Coppens Wild Zouaves

The men of the 1st Battalion Louisiana Zouaves were as infamous as their counterparts in W heat's Tigers. The unit was founded by George Auguste Gaston de Coppens, a leading New Orleans socialite who was authorised to raise his battalion by Confederate adjutant General Samuel Cooper. Coppens came from a noble French family, so it was natural that he should want his regiment to be Zouaves. His plans happily coincided with a theatre troupe proudly calling themselves the lukennau Zouaves, who appeared on stage in New Orleans, setting the Gallic blood of many men in the city racing.

Coppens had the kind of reckless character appreciated by Zouaves. Before the war he had built up a formidable reputation as a duellist, fighting one affair of honour with opera critic F.milc Bozonicr. The latter had accused Coppens of making rude noises during a performance by two of his favourite opera singers, and called Coppens out. They engaged in a swordfight outside New Orleans. Coppens received a slash across his check, but won the duel, seriously wounding Bozonicr.

The command structure of Coppens' Zouaves was v ery much a family affair. One of his brothers became a company commander, while another brother signed up as a sergeant. Coppens senior, Baron Auguste de Coppens, became the battalion's quartermaster. Some of the other officers of Coppens' battalion had wide military experience. Major Waldemar Hy lcsted, a former Swiss citizen,

The keystone Zntitives of the 7(>th I'ennsylvania saw war on two fronts in both the western anil eastern theatres. They liatl a particularly attractive uniform with a light grey 'false vest' shown particularly well by the sergeant with his jacket open shown here. On his sleeve he has a veteran's stripe, in recognition that he signed up again after his term oj service expired. I Michael J. McAfee)

Tiger Jackets Trimmed With Red

Sergeant Mieltael Lawn of the 95th Pennsylvania wears the regiment's simple hut distinctive red-trimmed jacket and on the tup oj his kepi is a I / ('nips badge. Jackets oj similar design were worn by the 72nd and 23rd Pennsylvania. The hall buttons down the front of the 95th's jackets closely resembled the buttons designed by Ellsworth for the I nited States Z.ouave Cadets. (Michael J. McAfee)

Sergeant Mieltael Lawn of the 95th Pennsylvania wears the regiment's simple hut distinctive red-trimmed jacket and on the tup oj his kepi is a I / ('nips badge. Jackets oj similar design were worn by the 72nd and 23rd Pennsylvania. The hall buttons down the front of the 95th's jackets closely resembled the buttons designed by Ellsworth for the I nited States Z.ouave Cadets. (Michael J. McAfee)

could boast 16 years' military service. He had served in the French Army during the Algerian campaigns, and after emigrating to America served with the South Carolina Palmetto Regiment in the Mexican war.

Like Major Hylested, Captain Fulgence de Bordenave had seen service in Algeria, while-Captain Paul F. DcGournay had been active in the Louisiana State Militia. After a flash flood of recruits into the ranks of Coppens' battalion, the supply of volunteers began to dry up, and it looked as though it was going to be difficult to fill the remaining two companies. Advertisements were placed in newspapers, and several of Coppens' men tried a more drastic method of recruiting by kidnapping and trying to impress innocent passers-by into the battalion. By hook or by crook the ranks were filled, and the battalion was sent to Pensacola, on the Florida coast. As the last company of Coppens' battalion was about to leave New Orleans, an elaborate ceremony was held outside City I (all. After a band had played the Marseillaise and distinguished citizen Charles M. Morse had presented a flag, Coppens' officers drew their swords which were then kissed by a group of New Orleans ladies. A knight going to the Crusades couldn't have hoped for a better send-off.

Coppens' battalion was one of the most cosmopolitan units in the Confederacy. About 20 per cent of the men were Sw iss, but the regiment also had numerous Frenchmen, native born Americans, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Irishmen and Englishmen in its ranks. William I Iovvard Russell, a correspondent for the London Times, saw the Zouaves while they were stationed at Pensacola and was impressed. 'The men looked exceedingly like the real article,' he wrote. But the Zouaves would have to wait a while before they tasted glory. Much of their time at Pensacola was spent drilling and digging ditches.

In June 1X61 Coppens' battalion left Pensacola for the long journey to Virginia. The chance of active serv ice at last should have been appealing to the men, but there was trouble in the ranks. At Pensacola the battalion had been camped in a miserable mosquito-infested area, and they hadn't been paid since they'd enlisted. On the special

Fulgence Debordenave

Uber I Ross was transferred [vom the 5th Xeip ) ink to the 146th \ew York as one of the men whose term of service hadn't expired. Ross is pictured wearing it 5th Xew York-jacket und Nblli \ew York trousers, which could have been a tribute to his former regiment or reflect supply problems. (Brian Pohanka)

Uber I Ross was transferred [vom the 5th Xeip ) ink to the 146th \ew York as one of the men whose term of service hadn't expired. Ross is pictured wearing it 5th Xew York-jacket und Nblli \ew York trousers, which could have been a tribute to his former regiment or reflect supply problems. (Brian Pohanka)

train taking them to Virginia the disgruntled men became riotously drunk. At Garland, Alabama, the train stopped and the officers got oil to enjoy breakfast, leaving the men on the train. In scenes akin to a Keystone Kops silent movie rather than a genuine piece of Civil War history, the angry Zouaves uncoupled the officers' carriage and hijacked the train, chugging off to Montgomery.

The angry officers (lagged down a locomotive and followed the Zouaves, who spilled out of their train at Montgomery, Alabama and ran amok. Local citizens and some men of a Georgia regi ment tried to restore law and order until Coppens' officers arrived. Setting about the men with a vengeance, the officers pistol-whipped and cajoled them back onto the train. But they did not settle down, and they ran wild in Columbia, South Carolina. Several Zouaves also died after pulling crazy stunts on the train, and one was shot dead by an officer try ing to restore order.

As they passed through Petersburg, V irginia, one onlooker wrote to a friend that Coppens' Zouaves were 'the most savage-looking crowd 1 ever saw,' and when the Zouaves ended their long train journey, at Richmond, they were locked in on the second floor of a warehouse. Several of them managed to escape by tying their sashes

Alabama Zouave

This Garrard's l iger wears the full uniform of the N(>th Xew York, with its particularly elaborate yellow tombeaux. Ill the newly created Xoitave regiments m .lyres' Brigade relished their Zouave uniforms, 'lie hud the vanity to think there was no organisation in the army superior to us.' wrote one officer. ( Martin I.. Sehoenfeld)

This Garrard's l iger wears the full uniform of the N(>th Xew York, with its particularly elaborate yellow tombeaux. Ill the newly created Xoitave regiments m .lyres' Brigade relished their Zouave uniforms, 'lie hud the vanity to think there was no organisation in the army superior to us.' wrote one officer. ( Martin I.. Sehoenfeld)

This period illustration appeared in I larper's W eeklj in September IS61 with the caption ' Crossing the Manassas Cap railroad and II ashington turnpike at W hite I'lains. Irrival of reinforcements for Beauregard at camp of the Tiger Zouaves'. I group oj Tigers can be seen in the centre of the picture. II heat's men were still basking in the afterglow of their success tit Hull Hun, but three months later two Tigers were executed for their wild behaviour. ( Ron lieltl)

Uniform Coppins Zouaves

together, climbing out through a window and descending the wall.

\ deputation of officers threatened to resign their commissions unless Coppens was removed from the leadership of the battalion and conditions improved. However, tempers were eventually quietened and the regiment was first in action as part of a force attacking Hampton, V irginia, in August 1861. Knjoxing themselves immensely, the Zouaves set fire to many buildings in the town, but another period of garrison duty followed. The Zouaves would have to wait until 1862 for more action, when their thirst for combat would be quenched in a series of desperate fights with the enemy.

V Confederate soldier remembered Coppens1 battalion as 'the most rakish and devilish looking beings I ever saw' a statement that is certainly be believed in an account of a grisly incident that happened after the Battle of Williamsburg. One badly wounded Union prisoner was in terrible pain and asked to be put out of his agony; he was obliged bv a Coppens' Zouave with his musket

butt, lie also asked if any other Yankee prisoners wanted to be accommodated in the same way.

Hut Coppens' men would earn respect for their tenacious fighting on the battlefield. At Seven Pines Lieutenant Colonel Coppens was wounded and half of his Zouaves were cut down. Then at Gaines' Mill Coppens' Zouaves were decimated again when they charged through Boatswain's Swamp, and Second Bull Run also cost them dearly. Like the rest of the 2nd Louisiana Brigade thc\ were serving with, Coppens' men ran out of ammunition at Second Bull Run and they ended up hurling rocks at the enemy to try and keep them at bay.

Anlietam was the last stand of the exhausted Zouaves. Lieutenant Colonel Coppens was killed in the terrifying fight along the Hagerstown Pike, and his men were reduced to a shadow of their former strength. After Vntietam the battalion was reorganised, bur it never saw serious combat again. Even so, the exploits of Coppens' Zouaves and their infamous reputation for playing as hard as they fought has never been forgotten.

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