In the early summer of 1814, the reverberating news of the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, and of his abdication at Fontainebleau, shook the city to its foundations; and the first instinctive impulse of the people was a passionate outbreak of love to the mother country. The city became French as it had not been since the days of Ulloa. Popular feeling frenzied and raved in talk. In the family, in the coffee-houses, in the new exchanges, the refugees from every nation and every political party, the new Americans and the ancient Louisianans, as they were called, assembled in their different coteries, to throw, very much as they do now, p212their tempers, prejudices, and passions into political opinions.
There was no doubt that victorious England, her hands at last liberated, would give the United States a demonstration more characteristic of her military ability than she had exhibited up to this time in the war between them. The report came that, as a condition of peace with France, England would demand the retrocession of Louisiana to Spain, who had indignantly protested at Napoleon's sharp sale of it to the United States; and, trailing after this report, came from Spanish officers in Havana and Pensacola, to friends in Louisiana, and even from the governor of Pensacola, and from the Spanish minister in Washington, expressions of belief that Spain would take up arms to repossess herself of her former colony.
Hardly had this been digested colloquially, when tidings arrived of the presence of British ships in the Gulf, and the landing of British regulars at Pensacola and Apalachicola, where, with the passive, if not active, assistance of the Spanish authorities, they were rallying the Indians, enlisting and uniforming them into companies. Then came Lafitte's communications from Barataria.
It must be acknowledged, if ever there were dreams to give a city pause, New Orleans had them then and there. Even now one is chary of publishing all the national weaknesses that, in this crucial moment, the city's examination of conscience revealed. There were no friends of England in the community, but there were many and ardent ones of Spain, and as for the French Creoles, the United States had been at best, in their eyes, but a churlish and grudging stepmother to p213Louisiana, apparently intent only on getting back the worth of her money paid for the colony. And besides, the government at Washington, with its Capitol burnt and its neighbourhood ravaged by a force not one-fourth as large as the one preparing against New Orleans, offered anything but an inspiring example. And there was slavery. The English, by a mere proclamation of emancipation, could array inside the State against the whites an equal number of blacks and produce a situation from which the stoutest hearts recoiled in dismay. The neighbouring South was too weak in population and resources to count upon for any appreciable help. There was only the one hope, but it was a good one, in the West, the brawny, indomitable West! So long as the Mississippi flowed through its great valley to the Gulf, New Orleans felt confident that the West would never leave her without a companion in arms to fight against foreign subjugation.
The federal government stationed four companies of regulars in the city, ordered out the full quota of the militia of the State, one thousand men, to be held in readiness, put Commodore Patterson in charge of the naval defences, and appointed Major-General Andrew Jackson to take command in the threatened section. After that, it washed its hands of the whole affair.
In September the British opened their campaign, as the military quidnuncs in the city had predicted they would, by an attack upon Fort Bowyer, which, if taken, would give them command of Mobile Bay, a solid position on the Gulf, and an invaluable basis of operation against New Orleans. But the new general-commandant, who, so far from being a military quidnunc, had only the military training of rough and tumble, hand-to‑hand p214fighting with Indians, forestalled the design of the British with all the prescience of the most practised tactician. He threw a handful of men into Fort Bowyer, one hundred and thirty, with twenty pieces of cannon, and these held it against the four British ships, with their ninety guns and the six hundred marines, and regulars, and two hundred Indians that came against it. The elated Jackson sent the news of this success from Mobile with two ringing proclamations to the Louisianans, one to the white and one to the free coloured population, treating his foes with fine and most inspiring contempt:—
"The base, perfidious Britons have attempted to invade your country. They had the temerity to attack Fort Bowyer with their incongruous horde of Indians, negroes, and assassins; they seem to have forgotten that p215this fort was defended by free men," etc., etc. After which, to give the Spaniards a lesson in the laws of neutrality, he attacked and took Pensacola.
It was on the morning of the 2d of December, 1814, as our preferred chronicler of this period, Alexander Walker, relates that General Jackson and escort trotted their horses up the road that leads from Spanish Fort to the city. On arriving at the junction of Canal Carondelet and Bayou St. John, the party dismounted before an old Spanish villa, the residence of one of the prominent bachelor citizens of the day, where, in the marble-paved hall, breakfast had been prepared for them; a breakfast such as luxury then could command from Creole markets and cooks, for a guest whom one wished to honour. But, the story goes, the guest of honour partook, and that sparingly, only of hominy. This reached a certain limit of endurance. At a whisper from a servant, the host excused himself, left the table and passed into the antechamber. He was accosted by his fair friend and neighbour, who had volunteered her assistance for the occasion.
"Ah, my friend, how could you play such a trick upon me? You asked me to prepare your house to receive a great general. I did so. And I prepared a splendid breakfast. And now! I find that my labour is all thrown away upon an old 'Kaintuck' flatboatman, instead of a great general with plumes, epaulettes, long sword, and moustache."
Indeed, to female eyes, trained upon a Galvez, a Carondelet, a Casa Calvo, Andrew Jackson must have represented indeed a very unsatisfactory commandant-general. His dress, a small leathern cap, a short blue Spanish cloak, frayed trousers, worn and rusty high-top boots, was deficient; and, even for a flatboatman, threadbare. But his personality, to equitable female eyes, should have been impressive, if not pleasing: a tall, gaunt, inflexibly erect figure; a face sallow, it is true, and seamed and wrinkled with the burden of heavy thought, but expressing to the full the stern decision and restless energy which seemed the very soul of the man; heavy brows shaded his fierce, bright eyes, and iron-grey hair bristled thick over his head.
From the villa the party trotted up the Bayou road to its intersection with the city, where stood a famous landmark in old times, the residence of General Daniel Clarke, a great American in the business and political world of the time. Here carriages awaited them and a formal delegation of welcome, all the notabilities, civil and military, the city afforded, headed by Governor Claiborne and the mayor of the city, a group which, measured by after achievements, could not be considered inconsiderable either in number or character.
General Jackson, who talked as he fought, by nature, and had as much use for fine words as for fine clothes, answered the stately eloquence addressed him, briefly and to the point. He had come to protect the city, and he would drive the enemy into the sea or perish in the attempt. It was the eloquence for the people and the time. As an interpreter repeated the words in French, they passed from lip to lip, rousing all the energy they conveyed. They sped with Jackson's carriage, into the city, where heroism has ever been most infectious, and the crowd that ran after him through the streets, to see him alight, and to cheer the flag unfurled from his headquarters on Royal street, expressed not so much the conviction that the saviour p217of the city was there in that house, as that the saviour of the city was there, in every man's soul.
That evening the "Kaintuck" flatboatman was again subjected to the ordeal of woman's eyes. A dinner party of the most fashionable society had already assembled at a prominent and distinguished house, when the host announced to his wife that he had invited General Jackson to join them. She, as related by a descendant, did what she could under the trying circumstances, and so well prepared her guests for the unexpected addition to their party, that the ladies kept their eyes fixed upon the door, with the liveliest curiosity, expecting to see it admit nothing less than some wild man of the woods, some curious specimen of American Indian, in uniform. When it opened and General Jackson entered, grave, self-possessed, martial, urbane, their astonishment was not to be gauged. When the dinner was over and he had taken his leave, the ladies all exclaimed, with one impulse, to the hostess "Is this your red Indian! Is this your wild man of the woods! He is a prince."
From now on the city was transformed into a martial camp. Every man capable of bearing arms was mustered into service. All the French émigrés in the community volunteered in the ranks, only too eager for another chance at the English. Prisoners in the Calaboose were released and armed. To the old original fine company of freemen of colour, another was added, formed of coloured refugees from St. Domingo, men who had sided with the whites in the revolution there. Lafitte, notwithstanding the breaking up and looting of his establishment at Barataria, made good his offer to the State, by gathering his Baratarians from the Calaboose p218and their hiding places, and organizing them into two companies under the command of Dominique You and Beluche. From the parishes came hastily gathered volunteers, in companies and singly. The African slaves, catching the infection, laboured with might and main upon the fortifications ordered by Jackson, and even the domestic servants, it is recorded, burnished their masters' arms and prepared ammunition, with the ardour of patriots. The old men were formed into a home guard and given the patrol of the city. Martial law was proclaimed. The reinforcements from the neighbouring territories arrived: a fine troop of horse from Mississippi, under the gallant Hinds; and Coffee, with his ever-to‑be remembered brigade of "Dirty Shirts," who after a march of •eight hundred miles answered Jackson's message to hasten, by covering in two days the •one hundred and fifty miles from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. At the levee, barges and flatboats landed the militia of Tennessee, under Carroll.
On the 10th of December, eight days after Jackson's arrival in the city, the British fleet entered Lake Borgne. In the harbour of Ship Island, in the pass between it and Cat Island, out to Chandeleur Islands, as far as the spyglass could carry, the eye of the look-out saw, and saw British sails. Never before had so august a visitation honoured these distant waters. The very names of the ships and of their commander were enough to create a panic. The Tonnant, the heroic Tonnant, of eighty guns, captured from the French at the battle of the Nile, with Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and Rear-Admiral Codrington; the Royal Oak, seventy-four guns, Rear-Admiral Malcolm, the Ramilies, under Sir Thomas Hardy, Nelson's friend; the Norge, the Bedford, p219the Asia, all seventy-four gunners; the Armide, Sir Thomas Trowbridge; the Sea Horse, Sir James Alexander Gordon, fresh from the banks of the Potomac, — there were fifty sail, in all carrying over a thousand guns, commanded by the élite of the British navy, steered by West Indian pilots, followed by a smaller fleet of transports, sloops, and schooners. It seemed only proper that with such ships and such an army as the ships carried, a full and complete list of civil officers should be sent out, to conduct the government of the country to be annexed to His Majesty's Dominions, — revenue collectors, printers, clerks, with printing presses and office paraphernalia. Merchant ships accompanied the squadron to carry home the spoils; and even many ladies, wives of the officers, came along to share in the glory and pleasure of the expedition. "I expect at this moment," remarked Lord Castlereagh, in Paris, almost at the exact date, "that most of the large sea-port towns of America are laid in ashes, that we are in possession of New Orleans, and have command of all the rivers of the Mississippi Valley and the Lakes, and that the Americans are now little better than prisoners in their own country."
The city must indeed have appeared practically defenceless to any foe minded to take it. There was no fortification, properly speaking, at the Balise. Fort St. Philip, on the river, below the city, was small, out of repair, badly equipped and poorly munitioned. Back of the city there was pretty, picturesque, Spanish Fort, a military bauble; a hasty battery had been thrown up where Bayou Chef Menteur joins Bayou Gentilly, and further out, on the Rigolets, was the little mud fort of Petites Coquilles (now Fort Pike). As p220every bayou from lake to river was, in high water, a high road to the city, these had been closed and rafted by order of the government, and, by the same token, Bayou Manchac has remained closed ever since.
Vice-Admiral Cochrane promptly commenced his programme. Forty-five launches and barges, armed with carronades and manned by a thousand soldiers and sailors, were sent to clear the lakes of the American flag.
What the Americans called their fleet on the lakes consisted of six small gunboats, carrying thirty-five guns, commanded by Lieutenant T. Ap Catesby Jones. These had been sent by Commodore Patterson to observe the English fleet, and prevent, if possible, the landing of their troops. If pressed by a superior force, they were to fall back through the Rigolets, upon Fort Petites Coquilles. In obeying his orders, Jones in vain tried to beat through the Rigolets, with the current against him; his boats were carried into the narrow channel between Malheureux Island and Point Clear, where they stuck in the mud. Jones anchored therefore in as close line as he could across the channel, and after a spirited address to his force of one hundred and eighty-two men, awaited the attack.
It was about ten o'clock of a beautiful December morning. The early fog lifted to show the British halting for breakfast, gay, careless, and light-hearted as if on a picnic party. The surface of the lake was without a ripple, the blue heavens without a cloud. At a signal the advance was resumed. On the flotilla came in the beautiful order and in the perfect line and time with which the sturdy English oarsmen had pulled it through the •thirty-six miles without pause or break, from Ship Island, each boat with its glittering brass p221carronade at its prow, its serried files of scarlet uniforms and dazzling crest of bayonets, and the six oars on each side, flashing in and out of the water.
The American boats lay silent, quiet, apparently lifeless. Then, a flash, a roar, and a shot went crashing through the scarlet line. With an answer from their carronades, the British barges leaped forward, and clinched with the gunboats. It was musket to musket, pistol to pistol, cutlass to cutlass, man to man, with shouts and cries, taunts and imprecations, and the steady roar throughout of the American cannon, cutting with deadly aim into the open British barges, capsizing, sinking them; the water spotting with struggling red uniforms.
Two of the American boats were captured, and their guns turned against the others, and the British barges closing in, the American crews one by one were beaten below their own decks and overpowered. By half-past twelve the British flag waved triumphant over Lake Borgne.
The British troops were forwarded in transports from the fleet to the Ile des Pois, near the mouth of Pearl River, a bare little island and a desolate camp, where, with no tents, the men were drenched with dew, and chilled with frosts during the night, and, during the day, parched with the sun; many died from it. From some fisherman it was learned that •about fifty miles west of Ile aux Pois there was a bayou that had not been closed and was not defended and which was navigable by barges for •twelve miles, where it joined a canal, leading to a plantation on the river, a few miles below the city. To test the accuracy of the information, Sir Alexander Cochrane despatched a boat under charge of p222the Hon. Captain Spencer, son of the Earl of Spencer, to reconnoitre the route. Arrived at the Spanish fishermen's village on the banks of Bayou Bienvenu, the young captain and a companion, disguising themselves in the blue shirts and tarpaulins of fishermen, paddled in a pirogue through the bayou and canal (Villeré's), walked to the Mississippi, took a drink of its waters, surveyed the country, interviewed some negroes; and returned with the report that the route was not only practicable, but easy.
Sixteen hundred men and two cannon were embarked immediately for the bayou. The sky was dark and lowering; heavy rains fell during the whole day; the fires of charcoal, which could be kept burning in daylight, were extinguished at night; and the sharp frost cramped the soldiers into numbness. A detail sent in advance on a reconnoissance surprised and captured four pickets, who were held at the mouth of the bayou until the flotilla came up to it. One of the prisoners, a Creole gentleman, was presented to Sir Alexander Cochrane, the British commander, a rough-looking, white-haired old gentleman, dressed in plain and much worn clothing, and to General Keane, a tall, youthful, black-whiskered man in military undress. Their shrewd cross-questioning extracted from the Creole only the false statement that Jackson's forces in the city amounted to twelve thousand men, and that he had stationed four thousand at English Turn. As the untruth had been preconcerted, it was confirmed by the other prisoners, and believed by the British officers.
At dawn the barges entered the bayou. The English sailors, standing to their oars, pushed their heavy loads through the tortuous shallow water. By nine p223o'clock the detachment was safe on shore. "The place," writes the English authority, an officer during the campaign, "was as wild as it is possible to imagine. Gaze where we might, nothing could be seen except a huge marsh covered with tall reeds. The marsh became gradually less and less continuous, being intersected by wide spots of firm ground; the reeds gave place by degrees to wood, and the wood to enclosed fields."
The troops landed, formed into columns, and, pushing after the guides and engineers, began their march. The advance was slow and toilsome enough to such novices in swamping. But cypresses, palmettoes, cane brakes, vines, and mire were at last worried through, the sun began to brighten the ground, and the front ranks quickening their step, broke joyfully into an open field, near the expected canal. Beyond a distant orange grove, the buildings of the Villeré plantation could be seen. Advancing rapidly along the side of the canal, and under cover of the orange grove, a company gained the buildings, and, spreading out, surrounded them. The surprise was absolute. Major Villeré and his brother, sitting on the front gallery of their residence, jumped from their chairs at the sight of redcoats before them; their rush to the other side of the house only showed them that they were bagged.
Secured in one of his own apartments, under guard of British soldiers, the young Creole officer found in his reflections the spur to a desperate attempt to save himself and his race from a suspicion of disloyalty to the United States, which, under the circumstances, might easily be directed against them by the Americans. Springing suddenly through his guards, and p224leaping from a window, he made a rush for the high fence that enclosed his yard, throwing down the soldiers in his way. He cleared the fence at a bound and ran across the open field that separated him from the forest. A shower of musket balls fell around him. "Catch or kill him!" was shouted behind him. But the light, agile Creole, with the Creole hunter's training from infancy, was more than a match for his pursuers in such a race as that. He gained the woods, a swamp, while they were crossing the field, spreading out as they ran to shut him in. He sprang over the boggy earth, into the swamp, until his feet, sinking deeper and deeper, clogged, and stuck. He could hear them panting and blowing, and the orders which made his capture inevitable. There was but one chance; he sprang up a cypress tree, and strove for the thick moss and branches overhead. Half-way up, he heard a whimpering below. It was the voice of his dog, his favourite setter, whining, fawning, and looking up to him with all the pathos of brute fidelity. There was no choice; it was her life or his, and with his, perhaps the surprise and capture of the city. Dropping to the earth, he seized a billet of wood, and aimed one blow between the setter's devoted eyes; with the tears in his own eyes, he used to relate. To throw the body to one side, snatch some brush over it, spring to the tree again, was the work of an instant. As he drew the moss around his crouching figure, and stilled his hard breathing, the British floundered past. When they abandoned their useless search, he slid from his covert, pushed through the swamp to the next plantation, and carried the alarm at full speed to the city.
p225 The British troops moved up the road along the levee, to the upper line of the plantation, and took their position in three columns. Headquarters were established in the Villeré residence, in the yard of which a small battery was thrown up. They were •eight miles from the city and separated from it by fifteen plantations, large and small. By pushing forward, General Keane in two hours could have reached the city, and the battle of New Orleans would have taken place then and there, and most probably a different decision would have been wrested from victory. The British officers strongly urged this bold line of action, but Keane believing the statement that General Jackson had an army of about fifteen thousand in New Orleans, a force double his own, feared being cut off from the fleet. He therefore concluded to delay his advance until the other divisions came up. This was on the twenty-third day of December.
"Gentlemen," said Jackson to his aids and secretaries, at half-past one o'clock, when Villeré had finished his report, "the British are below; we must fight them to‑night."
He issued his orders summoning his small force from their various posts. Plauche's battalion was •two miles away, at Bayou St. John, Coffee •five miles off, at Avart's, the coloured battalion, at Gentilly. They were commanded to proceed immediately to Montreuil's plantation below the city, where they would be joined by the regulars. Commodore Patterson was directed to get the gunboat "Carolina" under way. As the Cathedral clock was striking three, from every quarter of the city troops were seen coming at a quickstep through the streets, each company with its own vernacular music, p226Yankee Doodle, La Marseillaise, Le Chant du Départ. The ladies and children crowded the balconies and windows to wave handkerchiefs and applaud; the old men stood upon the banquettes waving their hats and with more sorrow in their eyes and heart over their impotence than age had ever yet wrung from them.
Jackson, on horseback, with the regulars drawn up at his right, waited at the gate of Fort St. Charles to review the troops as they passed. The artillery were already below, in possession of the road. The first to march down after them were Beale's rifles, or, as New Orleans calls them, Beale's famous rifles, in their blue hunting shirts and citizens' hats, their long bores over their shoulders, sharp-shooters and picked shots every one of them, all young, active, intelligent volunteers, from the best in the professional and business circles, asking but one favour, the post of danger. At a hand gallop, and with a cloud of dust, came Hinds's dragoons, delighting General Jackson by their gallant, dare-devil bearing. After them Jackson's companion in arms, the great Coffee, trotted at the head of his mounted gun-men, with their long hair and unshaved faces, in dingy woolen hunting shirts, copperas dyed trousers, coonskin caps, and leather belts stuck with hunting knives and tomahawks. "Forward at a gallop!" was Coffee's order, after a word with General Jackson, and so they disappeared. Through a side street marched a gay, varied mass of colour, men all of a size, but some mere boys in age, with the handsome, regular features, flashing eyes and unmistakable martial bearing of the French. "Ah! Here come the brave Creoles," cries Jackson, and Plauche's battalion, which had come in on a run from Bayou St. John, stepped gallantly by.
p227 And after these, under their white commander, defiled the Freemen of colour, and then passed down the road a band of a hundred Choctaw Indians in their war paint; last of all, the Regulars. Jackson still waited until a small dark schooner left the opposite bank of the river and slowly moved down the current. This was the "Carolina," under Commodore Patterson. Then Jackson clapped spurs to his horse, and, followed by his aids, galloped after his army.
The veteran corps took the patrol of the now deserted streets. The ladies retired from balcony and window, with their brave smiles and fluttering handkerchiefs, and, hastening to their respective posts, assembled in coteries to prepare lint and bandages, and cut and sew, for many of their defenders and Jackson's warriors had landed on the levee in a ragged if not destitute condition. Before Jackson left Fort St. Charles, a message had been sent to him from one of these coteries, asking what they were to do in case the city was attacked. "Say to the ladies," he replied, "not to be uneasy. No British soldier shall ever enter the city as an enemy, unless over my dead body."
As the rumoured war-cry of the British was "Beauty and Booty," many of the ladies, besides thimbles and needles, had provided themselves with small daggers, which they wore in their belts.
Here it is the custom of local pride to pause and enumerate the foes set in array against the men hastening down the levee road.
First, always, there was that model regiment, the Ninety-third Highlanders, in their bright tartans and kilts, men chosen for stature and strength, whose broad breasts, wide shoulders, and stalwart figures, p228widened their ranks into a formidable appearance. The Prince of Orange and his staff had journeyed from London to Plymouth to review them before they embarked. Then there were six companies of the Ninety-fifth Rifles; the famous Rifle Brigade of the Peninsular Campaign; the Fourteenth Regiment, the Duchess of York's Light Dragoons; two West Indian regiments, with artillery, rocket brigade, sapper and engineer corps — in all, four thousand three hundred men, under command of Major-General John Keane, a young officer whose past reputation for daring and gallantry has been proudly kept bright by the traditions of his New Orleans foes. To these were added General Ross's three thousand men, fresh from their brilliant Baltimore and Washington raid. Choice troops they were, the gallant and distinguished Fourth, or King's Own, the Forty-fourth, East Essex Foot, the Eighty-fifth, Buck Volunteers, commanded by one of the most brilliant officers in the British service, Col. William Thornton; the twenty-first Royal, North British Fusileers, — with the exception of the Black Regiments and the Highlanders, all tried veterans, who had fought with Wellington through his Peninsular campaign from the beginning to his triumphant entry into France.
Only the first boat loads, eighteen hundred men, were in Villeré's field on the afternoon of the twenty-third. They lay around their bivouac fires, about •two hundred yards from the levee, enjoying their rest and the digestion of the bountiful supper of fresh meat, poultry, milk, eggs, and delicacies, which had been added to their rations by a prompt raid on the neighbouring plantations. General Keane and Colonel Thornton paced the gallery of the Villeré house, glancing at each p229turn towards the wood, for the sight of the coming of the next division of the army.
The only hostile demonstration during the afternoon had been the firing of the outpost upon a reconnoitering squad of dragoons and a bold dash down the road a detachment of Hinds's horsemen, who, after a cool, impudent survey of the British camp, had galloped away again under a volley from the Rifles.
Darkness gathered over the scene. The sentinels were doubled, and officers walked their rounds in watchful anxiety. About seven o'clock some of them observed a boat stealing slowly down the river. From her careless approach, they thought she must be one of their own cruisers which had passed the forts below and was returning from a reconnoissance of the river. She answered neither hail nor musket shot, but steered steadily on, veering in close ashore until her broadside was abreast of the camp. Then her anchor was let loose, and a loud voice was heard: "Give them this, for the honour of America." A flash lighted the dark hulk, and a tornado of grape and musket shot swept the levee and field. It was the "Carolina" and Commodore Patterson; volley after volley followed with deadly rapidity and precision; the sudden and terrible havoc threw the camp into blind disorder. The men ran wildly to and fro, seeking shelter until Thornton ordered them to get under cover of the levee. There, according to the British version, they lay for an hour. The night was so black that not an object could be distinguished at the distance of a yard.a The bivouac fires, beat about by the enemy's shot, burned red and dull in the deserted camp.
A straggling fire of musketry in the direction of the p230pickets gave warning of a closer struggle. It paused a few moments, then a fearful yell, and the whole heavens seemed ablaze with musketry. The British thought themselves surrounded. Two regiments flew to support the pickets, another, forming in close column, stole to the rear of the encampment and remained there as a reserve. After that, all order, all discipline, were lost. Each officer, as he succeeded in collecting twenty or thirty men about him, plunged into the American ranks, and began the fight that Pakenham reported as: "A more extraordinary conflict has, perhaps, never occurred, absolutely hand to hand, both officers and men."
Jackson had marshaled his men along the line of a plantation canal (the Rodriguez Canal), about •two miles from the British. He himself led the attack on their left. Coffee, with the Tennesseans, Hinds's dragoons, and Beale's rifles, skirting along the edge of the swamp, made the assault on their right. The broadside from the "Carolina" was the signal to start. It was on the right that the fiercest fighting was done. Coffee ordered his men to be sure of their aim, to fire at a short distance, and not to lose a shot. Trained to the rifle from childhood, the Tennesseans could fire faster and more surely than any mere soldier could ever hope to do. Wherever they heard the sharp crack of a British rifle, they advanced, and the British were as eager to meet them. The short rifle of the English service proved also no match for the long bore of the Western hunters. When they came to close quarters, neither side having bayonets, they clubbed their guns to the ruin of many a fine weapon. But the canny Tennesseans rather than risk their rifles, their own property, used for close quarters p231their long knives and tomahawks, whose skilful handling they had learned from the Indians.
The second division of British troops, coming up the Bayou, heard the firing, and, pressing forward with all speed, arrived in time to reinforce their right; but the superiority in numbers which this gave them was more than offset by the guns of the "Carolina," which maintained their fire during the action, and long after it was over.
A heavy fog, as in Homeric times, obscuring the field and the combatants, put an end to the struggle. Jackson withdrew his men to Rodriguez Canal, the British fell back to their camp.
A number of prisoners were made on both sides. Among the Americans taken were a handful of New Orleans' most prominent citizens, who were sent to the fleet at Ship Island. The most distinguished prisoner made by the Americans was Major Mitchell, of the Ninety-fifth Rifles, and to his intense chagrin he was forced to yield his sword, not to regulars, but to Coffee's uncourtly Tennesseans. It was this feeling that dictated his answer to Jackson's courteous message requesting that he would make known any requisite for his comfort; "Return my compliments to General Jackson, and say that as my baggage will reach me in a few days I shall be able to dispense with his polite attentions." The chronicler of this anecdote aptly adds, that had the major persisted in this rash determination, he would never have been in a condition to partake of the hospitalities which were lavished upon him during his detention in New Orleans and Natchez, where the prisoners were sent. On his way to natchez he became the guest at a plantation famed for its elegance and luxury. At the supper table he met p232the daughter of the house, a young Creole girl as charming and accomplished as she was beautiful. Speaking French fluently, he was soon engaged in a lively conversation with her. She mentioned with enthusiasm a party of Tennesseans entertained by her father a few days before. Still smarting from his capture, the major could not refrain from saying: "Mademoiselle, I am astonished that one so refined could find pleasure in the society of such rude barbarians." "Major," she replied with glowing face, "I had rather be the wife of one of those hardy, coarsely clad men who have marched two thousand miles to fight for the honour of their country, than wear a coronet."
To return to the battlefield. The Rodriguez Canal, with its embankment, formed a pretty good line of fortifications in itself. Jackson, without the loss of an hour's time, sent to the city for spades and picks, and set his army to work deepening the canal and strengthening the embankment. For the latter, any material within reach was used, timber, fence-rails, bales of cotton (which is the origin of the myth that he fought behind ramparts of cotton bales). His men, most of them handling a spade for the first and last time in their lives, dug as they had fought a few hours before, every stroke aimed to tell.
General Jackson established his headquarters in the residence of the Macarty plantation, within two hundred yards of his entrenchments.
The British passed a miserable night. Not until the last fire was extinguished, and the fog completely veiled the field, did the "Carolina" cease her firing and move to the other side of the river. The men, shivering on the damp ground, exposed to the cold, p233moist atmosphere, with now none but their scant, half-spoiled rations, were depressed and discouraged, and the officers were more anxious and uncertain than ever, and more completely in error as to the force opposed to them. From the intrepidity and boldness of the Americans, they imagined that at least five thousand men had been in the field that night. Other observations strengthened this misapprehension; each volunteer company, with its different uniform, represented to military minds so many different regiments, a tenfold multiplication of the Americans. Besides, in the din of commands, cries, and answers, as much French was heard as English. The truth began to dawn upon the British, that, much as the Creoles hated the Americans, they were not going to allow a foreign invader to occupy a land which they considered theirs by right of original discovery, occupation, and development, whatever might be the flag or form of government over them.
The dawning of the twenty-fourth disclosed in the river another vessel, the "Louisiana," in position near the "Carolina," and all day the camp lay helpless under their united cannonading. A gloomier Christmastide, as our genial chronicler Walker puts it, could hardly be imagined for the sons of Merrie England. Had it been in the day of the cable, they would have known that their hardships and bloodshed were over, that at that very date, the twenty-fourth of December, the peace that terminated the war between the two contending countries was being signed in Ghent. The unexpected arrival, however, on Christmas day, of the new commander-in‑chief, Sir Edward Pakenham, accompanied by a distinguished staff, sent through the hearts of the British a thrill of their wonted all-conquering p234confidence, and the glad cheers of welcome that greeted Sir Edward from his old companions in arms and veterans of the Peninsula rang over into the American camp.
Well might Jackson's men, as they heard it, bend with more dogged determination over their spades and picks. Sir Edward Pakenham was too well known in a place so heavily populated from Europe as New Orleans was, not to make the thrill of joy in his own army a thrill of apprehension in an opposing one. It is perhaps from this thrill of apprehension, at that moment in their breasts, that dates the pride of the people of New Orleans in Pakenham, and the affectionate tribute of homage which they always interrupt their account of the glorious eighth to pay to him.
The son of the Earl of Longford, he came from a family which had been ennobled for its military qualities. From his lieutenancy he had won every grade by some perilous service, and generally at the cost of a wound; few officers, even of that hard-fighting day, had encountered so many perils and hardships, and had so many wounds to show for them. He had fought side by side, with Wellington (who was his brother-in‑law) through the Peninsular War; he headed the storming party at Badajoz; and actually the second man to mount one of the ladders; and as brigadier of the Old Fighting Third, under Picton, in the absence by illness of his chief, he led the charge at Salamanca, which gained the victory for England and won him his knighthood. An earldom and the governorship of Louisiana, it is said, had been promised him as the reward of his American expedition, an expedition which the government had at first seriously contemplated confiding to no less a leader than the Iron Duke himself.
p235 Sir Edward's practised eye soon took in the difficulties and embarrassments of the British position. His council of war was prolonged far into the night, and among the anxiously waiting subalterns outside the rumour was whispered that their chief was so dissatisfied after receiving Keane's full report that he had but little hope of success, and that he even thought of withdrawing the army and making a fresh attempt in another quarter. But the sturdy veteran Sir Alexander Cochrane, would hear of no such word as fail. "If the army," he said, "shrinks from the task, I will fetch the sailors and marines from the fleet, and with them storm the American lines and march to the city. The soldiers can then," he added, "bring up the baggage."
The result of the council was the decision, first, to silence the "Carolina" and "Louisiana," then to carry the American lines by storm. All the large cannon that could be spared were ordered from the fleet, and by the night of the twenty-sixth a powerful battery was planted on the levee. The next morning it opened fire on the vessels, which answered with broadsides; a furious cannonading ensued. Pakenham, standing in full view on the levee, cheered his artillerists. Jackson, from the dormer window of the Macarty mansion, kept his telescope riveted on his boats. The bank of the river above and below the American camp was lined with spectators watching with breathless interest the tempest of cannon balls, bursting shells, hot shot, and rockets pouring from levee and gunboats. In half an hour the "Carolina" was struck, took fire, and blew up. The British gave three loud cheers. The "Louisiana" strained every nerve to get out of reach of the terrible battery now directed full upon her, but with wind and p236current against her she seemed destined to the fate of the "Carolina," when her officers bethought them of towing, and so moved her slowly up stream. As she dropped her anchors opposite the American camp, her crew gave three loud cheers, in defiant answer to the British. That evening the British army, in two columns, under Keane and Gibbs, moved forward, the former by the levee road, the latter under cover of the woods, to within six hundred yards of the American lines, where they encamped for the night. But there was little sleep or rest for them. The American riflemen, with individual enterprise, bushwhacked them without intercession, driving in their outposts and picking off picket after picket, a mode of warfare that the English, fresh from Continental etiquette, indignantly branded as barbarous.b
Jackson, with his telescope, had seen from the Macarty house the line of Pakenham's action, and set to work to resist it, giving his aids a busy night's work. He strengthened his battery on the levee, added a battery to command the road, reinforced his infantry, and cut the levee so that the rising river would flood the road. The Mississippi proved recreant, however, and fell, instead of rising, and the road remained undamaged.
The American force now consisted of four thousand men and twenty pieces of artillery, not counting the always formidable guns of the "Louisiana," commanding the situation from her vantage ground of the river. The British columns held eight thousand men.
The morning was clear and frosty; the sun, breaking through the mists, shone with irradiating splendour. The British ranks advanced briskly in a new elation of spirits after yesterday's success. Keane marched his p237column as near the levee as possible, and under screen of the buildings of the two plantations, Bienvenu's and Chalmette's, intervening between him and the American line; Gibbs hugged the woods on the right. The Ninety-fifth extended across the field, in skirmishing order, meeting Keane's men on their right. Pakenham, with his staff and a guard composed of the 14th Dragoons, rode in the centre of the line so as to command a view of both columns. Just as Keane's column passed the Bienvenu buildings, the Chalmette buildings were blown up, and then the general saw, through his glasses, the mouths of Jackson's large cannon completely covering his column, and these guns, as our authority states, were manned as guns are not often manned on land. Around one of the twenty-four pounders stood a band of red-shirted, bewhiskered, desperate-looking men, begrimed with smoke and mud; they were the Baratarians, who had answered Jackson's orders by running in all the way from their fort on Bayou St. John that morning. The other battery was in charge of the practised crew of the destroyed "Carolina." Preceded by a shower of rockets, and covered by the fire from their artillery in front and their battery on the levee, the British army advanced, solid, coo, steady, beautiful in the rhythm of their step and the glitter of their uniforms and equipments, moving as if on dress parade, — to the Americans a display of the beauty and majesty of power such as they had never seen.
The great guns of the Baratarians and of the crew of the "Carolina" and those of the "Louisiana" flashed forth almost simultaneously, and all struck full in the scarlet ranks. The havoc was terrible. For a time p238Keane held his men firm in a vain display of valour, under the pitiless destructive fire, no shot or bullet missing its aim or falling short. Then the Americans saw the heaving columns change to a thin red streak, which disappeared from view as under the wand of an enchanter, the men dropping into the ditches, burying head and shoulders in the rushes on the banks. Pakenham's face grew dark and gloomy at the sight. Never before, it is said, had a British soldier in his presence quailed before an enemy or sought cover from a fire.
Gibbs had fared no better. He who had led the storming party against Fort Cornelius, who had scaled the parapets of Badajoz and the walls of St. Sebastian, could not but despise the low levee and the narrow ditch of the American fortifications; but after one ineffectual dash at the enemy's line, his men could be brought to accomplish nothing, remaining inactive in the shelter of the woods until ordered to retire. As the American batteries continued to sweep the field, the British troops could be withdrawn only by breaking into small squads and so escaping to the rear. Sir Thomas Trowbridge, dashing forward with a squad of seamen to the dismounted guns, succeeded, with incredible exertion, in tying ropes to them and drawing them off.
The British army remained on the Bienvenu plantation. Pakenham and his staff rode back to their headquarters at Villeré's. Another council of war was called. Pakenham's depression was now quite evident, but the stout-hearted Cochrane again stood indomitably firm. He showed that their failure thus far was due to the superiority of the American artillery. They must supply this deficiency by bringing more large guns from p239the fleet, and equip a battery strong enough to cope with the few old guns of the Americans. It was suggested that the Americans were intrenched. "So must we be," he replied promptly. It was determined, therefore, to treat the American lines as regular fortifications, by erecting batteries against them, and so attempting to silence their guns. Three days were consumed in the herculean labour of bringing the necessary guns from the fleet. While the British were thus employed, Commodore Patterson constructed a battery on the opposite side of the river, equipped it with cannon from the "Louisiana" and manned it by an impressment of every nautical-looking character to be found in the sailor boarding-houses of New Orleans, gathering together as motley a corps as ever fought under one flag, natives of all countries except Great Britain, speaking every language except that of their commander.
On the night of the thirty-first, one-half of the British army marched silently to within about four hundred yards of Jackson's line, where they stacked their arms and went to work with spades and picks under the superintendence of Sir John Burgoyne. The night was dark; silence was rigidly enforced; officers joined in the work. Before the dawn of New Year, 1815, there faced the American lines three solid demilunes, at nearly equal distances apart, armed with thirty pieces of heavy ordnance, furnished with ammunition for six hours, and served by picked gunners of the fleet, veterans of Nelson and Collingswood. As soon as their work was completed, the British infantry fell back to the rear and awaited anxiously the beginning of operations, ready to take advantage of the expected p240breach in the American works. The sailors and artillerists stood with lighted matches behind their redoubts. A heavy fog hung over the field, so that neither army could see twenty yards ahead. In the American camp, a grand parade had been ordered. At an early hour the troops were astir, in holiday cleanliness and neatness. The different bands sounded their bravest strains; the various standards of the regiments and companies fluttered gaily in the breeze. The British had one glance at it, as the fog rolled up, and then their cannon crashed through the scene. For a moment the American camp trembled, and there was confusion, not of panic, but of men rushing to their assigned posts. By the time the British smoke cleared every man was in his place, and as the British batteries came into view their answer was ready for them. Jackson strode down the line, stopping at each battery, waving his cap as the men cheered him.
During the fierce cannonade the cotton bales in the American breastworks caught fire, and there was a moment of serious peril to that part of the line, but they were dragged out and cast into the trench. The English were no happier in their use of hogsheads of sugar in their redoubts, the cannon balls perforating them easily and demolishing them.
In an hour and a half the British fire began to slacken, and as the smoke lifted it was seen that their entrenchments were beaten in, the guns exposed, and the gunners badly thinned. Not long after their batteries were completely silenced and their parapets levelled with the plain. The British battery on the levee had, with their hot shot, kept the "Louisiana" at a distance, but now the Americans turning their attention p241to it, that battery was reduced to the same condition as the redoubts.
The English army again retired, baffled, and during the night, such of their guns as had not been destroyed were removed. The soldiers did not conceal their discouragement. For two whole days and nights there had been no rest in camp, except for those that were cool enough to sleep in a shower of cannon balls. From the general down to the meanest sentinel, all had suffered in the severe strain of fatigue. They saw that they were greatly overmatched in artillery, their provisions were scant and coarse, they had, properly speaking, no rest at night, and sickness was beginning to appear.
Sir Edward had one more plan, one worthy of his bold character. It was to storm the American lines on both sides of the river, beginning with the right bank, which would enable the British to turn the conquered batteries on Jackson's lines, and drive him from his position and cut him off from the city.
By the 7th of January, with another heroic exertion, Villeré's Canal was prolonged •two miles to the river, and the barges to transport the troops to the other bank carried through. During the delay a reinforcement arrived, two fine regiments, Pakenham's own, the Seventh Fusileers, and the Forty-third, under Major-General John Lambert, also one of Wellington's apprentices. Pakenham divided his army, now ten thousand strong, into three brigades, under command respectively of Generals Lambert, Gibbs, and Keane. His plan of attack was simple. Colonel Thornton, with fourteen hundred men, was to cross the river during the night of the seventh and steal upon and p242carry the American line before day. At a signal to be given by him, Gibbs was to storm the American left, whilst General Keane should threaten their right; Lambert held the reserve.
Jackson steadied himself for what he understood to be the last round in the encounter. He also had received a reinforcement. A few days before, the long expected drafted militia of Kentucky, twenty-two hundred men, arrived, but arrived in a condition that made them a questionable addition to his strength. Hurried from their homes without supplies, they had travelled •fifteen hundred miles without demur, under the impression that the government would plentifully furnish and equip them in New Orleans. Only about a third were armed, with old muskets, and nearly all of them were in want of clothing. The poor fellows had to hold their tattered garments together to hide their nakedness as they marched through the streets. The government of course did nothing. The citizens, acutely moved, raised a sum of sixteen thousand dollars and expended it for blankets and woolens. The latter were distributed among the ladies, and by them, in a few days, made into comfortable garments for their needy defenders.
The American force now amounted to about four thousand men on the left bank of the river. One division of it, the right, was commanded by General Ross, the other by General Coffee, whose line extended so far in the swamp that his men stood in the water during the day and at night slept on floating logs made fast to trees; every man "half a horse and half an alligator," as the song says.c The artillery and the fortifications had been carefully strengthened and p243repaired. Another line of defence had been prepared •a mile and a half in the rear, where were stationed all who were not well armed or were regarded as not able-bodied. A third line, for another stand in case of defeat, still nearer the city, was being vigorously worked upon.
Owing to the caving of the banks of the canal, Thornton could get only enough boats launched in the river to carry seven hundred of his men across: these the current of the Mississippi bore a mile and a half below the landing-place selected, and it was daylight before they reached there.
Gibbs and Keane marched their divisions to within sight of the dark line of the American breastworks, and waited impatiently for the signal of Thornton's guns. Not a sound could be heard from him. In fact he had not yet landed his men. Although sensible that concert of action with the troops on the right bank had failed, and that his movement was hopelessly crippled, Pakenham, obstinate, gallant, and reckless, would, nevertheless, not rescind his first orders. When the morning mists lifted, his columns were in motion across the field.
Gibbs was leading his division coolly and steadily through the grape-shot pouring upon it, when it began to be whispered among the men that the Forty-fourth, who were detailed for the duty, had not brought the ladders and fascines. Pakenham riding to the front and finding it was true, ordered Colonel Mullen and the delinquent regiment according to for them. In the confusion and delay, with his brave men falling all around him, the indignant Gibbs exclaimed furiously: "Let me live until to‑morrow, and I'll hang him to the highest p244tree in that swamp!" Rather than stand exposed to the terrible fire, he ordered his men forward. "On they went," says Walker (who got his description from eye-witnesses), "in solid, compact order, the men hurrahing and the rocketers covering their front with a blaze of combustibles. The American batteries played upon them with awful effect, cutting great lanes through the column from front to rear, opening huge gaps in their flanks. . . . Still the column advanced without pause or recoil, steadily; then all the batteries in the American line, including Patterson's marine battery on the right bank, joined in hurling a tornado of iron missiles into that serried scarlet column, which shook and oscillated as if tossed on an angry sea. 'Stand to your guns!' cried Jackson, 'don't waste your ammunition, see that every shot tells,' and again, 'Give it to them, boys! Let us finish the business to‑day.' "
On the summit of the parapet stood the corps of Tennessee sharp-shooters, with their rifles sighted, and behind them, two lines of Kentuckians to take their places so soon as they had fired. The redcoats were now within two hundred yards of the ditch. "Fire! Fire!" Carroll's order rang through the lines. It was obeyed, not hurriedly, not excitedly, not confusedly, but calmly and deliberately, the men calculating the range of their guns. Not a shot was thrown away. Nor was it one or several discharges, followed by pauses and interruptions; it was continuous, the men firing, falling back and advancing, with mechanical precision. The British column began to melt away under it like snow before a torrent; but Gibbs still led it on, and the gallant Peninsula officers, throwing themselves in front, p245incited and aroused their men by every appeal and by the most brilliant examples of courage. "Where are the Forty-fourth," called the men, "with the fascines and ladders? When we get to the ditch we cannot scale the lines!" "Here come the Forty-fourth!" shouted Gibbs, "Here come the Forty-fourth!" There came, at least, a detachment of the Forty-fourth, with Pakenham himself at the head, rallying and inspiring them, invoking their heroism in the past, reminding them of their glory in Egypt and elsewhere, calling them his countrymen, leading them forward, until they breasted the storm of bullets with the rest of the column. At this moment Pakenham's arm was struck by one ball, his horse killed by another. He mounted the small black Creole pony of his aid, and pressed forward. But the column had now reached the physical limit of daring. Most of the officers were cut down; there were not enough left to command. The column broke. Some rushed forward to the ditch; the rest fell back to the swamp. There they rallied, reformed, and throwing off their knapsacks advanced again, and again were beaten back; their colonel scaling the breastworks and falling dead inside the lines.
Keane, judging the moment had come for him to act, now wheeled his line into column and pushed forward with the Ninety-third in front. The gallant, stalwart Highlanders, with their heavy, solid, massive front of a hundred men, their muskets glittering in the morning sun, their tartans waving in the air, strode across the field and into the hell of bullets and cannon balls. "Hurrah! brave Highlanders!" Pakenham cried to them, waving his cap in his left hand. Fired by their intrepidity, the remnant of Gibbs's brigade p246once more came up to the charge, with Pakenham on the left and Gibbs on the right.
A shot from one of the American big guns crashed into them, killing and wounding all around. Pakenham's horse fell; he rolled into the arms of an officer who sprang forward to receive him; a grape-shot had passed through his thigh; another ball struck him in the groin. He was borne to the rear, and in a few moments breathed his last under an oak. The bent and twisted, venerable old tree still stands, Pakenham's oak, it is called.
Near the battle-ground.
Gibbs, desperately wounded, lingered in agony until the next day. Keane was carried bleeding off the field. There were no field officers now left to command or rally. Major Wilkinson however, — we like to remember his name, — shouting to his men to follow, passed the ditch, climbed up the breastworks, and was raising his head and shoulders over the parapet, when a dozen guns pointed against him riddled him with bullets. His mutilated body was carried through the American lines, followed by murmurs of sympathy and regret from the Tennesseans and Kentuckians. "Bear up, my dear fellow, you are too brave to die," bade a kind-hearted Kentucky major. "I thank you from my heart," faintly murmured the young officer; "it is all p247over with me. You can render me a favour. It is to communicate to my commander that I fell on your parapet, and died like a soldier and true Englishman."
The British troops at last broke, disorganized, each regiment leaving two-thirds dead or wounded on the field. The Ninety-third, which had gone into the charge nine hundred men strong, mustered after the retreat one hundred and thirty-nine. The fight had lasted twenty-five minutes.
Hearing of the death of Pakenham and the wounding of Gibbs and Keane, General Lambert advanced with the reserve. Just before he received his last wound, Pakenham had ordered one of his staff to call up the reserve, but as the bugler was about to sound the advance, his arm was struck with a ball and his bugle fell to the ground. The order, therefore, was never given, and the reserve marched up only to cover the retreat of the two other brigades.
At eight o'clock the firing ceased from the American lines, and Jackson, with his staff, slowly walked along his fortifications, stopping at each command to make a short address. As he passed, the bands struck up "Hail Columbia," and the line of men, turning to face him, burst into loud hurrahs.
But the cries of exultation died away into exclamations of pity and horror as the smoke ascended from the field. A thin, fine red line in the distance, discovered by glasses, indicated the position of General Lambert and the reserve. Upon the field, save the crawling, agonizing wounded, not a living foe was to be seen. From the American ditch, one could have walked a quarter of a mile on the killed and disabled. The course of the column will be distinctly traced by the broad line of uniforms upon the ground. They fell in their tracks, in some places whole platoons together. Dressed in their gay uniforms, cleanly shaved and attired for the promised victory, there was not, as Walker says, a private among the slain whose aspect did not present more of the pomp and circumstance of war than any of the commanders of their victors.
About noon, a British officer, with a trumpeter and a soldier bearing a white flag, approached the camp, bearing a written proposition for an armistice to bury the dead. It was signed "Lambert." General Jackson returned it, with a message that the signer of the letter had forgotten to designate his authority and rank, which was necessary before any negotiations could be entered into. The flag of truce retired to the British lines, and soon returned with the full signature, "John Lambert, Commander-in‑Chief of the British forces."
On the right bank of the river it was the British who were victorious. The Americans, yielding to panic, fled disgracefully, as people with shame relate to this day. It was on this side of the river that the British acquired the small flag which hangs among the trophies of the Peninsular War, in Whitehall, with the inscription: "Taken at the battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815."
The bodies of the officers were first delivered. Some of them were buried that night in Villeré's garden by torch-light; the rest were hastily interred in the rear of Bienvenu's plantation; the remains of Gibbs and Pakenham were conveyed to England. Of the six thousand men who made the attack on Jackson's lines, the British report a loss of nineteen hundred and p249twenty-nine. The American estimates increase this to two thousand six hundred. The Americans had eight men killed and thirteen wounded.
The prisoners and wounded were sent to the city. Some of the little boys of the time, now in their nineties, who watched the slow, sad cortege, tell of their childish pity and sympathy for them, and their admiration for the great, tall, handsome prisoners, in their fine uniforms.
The citizens pressed forward to tender their aid for the wounded. The hospitals being crowded, private houses were thrown open, and the quadroon nurses, the noted quadroon nurses of the city, offered their services and gave their best skill and care at the bedside of the English sufferers.
As soon as the armistice expired, the American batteries resumed their firing. Colonel Thornton with his men recrossed the river during the night of the eighth. From the ninth to the eighteenth a small squadron of the British fleet made an ineffectual attempt to pass Fort St. Philip.d Had it timed its action better with Pakenham's, his defeat might at least have cost his enemies dearer.
On the 18th of January took place the exchange of prisoners, and New Orleans received again her sorely missed citizens. Although their detention from the stirring scenes of the camp formed in their lives one of the unforgivable offences of destiny, their courteous, kindly, pleasant treatment by the British naval officers was one of the reminiscences which gilded the memories of the period.
Sir John Lambert's retreat was the ablest measure of the British campaign. To retire in boats was impracticable; p250there were not boats enough, and it was not safe to divide the army. A road was therefore opened, along the bank of the bayou, across the prairie to the lake, a severe and difficult task that occupied nine days. All the wounded, except those who could not be removed, the field artillery and stores, were placed in barges and conveyed to the fleet, the ship guns were spiked, and on the night of the eighteenth the army was stealthily and quietly formed into column. The camp-fires were lighted as usual, the sentinels posted, each one provided with a stuffed dummy to put in his stead when the time came for him to join the march in the rear of the column. They marched all night, reaching the shores of Lake Borgne at break of day.
Early in the morning of the nineteenth, rumours of the retreat of the English began to circulate in the American camp. Officers and men collected in groups on the parapet to survey the British camp. It presented pretty much the same appearance as usual, with its huts, flags, and sentinels. General Jackson, looking through his telescope from Macarty's window, could not convince himself that the enemy had gone. At last General Humbert, one of Napoleon's veterans, was called upon for his opinion. He took a look through the telescope, and immediately exclaimed: "They are gone!" When asked the reason for his belief, he pointed to a crow flying very near one of the sentinels.
While a reconnoitering party was being formed, a flag of truce approached. It brought a courteous letter from General Lambert, announcing the departure of the British army, and soliciting the kind attentions of General Jackson to the sick and wounded, whom he was compelled to leave behind. The circumstances of these p251wounded men being made known in the city, a number of ladies drove immediately down the coast in their carriages with articles for their comfort.
The British fleet left the Gulf shores on the 17th of March. When it reached England, it received the news that Napoleon had escaped and that Europe was up again in arms. Most of the troops were at once re-embarked for Belgium, to join Wellington's army. General Lambert, knighted for gallantry at New Orleans, distinguished himself at Waterloo.
A handsome tablet in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, commemorates Pakenham's gallant life and heroic death.
Walker relates that the Duke of Wellington, after the battle of New Orleans, always cherished a great admiration for General Jackson, and when introduced to American visitors never failed to inquire after his health.
a According to the U. S. Naval Observatory, at New Orleans (30N00, 90W07) on December 23, 1814, the sun set at 5:06 P.M. CST; the moon had already risen, waning gibbous and 86% illuminated, at 2:33 P.M. CST, and would set not long before sunrise, at 4:10 A.M. (Central Standard Time did not exist in 1814; but no significant correction is to be made since New Orleans is almost exactly on the 90° central meridian.) Thus, assuming clear weather, the battle was lit by the light of a bright moon high in the sky.
b I wonder whether this is the author's idea, or is actually in the sources. The Peninsular War was notable for the guerilla tactics of these same troops' Spanish allies; for the British to complain of finding their American adversaries using the same methods would have been disingenuous.
c The song is The Hunters of Kentucky, which ultimately became the Jackson presidential campaign song. Score and lyrics, with MIDI files, are online (if disconcertingly preceded by the original words to the music, a different song altogether) at Erich Rickheit's version of the Digital Tradition database; another version of the lyrics, with a richer MIDI file and some useful links related to the Battle of New Orleans, may be found at Contemplations from the Marianas Trench.
d For the 9‑day siege of Fort St. Philip, 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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