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1st Louisiana battalion

coppens' zouaves

company c


The First Louisiana Zouaves were organized for twelve months on March 27, 1861 and were restructured for the duration of the war in April of 1862. Following the battle of Sharpsburg, the battalion was so reduced in strength that they were reorganized as regulars in Confederate service as the Confederate States Zouave Battalion. The initial enrollment of the battalion’s six companies was 616 officers and men, of these 52 were killed in battle, 26 died of disease, and 2 died accidentally. The composition of the companies was rumored to be recruits from the jails and prisons of New Orleans, but, the members were for the most part laborers and workmen. The third company was comprised mostly of men of French or Louisiana Creole French heritage; the fifth company was predominantly native born, English speaking Americans, and about 20 percent of the battalion’s men were of Swiss origin. With nationalities represented in the ranks including German, Italian, Spanish, Irish, and English, the battalion was easily the closest thing to a foreign legion that the Confederate Army had. The actions of the Zouaves on and off the battlefield led to their being referred to as Jeff Davis’ Pet Wolves, and ultimately to all Louisiana soldiers eventually being called "tigers."

    Born in 1836 on the Caribbean island of Martinique, Georges Augustus Gaston De Coppens was descended from French nobility. He attended France’s Marine Academy and then moved to America where he established himself in New Orleans. It was here that he quickly became known as a serious military arts student, a social dandy, and a hothead. He also earned a reputation as a duelist, notably in March of 1859, with an opera critic named Emile Bozonier. In that affair, Bozonier claimed that Coppens had hissed at his favorite soprano singer, to which Coppens dared Bozonier to slap him and issue the challenge of a duel. Bozonier slapped Coppens, knocking him to the ground. The affair was settled with blades on New Orleans’ famous dueling ground. Coppens left the contest victorious with a deep facial gash, Bozonier left alive, but with several serious injuries.

    This affair placed Coppens in a position of opportunity, for his reputation for bravery was well established just as hostilities were about to begin. Jefferson Davis himself gave Gaston Coppens his commission as a Lieutenant Colonel, as well as permission to form the Zouave battalion. As a disciplinarian and organizer, Coppens would fail miserably, but on the battlefield leading his men, he excelled. Coppens used his position and influence to grant some of his family members positions within his unit. His younger brother, Marie Alfred, commanded Company F, and eventually would take over the battalion. Leon, another brother, was a sergeant, and his father, Baron August De Coppens served as quartermaster for much of the war. While family members received some favoritism, Coppens was savvy enough to find and recruit officers into his staff with experience in either the state militia or in European armies. Most notable was his second-in-command Major Waldemar Hylsted, from Switzerland, who served with the United States in the Mexican War, the French Army in the Crimean War, and as a Captain in the Danish Army. Also of note were Fulgence de Bordenave, a French officer with Algerian and Crimean War experience, who spoke no English, and commanded Company B, and Paul F. DeGournay, commanding Company E, who served as an officer in the Louisiana Militia’s Battalion d’Artillery d’Orleans.

    Coppens’ timing in forming his Zouave battalion was perfect, for a group of performers, the Inkerman Zouaves, who billed themselves as French army veterans, were being featured at the Academy of Music in New Orleans. The shows, which ran from March 4th through March 22nd, excited the audience with flashy bayonet demonstrations, delighted them with precision drill, and whipped them into a frenzy with their war song "Rondeau Des Zou Zou." Upon leaving, male theatergoers were so enchanted by the Zouave style of fighting that they were eager to join a Zouave battalion. With this excitement, the first four companies of the Battalion filled quickly, despite the fact that other units were having a hard time filling one company. The novelty wore off though, and by mid April, Coppens’ recruiters were running ads in local papers begging for men to enlist. Stories surfaced of civilians being impressed, or forced to join. One such case was Franz Minute, a 30 year old correspondent from Bavaria. On April 16, 1861, Franz was returning home after visiting some friends when a group of Zouaves approached and forcibly took him into their unit. Minutes brother offered $200 for his release, but that offer was declined. In much the same manner, John Atzrodt, a printer from Saxony found himself swept up on April 18. Later, these men proved unreliable, as they along with many others deserted when the Battalion was assigned to Yorktown, Virginia.

    In keeping with the original French North African Zouave model, Coppens attired his men in a typical zouave uniform consisting of a red fez, dark blue jacket with red trim, dark blue vest with yellow trim, baggy red pantaloons, and black leather jambiers worn over white gaiters. The Battalion wore a blanket roll instead of a knapsack, and were typically armed with either a "Minie Rifle" or a US Army Smoothbore Musket. Each company also had on their roster, a regularly enrolled female soldier, known as the vivandiere, whose job it was to bring succor to the men and nurse the wounded. She wore a stylish round hat with a colorful plume, an extra full jacket with bloused sleeves, striped skirt, and black leather jambiers over white gaiters. The Vivandiere carried a barrel canteen to tend to the wounded, and was armed with a sword or pistol.

    As the companies formed and were outfitted, they were shipped to Pensacola, Florida. The first company left at the beginning of April, the second company left a week later, the third and fifth companies left together in mid April. The fourth company remained in New Orleans to receive the Battalion’s flag. On April 18, 1861, the company left the battalion headquarters at 61 Customhouse Street, and marched to city hall by means of Royal and St. Charles Streets. The soldiers were preceded along the rout by a brass band, and their attractive vividness who drew admiration from the numerous male onlookers. When the company reached city hall, the band struck up the French national anthem of freedom, the "Marseillaise." Charles M. Morse, a distinguished citizen, stepped forth to make a speech and present the flag. Listening intently, the men heard Morse urge them to glory saying " The eyes of the daughters of Louisiana will follow with confidence your career of arms until they welcome you back. It may be with diminished ranks, your beautiful flag blackened and torn, but still floating proudly from its lance to meet the glance of those who gave it." In accepting the standard, Captain N. Lauve responded "If our ranks be thinned, it will be in the defense of this dear treasure you have entrusted to our care." Then, as did the knights of old, the officers stepped forth and presented their swords for the ladies to kiss. The next day, the men of the fourth company set off to join the battalion in Florida.

    The Battalion was quartered in the old US Marine Barracks at the captured Federal navy yard. Initially sent to bolster General Bragg’s forces, which were opposing the Union troops still stationed at Fort Pickens, the only real foe the Zouaves faced was boredom, as they confronted the military routine of drilling, picket duty, and preparing fortifications. To their credit though, they quickly earned a reputation as the best dressed, best drilled, and best disciplined troops there, drawing praise and comments from the many correspondents on the scene. The battalion also had "the good taste" to bring along a sizable contingent of camp followers and additional women to cook, wash, and clean their quarters. As they were called out every morning, the "French clangors, rolls, ruffles, and calls ran along the line." Discontent however was brewing in the ranks, the men were living in a mosquito infested swamp, drilling in the heat and humidity, and worse yet, had not been paid. Trouble was coming, for the men had found a supply of alcohol.

    On June 1, 1861, the Zouaves used the news of their departure to Virginia as a reason to commence drinking. The spirits flowed as soon as they boarded their special train. The men were penned up either in cars or coaches while the officers rode in their own car at the rear of the train. Upon reaching Garland, Alabama, the officers left their car and strolled off into town to get some breakfast. The two musicians left to keep an eye on the men were no match as the Zouaves, who, acting on alcohol inspired thoughts, uncoupled the officers car and stole the train. The officers were stunned to hear their train steam away, and quickly commandeered another engine, and set off down the tracks in pursuit of their wayward men. The next stop on the line was Montgomery, Alabama, where the Zouaves began a drunken spree of looting, robbing, and harassing the civilians in their quest for more alcohol. After about an hour of this chaos, the town leaders and local military commanders called on the 1ST Georgia Regiment to restore order. These unfortunate men were ordered to confront these oddly attired rampaging drunks at bayonet point. Refusing to back down, the Zouaves cursed and threatened the Georgians in several foreign languages. Just as bloodshed seemed inevitable, and unfortunately for the Zouaves, the engine carrying Coppens’ officers arrived on the scene. The officers streamed into the town venting their frustration at having to chase down their own men by physically assaulting the men. With drawn pistols, they charged into the drunken mob, one witness recalled, " the charge of the Light Brigade was surpassed by these irate Creoles." Shoving and cursing some, and pistol whipping others, Coppens’ officers forcibly removed the Zouaves from stores and bars, and formed them on Montgomery’s main street. Sullen, battered, and bloody, the Battalion was marched back to the station and placed onto the train. With their bloodlust up, the Zouaves broke free again in Columbia, South Carolina, and ran wild through the streets until order was once again restored. One Zouave was killed by an officer when he refused a direct order to not enter a town, another died accidentally in unknown circumstances. Still not finished, the Zouaves ignored railroad agents by riding on top of the rocking cars or straddling the couplings between the cars. One was crushed by a low bridge, several others were crushed beneath the train. When they finally arrived in Richmond, a total of nine men had died, the rest were tired, dirty and hungry, and the officers were quite relieved. One railroad agent summed up the trip saying "Sich a shooting of cattle and poultry, sich a yelling and singing of their darned frenchy stuff-sich a rolling of drums and a damning of officers I arn’t hear yit...and I’m jest a-thinkin’...ef this yere reegement don’t stop a-fightin together, being shot by Georgians and beat by their officers-not to mention a jammin’ up on railroads-they’re gwine to do darned leetle sarvice a-fightin’ of Yanks."

    Upon arrival in Petersburg, Virginia, Coppens’ soldiers showed that while they were one of the wildest units around, they could still excel as soldiers, and were quite proficient in their drill. A civilian noted " the greatest sight I have yet seen in the way of military was a body of about 600 Louisiana Zouaves, uniformed and drilled it was said in the true French Zouaves style...they had been wasting for a month or two in the burning sun of Pensacola, and were as brown as they could well get—browner than I ever saw a white man.. Add to their costume and complexion that they were hard specimens before they left the "crescent city" as their manner indicated and you may perhaps imagine what sort of men they were. In fact they were the most savage looking crowd I ever saw."

    Their arrival in Richmond was a major event, as news of their train ride quickly spread throughout the city. The curiosity surrounding these "devils," soon dissipated as there was a dramatic increase in thieving, burglary, and garroting. The word around town was "whenever a zouave was seen, something was sure to be missed." By housing Jeff Davis’ Pet Wolves on the second floor of Glazbrook’s Warehouse, the local authorities hoped to contain their exploits. The guards at the doors failed to notice as the Zouaves tied their sashes together and slipped out the windows. Roaming the streets like a band of wildcats, they entered saloons, ordered meals and drinks, and then instructed the owner to bill the government. Finally, on June 10, 1861, much to the relief of the citizens of Richmond, the Battalion was ordered to report to General John Bankhead Magruder in Yorktown, Virginia.

    It did not take long for the Battalion to establish itself as the most lawless of all commands on the peninsula. While they were excellent soldiers, their blatant raids on surrounding farms, pastures, and units needed to be curtailed. In the short time they had been present, nearly twenty head of cattle had been killed. Insubordination was becoming more common. This was punished by having the soldier wear a ball and chain. One Zouave was made to wear his for the duration of his three year enlistment. During an inspection of his entire force, General Magruder praised the actions of several units at Big Bethel, and then cautiously positioned himself at the head of Coppens’ Battalion. With the Zouaves rigid at attention, General Magruder berated them for their conduct and threatened to immediately shoot the next soldier caught stealing anything. A North Carolina officer claimed that because of the Zouaves fierce reputation, the General chose this opportunity to chastise them because he had 6000 men to back him up. The trouble did not end there, for on June 18th, the company commanders approached General Magruder and threatened to resign and serve as privates if Lt. Colonel Coppens remained in command of his Battalion. They cited that although Coppens was a "brave and good man," he simply was "entirely without the energy of faculty to command." They also stated that discipline of the men was almost impossible and that there had been no pay since their mustering into the service. General Magruder suggested adding two Virginia companies, thus raising the battalion to a regiment, removing Coppens’ from command, but this was denied by Confederate Command. It took nothing short of the intervention of the commander of all of Virginia’s Military forces, General Robert E. Lee, to mediate the solution, and find the pay for the battalion.

    With a strong force of Union troops advancing, the order to withdraw hastily and burn all items left behind, was delivered to the battalion on June 19th. In their haste, most men were left with only the uniforms on their back, as all the spare uniforms and equipment for the Battalion was lost. The officers of Company D, for instance, had their tents and personal gear burned, instead of being sent to the rear. For the rest of the summer, the officers of the Battalion complained bitterly about the ragged condition of their soldiers. Eventually, a source for their fancy Zouave uniforms was found, for recruiters were still promising new members a zouave uniform as late as March of 1862, and personal accounts describe the battalion wearing its distinctive uniform the following Spring.

    During the remainder of June, the Zouaves remained under the command of General Magruder. After marching the 38 miles to Young’s Mill, the Battalion constructed fortifications, only to be ordered to Harrod’s Mill. Until they returned to Yorktown on July 7, 1861, the Battalion was kept busy participating in scouting expeditions. The discipline of the men had improved since May, but the Louisianans were in wretched condition physically. With the hard work and tough marches reducing their only uniforms to rags and not having any extra clothing or even blankets, their health began to suffer as well. Dispatches from the company commanders were sent out desperately requesting supply.

    Finally, on August 8th, 1861, the Zouaves’ lust for a good fight was directed at the Yankees. The Battalion was part of the force that attacked Hampton, Virginia. So much was this enjoyed by the Zouaves, that several of the towns buildings were set ablaze. General Benjamin Butler, commanding the Union forces, specifically mentioned in his official report that 300 Zouaves took part in the burning. This brief encounter was followed of course by more garrison duty at Yorktown. With the unusually cold September weather and the poor condition of the men, the Battalion listed only 100 men fit for duty.

    For health reasons, Coppens’ men were transferred to Fort Magruder, two miles from Williamsburg, Virginia. This movement along with the arrival of badly needed supplies greatly improved the unit’s strength. In September, Captain Nemoura Lauve, commanding Company D, finally received a case of clothing from Louisiana, to replace what had been lost in early June. The Louisianans especially were not accustomed to the cold, and became quite adept at constructing winter quarters. Usually log houses sixteen feet long by twelve feet wide, were inhabited by eight men, and kept out the cold quite well. These cramped quarters also helped to spread diseases such as mumps and measles. The unsanitary disposal of wastes led to great numbers of men contracting dysentery and typhoid. The winter season passed, with most of the sick returning to the rolls and helping to maintain the endless guard and picket duty the battalion was tasked with until the opening of the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862.

    Just as it looked like the Battalion was going to see significant action, the unit began to disintegrate. The twelve month enlistments, which had been signed in the spring of 1861, were now due to expire. Many of the men took the opportunity to join back up, but some left for other units, especially artillery. To counter these loses, Major Hylested was dispatched to New Orleans on recruiting duty. The success he gained, was lost, as these men were promised Western Theater duty, and never joined the rest of the battalion in Virginia. Major St. Leon Dupiere lead these Zouaves in the battle of Corinth, Mississippi, the Siege of Vicksburg, and in the bayou country of Louisiana, where they were finally captured in November, 1863. The Zouaves remaining in the East would soon have their fill of fighting.

    At the battle of Williamsburg, the Battalion fought as part of Colonel Theodore Hunt’s 2nd brigade. As the Confederate forces were withdrawing, serious fighting developed. It was during a brief lull, that another incident occurred that would forever mar the reputation of the Zouaves. Wounded Federal prisoners were being temporarily gathered near a fortification while a field hospital was set up. One poor soldier had been shot through the abdomen and was writhing around in agony, begging to be put out of his misery. Three of Coppens’ men, described as "the most rakish and devilish looking beings I ever saw’" by a Virginian, elbowed through the gathering crowd to see what the excitement was about. One of the Zouaves reportedly said, "put you out of your misery? Certainly, sir!" As he finished, and before anyone could intervene, he brutally drove his musket butt through the skull of the writhing man. While the crowd stood shocked and silent, the zouave mater of factly inquired "Any other gentlemen here’d like to be accommodated?" With that, the three withdrew through the crowd, and disappeared down the road.

    Coppens’ Zouaves, now numbering 225 men, were combined with the 196 men of the St. Pauls’ Chasseurs a’ Pied (Foot Rifles) to form what was known as the Louisiana Regiment Of Zouaves and Chasseurs. This consolidation occurred prior to the battle of Seven Pines and Fair Oaks on May 31st, 1862.

    The battle commenced at 2:00 P.M., and raged all afternoon, with General Longstreet’s command becoming confused in the unfamiliar territory. This quickly reduced the coordinated assault into a series of attacks by individual Confederate brigades. The Louisianans lay in a woods, under a heavy fire, watching as a Tennessee brigade’s assault was repelled by the strongly positioned Federals, on a hill fronting the Louisianans. General Richard H. Anderson galloped over to the Zouaves, and calmly rode the length of their line shouting "Remember Butler and New Orleans, and drive them into hell!" With that, the men sprang to their feet, French commands rang out through the woods, and a nearby band struck up "Dixie." Silently the Zouaves crept through the timber to within fifty yards of the nearest Union line. Breaking into a run, the men cried "Picayune Butler," and routed two Pennsylvania regiments with a volley of musket fire from only fifteen yards. The fleeing Yankees then discovered just how few Confederates were attacking, halted, and delivered a perfectly aimed volley, cutting down the first rank of attackers. The Louisianans were being thrashed, but refused to give ground, when more Confederates arrived to force the Union troops away. Unlike the solders of both sides, who took advantage of darkness to rearrange and strengthen lines, many Zouaves left the line empty handed, to return with stuffed haversacks and canteens of liquor. Early on June 1st, General George Pickett came upon several of these men, who, judging by their heavily laden mules, had been busy plundering. General Pickett grabbed the reins of one mule as the Zouaves tried to get away. Claiming that the Yankees were right behind him, one soldier begged to be let go, which General Pickett reluctantly did, so he could alert his command. This ended the battle for Coppens’ men, but they had lost half their number dead or wounded in the assault on the hill, including eleven officers, most notably Col. Coppens’, who was seriously wounded.

    On June 27, 1862, Union forces under General Porter fought a series of delaying actions from Beaver Dam Creek. The 14th Louisiana and Coppens’ and St. Paul’s consolidated battalions, under Roger Pryor, were pushed forward to dislodge Porter’s men early that morning. Dense smoke and fog obscured the view beyond thirty yards, but the Louisianans loaded and fired, maintaining a murderous fire on the lines across a deep ravine separating the two foes. Artillery rounds soon began to explode in the brigade’s ranks, which were already being riddled by musket fire. Major Zable of the 14th Louisiana, realizing that the artillery rounds were coming from Confederate battery on a hill to their rear, dispatched a courier to redirect their fire. Zable himself was forced to gallop to the battery, as the messenger fell before reaching the hill top, where he quickly pointed out his brigade to the crews who quickly changed their error. Zable then realized that the mysterious foes the men faced were not directly across the ravine, where their fire had been directed all this time, but were indeed far up the slope. For an hour, the Louisianans had been subjected to constant hail of Minie balls, while they harmlessly fired their rounds into the hillside. Major Zable returned to the lines and ordered the men to aim higher. Soon after this, Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade crossed the gorge by way of a makeshift bridge, getting the advance moving again.

    Porter had, by mid afternoon, placed his men in two lines along ridges that commanded an area of boggy creek bottom known as Boatswain’s Swamp. Behind log breastworks, with artillery support, the Union troops would be able to slaughter the attacking Confederates as they struggled through the bog. The assault commenced at 2:30 p.m., when A.P. Hill sent his men forward. By 4:00p.m., he had seen enough, and pulled his men back to let Longstreet and Jackson move forward. Pryor trotted the length of his line, centered himself on the 14th Louisiana, and ordered the brigade forward. Union gunners pounded the brigade as they walked, then finally broke into a run down the gentle slope into Boatswain’s Swamp. After a few minutes, the brigade was met by the volley fire of the Union infantry, but onward they ran, bullets tearing holes in the charging lines. Nearing the gully in which the creek ran, the brigade loosed it’s shrill rebel yell, which rose clearly over the noise of battle. After clawing their way to the other side of the gorge, the men redressed their lines of battle, fired a volley, and charged forward again. Quickly the Louisianans reached a Union battery, and in ten minutes of hand to hand fighting, killed half it’s crew, and turned the guns to fire upon it’s former owners. The charge was begun again after the firing of a few salvos, which drove the Yankees from the field. Witnesses called the fight for the battery the fiercest of the day, but it came at a high cost. Of his 1400 engaged soldiers, Pryor lost 860 killed or wounded. Coppens’s and St Paul’s lost 5 killed and 42 wounded, or roughly half of those present for duty. Colonel Pryor and General Longstreet both cited the gallantry of Coppens’ men in their official reports. General Longstreet also presented the battalion with a battle flag, with "Williamsburg" and "Seven Pines!" battle honors on it, as a token of his appreciation for the conduct of it’s officers and men.

    Following the bloody "Seven Days Battles" the entire Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized. The men of Coppens’ Battalion left the Seven Days Battles with a scant 71 men. General Robert E. Lee believed that morale was higher and units fought better when combined with other units from their home states. For this reason, the Second Louisiana Brigade was formed by separating Coppens’ Zouaves and St. Paul’s Chasseurs, combining the Chasseurs with the 3rd Louisiana Battalion forming the 15th Louisiana Regiment in the 1st Brigade, and brigading the 1st, 2st, 9th, and 10th Louisiana Volunteers and Coppens’ Zouaves together into the Second. The new brigade was placed under the command of a very capable General with a bright future, General William Starke. General Lee wasted no time in testing his morale theory, his battered but newly organized army took to the offensive. In July General Starke’s Brigade initially was placed in Mclaws’ Division under General Longstreet, then into A.P. Hill’s Division in Jackson’s Corps. Finally in August the Zouaves finally settled into their place in Jackson’s Division under General Taliaffero, in "Stonewall" Jackson’s Corps.

    Union General John Pope and his large army were moving across the Rappahannock River towards Richmond, forcing General Lee to counter with General Jackson’s corps. "Stonewall" hit the Yankees at Cedar Run on August 9, 1862. Coppens’ men suffered only light casualties from Union Artillery, as General Pope’s army was forced back over the Rappahannock. Lee ordered Jackson to sweep around Pope’s army, creating confusion as Lee pulled men away from General McClellan on the Peninsula, and shifted his focus North.

    Starting on August 22, Coppens’ Battalion marched from Gordonsville, crossed the Rappahannock River at Major’s Mill on the Hazel Fork. Passing through Thoroughfare Gap on the 27th, the Zouaves reached Manassas, but fell back to Groveton, with General Jackson expecting General Pope to follow him. On a hill overlooking a farm, the Zouaves formed a line of battle and waited, as did the rest of Jackson’s men. The Battle of Groveton began at five in the evening. As Union General Rufus King’s Division marched casually down the road, Jackson’s men swept over the rise and crashed into the left of the Federal line. The soldiers of General Gibbon’s "Iron Brigade" lived up to their name, standing toe to toe with the Louisianans across an open field. Separated by only eighty yards, the two sides exchanged volleys well past dusk, when a Confederate charge finally pushed the Yankees partially down the road. It was not until after 9:00 p.m. that the Federals slowly withdrew back down the pike.

    On the morning of the 29th, General Jackson had his divisions placed along the path of an unfinished railroad cut, on the old Manassas battlefield, awaiting the arrival of Pope. At 10:00 a.m., General Pope began to pound the railroad cut with artillery, followed at 2:00 p.m. by the infantry assault against Jackson’s left. Starke’s Brigade was posted on the far right, held in reserve until called on to recapture a portion of the confederate lines that had been captured. The Louisianans along with Virginians under General Bradley Johnson charged into the Union infantry lines, forcing them back through a Union battery, capturing two guns. After securing one of their prizes, the Louisianans fell back to a reserve position for the night. As dawn broke on the 30th, the sound of skirmishing sounded up and down Jackson’s lines. Jackson’s corps was again bearing the brunt of the attacks. This despite the fact that General Longstreet had arrived during the night with General Lee. As the day wore on Jackson placed his Louisianans in the railroad cut with orders to hold at all costs. By 3:00 p.m. waves of Federal infantry were crashing against the corps’ lines. The railroad cut that protected the Louisianans ran across the top of a steep ridge which the assaulting troops had to scale before reaching the Brigade. The Federal troops were hidden from the sight of the Louisianans until they crested this ridge, only fifty yards from the cut, where they were met by fierce volleys. Although losses were heavy, three assaults were beaten back. Having been seriously engaged all day, the brigade was desperately short on ammunition. Several men of the 9th Louisiana Regiment were sent rearward to find the needed rounds, but the forth assault commenced before they returned. Rounds taken from the dead and wounded were rammed home as the latest attack neared the Louisianans. The attacking Yankees hurled themselves forward, and with the regimental colors of both sides almost touching, the attack was beaten back. Remembering the final orders from General Jackson to "hold this line at all costs," Starke’s Brigade was ordered to make use of the numerous rocks scattered throughout the cut. The reformed Yankee line, sensing that the brigade was about to break, charged forward again. Just as they neared the base of the hill the Union soldiers were pelted with fist sized and larger rocks that came sailing down from the smoke filled air. At about the same time, artillery under General D.H. Hill opened fire from their new positions on the Union right. With the stubborn Louisianans to their front, and enfilade artillery fire on their right, the attack was broken for the last time. General Pope’s line collapsed and General Lee sent Generals Longstreet and Jackson forward, ending the Second Battle of Manassas in much the same manner as the First, with a Federal rout. The Zouaves after gathering their dead and wounded, numbered 17 men.

    Although few in number, the spirit of the "Pet Wolves," as well as that of the rest of the Army was raised considerably as General Lee decided to take the fight north into Maryland. Following the brief battle at Chantilly, the line of march took Jackson’s Corps through Dranesville, Leesburg, across the Potomac trough Frederick, Maryland, crossing the Potomac again at Williamsport, past Martinsburg, and into the lines of the siege at Harper’s Ferry.

    With General McClellan closing on his scattered Corps faster than expected, Lee summoned his army together at Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Louisianans arrived on the afternoon of September 16th. The Zouaves were now under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Marie Alfred Coppens, Lt. Colonel Gaston Coppens had been placed in command of the 8th Florida Regiment. The Battalion was placed, facing north, in position west of the Hagerstown road.

    The Battle of Shaprsburg began at first light with Federal artillery firing on the brigades of Douglass, Trimble, and Hays. The Second Louisiana Brigade held its reserve position, until finally called upon to help repel the assault of General Hooker’s Division. Starke’s men came down the west side of the sunken road, through a small patch of woods, and crashed headlong into the attacking Federals. General Starke fell dead, pierced by three balls, as both sides unleashed tremendous volleys into each other. It was once again the tough western regiments of the Iron Brigade that the Louisianans battled in the West Woods and along the Hagerstown Pike this day. Although their stand was defiant, the overwhelming pressure of the Union numbers forced the Brigade to fall back to new positions near the Dunker Church where the remained for the remainder of the battle. The Zouave Battalion which had marched so proudly out of New Orleans with 600 men, now presented only 12 men present for duty. As the lists of the casualties from the bloodiest day in American history were compiled, the name of Lieutenant Colonel Gaston Coppens was numbered with the dead. Marie Alfred Coppens was to remain in command of the Zouaves as the retreat south began.

    On November 10, 1862, the battalion was reorganized as the Confederate States Zouaves. They served at the Battle of Fredericksburg in reserve, and were ordered to the Richmond defenses in January, 1863. Here the men served for a month in Battery 15, and as the wounded recovered and stragglers returned their number slowly rose to 27 men and 3 officers.

    In February, the Zouaves were ordered to the Blackwater line, guarding crossings of the Blackwater River in southeast Virginia. Here they performed duties including guard and picket duty, rounding up conscripts, and collecting deserters. This duty lasted until April 13, when the Zouaves were ordered to join General James Longstreet in his operations around and siege of Suffolk, Virginia. When Longstreet returned to the Army of Northern Virginia, the Zouaves returned to the Balckwater line.

    It was here along the Blackwater that Major Fulgence de Bordenave, commanding a small force of Zouaves, endeared himself to the locals of the area. The Major, seeing a larger force of Federals approaching the shore of the river, summoned a drummer and the color bearer to a slightly obscured position. He then instructed the flag to be waved and flaunted, while the drum was beaten furiously, and he issued commands in his loudest voice to imaginary troops. The small group would then head to a new location and repeat their performance. Fearing that they were hopelessly outnumbered, the Yankees turned and quickly retreated from the Zouave contingent.

    The Zouaves were then moved to Hicksford, Virginia, in September, 1863, and by December, their numbers had climbed to 43 men and 19 officers. On January 29, 1864 the Zouaves were engaged in a heavy skirmish in Windsor, Virginia, where they attacked and drove away the Yankees forces who had surrounded Colonel J.R. Griffin and a portion of his command. In doing so, the Zouaves allowed the Colonel to rejoin the remainder of his command. The following day, the Zouaves were praised in General Orders from General Jenkins.

    In March, the Zouaves were attached to the force under General Matthew Whitaker Ransom that marched against Suffolk. Following the advance, the Zouaves were engaged in several skirmishes with the enemy forces. On May 9th, the Zouaves were ordered back to Hicksford, their numbers holding steady at 42 men, 12 officers.

    In August, a portion of the battalion under the command of Captain Demourelle went out on scouting duty with General Roger Atkinson Pryor in the rear of a Yankee army near Fort Powhattan. Here, the Zouaves battled with Negro soldiers, killing and wounding several of them.

    On November 17, 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Marie Alfred Coppens retired from the military, unable to lead the Battalion any longer due to wounds he had suffered. Major Fulgence de Bordenave took command of the Zouave Battalion. He was in command when the Zouaves participated in their final battle on December 9th, 1864, at Hicksford, Virginia. During the skirmish, the Battalion suffered 1 man killed, a sergeant, and 6 wounded, including a Captain and the Battalion Adjutant.

    There is no official record as to when or if the Battalion surrendered to Union forces. Some believe they were with General Lee at Appomattox, while others contest that they simply disbanded and faded back into the obscure lives they lived before the out break of the war.

    After the termination of hostilities, Marie Alfred Coppens went to Europe to fight the Prussians, returning to the United States, only to drown in Galveston Bay. Fulgence de Bordenave picked Franklin, Virginia, to settle down in, where he died in 1904. The last Zouave to die was believed to be George Nicholas, from Company D, who died on November 18, 1940, at the age of 96. Private Nicholas served with the Battalion throughout it’s flair-filled existence, only to die of a heart attack, alone in a boarding house, with no known family, in relative obscurity. He was quietly laid to rest in Shreveport, Louisiana’s Greenwood Cemetery.

zouaves' command staff


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Revised: 07/12/04.