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 15, 2011

The Delta Rifles, Part V

This is the fifth 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 February 10, 1922 of the Woman's Enterprise.

The Delta Rifles
The First Hardships Faced; First Loss of Life;
A Mess of Fish; Drunken Soldiers and Social Entertainments

The trip from Camp Moore to New Orleans was uneventful and tiresome. It was when placed aboard an old wreck of a steamboat, the Greg Cloud for passage to Mississippi City the Deltas experienced the first hardships. The boat had been out of commission for years and with the exception of the hull, which had been sufficiently repaired to keep her afloat, all other parts were in most ruinous condition. The upper or cabin deck was so open that daylight could be seen between every beam and as rain came down in torrents while on our way, every soldier of the company was drenched as if outdoors. The Deltas were quartered in the cabin while another company was on the lower or boiler deck. The last named was the most fortunate as the floor of the cabin deck protected its men from the downpour.

It was while on this boat the first loss of life occurred. Among the soldiers of East and West Baton Rouge, the victim being Lieutenant A. J. Bird, of the company from Brusly Landing. Lieutenant Bird remained with his men on the boiler deck and sometime during the night stepped off into the lake, there being no railing along the sides of the boat.

His absence was not noted until morning and his fate really unknown until his body was found some days after. Lieutenant Bird, a son of a wealthy planter of West Baton Rouge, was one of the most popular officers of the Fourth Regiment, and one who notwithstanding, was ready and willing and did partake of the hardships and inconveniences faced by the privates of his company and it was for this reason that he declined to leave his mean and quarter with the other officers in the dryest [sic] part of the boat he lost his young and useful life.

The Grey Cloud was slower than a snail and it was not until the afternoon of the second day we arrived at Mississippi City and in the meantime we had nothing to satisfy the craving for hunger. We had prepared rations before leaving Camp Moore consisting of hard tack and boiled bacon, both contained in open barrels and set on the forward deck bu the downpour of rain lasting several hours made loblolly of the bread and made the bacon appear as if soaked in the lake a week or more, and the boys would not eat the watersoaked stuff. Surely we were getting a fore taste of what was to come. We were learning that a soldier's life was not altogether a matter of dress parade, reviews, blaring bands and waving flags.

About noon old Sol broke out in all its refulgent splendor and after a trip of 24 hours the warf at Mississippi City was reached to the delegate of the water-soaked soldiers. Wet, hungry and weary by being penned up on an overcrowded boat, the boys nevertheless with slight complaint assisted the boat's crew in landing our camp equipage and were then marched to the place selected for the encampment, leaving me to superintend the loading of wagons employed for the purpose.

Noticing on the wharf a fishing line and a lot of shrimp some one had left, perhaps a guest at the hotel, i started in to catch my supper while awaiting the return of the wagons. Fish were biting eagerly and rapidly, so by the time the last load was starting camp ward, I had a long string of sea trout with them I intended to treat two or three of our Kid Soldiers. Reaching camp, I found the tents pitched and fires burning and calling to the youngster, "Here, Charley, Marty, Time, come clean fish while I rend out some pork and I'll give you a treat." This they refused to do declaring they would rather go hungry than clean fish. "Well, go hungry, you lazy little devils," said I, and performing the work myself, it was not long until I had a large dish of fried fish, all to myself.

It seems when the company arrived at the grounds they found rations prepared in advance of their arrival and hunger was fully appeased. Nevertheless, when I began my feast the youngsters sat around my fire gazing loengfully while I feasted.

"Say, Sergeant," said one, "you can't eat all those fish give us some."

"What I can't eat, I'll throw away you trifling scamps," I replied.

"Oh, give me a fish, Sergeant," was urged by one and all.

I intended all the tim to share with them and did so after a while, much to their gustatory satisfaction.

The day after our arrival, a small cabin was constructed in which to store medical supplies, the custodianship of which was in the hands of Dr. Marshal Pope, and it had scarcely been finished when three or four mean of the National Guards of Baton rouge, Company A of the Fourth Regiment, appeared in camp fighting and howling drunk. To confine them in tents would be useless as they could not be held there so the surgeon's shack was converted into a prison and that, too, without removing the medical stores.

Among the several boxes and packages of Dr. Pope's hospital supplies was a case of cognac brandy which the prisoners discovered while throwing and breaking and tearing open the goods and of this brandy, the rookies not only drank in surprisingly large quantity, but shoved several bottles through an opening between the roof and top plate to comrades on the outside causing more drunkenness and more prisoners.

The result of this spree was that orders were issued that the men of the four companies in that encampment were confined to quarters with passes suspended. Of course, discontent became general as innocent parties could not understand why they should be punished for the misdeeds of others.

It was not for punishment, however, that we were kept close in hand, but from the fact that the Massachusetts, a Federal War Ship, lay off Ship Island, the boats of from which often appeared out in the bay as if about to raid somewhere along the coast and it was to prevent a landing we were kept near our rifles.

To compensate in a measure for our close confinement the Deltas were recipients of many social favors extended by Louisianians summering along the coast and quite often the company as a body, armed and equipped, headed by our captain was marched to the one of the homes where we were royally entertained, a social recognition tending to excite jealousy on the part of the soldiers of other companies not so favored.

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