restricted access Coppens' Louisiana Zouaves
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COPPENS' LOUISIANA ZOUAVES Lee A. Wallace, Jr. Few contingents of troops that reached Richmond in 1861 attracted as much attention as did a battalion from New Orleans under Lieutenant Colonel George Auguste Gaston Coppens, known variously as the Louisiana Zouaves and the Confederate States Zouave Battalion. While a number of volunteer units in the South in 1861 styled themselves "Zouaves," few were apparently organized, trained, and uniformed as close to their prototypes in the French service as was Coppens' battalion. The Louisiana Zouaves were among the few Southern organizations that ever went into the field actually clad in the characteristic dress that so readily distinguished zouaves from other troops. In early March, 1861, Gaston Coppens, through a personal interview with President Davis at Montgomery, obtained authorization to raise and equip a battalion of zouaves for immediate service with the Provisional Army of the Confederate States at Pensacola, Florida. In event of war, it was agreed that the battalion was to be increased to a full regiment .1 Before leaving Montgomery, Coppens telegraphed the news to his brother, Marie Alfred, in New Orleans. Preparations were at once taken toward the formation of what was destined to become one of the most colorful units of the Confederate army. Actually, Coppens had contemplated the raising of a zouave battalion earlier in 1861. At the time of Louisiana's secession he had offered to raise such a corps for the state, but Governor Moore at the time did not feel authorized to accept their services.2 The battalion of zouaves as authorized by Davis was to be comprised of five companies, and was to consist of not less than 400, or more than 500 men, with the proper proportion of commissioned and noncommissioned officers.3 Lee A. Wallace, Jr. is a historian with the National Park Service, Washington , D.C., and managing associate editor of the Military Collector & Historian . 1 Gaston Coppens to LeRoy Pope Walker, Apr. 23, 1861, packaged with muster rolls of die unit. See Battalion of Confederate States Zouaves, Louisiana Commands, War Records Group 109, National Archives. 2 New Orleans Bee, Mar. 28, 1861. A battalion of two companies under Gaston Coppens appears to have been formed in Jan., 1861. One company was under Alfred Coppens, the other under Fulgence de Bordenave. See New Orleans DaUy Crescent, Jan. 29, 1861. 3U-S. War Dept. (comp.), The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the 269 270LEE A. WALL ACE, JR. Headquarters, or the "Zouaves rendezvous," was established at 61 Customhouse Street. Recruiting apparently offered few problems. On the night of March 24, the first companies organized, under Captains Marie Alfred Coppens and Fulgence de Bordenave, went into barracks set up in a tobacco warehouse in the lower part of the city's Third District . The ranks of the other companies were reported as rapidly filling.4 A number of appealing features about this battalion existed which undoubtedly did much to stimulate recruiting. Coppens' battalion was to be organized and uniformed in the regular Gallic style. All commands were to be given in French, which was probably a matter of convenience , since the battalion was predominantly non-English. Captain de Bordenave himself could not speak English.5 The Daily Picayune, on March 28, reported that "although there are men of all Nations in the ranks, they appear to have learned quite promptly to obey as soon as the word is given, anddo not hesitate more than if they were all French." The rank and file of the Zouaves presented an array of nationalities, numbers of whom had seen active campaigning abroad. Frenchborn and Creole French predominated. Company officers were virtually all of French extraction. Colonel Coppens, and his brother, Marie Alfred, were natives of France. Jean Baptiste Souillard, first lieutenant of Captain Coppens' company, was a former engineer officer in the French army. Captain Paul Francis De Gournay was reputed to have been an officer under Narciso Lopez on the ill-fated filibustering expedition to Cuba in 1851. Captain Fulgence de Bordenave had served with distinction in the French army at Algiers and in the Crimean War.6 The Richmond Daily Dispatch in June, 1861, noted that many members of the battalion...


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