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.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

John McGrath, "In a Louisiana Regiment" Part I

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.

In a Louisiana Regiment.

New Orleans Picayune, Aug. 2, 9; Sept. 6, 1903

Organization of the 13th Louisiana Infantry—Camp Mandeville, the Avegno Zouaves, the Regiment formed at Camp Moore— presentation of Flag—Camp Life—Going to the front.

By General John McGRATH, Baton Rouge.

In a letter from a friend and comrade, recently, a suggestion was made that I write a sketch of the organization and service of the 13th Louisiana Regiment of the Civil war. When that command was a living, actual factor in the events of thirty-five or forty years ago, there were many far better qualified to record the acts and deeds of the famous old regiment than my humble self, but the eyes of most of my loved old comrades have long been closed and the pulsations of their brave hearts stilled in death, and few remain to perform the task. Of the eight or nine hundred gallant souls who marched from the Crescent City in 1861, there are scarcely enough now living to form a firing party at the funeral of a corporal; therefore, poorly qualified as I may be, it devolves upon me to leave a record of the battles and marches, defeats and triumphs, of a regiment as well officered and disciplined as any that served under the Stars and Bars, and which made a record upon the battlefield second to none.

My first acquaintance with what was afterward the 13th regiment, was when, upon receiving the appointment of first lieutenant, I was ordered to report to the battalion of Governor's Guards, better remembered as the Avegno Zouaves, camped at Mandeville, La.

At the time of my appointment I was a member of the Delta Rifles, of the 4th Louisiana Infantry, a company composed very largely of young sugar planters and slave-owners of parishes contiguous to Baton Rouge. Wealthy, refined, gentlemanly fellows they were, those Delta Rifles, my dear reader, and you may imagine my dismay as I stepped ashore at the wharf at Mandeville, and cast my eyes upon as cosmopolitan a body of soldiers as there existed upon the face of God's earth. There were Frenchmen, Spaniards, Mexicans, Dagoes, Germans, Chinese, Irishmen, and, in fact, persons of every clime known to geographers or travellers of that day. Nor was that all, as it seemed to me that every soldier on the grounds, in addition to his jaunty zouave uniform, wore a black eye, a broken nose or a bandaged head, having just been recruited, and only getting over the usual enlistment spree. In my gold-trimmed, close-fitting full-dress uniform, my young heart beat with pride and ambition as I neared my destination, but I must confess a glance at the motley crowd of soldiers caused a sigh of regret that I had left my old company, even to assume higher rank.

I was in it, however, and putting on a bold front, pursued my way through company streets in search of headquarters to report for duty. That remarks not altogether flattering were made in all modern languages, I was painfully aware; but as I did not understand much of what was said, I held my temper in check until finally one fellow remarked to another in a rich Irish brogue: ‘Oh, Mike, look at that new lefttenant! Don't he think he is purtty wid the new chicken guts (narrow gold lace, insignia of rank), on his arms. Look at his strut!’ Then it was I broke loose and blessed the impudent rascal in vigorous language. 'Twas thus I first became acquainted with Private Dan Dunn, who subsequently became as brave as Julius Caesar. Poor, dear old Dan, whose name appears three separate times upon the roll of honor issued by the Confederate government! Rough, uncultured old hero and patriot, little thought I that day at Mandeville that in days to come you would be the one to rescue me from in front of the Yankee breastwork, and help carry me to a place unswept by shot or shell, until you sank yourself exhausted by the blood flowing from your own wounds!

‘Such men they were—the men I loved.’

But I digress. I will, no doubt, digress quite frequently, otherwise my historical sketch will be dry reading.

If the enlisted men were somewhat mixed, the officers were gentlemen—gentlemen in every sense of the word—by birth and prestige, by education and travel, by wealth and social standing. Gay, bright, dashing young soldiers, ready at all times to dance or to fight. French Creoles, with a few exceptions, scions of families which had furnished soldiers to every war in which Louisianaever engaged, and to whom honor was dearer than life. Handsome boys, proud boys, most of whom fill warriors' graves. Happy days were those at Mandeville, notwithstanding the mixed and turbulent soldiers to be subdued and subjected to discipline. But that was accomplished and accomplished effectively.

This battalion was organized to become one of two regiments of regular zouaves provided by act of Congress, and for that reason its officers were appointed and its enlisted men regularly recruited and sworn in. Colonel Aristide Girard was Lieutenant-Colonel and Anatole Avegno, Major. The companies were six in number, with the following captains: Bernard Avegno, E. M. Dubroca, O. M. Tracy, A. Cassard, J. Fremeaux and F. L. Campbell.

As a decidedly large majority of the officers were from the second district (below Canal street), it is not to be wondered at that the battalion was a favorite command with the good people of that section. Nor is it surprising that mothers, sisters and sweethearts of the young officers should present a magnificent flag to the battalion.

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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