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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

John McGrath, "In a Louisiana Regiment" Part V

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

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 atFarmington, 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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Black Louisiana Confederates

Here is a link to a piece Arthur Bergeron wrote in Civil War History, Volume XXXII, No. 3, September 1986. It highlights the role of free men of color that fought in Louisiana units.

Monday, August 1, 2011

14th Louisiana Goes to War Pt. VII

The following write up comes from Wayne Cosby. It is a first hand account of Private W.P. Snakenburg of Co. K, 14th Louisiana Infantry. Wayne informed me that the original source of Snakenburg's letter is unknown but his account was printed in 1984 in the Amite News Digest. This is the last piece on Snakenburg's role in the Civil War. This post picks up after Snakenburg's capture at Spotsylvania Court House in May of 1864.

The prisoners were taken to Fredericksburg and next day to a place near Aquia Creek and placed in a bottom or hollow place that put me in mind of a place they called "The Devil's Punch Bowl" that I read of in a book when a boy. There we were kept two or three days, then were taken to Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac River on the Chesapeake Bay. There we were kept in a prison guarded by white and negro troops. There was water on three sides of us and no shade at all. As well as I can remember, there was no shade trees at all and the water we were forced to drink as bad as could be, as it was full of copperas, and very little to eat and plenty of salt in what we did get. The officers of the prison were in another stockade, near to ours, but we never could see each other. From our prison camp we could see across Chesapeake Bay to the eastern shore of Maryland on a very calm morning. Men-of-War lay out in the Bay as guards, as also infantry and batteries of artillery were posted to guard the prisoners. Around the prison a plank wall twelve or fourteen feet high was built with a platform about four feet above the top, on the outside, for the guards to walk day and night. While at this prison, I learned through letters from my mother that one of my cousins on her side was there guarding prisoners and belonged to a company attached to the 144th Ohio Regiment. He also learned through his people that I was there a prisoner, and they made arrangements with the officers to send for me. I went to the gate and was taken down to the landing where I met him. His name is John Hemphill, a first cousin. We talked for one hour, I suppose, and the general drift of the conversation was to advise me to take the oath of allegiance to the United States and not go back South to the army. I would not do so and went back to the prison. I was to go back the next day to the same place to meet him as he promised to get me some things I needed, as I lost everything in way of clothes when captured in the works. I went to the place two or three days but did not see him there. When I did see him afterward on guard duty, he told me that he had got into the guard house for some insubordination and could not go. I thought that he was not telling me the truth and did not try to see him any more, and rather than be troubled and worried by him and some officers of the prison about taking the oath, I went to another prison camp in New York as soon as I got the chance. I did not let him know that I was going and he did not find out until I was gone.

While in prison at Point Lookout, I saw a negro soldier, who was walking a beat near the eating houses, fire into a crowd of prisoners going and coming out of the eating houses and were crowded in his path. His ball mortally wounded two and one slightly in the hand. The negro was removed from the camp and we were told that he was tried by a drumhead court marshall and shot the next morning. We did not believe it, as no witnesses were taken out of the prison to such a court. When I left Point Lookout, I and others were taken to Elmira, New York on the Chemung River. We had large plank houses to live in, which was much better than the tents at Point Lookout and good water, but no more to eat than before, but that salted well. I will try to give you our bill of fare and tell you how it was cooked. In the evening, after we ate our dinner, the cooks would put meat (mess pork) into large kettles and boil in clear water, and then take the meat out and let it get cold for breakfast next morning. A slice of the meat and a slice of loaf bread (five or six slices to the loaf) was given each of us for breakfast. After breakfast, the soup in which the meat was boiled the evening before was heated again and a sack or sacks of peas or beans were thrown into the kettle and boiled. Many times we thought that the cooks made a mistake and took up a sack of salt in place of beans and poured it into the kettles, as often we would not see a pea or bean in our plate. A tin cup of the soup and another slice of bread was our dinner. No supper. Many of us had the scurvy in our limbs, which was very painful and would draw the muscles of our bodies bad. Mine were drawn for several weeks. I was crippled badly and my feet broke out with a very bad rising in the instep, one of them the summer after the war was over. It snowed there on the 10th of October, 1864 and we did see the ground any more until March, f1865, excepting when the snow was cleared away. Small pox broke out among the prisoners and there were many cases, but very few died from that trouble, but many from pneumonia and bowel trouble. I suppose the cause of so few deaths from small pox was because we were so lean that the disease could not make an impression on us.

Part 6 - 19 October 1984

During my imprisonment there, I received letters from my home and also from my uncle and aunt in Ohio and Illinois, all wanting me to take the oath and go to their home until the war ended, if I would not go to Louisiana. A certain Doctor, named Green, a citizen of Elmira, who was engaged by the United States Government to attend to the sick in certain wards in prison, was after me nearly every day when he came to prison to make application to take the oath and go to his house and live with his family until the end of the War. I would not.

During the political campaign in the fall of 1864, when Lincoln was elected the second term, there was a large mass meeting and speaking in Elmira one mile from the prison. After the meeting was over and the cannon had ceased to fire salutes, and were returning to their position near the prison, some rascal put a rock in the gun when near the camp and fired it through the roof of our ward near where I lay. The rock came through the roof and struck a hat on the opposite side of the house, cut the hat badly and dropped down in the bunk where two prisoners were lying.

During the winter of 1864, I received several letters from Uncle Paul Jones in Illinois. I kept them and brought them with others back to North Carolina when I left prison and left them with your mother when I went off. She let your Uncle Willy Gardner have them to read and he lost them and they could never be found afterwards. I would have given much for some of them. I would have been glad for all my children to see and read at least one of them from Uncle Paul. I do not think that I can repeat it accurately, but nearly so. He wrote as follows: After speaking of mother and family matters, he wrote me thus -

- Letter -

"And now, William, I hear that you have been wounded and are now a prisoner. How is it? Have you like thousands of others, been made the victims of a few designing slave holders who have, by their peculiar cunning, made you believe that the Constitutional rights and Liberties of the South had been, or were going to be, taken away by the Republican party, who were just then coming to power? If so, read the history of the country and you will find that the Rebellion has been secretly contemplated for almost thirty years, at almost every presidential campaign. Reading the records of the country, will, no doubt, reveal to you the facts in the case, that their intention was to destroy the Union and on its ruins to erect a government with slavery in place of freedom as its chief corner stone and then having used the poor white trash to accomplish their undermining schemes, they would enjoy about as much Liberty, Freedom and Peace as the serfs of Russia did or the peasantry of Ireland do. Such miserable mudsills of society, as you and I, could get employment only when a negro could not be hired and then only at such low rates of wages as they saw proper to give or not being able to own so many acres of land, or so many human chattels, would be debarred from holding any voice or office in government. This may sound ridiculous to you, but it is the inevitable result of carrying out their pet principle, that capital should own labor; that they abhor and detest the laboring class, is evinced by almost all their orators and editors, for they seem to take great delight in calling us by such names as "small fisted farmers", greasy flinty mechanics, "Hot house wifery & Co.", which you, no doubt, have seen posted in their speeches and editorial columns. What better evidence do we need, that they hate us and would continue to hate us even after we had fought their battles and shed our blood to gain their independence? But space tells me to close." etc. (signed) Your Uncle, Paul Jones.

I am satisfied that I have not quoted all of the letter, I cannot remember it exactly. That letter was the first I received from him and was written in the fall of 1864. I received another from him though, shortly. We received notice from the prison officials that in writing to relatives or friends that we must not write more than one page of note paper in an answer. I have seen some comrades receive letters torn in two and only get a part of a letter. That with the signature of my uncles letter was 4 1/2 pages of foolscap and came to me marked in red ink across the letter "Examined, too long, notify your party not to write so long", but I think that the contents of Uncle Paul's letter to me suited the examiners too well to be torn in two, as it might have more effect on me, a rebel, than several personal visits to me while a prisoner. I wrote him that I was not in a position to answer his letter; that all letters were examined and any answer from me to his letter would not leave the prison and so would not undertake it. I also received one, I partly remember, from Aunt Aggie Nichols, of New Richmond, O. She told me that they dwelt in a large brick mansion, owned a large farm, and wanted me to come over some evening and sup with her and get some nice biscuits made of wheat grown on their land, some nice young chicks, some nice milk and butter of her own making and many things of the kind that were good and would have been very good to me then. I simply wrote here I could not go and that when I did leave my present home that I should strike for Dixie. I received letters from others somewhat of the same strain.

The last of February, 1865, I with others was called out to be sent South to be exchanged and I know that I was glad of it, as I had been confined a prisoner since the 12th of May, 1864, and also glad to get out of hearing of some of these people. We were placed under guard and took the train at Elmira, N.Y. and traveled to Little Fork, Harrisburg, Pa., to Baltimore, Md., then took the boat from Baltimore, Md. by Fortress Monroe and Newport News, to the mouth of the James River and up the James to the landing twelve miles from Richmond, Va. As we passed Newport News, we could see the masts of the man-of-war "Cumberland" sticking up out of the water where she was sunk by the Merrimac early in 1862. We got to Richmond March 2nd, 1865, and then learned that the cartel was broken and that we would not be exchanged. I never was anything after but a paroled prisoner. I stayed in Richmond several days and then came down in North Carolina and stayed about ten days and started for Georgia, intending to stay there until exchanged, then return to my Company, but when I got to Raleigh, N.C., I learned that Gen'l Johnston's army won fighting Gen'l William Tecumseh Sherman's army at Bentonville, only a short distance from Raleigh and that Johnston's army was retreating. I could not get by Sherman's army and being a paroled prisoner, did not want to be taken by Sherman's troops a prisoner again, so after staying in Raleigh and vicinity, returned to Edgecombe County. After staying there a while, I went down in Martin County to spend a week and while there learned that Gen'l Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. I did not believe it at first hearing, but after I had gone back to Edgecombe County found that it was so.

I soon had to go to Goldsboro to get more papers to enable me to go about without being molested by the United States troops. That was the end of the War for me. I carried those papers for several years and would not take the oath of allegiance to the United States until Gen'l Lee had published a letter advising all his army comrades to take the oath so that we would be entitled to rights of citizenship. Before and election held in 1867, I went before a negro registrar in Greenville who was very ignorant, could scarcely read, and with many mental reservations swallowed what he read. I then voted against changing the Constitution of North Carolina and my name and all others who did so were sent to Gen'l Edward Richard Sprigg Canby who was in command of the Department, but we never heard any more of the matter. Since then I have always voted the Democratic ticket and shall always do so, I hope.

I do not know anything of the work of the Company after I was taken prisoner, excepting from information, but have learned that they fought Sept. 19th, when Col. Jim Williams was killed and Col. York lost the very horse that he rode in the battle, a shell going through him. They fought in the 2nd Cold Harbor fight, near Petersburg, then were sent off with Gen'l Early through the Valley of Virginia, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania, then to the suburbs of Washington D. C. On this trip they fought at Kernstown, Va., Winchester, Monocacy Bridge in Maryland; near Frederick City, then Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek, where York, who had been promoted General in the field of Cold Harbor, lost his arm. Corporal Peter Reilly was also killed there.

I will now close this account of our work for the Confederacy and hope it may interest you. I could have written more, as I have written nothing of our marching and fighting and very little of camp life, particularly as to how we spent our time while in Winter Quarters, such as playing ball, singing, etc.

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