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 21, 2011

John McGrath, "In a Louisiana Regiment" Part III

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

After waiting for months at Mandeville for the appearance of an officer to muster the battalion into the Confederate service, a proposition was made by the Adjutant General to the effect that, with four other companies ready for service, we form a full regiment of infantry, and the proposition was accepted. A few days after the camp was thrown into intense excitement by an order for the battalion to proceed to Camp Moore, preparatory to being sent to the seat of war. The good people of Mandeville had been exceedingly kind and hospitable to officers and men during our long stay among them, and now that the boys were going forth to assist in fighting the battles of the South, they overwhelmed us with kindness. The company to which the writer belonged was left behind when the battalion departed, to pack up and guard quartermasters' stores while in transit from Mandeville by schooner, through Lake Pontchartrain, to Pass Manchac, where we were to board a railroad train for Camp Moore. The boat carrying the five companies had scarcely started on her way ere a saturnalia of drunken fury took possession of the men of our company, accompanied by incipient mutiny, which might have had a serious termination had it not been for the courage of the officers, manfully aided by the sergeants and a few of the sober men. We passed an alarming night, but by morning the whiskey had died out, and, as the bar-rooms remained closed, order was brought out of chaos. The citizens of Mandeville were seriously alarmed by the riotous conduct of the soldiers, a condition brought about by the unstinted generosity of themselves, and were careful next day not to furnish much whiskey with their kindness. The men, too, kept [109] busy loading schooners, were under better control, but along about the time of embarking I began to detect the preliminary symptoms of another big drunk. Finding the soldiers about to take final leave of their dear old town, citizens again filled their canteens with the best to be had, so that when the hawser was cast loose we had another drunken company. To the patriotic people of Mandeville nothing was too good for Southern soldiers.

Night falling as we got well under ways, as a means of pacification I suggested that the men sing songs of their native land, and soon a dozen voices were raised in as many languages, and the singing, interspersed with a few fights, continued until one after another the drunken soldiers fell asleep upon the deck, the only covering being the starry canopy of the heavens.

Reaching Camp Moore the next day we found four companies awaiting to be added to the six of zouaves, and when this was accomplished we were no longer a battalion, but the 13th Louisiana Regiment of Infantry. That's another chapter of my story, however.

The four companies awaiting the Avegno Zouaves, or Governor's Guards, for the purpose of forming a regiment, were the Southern Celts, Captain Steve O'Leary (the famous ex-Chief of Police of New Orleans); the St. Mary Volunteers, Captain James Murphy; Norton Guards, Captain George Norton, and Crescent Rifles, Captain W. A. Metcalf.

Randall Lee Gibson, a captain of the First Louisiana Regular Artillery, was First Colonel. Aristide Gerard and Anatole Avegno Lieutenant Colonel and Major of the battalion, were given corresponding rank in the new organization. Lieutenant King, who had resigned a commission in the United States Army and cast his lot with the South, was appointed Adjutant. With these field officers and ten companies complete was formed a regiment with the unlucky number, the Thirteenth.

Camp Moore was the rendezvous for State troops, where, as the companies arrived, they were assigned to regiments and drilled and disciplined until transferred to the Confederate government. Gen-. eral Tracey, Major General of the Louisiana Militia, was in command of the camp, and a most trying position it was, with officers new to military duties and enlisted men untaught and undisciplined.

The 10th Louisiana had departed for Virginia a few days before our arrival, to the evident satisfaction of the old General, who found the men of this command rather difficult to handle, and from what we were told, it appeared no love was lost between the General and [110] the 10th. Be that as it may, he no sooner laid eyes on the battalion of Zouaves than he exclaimed: ‘Heavens above! When I sent the 10th away I thought I would never see its like again, but these fellows are chips from the same block.’

Tents pitched, drilling became the order of the day, and what some of our military college-bred officers did not know, but thought they knew, of tactics and company evolutions would fill more sheets of paper than I can well afford, and in strict deference to truth, I must say that the military knowledge of our Colonel was infinitesimal. Lieutenant-Colonel Gerard and Adjutant King were adepts in military science, and had been well and thoroughly trained, the former in the French army, and this, together with the fact that many of the company officers of the 13th Regiment had received initial training in the earlier-formed regiments, in which they had entered the service as privates, furnished a fairly good starting point.

Colonel Gibson, an exceedingly bright man, soon mastered tactics, and was never after at a loss in handling regiment or brigade. There were, however, company officers who firmly believed they possessed a knowledge of tactics equal to General Hardee, but who really ranked along with the Georgia captain, who, finding his company face to face with a rail fence which he wished to cross, gave the command: ‘Scatter, fellows, and cluster up on the other side.’ Yet the day came when General Hardee, at the close of a competitive drill at Tullahoma, addressed to the 13th the following words: ‘You are one of the best drilled regiments I ever saw.’ This was a high compliment to come from the author of Hardee's Tactics, and went to prove that while there were few, if any, professors of military science in our regiment, the young fellows were earnest, painstaking students of company and battalion formations.

Young men bearing such names as Norton, Cammack, Labouisse, Lallande, Luzenberg, Crouch, and many other of the best families of New Orleans and Louisiana were naturally bound to excel where ambition, duty and patriotism pointed the way. Self-confidence in ability to beat ‘old Hardee’ at his own game was not the only claim to superiority the boys set up, but to valor as well, and I may be permitted to say right here, that there was scarcely an officer or man in the 13th Regiment, in its early days, who did not honestly and conscientiously believe that he could, singly and alone, whip a ten-acre lot full of Yankees. Many afterwards undertook the job, only to find it an extremely difficult and disagreeable one, and alas, the shame of it, some of the fiercest of our aggregation of ferocity [111] did not even put their valor to the test, but got out of the service just as soon as it became positively certain that there would be Yankees to whip.

One in particular, I remember, was so bloodthirsty that he fairly foamed at the mouth whenever Yankees were mentioned, and yet he let the regiment proceed to bloody fields without accompanying it, and I often thought that the war might have terminated differently had this indignation and anger been of a more enduring nature. Instead of remaining at home, after Yankee occupation, calmly transacting mercantile business, if the three or four individuals who quit the regiment at Camp Moore, or shortly after, had remained steadfast, the surrender ofAppomattox might not be embraced in the history of the country. Fortunately for the honor of the State and the regiment, those who back-tracked were decidedly few. There were two or three, but with these exceptions, officers and men alike, were eager for the fray, and as CampMoore was a dull spot in the pine woods, soon began grumbling at the delay in sending them to the front.

Drilling and guard mounting became extremely irksome and monotonous, and if it had not been for our little games of poker and frequent trip to the sutler's store to indulge in convivial fellowship, it would have been almost unendurable. Wines and liquors were sold at the canteen to officers without regard to quantity, and to the enlisted men upon presentation of a written order signed by a company officer. Don't be shocked, gentle readers, when I say that many officers and the men that could do so, became liberal patrons of the deadfall, for I boldly assert that the average soldier, whether wearing the shoulder straps of an officer or the plain, unadorned jacket of a private, will indulge, to a greater or less extent, in ardent spirits when it is to be had, and it is generally to be had. Liquor was as easily procurable in the Thirteenth Louisiana as in any prohibition town you ever struck, and the latter is an easy proposition.

True, there were some who did not indulge, nor did I ever see an officer intoxicated at Camp Moore, but the whiskey was there to be sold, and was sold in vast quantities. The enlisted men secured the signatures of captains when they could do so, but to save time and chances of being met by a refusal most frequently forged the names of their officers. They were lively chaps, those soldiers of ours, to whom forgery of an officer's name to a pass or to a whiskey order was a small matter—a good joke. It was said parties high in authority [112] had an interest in the sutler's store, and for that reason signatures were not too closely scrutinized. This may not have been true; but that a wonderful number of men purchased liquor on forged orders is a fact.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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