that the Deltas were handsomely uniformed, our coats being copied from some French corps and my coat was adorned with silver stripes from cuff to elbow-two V shaped stripes each one inch wide while my rank was designated on my fatigue coat by chevrons after the style of American soldiers so I could pass as a commissioned officer when in uniform easily enough in an army such as we had at Camp Moore where no two companies were uniformed alike. A day or two after the presentation of the gloves the donors appeared and said: "Oh put on your gloves and come along and order us a drink." Thus importuned I reluctantly consented.

The Sutler's store was in a shack hastily thrown up, with a counter breast high made of rough pine planks and the goods were principally wines, liquors and tobacco and believe me, it was well patronized by the 9,000 or 10,000 officers and men in camp. Enlisted men could purchase liquor only on an order of a commissioned officer and it was for that reason the boys insisted on my masquerading as a lieutenant. Our captain would occasionally write orders but not often enough to suit the boys. So my gloves and uniform were often requisitioned.

Entering the Sutler's shack I learned close up to the counter placing my arms thereon and with all the assurance of a colonel ordered the bard tender to "Serve my men a drink." Seeing the kid gloves and tinsled coat sleeves the fellow complied without hesitation and continued to recognize me as an officer as long as I would respond to the appeal of the boys. Demands became so numerous and fear of detection so likely that I finally refused all appeals to "Let's go down to the Sutler's" and the boys were forced to adopt other ways of deceiving the bar man. However I never noticed signs of intoxication on any of the older men.

In one tent some five or six of our youngest and wildest lads, "birds of a feather" quartered together who in a spirit of mischief and total disregard for army rules and regulations caused more annoyance than the rest of the company combined. They were always missing roll calls at reveile, tardy in falling in for drills and other duties and withal were fine fellows generally. There was nothing small or mean in the make up of those lads, just pure mischief and that spirit kept them doing extra duty almost constantly. What punishment was meted out to the fun loving boys was within the ranks of our own company as it was unthinkable that members of the Deltas should be sent to the guard house to mix with the tough characters often confined therein. That I was kept buys by that crowd, protecting them, as it were, against their own acts goes without saying. My past experience had taught me that when the embryo stage was passed the youngsters would respond to the requirements of military life as promptly and as effeciently as the older soldiers, and that when the crucial tests of battle were to be applied none would respond to face what might be in store for them with more firmness and courage. That proved true by two of the five yielding their young lives on the field of battle. I protected the lads against their own recklessness as best I could for as the poet says "With all thy faults I love thee still." In peace the survivors of the wild lads were among the most elderly, useful and peace-lving citizens of Baton Rouge.

While at Camp Moore Colonel Allen and our captain devoted considerable time to the study of tactics and soon developed into well informed officers competent to drill equal to West Pointers, with a result that when we left few could maneuverer a company or regiment with more success.

While in that camp a band was organized under the leadership of Prof. Moses of Clinton which was considered one of the best bands in the Confederate service.

With the exception of two companies, the Lafourche Guard and Lake Providence Cadets, the Fourth Louisiana Regiment was composed of companies raised within a radius of sixty miles of Baton Rouge. There were two from East Feliciana, one from St. Helena, one from what is now Tangipahoa, one from Bayou Sara, one from Bruly Landing, one from Baton Rouge and the Delta Rifles from East and West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee, but accredited to West Baton Rouge.

With officers fairly well versed in military tactics, a find band, handsomely uniformed, equipped with the best arms with a personal above the average intelligence the Fourth Louisiana when it entrained to leave Camp Moore was as fin a regiment as Louisiana sent forth to represent her on the tented field.

To be continued...

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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