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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

John Kendall

published by The Lewis Publishing Company,
Chicago and New York, 1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 7

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p91  Chapter VI
The Battle of New Orleans

The time had now come when the citizens of New Orleans might be admitted to the exercise of all the rights and privileges of full-fledged citizens of the great American Republic. The year 1812 is a turning point in the history of the city. In this year the Creole population, augmented by the Santo Domingans, attained its greatest numerical strength, as compared with the Americans, and definitely challenged the rival civilization to that long conflict — the longest and most resolute ever waged against it by a small and isolated community — that lasted to the Civil war.​1 In this year, on January 10th, "the inhabitants of New Orleans witnessed the approach of the first vessel propelled by steam" which ever navigated the Mississippi.​2 In this year Louisiana was admitted to the Union. In this year the charter of the city was amended in a way which permitted the citizens to elect their own chief magistrate. Hitherto that official had been appointed by the governor. And finally, in this year, war broke out between the United States and England, with consequences which, while at first they threatened disaster to New Orleans, ended in the most brilliant episode in all its event­ful history.

On November 4, 1811, a convention composed of delegates elected by the people of the entire territory, met in New Orleans and on January 28th following adopted a State constitution. The admission of Louisiana to the Union was effected on April 30th. The changes in the city charter which followed as a corollary to the latter event were embodied in an act approved by the governor on September 1st. This act provided that, on the third Monday following its promulgation, the citizens "who possessed the qualifications to elect" should meet "at the places pointed out by the present mayor and City Council, in their respective wards, and there by ballot elect a citizen to be mayor for two years; and one other citizen to be recorder, also for two years; and two other citizens for each of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth wards, and one citizen from each of the seventh and eighth wards, of good fame and possessed of property in their respective wards, to be aldermen to represent said wards in the City Council." The mayor, it was provided, should be a resident of the city or of the incorporated suburbs thereof. These officials, when elected, were to enter upon the duties of their offices on the second Monday succeeding the day of their election and continue "to exercise the said duties for two weeks succeeding the election of their successors, and until they [the successors] shall have taken their oath, or affirmation, required by the constitution." The biennial election of mayor and recorder was fixed thereafter on the first Monday of September. The act fixed the length of the term of the aldermen at two years, but divided them into two classes, one of which retired at the end of each year, in such a manner that there was an election for one alderman every year in every ward except the seventh and the eighth. In case  p92 the mayor was incapacitated for any reasons to perform the duties of his office, it was provided that his place should be filled pro tempore and that an election should be called within fifteen days at which a person should be chosen to fill out the unexpired remainder of his term. Similar provisions were made with regards to the recorder and the aldermen. The conditions under which the franchise might be exercised were numerous. The voter had to be twenty-one years of age, a free white male, resident in the city for at least one year previous to the election, who had paid a state, parish, or city tax for six months on real estate valued at not less than $500, or paid rent at the rate of $50 per annum. The mayor, moreover, was to have attained the age of thirty and have resided in the city for four years previous to his election. He was required to possess real estate in the city valued on the tax list at not less than $3,000. For his services the mayor was to receive a salary the amount of which was to be fixed by the Council, but might not exceed $4,000 per annum; nor could he, the recorder, nor the councilmen receive any augmentation of salary voted during their terms.3

In conformity with the foregoing act an election for mayor was called for September 21st. The proclamation was not signed by Mather, but by Charles Trudeau, "Recorder, filling the functions of mayor." Mather, as a matter of fact, abandoned the mayoralty on May 23rd. It is not clear why he did so, but apparently his age and infirmities made it impossible for him to attend to his official duties after that date. Trudeau, who by virtue of his office automatically replaced him, served until October 8th, when he relinquished the post to his successor.​4 The election took place as ordered, but the ballot boxes were not opened until the 25th, when the Council met and solemnly proceeded to this duty. There does not seem to have been any formal nominations. The voters cast their ballots for any person or persons that pleased them. The consequence was a very scattering vote. Nicholas Girod received 859 votes; James Pitot, 461; D. Bellechasse, 79; and Charles Trudeau, Benjamin Morgan and Monsieur Villemel, one vote each. Girod was accordingly declared elected mayor. For recorder the vote was still more extensively distributed. Pierre Missonet received 712 votes; Charles Trudeau, 174; Felix Arnaud, 168; Thomas McCormick, 135; Monsieur Robelot, 66; J. B. Prévost, 93;º S. Ducourneau, 26; Monsieur Dorville, 22; Bernard Marigny, 5; Zenon Trudeau, 2; Jean Chabaud, 2; and Lebreton Dorgenoy, D. Bellechasse, J. Blanquet, A. Chastant, Monsieur Guinault and J. G. Lespinasse, one vote each. Missonet was accordingly declared elected.

At the same time a complete council was elected, as follows: First ward, John R. Grymes, Maunsell White; Second ward, Ferd. Percy, Paul Lanusse; Third ward, J. B. Dejan, Sr., Honoré Landreau; Fourth ward,  p93 J. Lanna, Nicholas Lauve; Fifth ward, J. Blanque, B. Marigny; Sixth ward, James Freret, Antoine Carraby; Seventh ward, Chevalier Doriocourt, LeBreton Dorgenoy.5

The retiring council notified the new officials that the next regular meeting would be held on the following Saturday (September 26th) at 10:00 A.M. and suggested that they attend, presumably in order to get acquainted with the routine of official duty. The new mayor, however, was not installed until October 5th. The occasion was made one of some ceremony. Governor Claiborne was present at the Cabildo, received the oaths and made a short address.6

Girod served to September 5, 1814, and was then re-elected at an election held on that date. It is interesting to note that on this occasion the polls were located at the residences of the most prominent citizens in each ward. In the First ward the ballot box was set forth at the home of Stephen Henderson; in the second at that of A. Chastant; in the third at that of J. Lanna; in the fourth at that of Bernard Marigny; in the fifth at that of James Johnson; in the Sixth at that of M. Saulet; and in the Seventh at that of LeBreton Dorgenoy. The mayor's proclamation establishing the election precincts omits to mention where the polls would be found in the Eighth ward. Again there was no formal nomination and again the vote was scattered widely. Girod received 309 votes; Macarty, 286; Labatut, 195; Relf, 102; Dorgenoy, 67; Pedesclaux, 33; Lanusse, 1. Girod was accordingly declared success­ful. For recorder the vote was: Arnaud, 343; Percy, 326; Préval, 154; Missonet, 83; Caissergne, 67. Arnaud was declared elected. The new members of the Council were chosen at the same time, with the following result: First ward, Dr. Spencer; Second ward, Alex Choppin; Third ward, Pierre Roger; Fourth ward, J. B. Thierry; Fifth ward, B. Marigny; Sixth ward, James Freret; Seventh ward, Louis Foucher; Eighth ward, Samuel Young.7

Girod, fifth mayor of New Orleans, was thus its first regularly elected chief magistrate. He was about sixty-five years of age and looked upon as one of the substantial business men of the city. He had settled in New Orleans in Spanish times and acquired a fortune as a merchant. He owned immense properties above the city, in the vicinity of Girod Street. He made his home, however, in the Vieux Carré, in a house which still stands at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis. He died almost forgotten on September 1, 1840, when, in chronicling his interment, the editor of the Bee commented with melancholy indignation upon the fact that only a few intimate friends assembled to follow to the grave one who deserved better of his fellow citizens. His name is remembered in New Orleans in connection with two matters which may be convenient dealt with here, though a little out of the proper chronological order. The first is a legend which represents him as promoting in conjunction with Dominique You a scheme to rescue Napoleon from his captivity at St. Helena.​8 It is said that the once magnificent residence at the corner of St. Louis and Chartres was erected by Girod for the reception of the emperor, who was to be brought to the  p94 city by You, on board a swift-sailing yacht provided for the purpose by the conspirators. The death of the emperor, which occurred before the rescue could be effected, is said to have prevented an attempt to put this fantastic plan into execution. The only basis for the legend which has been discovered is the fact that when Napoleon escaped from Elba the news reached New Orleans while the leading citizens were assembled at the St. Philip Theater at a dramatic performance there. The wildest enthusiasm prevailed; the entertainment broke up and the excited populace, amongst whom Napoleon was extremely popular, collected at the Cabildo. The impression was current that the emperor would make for America; nowhere could he count upon so warm a welcome or feel himself so entirely at home as in New Orleans. Mayor Girod made a speech in which he dwelt on these ideas, and announced that he would place his own residence at the disposition of the illustrious exile upon his arrival. The house said to have been erected especially for the emperor was, unfortunately for the story, erected some years previously.​9 The other matter which keeps green in New Orleans the memory of Girod is the famous legacy which at his death it was found that he had left to the mayor, as custodian, for the purpose of establishing an institution for the support and education of orphans of French parentage. The will assigned $100,000 for this purpose. The bequest was, however, made the subject of litigation; the city only received $28,000, and that was frittered away without realizing the benevolent purposes which suggested the legacy.​a

The four years of Girod's administration were unevent­ful except insofar as concerns the war of 1812. That war was unfortunate for New Orleans. It came at a juncture when the future seemed to offer almost limitless prosperity. The Spanish-American countries bordering on the Gulf of Mexico were beginning to free themselves from the yoke of the mother country. Once independent, they promised to be valuable customers of New Orleans. The invention of cotton-handling machinery made it certain that cotton would be one of the world's chief staples.  p95 New Orleans was already one of the principal centers of the cotton business. The introduction of steam-navigation on the Mississippi River opened boundless vistas of commercial expansion in the Mississippi Valley. All this, however, was postponed by the war. The embargo and the British blockade caused extensive business depression in New Orleans. In April, 1813, the paralysis of commerce compelled the local banks to suspend specie payment on their notes. Money became hard to get. People paid 3 to 4 per cent per month on loans. The Creek Indians went on the warpath in Mississippi and Alabama, burning and murdering indiscriminately. A "crevasse" overflowed a portion of the town. Bands of drunken Choctaw Indians perambulated the city streets. The authorities were loath to restrain them for fear of provoking a rising which would lead to a repetition in Louisiana of tragedies such as that at Fort Mimms. A series of incendiary fires produced a state of general alarm. Amidst all these anxieties there was a recrudescence of the "batture" trouble. In this condition of affairs the arrival of occasional prizes taken by the American privateers, occasioned only a passing relief from the prevailing apprehension, discord, and despondency. The first of these prizes was the ship, "Jane," from Glasgow, taken in January, 1813, by the American schooner, "Spy." The "Jane" was a smart vessel which mounted 12 guns and her capture was a clever exploit, in line with the achievements of the American navy in the Atlantic.

The management of the war by the American government was not brilliant. It was attempted to confine the hostilities to Canada. For the benefit of the army on the northern frontier, New Orleans was stripped of part of the little garrison necessary for its protection. The British, on the other hand, were keenly appreciative of the importance of New Orleans as a strategic point in the campaign. Early in the war the Canadian newspapers announced that a great expedition was organizing against the city. The government ignored these rumors until the enemy was virtually at the mouth of the Mississippi. Wilkinson, who was assigned to the command at New Orleans early in the war, was soon relieved and sent to the Canadian frontier. When the foe finally appeared, Claiborne could rely only on some 700 regular soldiers, and a small force of militia. A flat-bottomed frigate which was destined to carry 42 guns was on the ways at Tchefuncta, on the opposite side of Lake Pontchartrain, but she was less than half-finished, and therefore useless. To patrol nearly 600 miles of coast there were available only one sloop-of‑war and six gunboats. Fort St. Philip, on the Mississippi, about seventy-five miles below New Orleans, was an unimportant work. At the Rigolets, barring the most likely route of an enemy against the city, Fort Petites Coquilles was incomplete and only partially defensible. At the mouth of Bayou St. John a tiny work dating from Spanish times was a negligible element in the system of defense. Later on, two small vessels, the "Louisiana" and the "Carolina," the latter a schooner, were put in service on the Mississippi. The latter, especially, did valiant service until destroyed by a hot-shot from one of the enemy's batteries.

Claiborne was a man of peace. He lacked the iron firmness, the uncompromising resolution which were necessary to hold the fractious city under control at this critical juncture. He had, however, done his best to prepare for eventualities. He had appealed for re-enforcements to the officials in the adjacent States, but none came till the last moment.  p96 He had, therefore, to depend upon the Louisiana militia. These troops, so far as the country contingents were concerned, showed an excellent spirit; but in the city they evinced a most discouraging lack of zeal and ability to comprehend the serious nature of the crisis which impended. Only after three imperative calls was the Governor success­ful in getting the city companies into the field. The first effort was made on a re­quisition for troops from the commander of the United States forces in the Seventh Military District, of which Louisiana formed a part. This was in February, 1814. It not only proved abortive, but nearly involved a bloody clash between the city companies and a contingent of 400 country militiamen who had been collected at the Magazine Barracks on the opposite side of the city. These men offered their services to coerce the insubordinate city commands into doing their duty. The offer was fiercely resented in New Orleans. Only the tactful refusal of Claiborne averted bloodshed. The city companies for the most part flatly refused to volunteer or be drafted. A few signified their willingness to serve in the State; a number were ready to serve in the city, but none were prepared to fight under American officers, and all insisted that they should be relieved at frequent intervals.​10 Something may be said in defense of their unpatriotic and illogical behavior. Wilkinson's dictator­ship of 1804 had left behind a bad impression of the American officer. The ill-success of the wars far did not tend to breed confidence in the national government. But their course naturally created grave doubts in Claiborne's and, later, in Jackson's minds.

New Orleans was full of elements of which, to say the least, the loyalty remained to be proved. The Santo Domingans, who, as we have seen, constituted nearly one-half of the population, were newcomers, unfamiliar and possibly unsympathetic with American ideas. There was an English faction which could be expected to support the enemy, if not actively, then passively. The Spanish could not be relied upon; in fact, they were Spanish fishermen, who guided the British forces through the swamps to the solid lands along the Mississippi River, and thereby greatly facilitated their attack. The Baratarian pirates were possible enemies. In spite of the fact that they were outlaws, Jean and Pierre Lafitte frequented the public places in the city, ignoring the officers of the law, and encouraged by the populace, not a few of whom profited by their illicit trade. There was every reason to suppose that they would co‑operate with the British in an attempt against a government which menaced their existence. The destruction of their stronghold at Barataria was a necessary element in the defense of the city. Commodore Pattersonº and Colonel Ross, both regular United States officers, were sent to the city to do this. In the meantime the British had established themselves at Apalachicola, on the Gulf Coast, and were in touch with the Baratarians. The commander, Nicholls, offered the pirate chieftain a captaincy in the British army and $30,000 for his aid. But one of the deepest emotions in Jean Lafitte's dark heart was a hatred of the English. Either this sentiment, or, as was believed at the time, a desire to forestall Pattison'sº and Ross' expedition, led him now to lay Nicholls' letter before Claiborne, with a tender of his own and his men's services, coupled with the proviso that, in case of acceptance, all prescriptions against them should be annulled.​b Claiborne was in favor of accepting  p97 the proposal, but a council which he assembled for the purpose, after much deliberation, thought otherwise; and Pattison and Ross fitted out their expedition, and, in September, broken up the pirate settlement and dispersed its inhabitants. The pirates fled in various directions; some found refuge in New Orleans, and added a further perplexity to the already complicated situation which Claiborne had to face.11

In March, Claiborne had to suppress a filibustering expedition against Texas. In April came news of the fall of Paris and the abdication of Napoleon. This meant that England was now free to devote her undivided attention to the American war. On the other hand, in July, the Creeks sued for peace. With the termination of the Creek war disappeared the danger long feared by Claiborne of a rising of the Choctaws. Another fortunate development followed. This was the appointment of Gen. Andrew Jackson to take command at New Orleans, and the announcement that he would be in the city in a short time.

[image ALT: A woodcut of a three-story brick building with five French windows on each of the upper floors, and at street level, a pair of signs reading 'Piano store Caudin' and 'J Caudin'. It is the building that served General Andrew Jackson as his New Orleans headquarters in 1814.]

Jackson's Headquarters, New Orleans

Jackson, however, had first to brush away the British from Pensacola, where they had established themselves with the tacit approval of the Spanish commandant. He conducted a campaign with that end in view in the autumn, and was completely success­ful. But these operations necessarily delayed his arrival in New Orleans. Pending his advent  p98 everything there went from bad to worse. A little body of patriotic citizens assembled at the Trémonlet Hotel on September 15 with Edward Livingston as president, and after passing appropriate resolutions formed themselves into a committee to co‑operate with the authorities in matters relating to the public defense. A few days later a rival body with Roffignac as president was formed for the same purpose. The two were soon embroiled in hot disputes over foolish questions of precedence and authority, and checkmated each other's plans of usefulness.​12 About the same time Claiborne convened the State Legislature to take action upon a request from Jackson that the militia be got ready for immediate service; but it, too, became involved in interminable controversies, and frittered away the precious time without accomplishing anything. The absurdity of its conduct finally stirred one of the members, Louallier, of Opelousas, to an indignant arraignment of his fellow-members. "Are we so situated that we have no dangers to dread? [. . .] Shall we always confine ourselves to letters and proclamations?" he asked, impatiently. "Are we always to witness the several departments entrusted with our defense languishing in a state of inactivity, hardly to be excused even in the most peaceful times? No other evidence of patriotism is to be found than a disposition to avoid every expense, every fatigue. Nothing as yet has been performed. It is the duty of the Legislature to give the necessary impulse."​13 Everywhere was visible the need of a real leader; and he was at hand.

Jackson reached the city on December 1. His rough manners and imperious tone offended the Creoles, but his energy, persistence, and serene self-confidence speedily begot a spirit of confidence on all sides. Then, all at once, the community found itself. The city shook off its lethargy. The cantankerous spirit of the last few months evaporated. In its place appeared a zeal, patriotism and self-sacrifice which is all the more startling and all the more moving because of the stubborn fractiousness which preceded it. Here was a man who knew his own mind, and spoke with authority, and immediately everybody was glad to obey. The Legislature busied itself getting together money to put at the disposal of the commander for building fortifications. It called on slave-owners to place their negroes at his orders for the same purpose. Many promptly complied. The women went to work making uniforms and providing comforts for the troops. The French consul, the Chevalier de Tousac who had served in the Revolution, was precluded by his office from participating personally in the campaign, but he urged his compatriots to enroll. Among those who thus enlisted in the American army was General Humbert, one of Napoleon's veterans, who had commanded the French army that invaded Ireland, in 1798. About the time that Burr visited New Orleans he had come to the city to make it his home thenceforward to his death in 1823.14

 p99  Another veteran was named Roche. He had served under Napoleon in Egypt. He was of great service in equipping and drilling the militia. When Jackson reviewed the troops immediately after his arrival, Roche's battalion was the "only perfectly armed, well equipped and really well disciplined battalion in the local forces."15 One old Frenchman whose age made it impossible to join the army, sent 700 coats, valued at $4,000, as his contribution to the good cause. Lafitte renewed his offer of service, and Jackson, who had in one of his proclamations issued from Mobile had denounced the Baratarians as "hellish banditti,"​c but who had the virtue of inconsistency, promptly accepted him, and assigned his men to the artillery, or sent them to man the forts. Jackson had brought with him a small force of frontiersmen. He was re-enforced in December by Carroll with 2,500 Tennesseans, and by Coffee with 1,200 more. In all his forces were between 6,000 and 7,000 men when the time of action finally arrived. At present his care was to strengthen the fortifications. He visited the river forts, reconnoitered the country around the city, and ordered all bayoux and irrigation — or drainage — canals leading through the swamps in the vicinity of the city to be obstructed or filled in. This order was vitally important; it was slackly carried out. The officer responsible for its execution was left exonerated from all blame by a court-martial; it is not clear whose negligence was responsible for a failure which enabled the British to approach unmolested within easy striking distance of the city.16

Other steps taken by Jackson which may be attributed to his want of confidence in the fickle population of the city, gave great offense there. He proposed, for instance, that the writ of habeas corpus be suspended, and that the State Legislature adjourn. The former was desirable in order to facilitate Pattison's impressment of sailors; the latter seemed necessary to avoid the danger of divided authority. Claiborne pointed out to the Legislature that this was no time for calm deliberation and the making of laws; but the legislators got the idea that it was a patriotic duty to remain in session. Jackson got around the awkward situation by proclaiming martial law. All strangers thereafter had on arrival to report themselves at the office of the adjutant-general; no one and no vessel might leave the city without a passport; all the street lights were extinguished at 9 P.M., and good citizens were expected to be indoors at that hour. This difference with the Legislature led to important developments, as we shall see later on. Meanwhile, Jackson distributed his men with great judgment. The Garrison at Spanish Fort was increased. Major Lacoste and a company of colored men, and one from Feliciana, were stationed at Gentilly, to defend the road from Chief Menteur. The city was under the control of General Labatut. He had a force of veterans under him, largely men who were by age incapacitated from more exacting service in the field. Jackson gave a captain's commission to a Negro named Savary, and directed him to raise a corps of free men of color. This command was attached to Major D'Aquin's regiment of militia. The command of all the Negro troops was given to Colonel Fortier. They did good service in the engagements which were shortly to occur. Savary's men distinguished themselves in the fighting  p100 on December 23, and received special mention in Jackson's orders after that battle. Juzan enlisted all the Choctaw Indians in the vicinity of the city. St. Rome, editor of the Courier de la Louisiane, and St. Gême, a French emigré, to whom we shall have occasion to allude again, were put in command of battalions. Maunsell White raised a company of Irishmen. A volunteer company of rifle­men was formed by a Virginian named Beale. Beale was a crack marksman and socially prominent. Many Americans enlisted in his command, among others Lewis, Chew, Story, Montgomery, Kenner, Henderson, McCall, Lind, Sheperd, Baker, and Parmelee — all men whose names are well remembered to this day. Beale's company was stationed on the Rodriguez Canal. Coffee encamped four miles above the city. Governor Claiborne, with the First, Second and Fourth Regiments of Louisiana militia, were to cover the approaches of the city from the direction of Gentilly Ridge.17

The British expedition consisted of over fifty vessels, some of the largest size, like the great Tonnant, 80 guns, which had been one of Nelson's prizes at the battle of the Nile. There were five 74s. The fleet was under the redoubtable Cochrane, whose exploit of burning the capitol at Washington had made his name of dread all along the Atlantic coast. The troops were about 7,500 in number, under Gen. Sir John Pakenham, a distinguished soldier, who had won his knighthood by leading a singularly gallant charge at Salamanca. The force was divided into three divisions, commanded respectively by Generals Gibbs, Lambert and Keane. It was composed for the most part of veterans of the Peninsula wars, and was splendidly armed and equipped. The first clash between the British and the Americans took place at Fort Bowyer, a small fortification thrown up two years before by Wilkinson, to protect the approaches to Mobile. Here the British were severely repulsed. The next encounter was with a small American flotilla under Captain Jones, which a British scouting expedition ran foul of near Malheureux Island, off the Rigolets, at the entrance to Lake Borgne. The Americans, after a gallant resistance, which cost the assailants near 300 men in killed and wounded, were captured.​18 On the 20th of December a disguised British officer, guided by Spanish fishermen from a settlement on Bayou Bienvenu, reconnoitered the territory below the city as far as the river, and, returning, reported that the city might easily be approached from that direction. Bayou Bienvenu was a considerable stream which flowed into Lake Borgne from the west. It rose close to the lower suburb of New Orleans. It was habitually used by Spanish and Italian fishermen to get their wares to market. No heed had been given to these humble people; they came and went daily, and thus their treachery was facilitated by an intimate knowledge of the situation in the city. Bayou Bienvenu was among the streams ordered obstructed; it was one of those ignored in the execution of Jackson's orders. Had these instructions been carried out the British advance might have been retarded until news had had time to reach the contending armies that peace was actually concluded between America and Great Britain on December 24th, and thus the sanguinary affair of January 8th might have been avoided.  p101 However, this intelligence did not arrive till February 18th. In the meantime, the campaign had been fought and won.

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Battle of New Orleans
From the print made by Laclotte

The British made their way up Bayou Bienvenu, through Bayou Mazant, and by the Villeré Canal. On December 23rd, 3,000 British soldiers appeared unexpectedly at the Villeré plantation, captured the American outpost there, and found themselves upon the open plain alongside the Mississippi, with nothing between them and New Orleans in the way of fortifications. They were exhausted with the hardships of their journey through the swamps. Therefore it was decided to rest and wait for the arrival of re-enforcements. They were also restrained by the idea which they had received from some of their prisoners, that the Americans in New Orleans numbered 12,000 well-armed troops. Otherwise, it is possible they might have pressed on, taken the town by surprise, and won a brilliant success. The news of their approach was brought to Jackson by young Major Villeré, who made his escape from the plantation at the approach of the enemy, and by hard riding reached Jackson's headquarters on Royal Street early in the afternoon.

Jackson determined to attack at once. He immediately ordered forward towards the Laronde and Lacoste plantations a detachment of Marines under Major Carmick, who fell, badly wounded, a week later; a corps of artillery, the Mississippi Dragoons, the Orleans Rifle­men, the Tennesseans, Major Plauché's battalion of militia, and the free men of color — in all about 1,200 men. The "Carolina" also dropped down the river. At 7 P.M. this vessel opened an unexpected fire on the British position. Jackson attacked all along the line. The engagement which followed, while a hot one, reflected little credit upon the general­ship of either commander. The British right attempted to outflank Jackson's left, but fell in with a division under General Coffee, and was only saved  p102 from capture by an unfortunate order, which restrained Creoles at the moment when they were about to charge with the bayonet. The night was very dark and foggy. Companies lost themselves. Some fired into their friends by mistakes. There were long series of hand-to‑hand combats. Under cover of the smoke and fog, the British withdrew towards the Villeré plantation. They were saved from a serious disaster by the arrival of their main body, which, hearing in the distance, the sound of firing, had hastened its advance up the bayoux, and pressed forward to the support of the sorely-beset advance guard. The loss was over 400. The American loss was 24 killed, 115 wounded, and 75 prisoners.

Jackson, on his part, fell back at daybreak about two miles nearer the city and took up a position along a canal which ran from the river towards the swamp. This was known as Rodriguez's Canal. It was a little drainage ditch, partly overgrown with grass, which had to be largely re-excavated in order to make it a definite military obstacle. This was to be the permanent American line. It was only four miles from the city. There is an interesting story to the effect that in selecting this position Jackson was influenced by the advice of Livingston, who was now serving on his staff, and St. Gême, to whom allusion has already been made. In 1804 the celebrated French General Moreau paid a visit to New Orleans. He rode over much of the adjacent country. One day, on passing this particular place, accompanied by St. Gême, he had commented on its advantages from a military point of view, and said that, if New Orleans were ever attacked, there was the spot where the enemy could be most effectively resisted. This remark was now repeated to Jackson,​19 and is said to have determined his decision. During the subsequent days preparations for the defense went rapidly on. A low breastwork was thrown up all the way from the river to the woods. In the woods less care was taken to fortify the line. Some cotton bales belonging to a merchant resident in New Orleans were seized and incorporated into the fortifications, apparently to face the embrasures where the artillery was placed.​20 Jackson established his headquarters in a plantation residence just inside the lines belonging to a Mr. Montgomery.​21 During the subsequent fighting this building was struck repeatedly by cannon-balls, some of which remained imbedded in its walls, where they were seen more than twenty years later, neatly gilded by the then owner of the property.22

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Rodriguez Canal
Along the Line of Which General Jackson Posted His Troops
at the Battle of New Orleans, January, 1815

The weather was very bad — cold and wet. The British suffered keenly from it, and from the scarcity of supplies. Jackson had had the foresight to remove everything possible from the vicinity. Their foraging parties therefore had constantly to push farther and farther afield, as far, in fact, as Detour des Anglais, and usually with small success. The miry ground made it difficult to bring up their heavy guns. Jackson caused the levee to be cut in hopes that the rising river would flood the country and drive the enemy away; but the water only served to swell the current  p103 in the canals and bayoux, and in this way facilitated the labors of the enemy without covering the country, as Jackson had expected would happen. Pakenham arrived on the 25th. On the 27th the destruction of the "Carolina" relieved the British from a serious annoyance. No longer exposed to its batteries, they were enabled to push forward to the Bienvenu and Chalmette plantations. The loss of the schooner was made up to the Americans in part by Pattison's establishing a battery on the other side of the river, which, fitted with guns from the "Louisiana," did good service from this time on.

Jackson kept two regiments in advance of his position, mainly on the Laronde place. These scouts ascertained that great activity was in progress in the British camp. It was clear that attack was to be expected. This came on the morning of the 28th. The British numbered about 5,000 men. Jackson had now in line about 4,000 men. The superior artillery fire of the Americans pulverized the British attack, and it recoiled after suffering a loss of between 200 and 300 men. The American loss was 7 killed and 10 wounded. On the night of December 31st the British erected three "demilunes" in front of the American position, partly of earth, but strengthened with hogsheads of sugar re­quisitioned from adjacent sugar-houses. Heavy guns from the fleet were mounted here. The infantry fell back, and left to these formidable engines the task of breaking the American lines. The firing began early in the morning and lasted one and a half hours. For a time the American line was thrown into confusion by the British fire, and especially by the rockets, a form of missile quite new to the backwoodsmen and Creoles, some of which set fire to the cotton-bales in the American parapet. But You and Béluche soon destroyed the British works with a well-directed fire from their batteries, and the anticipated attack was abandoned. That night the British withdrew their undamaged guns.

This failure nerved Pakenham to renewed efforts. It was clear that unless he could carry the American position in one determined assault he must retreat to his ships and acknowledge the campaign a failure. He determined to attack on both sides of the river at once. He himself would command forces operating against Jackson's main position, but Colonel Thornton was assigned to the duty of carrying the American positions on the opposite side of the Mississippi, where General Morgan with a somewhat heterogeneous force, was stationed. In order to get troops across it was necessary to extend the Villeré Canal to the river, and bring up barges along that route — a heavy task, which required time to complete. Therefore, the final attack was not ready till January 8th. In the meantime Jackson had been re-enforced, and had approximately as many troops at his disposal as the British commander. The morale of the Americans was excellent, and while they lacked the technical training of their opponents, their long experience as hunters and Indian fighters gave them an incomparable advantage. The battle which was now about to take place has a special interest as probably the first fair test of the system of fighting which had till then been in vogue, as compared with the loose, irregular order in which the Americans habitually fought, and which thereafter was gradually adopted throughout the world as the only effective battle formation.

The disposition of the American forces on January 8th is a matter of some interest. On the road along the levee was a battery of artillery  p104 under Captain Humphrey, U. S. A., supported by St. Gême's dragoons. In the most elevated position along the line, 70 feet from the river bank, was another battery under Lieutenant Norris. Fifty yards farther towards the woods was Béluche's battery, and 20 yards further another under Lieutenant Crawley. Then at an interval of 170 yards was a fifth battery under Colonel Perry and Lieutenant Kerr; and a sixth, at a corresponding interval, was under Lieutenant-General de Flaujac. The eighth battery was in bad condition and unable to render any service during the battle. Here a corporal of artillery was in charge. On the river was a redoubt held by detachments of the Seventh and Forty-fourth Regulars, under Lieutenants Ross and Marant. The line was held thence by the Orleans Rifle­men, Major Pierre's detachment of the Seventh Regiment; the colored troops under Majors Plauche, D'Aquin and Lacoste; and beyond these, the remainder of the Forty-fourth Regiment, commanded by Captain Baker. The positions in the woods and swamps on the left were occupied by the troops under Coffee, Carroll, Adair and Bellevue. The right wing was under the general command of Colonel Ross; the left, of General Coffee. The American standard fluttered from a staff planted where the tall shaft of the commemorative monument rears itself today.

A little after daybreak on the morning of the 8th the British moved out of their camps and spread across the level ground, about two-thirds of the distance between the river and the woods. Apparently, about 6,000 men were in line. At 8:30 a rocket went up on the British right as a signal to begin the attack. A single cannon shot from the American line gave the corresponding signal. The foe moved to the attack in perfect order. On the extreme right the advance was so rapid that before the American battery there could fire its third shot the British were in the  p105 redoubt and had over­powered its defenders; but in a desperate attempt to scale the breastworks beyond, they were repulsed, the commander killed, and the Americans were able to retake the position in part. At the opposite extremity of the line the attack was obviously a feint. Coffee was able easily to repulse the feeble onset. In the center General Gibbs opened the attack under terrific fire from the American guns. The Forty-fourth Regiment was charged with the duty of bringing up the scaling ladders with which it was expected to mount the American parapet. For some unaccountable reason these necessary implements were forgotten. The mistake was discovered only after the troops had come under fire. It was then necessary to halt and wait while the culprit regiment went back to equip itself with the ladders. No more trying position than this of waiting passively under a severe fire; the British stood it as long as human nerves could endure the strain; then Gibbs took the responsibility of ordering the attack pressed home without further delay. The men advanced within 100 yards of the American position, but here they were greeted by a continuous sheet of shot, and began to waver. Only the frantic efforts of their officers held them momentarily in position under the terrible punishment. In the meantime Pakenham led up the Forty-fourth with the missing ladders. The American sharpshooters were concentrating their fire especially upon the officers. Pakenham's horse soon fell. He mounted a small black pony and urged his men forward by his own dauntless example. They struggled into the ditch, set their ladders against the parapet, and attempted to scale the top. It was a valorous attempt, but was met with equal courage, and after a moment of desperate effort broke and recoiled. Keane now ordered up a regiment of Highlanders hitherto held in reserve; the whole line led by him, Gibbs and Pakenham in person, surged forward, only to recoil again at the very foot of the American works. Pakenham, struck by a charge of grape shot, fell mortally wounded; Keane was disabled, and when Lambert arrived on the field with the reserves, he could do nothing but cover the retreat of men hopelessly shattered and making for cover. The British loss was over 2,000 men, of whom 289 were killed. The American loss was 71, including only 13 men killed. The only point at which the British entered the American lines was at the river redoubt. The battle had lasted not more than 25 minutes.23

On the opposite side of the river the British, however, scored a success which, but for the death of Pakenham, and the resulting discouragement and disorganization of the army, might have been improved into a decisive advantage. Thornton was expected to cross the river on the night of the 7th, surprise Morgan, and as soon as this was done signal by means of rockets the fact to the British main body, which would then deliver its attack on Jackson's position. While the Americans would be busy with the attack on their front, Thornton would move up, recross the river, and cut off Jackson from the city. Unfortunately, the barges necessary for this movement were not all got up through the Villeré Canal, owing to the collapse of its banks, and only three-fourths of the force allotted to Thornton ever became available for the execution of the manoeuvers. The current of the river swept the little flotilla down far below the point of intended landing, with the result that the attack on Morgan was delivered many hours late. Gibbs, having waited in vain for the concerted  p106 signal from across the river, was finally compelled to attack without it; with the result already described. Morgan's men rested upon Patterson's redoubt with its battery of naval guns. His force broken at the first onslaught.​24 They fell back in disorder as far as Verret's Canal, in what is now the Fifth District (Algiers) of New Orleans. The British captured a flag which was afterwards hung up at Whitehall, in London, as a trophy of the battle.​25 Thornton's men remained at the redoubt, inactive, till the next day, when they recrossed the river.

The only other incident of the campaign was a feeble attempt on the part of the British fleet to ascend the river and pass Fort St. Philip.​d This attempt was abandoned on the 18th. Lambert had enough to do to get his beaten army away. He was unable to return by way of the bayou, as he had come, on account of the loss of many of his boats. He was compelled to build a road along the bank from the battlefield to Lake Borgne. This took some days. It was January 18th before he was in a position to abandon the scene of the disaster. His heavy guns were spiked; campfires were left lighted, and stuffed uniforms were substituted for the sentinels as they were withdrawn — all to deceive the watchful enemy. The following morning, however, General Humbert, inspecting the British line with a telescope from the attic of the Montgomery house, saw birds perched upon the figures of what he supposed to be sentries. He guessed at once what the British had done. The intelligence was communicated to Jackson. The news was confirmed an hour or two later by an officer who arrived under a flag of truce to ask that the wounded whom the retreating British had been forced to abandon, should be cared for. This of course was done. The British fleet, however, did not disappear from American waters for nearly a month longer. It sailed March 17, and arrived to deliver its passengers in Europe in time to participate in the Battle of Waterloo, where Lambert especially distinguished himself.

On January 21st Jackson ordered most of his troops back to the city, leaving guards at the exposed points. But the army was not disbanded. He himself removed his headquarters to the Marigny Mansion, on Victory Street, where he remained until the celebration of the victory on the 23rd.​26 On the latter occasion a triumphal arch was erected in the Place d'Armes; pretty Creole girls dressed to represent the States scattered flowers before the victors' feet, and a Te Deum was sung in the cathedral. For a moment it looked as though in the glory of the victory all the rancors that had preceded it had been forgotten. But on February 2nd, when the State Legislature adopted a resolution of thanks to the gallant volunteers from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi who had done so much to insure the victory, there was no mention of Jackson, who had done most of all. That resolution was significant of a situation which may here be but briefly described.

Jackson was not officially notified of the conclusion of the war until March 13th. Unofficially, he had news to that effect as early as February 13th. On that date Cochrane wrote him that he had received the intelligence in a bulletin from Jamaica. The citizens saw no reason why under such circumstances the army should not be disbanded and martial law  p107 rescinded at once. Jackson thought otherwise. The fact was that the misunderstandings between Jackson and the Legislature had left behind a harvest of mutual distrust. On December 23rd a rumor had been circulated in New Orleans that in case of defeat Jackson intended to burn the city. Of course, any such action would have worked untold hardship upon the population. A committee of the Legislature was sent down to Jackson's headquarters to ascertain the truth. The general fell into a great rage. There was no foundation for the report. It would have been wiser for the commander to have explained this to his interrogators. "If I thought that the hair of my head knew my thoughts," he exclaimed, by way of only answer, "I would cut it off and burn it." And he bade the committee return and say, that if driven from his lines and compelled to retreat through New Orleans, "Your honorable body [. . .] will have a warm time of it." Murmurs, reproaches, questions crossed each other. The debate which followed in the Legislature was represented to Jackson as an exhibition of disloyalty. He instructed Claiborne to close the assembly, which was done, and for twenty-four hours Labatut's men kept guard at the portals and prevented the members from entering. Then Jackson, having been furnished with a copy of the proceedings, and realizing that an unjustifiable construction had been put upon them, cancelled his order and the Legislature resumed its meetings. But the incident served to increase the local feeling against the general.

This unfortunate controversy was supplemented by a series of events which followed after the success­ful close of the campaign. Jackson involved himself in heated controversy by his act in arresting the editor of the "Louisiana Gazette" for publishing news of the peace; prematurely, as Jackson thought. The desire of the French who had enlisted to be mustered out led them to apply to their consul. Jackson suspected that this official lent his office to the service of other than those rightfully entitled to its protection, and expelled Tousac from the city. Louallier published a vehement protest against Jackson's conduct in refusing to disband the army or terminate the martial law.​27 Jackson ordered him arrested as a spy. Judge Dominique Hall, who issued a writ of habeas corpus in favor of Louallier, was promptly consigned to a cell in the barracks for aiding in the "mutiny." The clerk of court was threatened with the same fate when he tried to issue the writ on the plea that his official duty required him to obey the order of the judge. The marshal of the court was met with similar menaces when he attempted to serve the writ. It must be confessed that Jackson's conduct in these matters was arbitrary and irritating. Nevertheless, as a soldier, it was not in his power to disband the army until officially directed to do so. The propriety of continuing the martial law may be debated. The general paralysis of business, and the fact that some of the families of men detained in the service were in want, would probably have justified a milder and more conciliatory course. But Jackson was first of all a soldier, with no very sympathetic feeling for the civilian point of view. Dick, the United States District Attorney, who applied to Judge Lewis for a writ of habeas corpus for Judge Hall, was arrested; and Lewis  p108 for having issued the writ, was likewise taken into custody. Louallier having been tried by court-martial and acquitted was released; the other parties involved in the regrettable squabble were also speedily set at liberty. Finally, on March 15, the official notice of the termination of the war was received, and with it orders to pardon all military offenses. Jackson complied fully and promptly. On March 21st his enemies had their revenge. The general had been haled before Hall's court and fined $1,000 for contempt of court in having resisted its writs. The fine was paid on the spot. Then the gallant soldier's admirers — he still had a few in the city which he had saved — drew his carriage to Maspero's Exchange — where, in a room on the upper floor, he and his officers had planned the campaign — and there he made a speech in which he commended to them his own example of submission to lawfully constituted authority.

A few incidents connected with this memorable chapter in the history of Louisiana may be appended here. During the battle the women and children of the city assembled regardless of creed at the chapel of the Ursuline nuns on Chartres Street, and there awaited in tears and prayer the news from the scene of conflict. The Abbe DuBourg implored at the altar the help of the Most High, and asked the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. How soon and how effectively these supplications were answered has been seen. Jackson gratefully attributed to Providence his signal success, and on his return to the city went in person to the Ursuline convent to thank the community for their intercessions on his behalf. As soon as the British withdrawal was confirmed, he addressed a letter to the Abbe DuBourg in which he asked that there be public services of thanksgiving in honor of the victory.

The battle cost the life of the owner of land upon which it was fought. The scene of the conflict was the Chalmette plantation; it was the property of a wealthy and respected citizen, Ignace Martin, Sieur de Lino de Chalmette, a man of the most distinguished ancestry, whose wife was the daughter of the Marquis de Vaugine. On the approach of the British he and his family were compelled to abandon their stately home. One of his grand-daughters has left a narrative of the terror of that event­ful day, when the faithful slaves hastened through Jackson's lines carrying what they could of family plate, crystal, and other valuable heirlooms — only part, however, of the splendid furnishings of the building. De Lino found refuge in a small house on Bourbon, between Conti and Bienville. After the battle, on February 2nd, he rode down to his deserted home, only to find that it had been committed to the flames. The loss was irreparable. He was too old to repair his shattered fortunes. Within a few days he passed away and was laid to rest in the St. Louis cemetery.28

Jackson remained in the city until April 6th, when he and his family left on a steamboat via the Mississippi on his way to Tennessee. They went by boat as far as Natchez, where the general was detained for a time by the trial of a suit brought against him by Blennerhassett, remembered for his brief connection with Aaron Burr.​29 Otherwise the trip was a  p109 continuous ovation. He reached the Hermitage in May, there to enjoy the repose which twenty-one months of the most strenuous exertion richly merited.

The labors and anxieties of the war had proven very burdensome also for the mayor of New Orleans, although during all of this critical period the functions of the city government had been limited to the transaction of routine business, and carrying out the measures suggested to it by Claiborne and by Jackson. Girod's private interests had suffered during the long period of depression entailed by the hostilities; now that they were ended, it seemed to him necessary to give his entire time to putting them in order. These various motives led him to send his resignation to the City Council in August, 1815.

The Author's Notes:

1 Waring and Cable, Social Statistics of Cities, Report on New Orleans, 37.

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2 Martin, "History of Louisiana," 354.

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3 Moreau-Lislet, "General Digest of the Acts of the Legislature," 1804‑1827, pp118‑122. In 1816 this act was amended by the addition of clauses prohibiting any member of the city government from participating directly or indirectly in any contract with the city. In 1818 the date of the election of the mayor and recorder was transferred to the first Monday in May, and the time at which the new officials should take their seats, to the third Monday in September following their election. — Ibid., 124‑126.

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4 The only matter of interest occurring during Trudeau's incumbency was a hurricane which raged over the city on August 19, 1812, doing great damage. He addressed a long message to the council a few days later, giving details of the effect of the storm upon city property.

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5 Louisiana Courier, September 25, 1812.

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6 Records of the City Council, October 5, 1812, in the New Orleans City Archives.

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7 Louisiana Courier, September 7, 1814.

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8 Castellanos, "New Orleans as It Was," 148. Castellanos gives the story on the authority of Mayor John L. Lewis.

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9 Statement to the author of Gaspard Cusachs. See also "Some Bonapartes in America," by H. B. Seebold, M.D., in the New Orleans Catholic Monthly, July, 1915. The author of this paper accepts as a fact the New Orleans plot to rescue Napoleon. "That the Emperor Napoleon I felt it confident of being rescued from the Island of St. Helena is proven by the letter which was written to Joseph Bonaparte while at Bonaparte Park by Marshal Bertrand, constant companion of the Emperor. [. . .] That the scheme was a substantial one is a fact. It started in New Orleans, and had interested parties in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Bordentown and Canada. The originator was a millionaire of St. Louis, named M. Girod,º who was a close friend of M. Girod of newº Orleans. M. Girod's lieutenant was M. Peugny of St. Louis, who was an ex‑officer of Napoleon's army, who had been decorated with the Legion of Honor, being related to Count de Montholon, who shared Napoleon's exile in St. Helena. All was in readiness when news of the Emperor's death reached New Orleans. M. Girod had erected at his own expense a home close to his own (old No. 124 Chartres) and furnished it elegantly, ready to receive the Emperor when he should arrive. The grandsons of M. Peugny, now prominent men of St. Louis, have in their possession documents and souvenirs that came from St. Helena." Dr. Seebold mentions that Prince Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat, son of the King of Naples, and nephew of the Emperor, practiced law in New Orleans. He had his office in Exchange Place, and his residence on Esplanade between Bourbon and Dauphine. He died in Tallahassee, Fla., April 18, 1847. A commission made out to Murat is preserved in the State Museum in the Cabildo. It is quite possible that the story of the attempted rescue of Napoleon by New Orleans conspirators has arisen from a confusion of the names of Stephen Girard and of Nicholas Girod.

Thayer's Note: For a more cogent and detailed account of the apparent plot, and a photograph of the house, see Macartney and Dorrance, The Bonapartes in America, pp263‑265. According to the same authors, pp136‑137, Achille Murat settled in Florida; and owned a plantation "near Baton Rouge". The same chapter includes an excerpt of Murat's highly unflattering description of New Orleans,  p140.
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10 Gayarré, "History of Louisiana," IV, 322‑324.

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11 Parton, "Life of General Andrew Jackson," I, Chap. LIV. See also Harper's Magazine, "The Defense of New Orleans," January, 1865.

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12 Waring and Cable, Social Statistics of Cities, Report on New Orleans, 39.

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13 Martin, Louisiana, 369.

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14 Humbert was interred in the Girod Street Cemetery. When in the '80s that burying ground was reduced in size along one side in order to widen a street, his tomb was dismantled. His skull was preserved by the late Maj. W. M. Robinson, afterwards city editor of the New Orleans Picayune. Humbert had been a prominent Mason, and this relic found an appropriate resting place in the rooms of the Polar Star lodge. The rest of the skeleton was cast into the common resting-place to which were consigned the dead dispossessed in the process of the rearrangement of the cemetery, and forgotten. The fate of the skull is likewise involved in mystery. — Statement of W. M. Robinson to author.

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15 Heloise Hulse Cruzat, in Times-Picayune, January 10, 1915.

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16 Waring and Cable, Social Statistics, 40; Harper's Magazine, "Defense of New Orleans," January, 1865.

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17 Heloise Hulse-Cruzat, Times-Picayune, January 10, 1915. These dispositions were changed as the campaign developed.

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18 The American loss is variously stated; some authorities give forty-two killed and wounded. Phelps, however, says sixty men were killed. — Louisiana, 267.

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19 Castellanos, "New Orleans as It Was," 72. There is no reason to question Castellanos' statement. He had opportunities to converse with persons who took part in the battle, and gives the story as an "historical fact."

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20 Nolte, "Fifty Years in Both Hemispheres," 216.

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21 Waldo's Illustrated Visitors' Guide to New Orleans, 17.

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22 Heloise Hulse Cruzat, in Times-Picayune, January 10, 1915. An interesting fact connected with this building, which still stands, in a good state of preservation, is that it was here that La­fayette was received when he visited New Orleans.

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23 Parton, "Life of Jackson," II, 206.

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24 Parton, "Life of Jackson," II, 213‑217.

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25 Seymour, "The Story of Algiers," 11; Parton, 217.

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26 Waldo, Illustrated Visitors' Guide, 17. This book was the work of John Dimitry.

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27 Courier de la Louisiane, March 3, 1815.

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28 Heloise Hulse Cruzat in Times-Picayune, January 10, 1915.

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29 Parton, "Life of Jackson," II, 328.

Thayer's Notes:

a Kendall will detail the vicissitudes of the Girod Fund in chapter 40.

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b Substantial excerpts from Lafitte's letter to Claiborne are given by Gayarré, Vol. IV, Ch. 8.

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c The text of Jackson's proclamation is given by Gayarré, Vol. IV, Ch. 8.

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d The 9‑day siege of Fort St. Philip was not quite as desultory all that: see the interesting contemporary reports, including the original military report by the Fort's commander after the siege, in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 2.

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