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 28, 2011

John McGrath "In a Louisiana Regiment" Part IV

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 a month or more spent between the banks of Beaver creek and the river Tangipahoa orders came to proceed to Camp Chalmette, below New Orleans. Officers and men alike had been anxiously expecting orders to proceed to Virginia, and were greatly disappointed at change of destination, but as any change was desirable, marching orders were hailed with intense satisfaction.

Soon after receipt of orders a reign of busy activity began. Tents were taken down, trunks packed, blankets rolled and the regiment aligned along the railroad track to await the train. Every officer had one trunk at least at Camp Moore, but a day came when all one's surplus clothing was rolled in a blanket to be slung and carried over the shoulder. Trunks shrunk to valises, valises to hand grips and hand grips to nothing in a remarkably short time.

The train to carry the regiment and its belongings came snorting along about 3 o'clock in the morning, and as soon as filled with men and camp equipage was off for the Crescent City. Without regret, we bade farewell to the old camp in the pines, with its six or seven hundred graves, containing the remains of Louisianians who yielded up their patriotic young lives without having once faced the enemies of their beloved South. Not one single mound, however, was erected over the body of a member of the 13th, a fact which gives emphasis to the remark I often heard, that soldiers from urban communities withstand disease and hardships far better than those raised in the country, where regular hours are maintained and diseases usual to congested communities unknown. To measles may be largely charged the loss of life at Camp Moore, and as this disease is generally contracted in childhood by inhabitants in cities and towns, and as a great majority of our men were city bred, the 13th was as nearly immune as a regiment could well be.

After a few hours' travel, the train pulled into the old Jackson Railroad Depot, where an unusually animated scene presented itself. The surroundings were black with a dense mass of humanity. It was a bright Sunday morning, and fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sweethearts, and throngs of persons drawn hither by simple curiosity, or it may be, moved by patriotic impulses, arrayed in holiday garb, packed the depot until it was well-nigh impossible to alight from the cars or to form companies. [113]

Nine-tenths of the men of the 13th were from New Orleans, mechanics, screwmen, longshoremen, sailors, barbers, cooks, and, in fact, men of all trades and callings, some with parents, sisters and brothers, others with wives and children, and all with scores of friends, and it seemed this Sunday morning as if neither relatives or friends were absent—as if the last one was crowding in upon the cars as the train stopped. Nor was that the worst, for it seemed that every wife, mother or sister in the mob expected her soldier boy to accompany her home for the day. ‘Oh, Captain, for the love of God, let Patrick go home with me. I have a good dinner cooked for him, and he'll be in camp to-night. Oh, do, Captain; maybe I'll never see my boy again,’ importuned an old Irish mother. ‘Impossible, madam, strict orders to keep the men in ranks,’ was the reply. ‘Mon Dieu, Lieutenant! let my lila garcon, Jules, go my'ouse. His petitesis-tar seek. Come back queek,’ said another. ‘Impossible, madam..’ But Patrick slipped, and Mike followed; Jules dodged through the pressing crowd, and Pierre also. Of course, in such a crowd of admiring patriots, with hearts overflowing with patriotism, whiskey was slipped to the boys going off to fight the battles of the country, and the liquor soon began to tell, so by the time the march began many of the soldiers were decidedly groggy. Nevertheless enough sober and slightly intoxicated men remained with the colors to present a fine appearance as we bravely marched through Louisiana's great city, cheered to the echo by crowds massed on the sidewalks. With handsome field-officers, on gaily-prancing steeds, drum and bugle corps beating quicksteps, flashing uniforms of officers and men, the regiment presented a picture the like of which had not been witnessed in the Crescent City since Jackson's army fought at Chalmette—if then.

It was a long march from where the old Jackson depot was located to Camp Chalmette, and, as the men had not made any marches previously, it was absolutely necessary that frequent halts should be made, and every halt meant more whiskey. Only one gross violation of civil or military law resulted from excessive drinking, however, and that was the brutal and unprovoked murder of one soldier by another while resting in front of the Mint. This murder was committed by a Frenchman, a member of the Third Company, called the ‘Zoo-Zoos,’ who, crazed by drink, without the least justification, raised his musket and shot and killed a German of Company D. The murderer was disarmed, arrested and turned over to the civil authorities, but it is doubtful if he was ever brought to trial, as [114] the regiment left Louisiana not long after, taking all witnesses to the tragedy along.

The longest march comes to an end at last, and so did ours, and we arrived at Camp Chalmette in time to pitch tents for the night. Next morning stragglers came in by ones and twos, so that by evening roll call the regiment was itself again. At the time of which we are writing the battle field was a stretch of smooth pasture land, well adapted for regimental manoeuvers, and, as crowds of visitors came down from the city every afternoon, it was thought well to give daily exhibitions of the proficiency of the regiment. These drills and dress parades were no ordinary affairs, but on the most elaborate scale. Officers, mounted on handsome steeds, oceans of gold lace flashing in the sunlight, gorgeous Zouave uniforms and high-class military music, thousands of lovely bright-eyed women looking on admiringly, made every man of us feel as the old song expresses it:

Oh, there is not a trade a-going,

Worth the knowing or the showing

Like that from glory growing,

Says the bold soldier boy.

Nothing in the way of soldiering could have been more pleasant or agreeable than life at Camp Chalmette, and yet every unmarried man in the regiment was eager to be off. We were dreadfully afraid the war would end and we would be mustered out without experiencing the wild excitement of battle. To fight was what we had joined the army to do, and an opportunity to fight we ardently desired, yet, I think I speak truth, when I assert that in less than ten minutes in the ‘hornets' nest’ at Shiloh, the appetite for fighting of nine-tenths of the members of the regiment was satiated to repletion. If my readers will permit, I will digress right here long enough to say that the average patriot gets enough fighting to do him a lifetime in ten minutes under a good heavy fire of artillery and musketry, such as we had in the Civil War. A little of it goes a long way.

We were at Camp Chalmette some five or six weeks, and began to think the Secretary of War was ignorant of our existence or that he had a sufficient number of soldiers without us to whip all the Yankees this side of the Kennebec river, when orders came to strike tents and go by steamer to Columbus, Ky., where a Confederate army was then forming. Within five minutes after receipt of this order there was a hurrying and scurrying to and fro, such as was never before witnessed in the 13th. Striking tents, packing knapsacks, [115] filling haversacks and loading wagons to take our plunder to the steamer Morrison, which arrived almost simultaneously with the order to move. The news of our early departure had spread uptown before the soldiers themselves were made aware of it, thanks to the energy of newspaper reporters, and it was not long before, what appeared to be, a big half of the city's population was on the ground. Wives, mothers, sisters, sweethearts, with weeping eyes and saddened hearts, clinging to their loved ones, could be seen on every hand, and even those who were from other portions of the State were made serious and depressed by the sorrowful lamentations of the weeping women.

The last load of camp equipage had been sent to the river and only the stacks of arms and uniformed soldiers were left to mark the spot where our home had been for weeks, when loud above the hum of conversation and crying of women a bugle was heard sounding the assembly, followed by the short, sharp commands of ‘Fall in! Fall in!’ With a great cheer the men fell into their respective places, were brought to ‘Attention.’ ‘Take arms,’ ‘Carry arms,’ ‘Right face,’ ‘Forward march,’ quickly followed, the band struck up ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me,’ and the regiment marched gayly to the river, followed by the multitude of civilians, men and women, waving handkerchiefs and wishing Godspeed to those about to enter actively upon a war of four years duration, and which left only poverty, desolation and misery in its wake.

Weep, mothers, weep; weep, heartbroken wife; weep, gentle sister, for you are perhaps parting forever from your loved ones. Were you gifted with prophetic vision whereby you could penetrate the dark war-clouds of the future, you might see many of the dear ones now marching so bravely and proudly aboard the majestic steamer, lying stark and cold in death, on bloody shot-torn fields, or dying in fever-infected hospitals, with nothing but strangers to wipe the death-damp from their brows, or to utter a prayer for their soul's repose. Soldiers, take a last lingering look at your Crescent City, while the mighty engines throb and pulsate, impatient of restraint, for the years will pass before those of you who survive the bloody conflict will tread its streets again.

“I wish I had a gurl to cry for me; but the devil a wun cares whether I go or stay,” said a brawny young Irishman, as he looked on at the parting of other soldiers from those they held dearest in life.

‘A gurl to cry for ye, do you? Maybe ye'd like to have a wife [116] and two childer, like McMahon, over there, to be clinging to ye and begging ye not to lave'em. Be me soul, I'm glad I've no wun. If I get kilt me people will never know what became of me, and the only monument I'll get will be an entry on the Company books— Killed in battle, Mike Morrisy—and that's not me thrue name, at that.’

All aboard! The pilot has signaled the engineer, the shrill whistle gives warning that all is in readiness, the hawser is cast loose and the palatial steamer gracefully swings out into the stream. Nine hundred soldiers, five or six hundred of whom wore brilliant red caps and baggy trousers, cover the forecastle, the main upper deck and every spot available, except the cabin, which is reserved for the forty-five officers. A pretty picture was the majestic steamer, with its living cargo, as the gold lace and red and blue colors of the uniforms flashed in the evening sunlight, to elicit thunders of applause from immense crowds at points of vantage all along the city's front. Cannon saluted the departing soldiers as the boat passed the barracks; bells tolled out their sad farewells, and steam whistles shrieked shrilly and wildly. When the boat reached the upper limits of the city I noticed that every eye was turned cityward, and every face saddened at the thought of leaving home and friends. Ah, soldiers, take a long farewell look at your beloved Crescent City fading in the twilight. Feast your eyes once again on the crescent-shaped place of your birth, and the land of your fathers, for when the great steamer turns yon bend you will have passed from its life, many of you, forever. Even to you few who survive the dreadful carnage, will all be changed. Returning weary, emaciated, warworn, aye, limbless, you will find social, political and economic conditions far different from what you knew them, and the conqueror's steady tramp will be heard resounding through streets you proudly and bravely trod in the heyday of your military career. Turn away, soldiers, your city is no longer visible. The taps have sounded. Good-night.

Well, we are off at last. Off to where battles are being fought and where heroes are developed, and every officer and enlisted man in the Thirteenth is eager and anxious to participate in the fray. The all-absorbing desire is to reach a battlefield before the war closes. ‘It cannot possibly last longer than six months,’ say the wise ones. ‘Were not Mason and Slidell taken from an English ship and will not Great Britain avenge the gross insult to her flag?’ With an English fleet at their doors and Southerners at the heels of their soldiers, [117] short work will be made of the Northern armies. Throw fresh fuel into the furnace, firemen. Put on more steam, engineer, to hurry us on our journey. It depends largely on the speed of the boat whether we return conquering heroes, to be welcomed by the shouts and cheers of grateful and admiring thousands, or slink back to peaceful pursuits ‘unknown, unhonored and unsung.’ Ah! my debonnaire comrades, could you but glance into the book of fate and read what is there recorded; see before you the long, weary marches under burning suns, pelting rains or cutting hail storms, your hearts would be heavy and your faces serious. Could you, Major, see that shallow grave gaping to receive your mortal remains on the fiercely contested field of Shiloh, you would cease the interesting story you are telling and turn to beads and prayer. Charley, gallant, light and hearty Charley, could you picture in your mind that solemn midnight scene, on the banks of Stone river, where your body was laid away by tender hands of comrades, Il Trovatore, snatches of which you are softly humming, would suddenly cease and in its stead arise the solemn De Profundis.

Comfortably seated in an armchair, inditing these crude reminiscences forty-two years after, it appears strange and unreasonable that young men are ever ready to leave the comforts of home life to go where chances of early sepulcher are great, limbless bodies abundant, and at the best only hardships and suffering are to be found. So it was, is and always will be.

Readers of these sketches must expect quite a number of twists in the thread of my story. I am not writing a history of the 13th, but my own experience, as a soldier ‘in a Louisiana regiment.’ History tells the tale of the regiment. Nor will I cover more ground than that occupied by the Louisiana Brigade of the Army of Tennessee. While I was at the birth, baptism and death of that great Southern army, I only know what occurred outside of my brigade by hearsay. It was understood in our regiment that they who knew most of the general features of an engagement were company cooks, servants and skulkers, who gathered around wagon trains and viewed ‘the battle from afar.’ I felt in those days that a soldier who stood by his colors was doing his full duty without wandering over the field, watching the operations of brigades to which he did not belong. The truant's excuse, ‘I became entangled with other troops and could not again find my regiment,’ was met by a sneer in the 13th, and to avoid being sneered at, if not for loftier motives, [118] I confined myself and my knowledge of battles to regimental and brigade lines.

Now that we are afoot and fairly on our way, it might be well to furnish a roster of the regiment, which was as follows:

Randall Gibson, Colonel; Aristide Gerard, Lieutenant-Colonel; Anatole P. Avegno, Major;——King, Adjutant.

First Company, Governor's Guards—Auguste Cassard, Captain; Charles Richard, First Lieutenant; Victor Mossy, Second Lieutenant; Victor Olivier, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Second Company, Governor's Guards—J. Fremaux, Captain; B. Bennett, First Lieutenant; C. H. Luzenburg, Second Lieutenant; Charles Hepburn, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Third Company, Governor's Guards—Bernard Avegno, Captain; St. Leon Deetez, First Lieutenant; Henry Castillo, Second Lieutenant; Eugene Lagarique, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Fourth Company, Governor's Guards—M. O. Tracey, Captain; Hugh H. Bein, First Lieutenant; Eugene Blasco; Second Lieutenant; George W. Boylon, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Fifth Company, Governor's Guards-Lee Campbell, Captain; John M. King, First Lieutenant; J. B. Sallaude, Second Lieutenant; Norman Story, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Sixth Company, Governor's Guards—W. Dubroca, Captain; John McGrath, First Lieutenant; A. M. Dubroca, Second Lieutenant; Robert Cade, Junior Second Lieutenant.

St. Mary Volunteers—Thomas G. Wilson, Captain; James Murphy, First Lieutenant; H. H. Strawbridge, Second Lieutenant; Adolph Dumartrait, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Gladden Rifles—William A. Metcalf, Captain; John W. Labuisse, First Lieutenant; Walter V. Crouch, Second Lieutenant; E. B. Musgrove, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Southern Celts—Stephen O'Leary, Captain; John Daly, First Lieutenant; E. J. Connolly, Second Lieutenant; John Dooley, Junior Second Lieutenant.

Norton Guards—George W. Norton, Captain; M. Hunly, First Lieutenant; A. S. Stuart, Second Lieutenant; George Cammack, Junior Second Lieutenant.

J. M. Parker, Sergeant Major.

Colonel Gibson, a graduate of Yale, wealthy, refined and polished by travel and association with the most famous men of the day, served as Colonel or Brigade Commander from the firing of the first gun until the battle-torn and stained flags of the regiments were [119] furled for the last time, and never missed a battle or skirmish in which his command was engaged, and these numbered one hundred or more. In my opinion, Gibson was not what one might call a great commander, but that he was a brave and faithful one his splendid record bears testimony. He was a good soldier, if not a military genius.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gerard was a Frenchman by birth and a soldier by profession. He was a master of the science of war, and brave to a degree of rashness. Arriving in New Orleans some years previous to the war, while occupying an editorial position on one of the French papers, he became prominent through a duel with a notorious duelist, in which the latter was fatally wounded. Colonel Gerard was not long with the regiment, receiving a severe wound at Farmington, and upon recovery being assigned to duty in the Transmississippi Department.

Major Avegno was a Creole of Louisiana, educated, refined and wealthy. His service was also short, as he fell mortally wounded on the second day at Shiloh, and died a day or two after.

Adjutant King, at the breaking out of the war, was a second lieutenant in the United States Army, resigning to take service with the Confederacy. He was a thorough soldier, and to him in a great measure was due the fine discipline and perfect drill which were always characteristic of the regiment.

At one of the landings made by the boat it was learned that a battle had been fought at Belmont, opposite Columbus, and that the Yankees had been defeated with great loss and had returned to Cairo pell-mell, and that, too, without the presence of the 13th. Thus, thought we, faded the only opportunity of ever facing the enemy. Defeated at Manassas and at Belmont, the Federals would realize the folly of attempting invasion of the South and throw up the sponge. The disappointment had a most depressing effect on officers and men alike, the former cursing the slowness of the boat, while the latter, more superstitious, laid it on the unlucky number of the regiment. ‘Oh, why the blazes did I join the 13th. I might have known we'd be unlucky,’ was a common remark. It was a most discouraging piece of news to all, but I lived to see a time when the boys were not so anxious; when they could have remained on board a Confederate boat with perfect complacency while others were dying. The 13th always performed its full duty when called upon; the men did the fighting falling to their share, but, like the man who ate the crow, ‘didn't hanker arter it.’ After one or [120] two good stiff battles indignation meetings were not held if the regiment found itself in reserve. We might say right here, however, that no battle was fought by the Army of Tennessee where we were overlooked, when a battery was to be captured or a line of battle attacked. ‘Oh, go on, Mike, don't ye know we'll be sent in. We're not voters, an' they'll want to save the Hoosier regiments so as to have as many men after the war as they can to vote. Every last man of the colonels will be running for office,’ I heard one of the men of the Southern Celts say on one occasion.

About evening of the sixth day the journey ended. Columbus was covered by snow and the men without overcoats. Crowds of soldiers came down to the river to see us land, and as many of these had never seen a zouave before, they were surprised beyond measure. They took the baggy trousers for petticoats and one loud-mouthed Hoosier shouted: ‘Jeems, come over here and see the Loosyane wimmen soldiers. All of you'ns come.’ Disgust was plainly discernible on the countenances of the men at being taken for women, and the remarks addressed to the country soldiers were not such as to be printable.

At last the 13th was at the front.

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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