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Am. Dom., Ch. 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Louisiana

Charles Gayarré

in the edition published by
William J. Widdleton,
New York, 1867

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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Am. Dom., Ch. 10
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p379  Chapter IX
Governor Claiborne's Administration — Naval Engagement on Lake Borgne — Refusal of the Legislature to Suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus and to Adjourn — Arrival of General Jackson — Battle of the 23d of December.

General Jackson arrived in New Orleans on the 1st of December.​1 He was emphatically the man for the occasion; for not only did he possess military talents of the highest order, but his love of country was intense, his energy of character unsurpassed, his decision as prompt as his comprehension of exigencies was clear and rapid. He was, above all, pre-eminently gifted with that precious faculty which Nature imparts to some of her favorites among the predestinated rulers of men — the faculty of subjecting the minds of others to his own by that kind of magnetism which seems to emanate from an iron will. Where that man was as a chief, there could be, within the legitimate sphere of his action, but one controlling and directing power. All responsibility would be unhesitatingly assumed and made to rest entirely on that unity of volition which he represented. Such qualifications were eminently needed for the protection of a city containing a motley population, which was without any natural elements of cohesion, and in which abounded distraction of counsel, conflicting opinions, wishes and  p380 feelings, and much diffidence as to the possibility of warding off the attack with which it was threatened by a powerful enemy. Various measures had been discussed, but none effectively executed. Governor Claiborne, Commodore Patterson, the Military Commandant of New Orleans, and a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Legislature, had frequently met on the subject, but their deliberations had led to no practical results. There was a multitude of advice and schemes, but nothing was done, whilst the population was becoming daily more excited and alarmed on hearing of the nearer approach of the enemy. "There was wanting," says Major Lacarriere Latour,​2 in his very interesting memoir, page 53, "that concentration of power so necessary for the success of military operations. The citizens, having very little confidence in their civil or military authorities for the defence of the country, were filled with distrust and gloomy apprehensions. Miserable disputes on account of two different Committees of Defence, unfortunately countenanced by the presence and influence of several public officers, had driven the people to despondency; they complained, and not without cause, that the Legislature wasted time, and consumed the money of the State in idle discussions on empty formalities of election, while all their time and all the wealth which they squandered might be profitably employed in the defence of the country. Credit was annihilated; already for several months had the Banks suspended the payment of their notes; to supply the want of specie one and three dollar notes had been issued, and dollars had been cut as a substitute for small change. On the Banks refusing specie, the moneyed men had drawn in all their funds, which  p381 they no longer lent out without a usurious interest of three or four per cent per month. Every one was distressed, confidence had ceased, and with it almost every species of business. Our situation seemed desperate."

It was in these circumstances that General Jackson made his appearance. His very physiognomy prognosticated what soul was incased within the spare but well-ribbed form which had that "lean and hungry look" described by England's greatest bard as bespeaking little sleep of nights, but much of ambition, self-reliance, and impatience of control. His lip and eye denoted the man of unyielding temper, and his very hair, slightly silvered, stood erect like quills round his wrinkled brow, as if they scorned to bend. Some sneered, it is true, at what they called a military tyro, at the impromptu general who had sprung out of the uncouth lawyer and the unlearned judge, who in arms had only the experience of a few months, acquired in a desultory war against wild Indians, and who was, not only without any previous training to his new profession, but also without the first rudiments of a liberal education, for he did not even know the orthography of his own native language. Such was the man who, with a handful of raw militia, was to stand in the way of the veteran troops of England, whose boast it was to have triumphed over one of the greatest captains known in history. But those who entertained such distrust had hardly come in contact with General Jackson, when they felt they had to deal with a master-spirit. True, he was rough hewn from the rock, but rock he was, and of that kind of rock which Providence chooses to select as a fit material to use in its structures of human greatness. True, he had not the education of a lieutenant in the European army; but what lieutenant, educated or not, who had built the will and the remarkable military adaptation so evident in General  p382 Jackson's intellectual and physical organization, ever remained a subaltern? Much less could General Jackson fail to rise to his proper place in a country where there was so much more elbow-room, and fewer artificial obstacles than in less favored lands. But, whatever those obstacles might have been, General Jackson would have overcome them all. His will was of such an extraordinary nature that, like Christian faith, it could almost have accomplished prodigies and removed mountains. It is impossible to study the life of General Jackson without being convinced that this is the most remarkable feature of his character. His will had, as it were, the force and the fixity of fate; that will carried him triumphantly through his military and civil career, and through the difficulties of private life. So intense and incessantly active this peculiar faculty was in him, that one would suppose that his mind was nothing but will — a will so lofty that it towered into sublimity. In him it supplied the place of genius — or, rather, it was almost genius. On many occasions, in the course of his long, eventful life, when his shattered constitution made his physicians despair of preserving him, he seemed to continue to live merely because it was his will; and when his unconquerable spirit departed from his enfeebled and worn-out body, those who knew him well might almost have been tempted to suppose that he had not been vanquished by death, but had at last consented to repose. This man, when he took the command at New Orleans, had made up his mind to beat the English; and, as that mind was so constituted that it was not susceptible of entertaining much doubt as to the results of any of its resolves, he went to work with an innate confidence which transfused itself into the population he had been sent to protect.

General Jackson arrived in New Orleans after a fatiguing journey of eleven days through a barren and thinly-settled  p383 country, and yet, without allowingº himself any time for repose, on that very day he reviewed the battalion of the uniform companies of the New Orleans militia, commanded by Major Daquin. These companies were composed of natives of Louisiana of French descent and of Frenchmen. They were completely equipped, well drilled, and manoeuvred with admirable precision. The General was highly pleased, and expressed his satisfaction to the officers. The next day, true to the natural activity of his disposition and to his constant practice of seeing everything himself as far as practicable, he went to visit Fort St. Philip, in the Parish of Plaquemine, and to determine what other parts of the River Mississippi, below New Orleans, it might be expedient to fortify. Fort St. Philip was but an indifferent fortification, which had been constructed as far down the river as the nature of the ground had permitted. On that visit to Fort St. Philip, General Jackson ordered its wooden barracks to be demolished, and several additional pieces of artillery to be mounted on its ramparts. He also ordered a thirty‑two-pounder and a mortar to be put in its covered way, and two batteries to be constructed — the first, on the right bank opposite Fort St. Philip, and on the site of a former fort now entirely in ruins, called Fort Bourbon. The second battery was to be half a mile above the fort, and on the same bank. These were to be mounted with twenty‑two-pounders. The latter, in particular, was in a situation extremely advantageous for commanding the river, and could join its fire with that of Fort St. Philip.3

On his return to New Orleans General Jackson proceeded to visit that part of the country which is back of  p384 the city, and which forms a kind of peninsula bordering on Lake Pontchartrain. At the confluence of Bayou Chef Menteur and Bayou Sauvage, or Gentilly, he ordered a battery to be erected. At the same time he had sent orders to Governor Claiborne to cause all the bayous leading from the Gulf of Mexico and from the adjacent lakes into the interior of the country to be obstructed. In obedience to these instructions, Bayou Manchac, a well-known and much used outlet from the Mississippi to Lake Pontchartrain, was closed, where it meets the Mississippi a few miles below the town of Baton Rouge, and has remained closed ever since.

General Jackson found that the country he had come to defend was in the most defenceless condition. It had a considerable extent of coast connecting with the interior through many water communications; and having hardly any fortified points, it was open on all sides. It had, besides, in its neighborhood the Spanish harbor of Pensacola, which, until General Jackson put an end to it, had freely admitted the enemy's ships, and the greater part of whose population was hostile to the United States. For the defence of its extensive shores it had six gun‑boats and a sloop-of‑war, with Fort St. Philip on the Mississippi, and Fort Petites Coquilles on the Rigolets between Lake Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain, on the present site of Fort Pike. Both were thought incapable of standing a regular siege. The supply of arms of all sorts and of ammunition was very deficient, particularly in artillery. As to mortars, there were but two; they had been landed from bomb-ketches which had been condemned, and there were not a hundred bombs of the calibre required by these mortars. Besides, from the construction of their carriages, they were only fit to be mounted on board of vessels, and by no means  p385 adapted to land-batteries. The Fort of Petites Coquilles was not finished, nor was it in a condition to make an ordinary resistance.4

"Such was the inconsiderable defence," says Major Latour, "that protected the shores of Louisiana and covered a country that has an extent of coast of upward of six hundred miles, and of which even a temporary possession by an enemy might be attended with consequences baneful to the future prosperity of the Western States. The General Government might and ought to have been well informed of the vulnerable points of Louisiana. Accurate maps of the country on a large scale had been made by the engineer, B. Lafon and myself, and delivered to General Wilkinson, who, it is presumable, did not fail to forward them to the Secretary of War. That part of the State in particular by which the enemy penetrated was there laid down, and, in 1813, Brigadier-General Flournoy ordered Major Lafon, the Chief Engineer of the District, to draw up an exact account of all the points to be fortified for the general defence of Louisiana. The draughts, which were numerous and formed an atlas, were accompanied with very particular explanatory notes. That work, which reflects great credit on its author, pointed out in the most precise and clear manner what was expedient to be done, in order to put the country in a state of security against all surprise. I have always understood that those drafts were ordered and executed for the purpose of being sent to the then Secretary of War, to enable the Government to determine in their wisdom the points proper to be fortified. To what fatality then was it owing that Louisiana, whose means of defence were so inadequate, which had but a scanty white population composed in a great  p386 proportion of foreigners speaking various languages, and which was so remote from any succors, though one of the keys of the Union, was so long left without the means of resisting the enemy? I shall be told that to fortify the coast in time of peace were to incur an unnecessary expense. This position I by no means admit; but I further observe that the war had already existed two years; and we ought to have presumed, had positive proof been wanting, that the British, having numerous fleets, and every means of transporting troops to all points of the coast of the United States, would not fail to make an attempt against Louisiana — a country which already, by its prodigious and unexampled progress in the culture of the sugar-cane, had become a dangerous rival to the British Colonies. The City of New Orleans contained produce to a vast amount. The cotton crops of the State of Louisiana and the Mississippi Territory, accumulated during several years, were stored in that city which was surrounded with considerable plantations having numerous gangs of slaves. It was, in a word, the emporium of the produce of a great portion of the Western States. The Mississippi, on which it lies, receives the streams that water upward of a million of square miles, and wafts to New Orleans the annually increasing productions of their fertile banks. It is by the Mississippi and the rivers emptying into it, that the communication is kept up between the Western and Northern States; and by the Mississippi and the Missouri there will, at no distant period, be carried on without difficulty, or with very little obstruction, the most extensive inland navigation on the globe.

"All these advantages were calculated to excite the cupidity of the British, and inspire them with the desire of getting possession of a country which, besides its territorial wealth, insured to whoever might hold it, an immediate  p387 control over the Western States. In possessing themselves of Louisiana, the least favorable prospect of the enemy was the plunder of a very considerable quantity of produce, the destruction of a city destined to become commercial and opulent in the highest degree, and the ruin of numerous plantations which must one day rival in their productions those of the finest colonies of European nations. Their other prospects, less certain indeed, but in which they were not a little sanguine, were the separation of the Western States from the rest of the Union; the possibility of transferring the theatre of war to the westward by the possession of the Mississippi, and effecting a junction with their army in kind; and lastly, being masters of Louisiana, to import by the river their various manufactures, and secure to themselves the monopoly of the fur trade."

These strictures of Major Lacarriere Latour, who was an able engineer, and an eye-witness to all that happened in Louisiana on that critical occasion, show that the United States which, in time of peace, had treated the inhabitants of Louisiana, from the cession of that province by France in 1803, until its admission into the Union in 1812, with harshness and injustice, and with very little regard for their feelings, as I have shown in the preceding pages, had been very negligent in providing for their defence in time of war. It must be remembered that several of the States, and particularly the New England States, had seen its incorporation into the Union with such aversion as to threaten, in consequence of it, a dissolution of the fundamental compact; and some of their most distinguished Representatives in Congress had even declared that they would forever consider it as foreign territory. One is almost tempted to suppose that the General Government had at last adopted the same views, from the defenceless condition in  p388 which it had left an acquisition which had proved so objectionable to a powerful minority — a minority whose delegates were now assembled in Convention at Hartford in the State of Connecticut, and threatening, if not to side with England in the present war, at least to throw every obstacle in the way of its successful prosecution. Fortunately the man who was sent for the defence of the Southern Territory was southern born. He was a native of South Carolina, and had grown to hardy manhood on the forest-clad hills of Tennessee. It is still more fortunate that he was equal to the occasion. He did not deplore, in hopeless despair, the scarcity of his resources; he did not write to his Government that he could not defend New Orleans with his limited means; he never thought of retreating, or abandoning one inch of territory; he saw that he had to create everything for defence, and everything he did create. In reply to timid insinuations he swore his favorite oath — that well-known oath which always escaped from his lips when he was excited or indignant — an oath which sprang from a religious and not profane heart — he swore "by the Eternal" that not one foot of the soil of Louisiana should be permanently held by the English, and he kept that oath to the letter.

Governor Claiborne seems to have fully appreciated the merits of General Jackson, and to have been disposed from the beginning to co-operate zealously with him, for, on the 9th of December, a few days after General Jackson's arrival, he wrote to the Secretary of State, Mr. Monroe, that the nomination of no officer to the command of the District could have been more generally approved, "nor do I know one," said he, "under whose orders in the field I would more cheerfully place myself." But, added he: "in the event of General Jackson's death, or absence from the district, it is not improbable  p389 that some contest may arise as to the right of command." His reasons for apprehending the possibility of such a conflict between State and Federal authority he expressed as follows:

"At the last Session of the Legislature of the State, by a Resolution of the two Houses I have been requested, whenever the militia of Louisiana was ordered into the field, to command in person. In consequence it has been and is still my determination, whenever the danger of invasion becomes imminent, to order out the whole, or such portion of the militia of the State as circumstances shall render necessary, and to place myself at the head. It, however, is far from my wish to interfere with the command of General Jackson. On the contrary, I have assured him that, on all occasions, I would obey his orders. I, however, should be unwilling to acknowledge any other officer, either of the regular army, or of the militia, on duty in this State, as my military superior. I do not know how far General Jackson may be inclined, should I take the field, to consider me as his second, nor do I design at present to press a decision. It is not improbable but the General would rather the President should determine the rank to which a Governor of a State, taking the field, was entitled, and I would myself prefer that course. I observe that, if the newspapers are to be accredited, Governor Tompkins of New York has been vested by the President with the command of all the forces within the State. I do not ask for a like command within Louisiana. It has been committed to much abler hands, and I should regret a change. But, diffident as I am of my military talents, I must confess, Sir, I should, with extreme reluctance, within my own State, submit to the control of any one of the militia Generals in the service of the United States who had no greater military expect than myself, and less knowledge of  p390 the country. I solicit, therefore, that when, in case of invasion, or imminent danger of invasion, I should in my character as Governor of Louisiana order out any portion of the militia and place myself at their head, General Jackson may be instructed to consider me as second in command of the forces to be employed within this State." It is not known what reply the General Government made to this communication.

Whilst the city of New Orleans was resounding with the clash of arms and full of military preparations, the Governor was in vain endeavoring to fill up the seat which had been so long vacant on the bench of the Supreme Court, and to make nominations which continued to be rejected by the Senate. On the 6th, he sent in the name of the Attorney-General, Xavier Martin, but on the 9th he wrote to Senator Fromentin in Washington: "I do not at present know an individual who would unite a majority of the Senate. Seven members have voted for Martin, and will, I believe, be satisfied with no other person." Thus the Governor found the Senate as refractory at this session as at the preceding one; and he did not seem to be better satisfied with the Lower House, for in the same letter he said: "The House of Representatives consumes much time in debate, and as yet the Legislature have answered no one of the objects for which they were called. I trust and hope, however, that they will unite in some measures which the interest and safety of the State imperiously demand."

I write these lines when the State of Louisiana has been invaded by Northern troops, when a general from New England is a military dictator in New Orleans, when Louisianians are called traitors and rebels, when their property is confiscated, and all sorts of outrages are heaped upon them by the sons of sires who sat in the Hartford Convention, where treason was meditated,  p391 but found not hearts bold enough to carry it into execution. It may not be here out of place to record what a Governor of Louisiana then thought of the purposes of that Convention. In the communication of the 9th of December to Monroe, which I have already quoted, Claiborne said: "What is likely to result from the New England Convention? For myself, I view this proceeding was much anxiety and inquietude. It surely presents an alarming aspect to the friends of the Union, and will not fail to encourage the enemy to attempt the overthrow of our Government." Whilst treason was thus lurking in more than one Northern breast, Louisiana was preparing to show that such a crime was not of Southern growth.

It is, however, mortifying to a Louisianian to know that a Governor of Louisiana, on the same day on which he expressed these patriotic anxieties about the fidelity of New England, felt himself justified, perhaps with too much reason, to write the following lines to one David M'Gee: "As regards the literary work you contemplate, I am assured of its usefulness, and desire its completion. I fear, however, that in this city and State, useful as the work would be to its inhabitants, it would not meet with liberal encouragement. A love of letters has not yet gained an ascendency in Louisiana, and I would advise you to seek for your production the patronage of some one of the Northern cities." How bitter is the thought that this is true! How hard it is for the veracity of the Southern historian to admit that, even in 1864, a judicious and frank adviser would be compelled to say to a man of letters in the language used by Claiborne in 1814: "I would advise you to seek for your production the patronage of some one of the Northern cities."​a

On the 14th of December, Governor Claiborne laid  p392 before the Legislature a communication from Commodore Patterson, which informed him of the approach of the enemy in considerable force, and another communication from General Jackson which requested him to hold in readiness to take the field the whole militia of the State. Accompanying these two communications was a message in which he said: "Among the measures which our safety requires, permit me to recommend the suspension for a limited time of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. This will, as the Commodore suggests, enable him to press hands for manning the vessels of the United States under his orders; nor is there any doubt also, in case of the landing of the enemy, but it will be found expedient to enable the commander of the troops of the United States and of the militia of the State to apprehend and secure disaffected persons."

This message gave rise to warm debates in both houses of the Legislature. A State, it was admitted, could suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus in its own courts, but could its authority extend to the Federal courts? Besides, many entertained great doubts on the question, whether any person arrested by any of the commanding officers of the land or naval forces of the United States could be relieved on Writs of Habeas Corpus issued by a State court. All knew that Judge Hall, who presided in the District Court of the United States, was of opinion that Congress alone had authority to withdraw the protection of that writ by which the Constitution of the United States intends that the humblest citizen shall be made as secure in his person as if covered with a shield of divine manufacture. All knew that, in 1806, General Wilkinson had treated with contempt the writs of territorial judges, but had not dared to disobey those of Hall. The firmness of that magistrate, and his inflexibility in the discharge of what  p393 he thought his duty, made it a matter of certainty that he would disregard the State legislation in relation to the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. Why, therefore, should the State place itself in the undignified position of legislating in vain, and of assuming an authority which would be set at naught? Such was the language of those who were adverse to the measure.

General Jackson, Governor Claiborne, and many of the military, they further said, are incessantly talking of sedition, disaffection, and treason. But we are better acquainted with the people of Louisiana than those who are vociferating against them. We have come from the bosom of that people; we have witnessed the universal alacrity with which General Jackson's re­quisition for a quota of the militia has been complied with; we know that our constituents can be depended on; we know that no State is more free from treason, and if we suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus, we would admit that there are grounds for the vain and injurious apprehensions entertained by those who do much injustice to Louisiana. We remember but too well the days when General Wilkinson, arresting and transporting whom he pleased, filled New Orleans with so much terror. Did not, in those days, the President of the United States, the illustrious Jefferson, make application to Congress for a suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, on the ground that the safety of the country was endangered by Burr's conspiracy? Did not Congress refuse to grant what the President desired? It is a safe precedent; and General Jackson has no right to complain, if we refuse to him what was refused to the President by Congress. These arguments prevailed, and both houses voted against the measure desired by General Jackson, and recommended by Governor Claiborne.

 p394  Louaillier, whose name will figure somewhat conspicuously in the sequel of this History, in consequence of his arrest by order of General Jackson, and who, at this time, acted as chairman of a "Committee"º to whom was referred the consideration of suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus, in order to enable Patterson to impress seamen, reported​5 the recommended measure as inexpedient. The Committee thought the country would be ill defended by men forced into service; and that it was better to induce sailors, by the offer of ample bounties, to repair on board of the ships of the United States, than forcibly to drag them on board. A sum of six thousand dollars was therefore placed by the Legislature at the disposal of the Commander, to be expended in bounties, and, with a view to remove from seamen the opportunity to decline entering the service of the United States by the hope of a more profitable employment on board of merchant vessels, an embargo law was passed.​6 It is difficult to conceive how the same Legislature which had refused to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus, on the ground that it could not legislate on that matter for the Federal courts, did not doubt its authority to arrest the commerce of the United States by an embargo law.

The adverse report made by Louaillier to Commodore Patterson's application cannot be looked upon as having been dictated by a want of patriotism, because the same member of the Legislature had, as chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, made the most spirited and earnest report on the necessity of taxing all the resources of the State for defensive preparations. "Who has not admired," he said in that document, "the patriotic ardor which was displayed in the execution of the works, deemed by the principal cities of the Union and our sister  p395 States necessary for the protection of such as could be assailed by the enemy? The magistrates, the citizens, the officers of the General Government, manifested the utmost zeal to obtain the desired object; their safety and the ignominious retreat of the enemy were the glorious result of their efforts. How does it happen that such a noble example has not been followed in this part of the Union? Are we so situated as to have no dangers to dread? Is our population of such a description as to secure our tranquillity? Shall we always confine ourselves to addresses and proclamations? Are we always to witness the several Departments intrusted with our defence, languishing in a state of inactivity hardly to be excused even in the most peaceable 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, but it is only by adopting a course entirely opposite to that which has been hitherto pursued that we can hope for success. If the Legislature adds its own indolence to that which generally prevails, we can easily foresee that, ere long, a capitulation, similar to that obtained by the city of Alexandria, will be the consequence of a conduct so highly culpable.

"A considerable force is now assembled under the orders of General Jackson, which will speedily receive large reinforcements from the militia of the Western States, but it is nevertheless true that the principal avenues to our capital are not in a situation to insure its preservation; and that, unless we are determined to provide for its safety ourselves, unless we act with a promptness and energy equal to the torpor which seems to have invaded the principal branches of our Government, that force will only be employed in retaking this territory, which must fall an easy prey to the first efforts of an invading  p396 foe. The Legislature has been convened for the purpose of supplying a fund adequate to the expenses necessary to ward off the dangers by which we are threatened. This is the object which we must accomplish. Little does it matter whether this or that expenditure ought to be furnished by the Federal administration, or by the State Government; let us not hesitate in making such as safety may require. When this shall have been secured, then our claims to a reimbursement will be listened to."

This document demonstrates the zeal which actuated this distinguished member of the Legislature, but, at the same time, considering the source from which it came, it is a singular bill of indictment against the Federal Government, against the Legislature itself and all the State authorities, as well as against the whole population. It proclaimed "that the noble example given by the principal cities of the Union and our sister States had not been followed by this part of the Union; that our population was not of such a description as to secure tranquillity; that we had confined ourselves to addresses and proclamations; that the several Departments intrusted with our defence had been languishing in a state of inactivity hardly to be excused even in the most peaceable times; that no other evidence of patriotism was to be found than a disposition to avoid every expense, every fatigue; that nothing as yet had been performed when the enemy was already on the threshold of the country; and that if the Legislature added its own indolence to that which generally prevailed, it was easy to foresee that, ere long, a capitulation, similar to that obtained by the city of Alexandria, would be the consequence of a conduct so highly culpable." This censorious report was adopted without any denial of the facts which had elicited such harsh comments. It was speedily followed  p397 by action; the Legislature sanctioned the loan of twenty thousand dollars which the Governor had effected during its recess, to provide for the defence of the State. The sum of seventeen thousand dollars​7 which remained in the Treasury out of that loan was directed to be applied, under the orders of General Jackson, to procuring materials and workmen for the completion of such batteries and other fortifications as he had directed; and a further sum of eleven thousand dollars was appropriated to the same subject.

Such was the condition of the country as described in Louaillier's report on the 22d of November, before the arrival of General Jackson, which took place on the 1st of December, as I have already stated. It is probable that General Jackson had heard of this state of things. It is known that, from various sources, he had been informed that the country was full of spies and traitors.​8 It is known that he had written to that effect to Claiborne, and that Claiborne had replied: "I think with you that the country is full of spies and traitors." To this must be added what Judge Martin, who was an eye-witness to all that happened at that epoch, says in his valuable work on Louisiana: "The Governor, who was not unwilling to increase his own merit by magnifying the obstacles he had to surmount, stated in his correspondence with Jackson every opposition he met with, and did not fail to represent every one who did not think as he did, as inimical to the country. Those who immediately surrounded Jackson on his arrival, with a view to enhance his reliance on them, availed themselves of every opportunity to increase his sense of danger." Is it then to be wondered at if General Jackson, who was an utter stranger to the population of New Orleans, came  p398 to that city with a mind somewhat unfavorably prejudiced, and that he should have acted as he did hereafter, on the occasion which is to be recorded in the pages of this History?

But the state of things described in Louaillier's report had changed as soon as General Jackson had set his foot on the soil of Louisiana. Indolence had given way to zeal and activity, distrust to confidence, confusion to order, diversity of counsel and action to the sole direction of one controlling mind which made itself felt everywhere, and which gave an impulse to everything. Throughout the State, in obedience to the call of the General, the whole militia was organizing and preparing to march to any threatened point. In New Orleans and in its environs every man capable of bearing arms was already in the field, and the planters of the neighboring parishes of Plaquemine, St. Bernard, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist, had sent more negroes than the General needed to erect his intended fortifications.

In the mean time, the enemy was approaching and preparing to land. The naval armament which protected Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain consisted of five gun‑boats, with 23 guns and 182 men. To this force must be added the schooner Seahorse with one six-pounder and fourteen men, and the sloop Alligator, armed with one four-pounder and manned by a crew of eight men. This sloop acted as tender to the little fleet. On the 12th of December, the commander of this flotilla, Thomas A. C. Jones, observing that the enemy's fleet off Ship Island had increased to such a force as to render it no longer safe or prudent for him to continue on that part of the Lakes, determined to gain, as soon as possible, a station near Ile Malheureuse, because it would enable him to oppose a further penetration of the enemy up the Lakes, and at the same time afford to the American gun‑boats  p399 the opportunity of retreating to the Fort of Petites Coquilles, if necessary.

On the 13th, at 10 A.M., a large number of barges left the English fleet, and moved toward Pass Christianne. At first, it was supposed that they intended to disembark troops at that place, but, as they continued their course westward, Commander Jones became convinced that they meditated an attack on his gun‑boats. These gun‑boats were aground on account of a strong westerly wind which had prevailed for several days, and which had made the water in the lakes uncommonly low. They were got afloat by throwing overboard all articles of weight that could be dispensed with. At last, at 3.30 P.M., the flood-tide commenced, the fleet got under way, and began to fall back toward the Rigolets; but unfortunately, early on the morning of the 14th, the wind having died away entirely, the vessels were compelled to anchor in the channel which exists at the west end of Ile Malheureuse. At daylight, the barges of the enemy were ascertained to be at anchor about nine miles from the Americans; but they soon got in motion and rapidly advanced. This flotilla consisted of forty-five launches and barges with forty-three cannon and twelve hundred men, including officers, under the command of Captain Lockyer. They had already cut off the schooner Seahorse, which had been sent to Bay St. Louis to assist in the removal of the public stores. The captain of the schooner, after having bravely and successfully repulsed seven of the enemy's boats, which had attacked him, and after having done them much damage, had blown up his ship and destroyed the public stores. The Alligator (tender), which had been separated from the gun‑boats, had also been captured while endeavoring to rejoin them.

At the time when the British were pressing forward  p400 with the utmost power of their well-managed oars, there continued to be a dead calm, and a strong ebb-tide was setting through the pass, or channel — which circumstances were unfavorable for manoeuvring the gun‑boats. The American commander had but one alternative, which was, to put himself in the most advantageous position he could take and give the enemy as warm a reception as possible. With this view he formed a close line abreast across the channel, anchoring each vessel by the stern with springs on the cable, and having boarding nettings triced up. Unfortunately, that line was soon broken up by the force of the current, which drove two of the gun‑boats about one hundred yards in advance. At ten minutes before eleven, the enemy opened fire from the whole of his line, when the action became general and destructive on both sides. Jones was on board of one of the gun‑boats which had been driven forward by the current. Three boats attempted to board his ship, but were repulsed with the loss of nearly every officer killed or wounded, and two boats sunk. A second attempt was made by four other boats, which shared almost a similar fate. At that moment Captain Jones received a severe wound which compelled him to quit his deck, leaving it in charge of George Parker, master's mate, who gallantly defended it until he also was disabled by a wound, when the enemy by his superior number overcame all resistance. The guns of the prize were immediately turned against the other gun‑boats, and the action continued with unabating severity until all the gun‑boats fell into the hands of the assailants.​9 The engagement lasted an hour and a half, and does infinite credit to the American arms, considering the disparity of forces. The loss on board of the gun‑boats was forty-five killed and  p401 wounded. On the side of the British it was not less than three hundred. The destruction of these gun‑boats left Louisiana entirely defenceless on the waters, and permitted the enemy to land whenever and wherever he pleased. This was almost all the naval defence which had been prepared for the protection of Louisiana by the Federal Government. Major Latour, whose testimony as a skillful officer and an actor in most of the scenes which he describes I always quote with confidence and respect, says:

"Commodore Patterson, who had served several years on the New Orleans Station, which he had commanded from nearly the commencement of the war, was perfectly acquainted with our coast, and consequently knew what means were necessary to defend it. On this subject he had written at the early period, and several times since, to the Secretary of the Navy. At Tchifonctee, on the eastern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, a flat-bottomed frigate had begun to be built two years before, calculated for the navigation of the lakes and our coasts. She was to carry forty-two pieces of cannon, twenty-six of which were to be thirty‑two-pounders. The building of this frigate was suspended, in consequence, I believe, of the representations of Brigadier-General Flournoy, then commanding this District. From his first taking command of the Station, Commodore Patterson had not ceased to solicit the Government to authorize him to have that frigate finished. Governor Claiborne's correspondence with the heads of the different Departments was also to the same effect; but though much was promised, nothing was performed. It might have been thought, from the little regard that was paid to the representations of the superior officers of the District and of our representatives in Congress, that Louisiana was considered as a bastard child of the American family;  p402 or that to attack her was looked upon as an impossibility. Yet the attack made on us was within a hair's breadth of succeeding; for had the enemy appeared a few weeks sooner, before General Jackson arrived in New Orleans, he might have entered the city with little or no opposition, there being no means of resisting him; and however well-inclined the citizens were to defend themselves, it would have been impossible to prevent the taking of the city."

On the 15th, Claiborne informed the Legislature of the disaster which had befallen our fleet. This information was accompanied with these observations: "The length of the combat is a proof of the valor and firmness with which our gallant tars maintained the unequal contest, and leaves no doubt that, although compelled ultimately to strike, their conduct has been such as to reflect honor upon the American name and navy. The ascendency which the enemy has now acquired on the coast of the lakes increases the necessity of enlarging and completing our measures of defence."

On the next day, Claiborne sent to the Legislature the following short and pithy message: "The moment is certainly inauspicious for that cool and mature deliberation which is essential to the formation of laws. The enemy menaces this capital, and we know not how soon he may effect a landing. Every hand must be raised to repel him, and all our time should be occupied in arranging and completing our measures of defence. Permit me, therefore, to suggest the propriety of adjourning the two Houses for fifteen or twenty days." This message was referred to a Committee, who reported that an adjournment at the present crisis was inexpedient; that it might be highly dangerous; that accidents might happen, and unforeseen cases might occur, when the interference of the Legislature might be necessary; that,  p403 should they adjourn, and the State should thereby be endangered, they would incur the just reproaches of their constituents; besides, that few members would have time to leave the city during so short an adjournment as the one urged upon them, and if they did, their mileage in going and returning would be such as to increase the expenses of the State, much more than if they remained in session, wherefore the Committee recommended that the members should stay at their post, ready on an emergency to contribute, as far as in them lay, to the defence of the country. These views of the Committee were adopted by the Legislature, but produced an unfavorable impression on General Jackson. He immediately proclaimed martial law, and issued with his characteristic energy the following iron-clad address to the citizens of New Orleans:

"The Major-General commanding has, with astonishment and regret, learned that great consternation and alarm pervade your city. It is true the enemy is on our coast and threatens an invasion of our Territory but it is equally true, with union, energy, and the approbation of Heaven, we will beat him at every point his temerity may induce him to set foot upon our soil. The General, with still greater astonishment, has heard that British emissaries have been permitted to propagate seditious reports among you that the threatened invasion is with a view to restoring the country to Spain, from a supposition that some of you would be willing to return to your ancient government. Believe not such incredible tales; your government is at peace with Spain. It is the vital enemy of your country, the common enemy of mankind, the highway robber of the world that threatens you, and has sent his hirelings among you with this false report, to put you off your guard, that you may fall an easy prey to him. Then look to your liberties, your property, the chastity of your wives and daughters; take a retrospect of the conduct of the British army at Hampton and other places, where it has entered our country; and every bosom which glows with patriotism and virtue will be inspired with indignation, and pant for the arrival of the hour when we shall meet and revenge those outrages against the laws of civilization and humanity.

 p404  "The General calls upon the inhabitants of the city to trace this unfounded report to its source, and bring the propagators to condign punishment. The rules and articles of war annex the punishment of death to any person holding secret correspondence with the enemy, creating false alarm, or supplying him with provisions; and the General announces his unalterable determination rigidly to execute the martial law in all cases which may come within his province.

"The safety of the District intrusted to the protection of the General must and will be maintained with the best blood of the country; and he is confident all good citizens will be found at their posts, with their arms in their hands, determined to dispute every inch of ground with the enemy; and that unanimity will pervade the country generally; but should the General be disappointed in this expectation, he will separate our enemies from our friends. Those who are not for us are against us, and will be dealt with accordingly."

This address was signed by Thomas L. Butler, aid-de‑camp to the General.

Fully aware of the importance of the advantage which the enemy had gained on the lakes, General Jackson lost no time in protecting every assailable point. He immediately ordered the battalion of men of color commanded by Major Lacoste, who must not be supposed to be of African descent, but who was an influential planter of Caucasian blood, to take post with the dragoons of Feliciana and two pieces of artillery, at the confluence of Bayou Sauvage or Gentilly and Bayou Chef Menteur, in order to cover the road to the city on that side, and watch the enemy's movements. Major Lacoste was also instructed to erect a close redoubt surrounded with a fosse, according to a plan drawn by Major Latour in compliance with General Jackson's orders. To Captain Newman, who commanded the fort of Petites Coquilles on the Rigolets, he sent these instructions: "Defend your post to the last extremity, and in case you should not be able to hold out, spike your guns, blow up the  p405 fort, and evacuate on Post Chef Menteur." Neglecting no means of assistance, however apparently unimportant, he authorized Captain Juzan to form into companies all the Choctaw Indians he could collect in the environs of the city, and on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. He sent expresses to Generals Coffee, Carroll and Thomas, who were on their way, to accelerate their march. He earnestly charged General Winchester, who commanded at Mobile, to use the greatest vigilance in protecting that locality, as the enemy might endeavor to make an attack in that quarter.​10 He wrote to the Secretary of War, complaining of the neglect of the Federal Government in providing him with proper means of defence, but it was in no dejected mood, and not as a prepared excuse for anticipated disaster. "Should the enemy," he wrote, "effect a landing, I will, with the help of God, do all I can to repel him." He also acquainted the Secretary of War with the destruction of the gun‑boats and with the taking of the Post of the Balize, including the pilots, and a detachment of troops that was there stationed. He further informed him that the troops from Tennessee and Kentucky, although expected, had not yet arrived. "But," said he, "the country shall be defended, if in the power of physical force it contains, with the auxiliary force ordered. We have no arms here. Will the Government order a supply? Without arms a defence cannot be made." Major Latour relates that during the summer, General Jackson, while yet among the Creeks, had made a re­quisition of a quantity of arms, ammunition, heavy cannon, balls, bombs, etc, to be sent to New Orleans; "but such was the fatality," observes the Major, "what happened to be attached to all the measures adopted for our defence,  p406 that it was not till the middle of January, 1815 (after the decisive battle of the 8th had been fought), that a very small proportion of what had been ordered arrived at New Orleans."

General Jackson had been so well pleased with the battalion of colored men under Major Lacoste, that it was thought proper to levy a new battalion of the same description. A colored man named Savary, who had distinguished himself in the wars of St. Domingo, by fighting ably and valiantly against those of his own race, undertook to form a battalion of refugees from that island, who had cast their lot with the whites when they had fled to Louisiana on being over­powered by their enemies. They had thus given a remarkable proof of attachment to the superior race for which it might have been supposed that they entertained feelings of hatred and envy. Savary obtained the grade of Captain, and was remarkably successful in his efforts to raise a company. The new battalion was soon formed, and its command was intrusted to Major Daquin, of the Second Regiment of Militia, who was one of the white refugees from St. Domingo. Michel Fortier, a native of New Orleans, and one of the wealthiest merchants of the city, was appointed Colonel, and took command of the whole corps of colored men, who, it must be understood, were all free. None had been taken from the slaves. Many of them had received a certain degree of education, and some possessed considerable property.

On the 18th of December, General Jackson reviewed such of his forces as were in New Orleans, and, on their being drawn up on their respective parades, the following eloquent address was read to them by Edward Livingston, one of his aids:

"To the Embodied Militia.


"Fellow-Citizens and Soldiers:

"The General commanding-in‑chief would not do justice to the noble ardor that has animated you in the hour of danger; he would not do justice to his own feelings, if he suffered the example you have shown to pass without public notice. Inhabitants of an opulent and commercial town, you have, by a spontaneous effort, shaken off the habits which are created by wealth, and shown that you are resolved to deserve the blessings of fortune by bravely defending them. Long strangers to the perils of war, you have embodied yourselves to face them with the cool countenance of veterans; and, with motives of disunion that might operate on weak minds, you have forgotten the difference of language and the prejudices of national pride, and united with a cordiality that does honor to your understandings as well as to your patriotism. Natives of the United States! They are the oppressors of your infant political existence, with whom you are to contend; they are the men your fathers conquered, whom you are to oppose. Descendants of Frenchmen! Natives of France! They are English, the hereditary, the eternal enemies of your ancient country, the invaders of that you have adopted, who are your foes. Spaniards! remember the conduct of your allies at St. Sebastian, and recently at Pensacola, and rejoice that you have an opportunity of avenging the brutal injuries inflicted by men who dishonor the human race.

"Fellow-citizens of every description, remember for what and against whom you contend — for all that can render life desirable — for a country blessed with every gift of nature — for property, for life — for those dearer than either, your wives and children — and for the liberty, without which country, life, property, are no longer worth possessing — as even the embraces of wives and children become a reproach to the wretch who would deprive them by his cowardice of those invaluable blessings. You are to contend for all this against an enemy whose continued effort is to deprive you of the least of these blessings — who avows a war of vengeance and desolation, carried on and marked by cruelty, lust, and horrors unknown to civilized nations.

"Citizens of Louisiana! The General commanding-in‑chief rejoices to see the spirit that animates you, not only for your honor, but for your safety; for whatever had been your conduct or wishes, his duty would have led, and will now lead him, to confound the citizen unmindful of his rights with the enemy he ceases to oppose.  p408 Now leading men who know their rights, who are determined to defend them, he salutes you, brave Louisianians, as brethren in arms, and has now a new motive to exert all his faculties, which shall be strained to the utmost in your defence. Continue with the energy you have begun, and he promises you not only safety, but victory over the insolent enemy who insulted you by an affected doubt of your attachment to the Constitution of your country.

"To the Battalion of Uniform Companies.

"When I first looked at you on the day of my arrival, I was satisfied with your appearance, and every day's inspection since has confirmed the opinion I then formed. Your numbers have increased with the increase of danger, and your ardor has augmented since it was known that your post would be one of peril and honor. This is the true love of country! You have added to it an exact discipline, and a skill in evolutions rarely attained by veterans. The state of your corps does equal honor to the skill of the officers and the attention of the men. With such defenders our country has nothing to fear. Everything I have said to the body of militia applies equally to you — you have the same sacrifices to make — you have the same country to defend, the same motive for exertion — but I should have been unjust, had I not noticed, as it deserved, the excellence of your discipline and the martial appearance of your corps.

"To the Men of Color.

"Soldiers! From the shores of Mobile I collected you to arms! I invited you to share in the perils and to divide the glory of your white countrymen. I expected much from you, for I was not uninformed of those qualities which must render you so formidable to an invading foe. I knew that you would endure hunger and thirst and all the hardships of war. I knew that you loved the land of your nativity, and that, like ourselves, you had to defend all that is most dear to man; but you surpass my hopes. I have found in you, united to those qualities, that noble enthusiasm which impels to great deeds.

"Soldiers! The President of the United States shall be informed of your conduct on the present occasion, and the voice of the Representatives of the American Nation shall applaud your valor, as your General now praises your ardor. The enemy is near; his sails cover the lakes; but the brave are united; and if he finds us contending among ourselves, it will be for the prize of valor, and fame its noblest reward."

 p409  This exceedingly complimentary address to the men of color was expressed in language which, like that of the one he had sent from Mobile, did not meet with general approbation. True, the assistance of those men was of great importance, as it was thought that six hundred of them could be brought under arms, which was no despicable number, when the force we had to oppose the enemy was so scant. But still it was deemed bad policy by many to address them in terms which were not in accordance with the inferiority of their social position, and which might tend to raise hopes that could never be gratified. There were some who predicted that it was a precedent of a dangerous nature. These apprehensions, in the course of time, have been strangely realized; for these two addresses of General Jackson to the men of color, and the use which he made of their services, were afterward seized upon by a far more barbarous foe than the English, as a pretext for putting in Louisiana the Blacks on a footing of equality with the Whites, and were even quoted as a justification for arming the slaves against their masters.

There was a small fort at the mouth of Bayou St. John on Lake Pontchartrain, whose garrison had lately been reinforced by a volunteer company of light artillery. On the 18th, immediately after the review, General Jackson ordered Major Plauché, with his battalion, to take command at that post. To all officers commanding detachments, outposts and pickets, he gave the following instructions: "On the approach of the enemy, remove out of his reach every kind of stock, horses, provisions, etc.; oppose the invaders at every point; harass them by all possible means." To the people at large he said: "The Major-General, expecting that the enemy will penetrate into this district in a few days, requests of the people of Louisiana to do their duty cheerfully,  p410 and bear the fatigues incident to a state of war as becomes a great people." The guard of the city was committed to a corps of veterans and fire-enginemen under the command of General Labatut. They were to occupy the barracks, hospitals and other posts, as soon as the troops of the line and the militia should be ordered into the field, and the following militia regulations were established for New Orleans and its environs:

1. Every individual entering the city shall report himself to the Adjutant-General's office, and on failure shall be arrested and held for examination.

2. None shall be permitted to leave the city, or Bayou St. John, without a passport from the General or his staff.

3. No vessel, boat or other craft shall leave the city or Bayou St. John without such passport, or that of the Commodore.

4. The lamps of the city shall be extinguished at nine o'clock, after which, every person found in the streets, or out of his usual place of residence, without a pass, or the countersign, shall be apprehended as a spy and held for examination.

Captain W. B. Carrol, the officer who had the command of the navy-yard at Chefuncte, was ordered by Commodore Patterson to cause the brig Etna to ascend the bayou, and take a station opposite the unfinished frigate which I have already mentioned, in order to protect her in case of the approach of the enemy. Captain Carrol was further ordered not to suffer any boat to leave Chefuncte for Bayou St. John without a passport, and in the event of the enemy's entering Lake Pontchartrain, not to let the mail-boat pass.11

Certain offenders against the law, who were in prison, having begged to be released and to be permitted to  p411 meet the invaders of their country, their request was granted. In relation to individuals of this description, I have already recorded in the course of this History, that John Lafitte, his brother and his companions, had offered their services against the British before the arrival of General Jackson, and had been refused. He now waited in person on the General to renew his patriotic offers, and this time they were accepted. It must have been a highly interesting sight to witness the interview between the outlaw and the stern chief whom it was so difficult to move from any of his resolves. General Jackson had determined to have nothing to do with those he called "pirates and infamous bandits," unless it was to have them speedily hung, as he thought they richly deserved to be. He had said in an official proclamation, which was on record, "that no confidence was to be placed in the honor of men who courted an alliance with pirates and robbers." He had designated the Baratarians as "hellish bandits." He had emphatically declared that, unlike "the hateful and despicable Englishmen, he would not call upon either pirates or robbers to join him in the glorious cause he had to defend." Notwithstanding all this, the two men met — Jackson and Lafitte — and General Jackson, fettered as he was by his own words and acts, revised his decision, changed his mind, and henceforth trusted to the utmost Lafitte and his "bandits." Some of them he sent to assist in the defence of fort Petites Coquilles, St. Philip and Bayou St. John. The rest formed a corps under two of their leaders, Dominique and Beluche, and they were so far trusted by General Jackson as to be put in command of a portion of his artillery. They subsequently proved by their skill and bravery that General Jackson had been a correct judge of human nature on that memorable occasion. In the mean time, all judicial proceeds on the part of the  p412 United States were, of course, suspended against those for whose heads rewards had been offered, and who, whatever their guilt might be, were anxious to endeavor to atone for it by dying, if necessary, on the field of honor.

At this time the Legislature, considering​12 that the present crisis would oblige a great number of citizens to take up arms in defence of the State and compel them to quit their homes, and thus "leave their private affairs in a state of abandonment, which might expose them to great distress," if the Legislature should not, by measures adapted to the circumstances, come to their relief, enacted:

"That no protest on any note, or bill of exchange, payable to order or bearer, or on any note, bill of exchange, or obligation for the payment of money, should or could be legally made, until one hundred and twenty days after the promulgation of the act.

"That, during the same space of time, no property, either movable or immovable, belonging to successions or bankrupts, or any property seized by virtue of any execution issued by the courts of justice, or justices of the peace of the State, should be sold; provided that this delay should not prejudice the holders or proprietors of the said notes, bills, obligations, or judgments, from demanding the interest which they would or might have legally demanded, if the said delay had not been granted.

"That, from and after the promulgation of this act, no civil suit or action should be commenced before any court of record or other tribunal of the State, nor should any execution issue or be proceeded upon; and that all proceedings in civil suits or actions, now pending before any such court or tribunal, should henceforth cease, and be suspended until the first of May, 1815.

"That no sale of lands or slaves which might be passed during the time this act was to remain in force, should have any effect to the prejudice of the rights of the creditors of the person making such sale; provided that such creditor or creditors who might have no existing lien on such property, should, before the first day of  p413 June, make known to the person possessing the same the claim or demand they might have against the seller.

"That, for the purpose of preserving the securities of creditors under the suspension of judicial proceedings, the several judges and justices of the peace of the State, having original jurisdiction, should have the power of granting writs of sequestration, in case debtors, during such suspension, should attempt to remove their personal estate and slaves out of the jurisdiction of the courts, which property might be detained under sequestration on petition filed by the creditor whose allegations should be supported by his oath, or that of his agent or attorney, provided that the debtor might replevy his estate so sequestrated, on giving bond and security for the payment of any judgment against him, or any debt to be liquidated by judgment or otherwise."

On the motion of Louaillier, whose energy and patriotism seemed not disposed to slumber, the Legislature appointed a Committee,​13 at whose disposal they placed a sum of two thousand dollars for the relief of the militia of the State, seafaring men and persons of color in the service of the United States. The Committee were instructed to invite their fellow-citizens to make donations of woolen clothes, blankets, and such other articles as, in case of an attack, might be useful to the wounded.

On the 19th, General Carroll arrived with a Tennessee Brigade of two thousand five hundred men, and on the next day, General Coffee, with twelve hundred rifle­men from the same State. This addition to the forces then existing in New Orleans diffused general confidence. Besides, all the measures already taken by the Commander-in‑Chief, and the wonderful activity, energy and skill which he displayed, had produced such a change that the alarm which he had reprobated in a recent proclamation, and the gloom, despondency, distrust and apathy which have been described by Louaillier and others, had entirely disappeared. As a proof of this change, I can do no better than quote the language of  p414 Judge Martin, then acting as Attorney-General, and who afterward occupied with so much distinction, for more than a quarter of a century, a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court.

"At this period," says this highly respectable witness, whose testimony is entitled to so much weight, "the forces at New Orleans amounted to between six and seven thousand men. Every individual exempted from militia duty, on account of age, had joined one of the companies of veterans which had been formed for the preservation of order. Every class of society was animated with the most ardent zeal; the young, the old, women, children, all breathed defiance to the enemy, firmly disposed to oppose to the utmost the threatened invasion. There were in the city a very great number of French subjects, who, from their national character, could not have been compelled to perform military duty; these men, however, with hardly any exception, volunteered their services. The Chevalier de Tousard, Consul of France, who had distinguished himself and had lost an arm in the service of the United States during the Revolutionary War,​b lamenting that the neutrality of his nation did not allow him to lead his countrymen in New Orleans to the field, encouraged them to flock to Jackson's standard. The people were preparing for battle as cheerfully as if for a party of pleasure; the streets resounded with martial airs; the several corps of militia were constantly exercising from morning to night; every bosom glowed with the feeling of national honor; everything showed that nothing was to be apprehended from disaffection, disloyalty or treason."

Such is the description left us by this distinguished civilian, who himself was a participator in these scenes. Another, given by the graphic pen of a military witness, is no less emphatic:

 p415  "General Jackson had electrified all hearts," wrote Major Latour: "all were sensible of the approaching danger; but they waited for its presence undismayed. They knew that, in a few days, they must come to action with the enemy; yet, calm and unalarmed, they pursued their usual avocations, interrupted only when they tranquilly left their homes to perform military duty at the posts assigned them. It was known that the enemy was on our coast, within a few hours's sail of the city, with a presumed force of between nine and ten thousand men; whilst all the forces we had yet to oppose him amounted to no more than one thousand regulars, and from four to five thousand militia.

"These circumstances were publicly known, nor could any one disguise to himself, or to others, the dangers with which we were threatened. Yet, such was the universal confidence inspired by the activity and decision of the commander-in‑chief, added to the detestation in which the enemy was held, and the desire to punish his audacity should he presume to land, that not a single warehouse or shop was shut, nor were any goods or valuable effects removed from the city. At that period, New Orleans presented a very affecting picture to the eyes of the patriot, and of all those whose bosoms glow with the feelings of national honor, which raise the mind far above the vulgar apprehension of personal danger. The citizens were preparing for battle as cheerfully as if it had been for a party of pleasure, each in his vernacular tongue singing songs of victory. The streets resounded with Yankee Doodle, La Marseillaise, Le chant du Départ, and other martial airs, while those who had been long unaccustomed to military duty were furbishing their arms and accoutrements. Beauty applauded valor, and promised with her smiles to reward the toils of the brave. Though inhabiting an open town, not above ten leagues from the enemy, and never till now exposed to war's alarms, the fair sex of New Orleans were animated with the ardor of their defenders, and with cheerful serenity, at the sound of the drum, presented themselves at the windows and balconies, to applaud the troops going through their evolutions, and to encourage their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers to protect them from the insults of their ferocious enemies, and prevent a repetition of the horrors of Hampton. The several corps of militia were constantly exercising from morning till evening, and at all hours was heard the sound of drums and of military bands of music. New Orleans wore the appearance of a camp; and the greatest cheerfulness and concord prevailed among all ranks and conditions of people. All countenances expressed a  p416 wish to come to an engagement with the enemy, and announced a foretaste of victory."

This was a transformation indeed, and it was all due to General Jackson! On the 20th, Governor Claiborne, in a communication addressed to our Senator in Congress, Fromentin, in which he spoke of the approaching force of the enemy, remarked: "We, however, feel ourselves secure; there is but one sentiment, one mind; and old and young are alike prepared to meet and repel the foe."

The expedition against Louisiana was composed of 14,450 men, forming three divisions. Sir Edward M. Packenhamº was Commander-in‑Chief. Major-General Samuel Gibbs commanded the First Division, General Lambert the Second, and General Keane the Third. The fleet which had transported these large forces, and which was to aid them with its co-operation, was of proportionate strength, under the command of Admirals Cochrane, Codrington and Malcolm. These three divisions of British troops were composed of regiments which had covered themselves with glory on many a battle-field, and which were again, on the banks of the Mississippi, to behave with their usual gallantry, but not with such success as they had met with elsewhere. The water-course through which they penetrated into Louisiana, and which is put down in old French maps as the River St. Francis, was also called by the people of the neighborhood "Bayou des Pêcheurs."º By Admiral Cochrane and the other British officers it is designated in their dispatches under the name of Bayou Catalan, but it is more generally known as Bayou Bienvenu. It requires a short description, which I cannot give in more accurate words than in those which I shall borrow from Major Lacarriere Latour, who says:

"Through this bayou run all the waters of a large basin of a  p417 triangular form, eighty miles square in surface, bounded on the south by the Mississippi, on the west by New Orleans, on the northwest by Bayou Sauvage or Chef Menteur, and on the east by Lake Borgne, into which it empties. It receives the waters of several other bayous formed by those of the surrounding cypress swamps, and of innumerable little streams from the low grounds along the river. It commences behind the suburb Marigny at New Orleans, divides the triangle nearly into two equal parts from its summit to the lake which forms its basis, and runs in a southeasterly direction. It is navigable for vessels of one hundred tons as far as the forks of the canal of Piernas' plantation, twelve miles from its mouth. Its breadth is from one hundred and ten to one hundred and fifty yards, and it has six feet water on the bar at common tides, and nine feet at spring tides. Within the bar there is, for a considerable extent, sufficient water for vessels of from two to three hundred tons. Its principal branch is that which is called Bayou Mazant, which runs toward the southwest, and receives the waters of the canals of the plantations of Villeré, Lacoste and La Ronde, on which the enemy established his principal encampment. It was at the forks of the Canal Villeré and Bayou Mazant that the British ascended in their pinnaces, and effected a landing."

On the left bank of this Bayou Bienvenu, a mile and a half from its entrance into Lake Borgne, there was a village of Spanish and Italian fishermen, who used, through the canals which I have mentioned, to bring fish in their boats for the market of New Orleans. General Jackson, having given a general order for the obstruction of all the bayous below Manchac, was under the impression that the navigation of Bayou Bienvenu had been stopped. "This important service," says Jackson to the Secretary of War, in his Report of the 27th of December, 1814, "was committed, in the first instance, to a detachment from the Seventh Regiment, afterward to Colonel de La Ronde of the Louisiana Militia, and lastly, to make all sure, to Major-General Villeré, commanding the district between the river and the lakes, and who, being a native of the country, was presumed to be best acquainted with all those passes." But, from some unknown  p418 cause, General Jackson's intentions were defeated, and be it from want of time, or of materials, or from neglect or oversight, it was very near producing the fall of New Orleans into the hands of the enemy. Major Villeré, however, the son of the major-general of that name, who was stationed at his father's plantation with a small force, knowing that the British were hovering on Lake Borgne, sent in a boat, on the 21st, a squad of nine white men, two mulattoes and one negro, to the village of the fishermen, for the purpose of ascertaining the movements of the enemy. Unfortunately these fishermen had been bribed by the British, to whom they used to carry all the information they could pick up in New Orleans, where they were permitted to come daily and without suspicion to sell their fish. Three of them had even piloted, on the 20th of December, a British captain disguised like one of them, as far as the bank of the river, whose water he boasted of having tasted with impunity on that occasion. He had thus the opportunity of making a full survey of that part of the country, and, on his report, the commander-in‑chief determined to penetrate into Louisiana by Villeré's canal, the banks of which were found, at the time, to afford a firm footing for a landing-place in the prairie which skirts the lake, and a practicable highway to the river.

The village of the fishermen was inhabited by about thirty men. When the detachment sent by Major Villeré arrived there on the 21st, they found only one fisherman, who was lying in bed from sickness. The rest were said to have gone away the day before, in pursuit of their usual avocation, but in reality it was to serve as pilots to the British. The commander of the detachment immediately ordered a few men to proceed to some distance into the lake, and ascertain whether they could see anything of the enemy. They reported that they had observed  p419 nothing of a suspicious nature. A sentinel, however, was posted at some distance in advance of the last cabin toward the lake for the rest of the night, which was already partly spent. The same vigilance was exercised during the whole day of the 22d; at regular intervals, men were sent as far as two miles into the lake, and they saw nothing. Toward evening, three men arrived in a pirogue from Chef Menteur. They had traversed a considerable portion of the lake, and their report was that no enemy was to be seen. That night a sentinel was again posted near the mouth of the bayou in advance of the cabins. During the preceding night, the numerous dogs that were in the village kept up an incessant barking from some unknown cause, but during the next night not a bark was heard. The reason was, as discovered subsequently, that the fisherman who pretended to be sick had got up and locked all the dogs in one of the cabins. Some time after midnight the sentinel heard a noise in the direction of the lake; he gave the alarm, and the detachment ran to their arms. At that moment, the moon was disappearing behind the horizon, but by its last gleams they saw five barges rapidly advancing up the bayou with glittering bayonets and some light pieces of artillery. The disproportion of numbers was so great that they feared to fire, and retreated for concealment behind one of the cabins. As soon as the five barges had shot ahead of this cabin,​14 seven men of the detachment jumped into a boat, to escape by the lake, but they were cut off before they could push the boat from the shore. Then they attempted with the rest of their companions to escape in different other ways, but they were, some at the time, and others in a few hours afterward, all made prisoners, with the exception of only  p420 one, named Rey, who, after three days of uncommon fatigue, hardships and perils over trembling prairies, bayous, lagoons and canebrakes, arrived at the post of La Bertonniere on the road leading from Gentilly to Chef Menteur, too late to give timely information; for the battle of the 23d had already been fought.

Among the prisoners was the son of a respectable planter, called Ducros. He was interrogated as to the number of troops in New Orleans and its environs. His reply was, that there were from twelve to fifteen thousand men in New Orleans, and from three to four thousand at the English Turn. The other prisoners agreed in the same statement, which seems to have been the result of a preconcerted understanding among them on the subject. The fishermen had represented the forces in New Orleans as being insignificant, but as they were men of low character, very little weight was attached to their declarations, particularly when contradicted by more reliable testimony, according, besides, with the conjectures of the British, which were founded on what they thought strong probabilities. If this picket had been established on the shore of the lake itself, instead of its being permitted to take more comfortable quarters at the fishermen's village on the bayou, our men would not probably have been surprised, as they would have commanded a full view of the lake. It is also to be regretted that Major Villeré had not posted several intermediate pickets between the lake and his own quarters on the river. This omission was rendered more fatal by the unforeseen treachery of the fishermen and by the failure to obstruct the bayou according to orders. As it was, it seems that a sort of fatality was attached to the spot, and militated in favor of the invaders. It is due to the memory of that high-minded and patriotic gentleman, Major Villeré,  p421 to state that a court-martial held on the 15th of March, 1815, acquitted him of all blame, although he did not choose to introduce any testimony in his favor.

At four o'clock in the morning of the 23d, the first division of the British troops under General Keane had arrived at the mouth of Villeré's Canal, where they rested some hours. The forces which were destined for the attack of New Orleans had been collecting at Ile Aux Poix, or Pea Island, at the entrance of Pearl River, since the 17th. General Keane's division, which had thus reached the mouth of Villeré's Canal on the morning of the 23d, had sailed the day before, at 10 A.M., from Ile Aux Poix. From the head of this canal to the skirts of the woods which lined the rear of Major-General Villeré's plantation, there was about a mile, and from the skirts of the woods to the river about two miles. At about half-past eleven in the morning, the British troops had emigrated from the woods, and a detachment headed by Colonel Thornton had surrounded the house of General Villeré, in which was stationed a company of militia, who were all captured, with Major Villeré and another of the General's sons; but, a short time after his capture, the Major, with great presence of mind and cool intrepidity, availed himself of an opportunity to escape, and, jumping through a window, was soon out of the reach of the enemy, who fired at him many shots as he fled, and pursued him hotly for a considerable distance. It was during this pursuit that he is reported to have sheltered himself in the dense foliage of one of those magnificent live oaks so common in Louisiana, and an affecting anecdote is told of his having been compelled, with tears in his eyes, to kill at the foot of the protecting tree a favorite dog who had followed him in his flight, and who might have involuntarily betrayed his master.

 p422  At about 2 o'clock P.M. General Jackson was informed of the close proximity of the enemy and of the position he had taken. With his characteristic energy and clearness of perception he instantly decided to attack what he considered the vanguard of the invaders and give them no breathing-time. In half an hour after he had received the information, he had thrown forward, as far as Montreuil's plantation, one detachment of artillery with two field-pieces, one regiment, the 7th of the line, commanded by Major Peire, and a detachment of marines. Subsequently, General Coffee, who was in command of the Tennessee mounted rifle­men encamped four miles above the city, the volunteer dragoons of Mississippi under Colonel Hinds, and a company of New Orleans rifle­men under Captain Beale, were hurried forward in the direction of the enemy, and at 4 o'clock P.M. they had taken a position on the Rodriguez Canal. At 5 o'clock, the battalion of men of color under Major Daquin, the 44th Regiment of the line under Colonel Ross, and Plauché's battalion of uniform companies, composed of the élite of the native population of the city, of French origin, and of Frenchmen who had made it their home, came from Bayou St. John at a running pace, and traversed the city with the utmost expedition, while the windows and balconies were lined with women, children, and old men, who waved handkerchiefs, bestowed cheerful tokens of encouragement with tears in their eyes, and warmed the hearts of the citizen soldiers with all the demonstrations which anxious affection can suggest. Governor Claiborne was ordered, with the First, Second, and Fourth Regiments of Louisiana Militia, and a volunteer company of horse, with Carroll's Brigade of Tennesseeans, to take a position between the Colson and Darcantel plantations, in the plain of Gentilly, in order to cover the city in case of an attack on the side of Chef Menteur.

 p423  In the mean time the British had been leisurely establishing their camp on the bank of the Mississippi. Outposts and pickets were sent out; toward the city a strong detachment was thrown out on which might fall back, in case of need, the advanced posts which had been stationed behind fences and ditches; and the Commanding General, having established his headquarters in General Villeré's house, before which he placed in battery the three small cannons he had brought with his division, determined to wait for his expected reinforcements, with his left resting on the river, and his right on the swamp and forest from which he had just emigrated. About four o'clock, a picket of five mounted rifle­men, belonging to the dragoons of Feliciana, who had been sent to reconnoitre, having approached the enemy with too rash daring, received a well-directed fire of musketry from a British outpost concealed behind a fence on the boundary of Lacoste's and Laronde's plantations, by which they had one horse killed and two men wounded. Colonel Haynes, with Hinds' Mississippi troop of horse, composed of one hundred and seven men, next made his appearance; but, not being able to proceed beyond the strong advance which the British had thrown forward on the road to the city, he could not make a correct estimate of the strength of the forces which had landed. It was then that a negro was arrested, who had been sent by the British with printed copies of a proclamation in French and Spanish, nearly in the following lines: "Louisianians, remain quiet in your homes; your slaves shall be preserved to you, and your property respected. We make war only against Americans." This was signed by Admiral Cochrane and Major-General Keane. The same proclamation had been stuck up on the fences all along the road below Laronde's plantation.​15 In confirmation  p424 of their benevolent intentions for the native population, they had begun to make it known by every means in their power that they had on board of their fleet, as a sort of friends, guests, or spectators accompanying the expedition, three natives of Louisiana, then officers in the Spanish army, and whose names were Reggio, Guillemard and Grandpré.

At about seven o'clock P.M., night having completely set in, a part of the British troops, exhausted by fatigue, had lain down in their bivouacs in perfect confidence and security; others in the camp, and some pickets of the outposts, had lighted up large fires, at which they were cooking their suppers. At that moment a vessel made her appearance, gliding down the river with the current. She was frequently hailed by the British sentinels, but no answer was returned. It was the United States armed schooner Carolina, commanded by Captain Henley, and having on board Commodore Patterson, who, in obedience to the orders of General Jackson, had hurried from Bayou St. John, where he had been examining the batteries erecting by the navy, under Capt. Henley. His instructions were to anchor abreast of the enemy's camp and open fire upon them, whilst General Jackson should attack them on land. With the aid of sweeps and a strong scope of cable the ship sheered close ashore at the designated spot, and anchored quietly and silently, whilst her manoeuvres were examined with wondering curiosity by about a hundred of unsuspecting Englishmen who had taken her for a common boat plying on the Mississippi. Suddenly the stern and measured voice of command was heard, uttering distinctly these words: "Now, boys, give it to them for the honor of America." Then the vessel poured a heavy fire from her starboard batteries and small-arms, which was returned most spiritedly by the enemy with Congreve rockets and musketry  p425 from their whole force, when, after about forty minutes of most incessant fire, the enemy was silenced; but although it was too dark to see anything on shore,​16 the fire from the ship was continued until nine o'clock, on what was supposed to be the enemy's left flank, whilst engaged with our troops, as I shall presently describe. No injury was done to the schooner, nor to any of her crew, whilst it is believed that the British suffered a loss of about a hundred men from her fire. It is strange that Major-General Keane, in his report to Major-General Packenham, should have stated that "he was attacked by a large schooner and two gun-vessels, which had anchored abreast of the fires of his camp." There could be no possibility of mistaking one ship for three, particularly by so cool and so brave a man as Colonel Thornton, who, "in the most prompt and judicious manner, placed his brigade under the inward slope of the bank of the river," and by so experienced an officer as Lieutenant-Colonel Brooke, who, "with the 4th Regiment, took shelter behind some buildings which were near at hand." General Keane adds: "This movement was so rapid that the troops suffered no more than one casualty." It is fair to presume that this statement was as erroneous as that which he made concerning the number of the attacking vessels.

Whilst this engagement was going on between the Carolina and the British, the land attack began as it had been preconcerted, it having been understood that the fire from the Carolina was to be the signal. At five o'clock, General Jackson had put himself at the head of all his available forces, which, he says in a dispatch to the Secretary of War, "did not exceed fifteen hundred men, with an artillery composed of only two six-pounders," although it appears that he had in reality two  p426 thousand one hundred and thirty-one men, of whom about eighteen hundred were engaged.​17 At seven o'clock, General Jackson had arrived near the enemy's encampment, which he estimated at three thousand strong, drawn up in échelons half a mile on the river bank, and extending their right wing nearly to the woods. The American General immediately made his dispositions to attack. He ordered General Coffee, who had about six hundred men under his command, to turn the British right, whilst with the residue of his force he would attack his left near the river, which was his strongest position. Colonel De Laronde, the owner of the plantation on which our troops were formed, and who therefore knew every inch of the ground, was ordered by General Jackson to accompany General Coffee as a guide. Colonel Piatt, quartermaster-general, with a company of the Seventh Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant McKlelland, was the first to drive the enemy's outposts on the high road near the river; but the British having received reinforcements, and being now about three hundred strong, resumed their former position, and kept up a brisk fire of musketry against our detachment, who as briskly right distant. Colonel Piatt received a wound in the leg, Lieutenant McKlelland and a sergeant were killed, and a few privates wounded. In the mean time, the Seventh Regiment of the line, coming to the support of the corps thus engaged, had advanced by heads of companies, parallel to the right resting on the high road near the river, until within one hundred and fifty yards, where it formed in battalion before the enemy, with whom it instantly exchanged a very brisk and close fire.​18 The Forty-fourth came up at the same time, formed on the left of the Seventh, which had begun the  p427 action, and, on the right of the artillery, the marines were drawn up on the river bank. The engagement now became general on both sides.

The enemy, seeing that he could not make our troops give way, attempted to flank us on our left about three thousand yards from the river, and the Forty-fourth, commanded by Captain Baker, had already begun to oblique to meet the flanking column of the enemy, when Major Plauché's battalion, with Major Daquin's battalion of colored men, and a small number of Indians under Captain Juzan, advanced to meet the movement of the British, with their right a little in the rear of the Forty-fourth, and their left resting on the angle of Laronde's garden. The enemy's column, which had advanced silently in the dark to flank the Forty-fourth, almost stumbled within pistol-shot on the extremity of Daquin's battalion, which was now between the Forty-fourth and Daquin's colored men, and instantly a well-sustained fire began, and was warmly kept up on both sides. Plauché'sº battalion, which was now between the Forty-fourth and Daquin's colored men, and therefore forming the centre, advanced in close column and deployed under the enemy's fire, which extended along our whole front from the bank of the river to Laronde's garden, where it formed a kind of angle or curve, on account of the attempted flanking movement. At this moment some confusion occurred, because some of the men of Plauché's battalion mistook the Forty-fourth for the English, and fired into them, but the disorder was soon repaired and already were our troops, carried away by their martial enthusiasm, clamoring from rank to rank to charge with the bayonet, and already was Plauché giving the desired order, when it was countermanded by Colonel Ross, who had the superior command of the two battalions, and who inopportunely came up in time to check this able and judicious manoeuvre. Had it been made; had Plauché's battalion  p428 advanced to the charge, observes a competent military critic,​19 the enemy's retreat would have been cut off on his right, and he would have been completely surrounded by General Coffee's brigade, which was advancing in his rear, by Plauché's battalion on his left, Daquin's in front, and Laronde's great hedge of orange-trees on the right; so that most of that column would have been compelled to lay down their arms. As it was, the enemy gradually gave way, and retired in safety, favored by the darkness which was increased by a rising fog, and the smoke which a light breeze blew full in the face of our men. The British must have retreated with the conviction that their hopes of neutrality on the part of the French and of the natives of Louisiana were entirely frustrated, for they heard everywhere, during the engagement, the French words of command with which they had become so familiar on the European battle-fields. Whilst this was going on, our two six-pounders had been playing successfully upon the British, who attempted to seize them; but the marines rushed to the rescue on the right, and a close and rapid fire from the Seventh of the line, on the left, effectually kept them off. It was, however, a critical moment, for the British attacked with their usual impetuous gallantry. But General Jackson in person, in advance of all who were near him, within pistol-shot of the enemy, in the midst of a shower of bullets, was spiriting and urging on the marines and the men of the Seventh. Animated by such a voice, and with such an example before their eyes, our men could not but act heroically, and the enemy's charge on the artillery was repulsed with a heavy loss on his side.

While such were the operations on our right, General Coffee's Division on our left had attempted to execute  p429 the movement of flanking the enemy's right near the woods and swamp. Arriving at a ditch and a fence separating Laronde's plantation from Lacoste's, on his way to Villeré's plantation on which Keane had established his camp, and which was next to Laronde's, General Coffee ordered his rifle­men to dismount, and left one hundred of them to take care of the horses and have them ready when wanted. He then with the rest of his troops pushed forward, followed by Capt. Beale's Orleans Rifle­men, and by the Mississippi dragoons under Hinds, numbering one hundred and seven men. But this detachment of cavalry, finding that it was impossible for them to manoeuvre in fields cut up with ditches at very close intervals, remained drawn up on the edge of a ditch in the middle of Lacoste's plantation. Coffee moved on rapidly after having ordered his men to advance in profound silence, and to fire without order, taking deliberate aim with their utmost skill. He knew from experience what that skill was, and what destruction it would produce. He briskly drove the enemy's outposts before him until he met the Eighty-fifth drawn up on Lacoste's plantation, but on the first fire of the Tennesseeans, that regiment fell back toward their camp behind an old levee near the river. About that time General Coffee discovered that several parties of the enemy were posted among Lacoste's negro huts, and ordered his men to drive them out, which was soon effected. These negro huts long exhibited evident proofs of the unerring aim of the gallant Tennesseeans. In one spot particularly were seen half a dozen marks of their balls in a diameter of four inches, which were probably all fired at the same object. Some British soldiers were killed or taken prisoners in endeavoring to escape toward the woods, in a direction opposite to their camp; "so true was it," as observed by Major  p430 Latour, "that the British troops were struck with consternation on being attacked in so vigilant, judicious and unexpected a manner." Captain Beale's Rifle­men, having become separated from Coffee's Division, advanced within Villeré's plantation, penetrated into the very camp of the enemy, and after having made several prisoners, were attempting to rejoin General Coffee, whose movement had been steady from our left to our right, when unfortunately, through a mistake owing to the darkness of the night, some of these intrepid men fell among a strong body of British troops who were just arriving from the Lake, and moving rapidly from the woods toward their camp. They took those troops for Coffee's Division, and were captured. The rest of the company had succeeded in retreating to our lines with several prisoners.20

General Coffee's Division was now maintaining its position in front of the old levee on Lacoste's plantation, where it continued to keep up a galling and well-directed fire on the troops it had driven toward the river, and which it thus exposed to the fire of the Carolina. It was half after nine o'clock, and the enemy, who certainly had got the worst of the battle, finding his position, if not untenable, at least dangerous, fell back to his camp on Villeré's plantation, where he passed the night under arms and without fire. General Coffee, aware of the retreat of the enemy, and thinking it prudent not to remain in a position which exposed him to the broadsides of the Carolina, when, owing to the darkness, friends could not be distinguished from foes, fell back also, and took a position for the night in front of Laronde's garden, on the left of the other troops. When this engagement began on the plain extending from the river to the swamp, the second division of British troops  p431 were arriving at the fishermen's village. They were disembarking, when they heard the firing which announced to them that their first division was engaged. Admirals Cochrane and Malcolm, who were present, hurried the disembarkation of the troops, and pushed them forward with such rapidity that, in less than an hour, a considerable portion of them had reached the scene of action, in which they were enabled to take an active part. Although thus reinforced, the enemy, after retreating to their camp, were very much alarmed at the prospect of being cut off from the only communication they had through Villeré's canal with their fleet, and took every precaution to prevent such a disaster. Such were their apprehensions,​21 that they posted double lines of sentries, so that, in walking in a contrary direction, they met and crossed each other.

In this battle the British artillery consisted only of two three-pounders. They went into it with about eighteen hundred men, but with the reinforcements which they received before it was over, the British force engaged may be estimated at two thousand five hundred men. There was little method or system observed in the course of this action, on account of the obscurity of the night and the nature of the ground, which was intersected with ditches and fences. The difficulty on the part of the combatants to ascertain their respective positions naturally produced a good deal of confusion. There could not be any concert of action; detachments and small bodies of men, being accidentally separated from the larger corps they belonged to, acted for themselves according to circumstances. It was a series of duels between regiments, battalions, companies, squads, and even single men. There was a great deal of hand-to‑hand  p432 fighting, and much individual prowess was displayed. In such a mêlée many a lamentable mistake was made, and friends fired at friends on repeated occasions. Major-General Keane, in his report of the 26th December to the Commander-in‑Chief, Sir Edward Packenham, says, particularly in relation to the conflict between his troops and Coffee's Tennesseeans and Beale's Orleans Rifle­men: "A more extraordinary conflict has perhaps never occurred; absolutely hand-to‑hand, both officers and men." He erroneously estimates General Jackson's forces in the battle at five thousand men, which may be accounted for on the ground that the British took every uniform company of the Louisiana militia for a battalion, as each of them wore a different uniform. But another error which cannot be so easily explained is, that he claimed to have remained master of the battle-field; which is not the truth. General Jackson, with much more correctness, says in his report to the Secretary of War dated on the 27th of December: "There can be but little doubt that we should have succeeded, on that occasion, with our inferior force, in destroying or capturing the enemy, had not a thick fog which rose about eight o'clock occasioned some confusion among the different corps. Fearing the consequences, under this circumstance, of the further prosecution of the night attack with troops then acting together for the first time, I contented myself with lying on the field that night." The fact is that General Keane's report is written with remarkable inaccuracy, for he states that the battle began at eight and ended at twelve, whilst it is beyond doubt that it began at seven and was entirely over at half-past nine. The time of its duration, according to his statement, is as apocryphal as the victory he claims. The loss of the enemy in this affair was about four hundred. Ours was 24 killed,  p433 115 wounded, officers included, and 74 prisoners — in all 213. The death of Colonel Lauderdale, of General Coffee's brigade of mounted rifle­men, was particularly regretted. He fell at the post of honor, leaving the reputation of a brave and accomplished officer.

In his official report on this battle, General Jackson uses the following language:

"In this affair the whole corps under my command deserve the greatest credit. The best compliment I can pay to General Coffee and his brigade, is to say, they behaved as they have always done while under my command. The 7th, led by Major Peire, and the 44th, commanded by Colonel Ross, distinguished themselves. The battalion of city militia, commanded by Major Plauché, realized my anticipations, and behaved like veterans; Savary's volunteers manifested great bravery; and the company of city rifle­men, having penetrated into the midst of the enemy's camp, were surrounded, and fought their way out with the greatest heroism, bringing with them a number of prisoners. The two field-pieces were well served by the officer commanding them.

"All my officers in the line did their duty, and I have every reason to be satisfied with the whole of my land and staff. Colonels Butler and Piatt, and Major Chotard, by their intrepidity, saved the artillery. Colonel Haynes was everywhere that duty or danger called. I was deprived of the services of one of my aids, Captain Butler, whom I was obliged to station, to his great regret, in town. Captain Reid, my other aid, and Messrs. Livingston, Duplessis and Davezac, who had volunteered their services, faced danger wherever it was to be met, and carried my orders with the utmost promptitude. Colonel De Laronde, Major Villeré of the Louisiana militia, Major Latour of Engineers, having no command, volunteered their services, as did Drs. Kerr and Flood, and were of great assistance to me."

A detachment of the Louisiana drafted militia, three hundred and fifty men strong, under the command of Brigadier-General David Morgan, was posted at the English Turn, below Villeré's plantation. It was about one o'clock in the afternoon when they became aware of the appearance of the British on the bank of the river,  p434 one hour sooner than the news reached General Jackson. The men ran to their arms, and both privates and officers were clamorous to be led to meet the foe. But General Morgan, in the absence of orders from headquarters, and acting under the impression that it would be better to wait for some indication of what General Jackson intended to do, refused to gratify the importunities of his subordinates, whose impatience at their inactivity increased every hour. But when they heard the roar of the artillery and the discharges of the musketry, it became impossible to restrain their ardor any longer, and the consent of General Morgan to their marching instantly was hailed with universal acclamation. Full of enthusiasm, they pushed forward so rapidly, that the action was at the hottest when they arrived at the spot where the road which leads to Terre aux Boeufs diverges from the one which runs along the bank of the river, and they continued to advance, preceded by two pickets, the one on the high road, and the other in the fields near the woods. On reaching Jumonville's plantation, which preceded Villeré's plantation, our pickets which were coming up on the high road fired at a party of the enemy posted at a bridge thrown over a canal running perpendicularly to the road. The British, after having returned the fire, retired behind the canal. It was now half-past eleven, and the battle between Jackson's forces and Keane's had ceased for two hours. Vain efforts were made to reconnoitre, and to ascertain the strength of the enemy. The obscurity of the night was such, and the danger of falling into some ambuscade was so probable, that General Morgan ordered his battalion to take a position in a neighboring field, where it remained until about three the next morning, when General Morgan held a council of war, in which it was deemed expedient by the officers, on account of their ignorance of what  p435 had become of our main forces under General Jackson, to retreat to their former position at the English Turn, where they arrived early on the morning of the 24th, after fatiguing marches through mud and darkness. Several soldiers belonging to this battalion, who had just left the hospital to march against the enemy, had been obliged to remain behind from exhaustion, when the battalion retreated. At daybreak they could reconnoitre to some extent, and on their return they reported that in the same field in which the battalion had formed in the night, there was, within a short distance, a British corps of six hundred men,​22 who, probably thinking the Americans stronger than they were, had not dared to attack them.

The discharges of artillery and musketry were as distinctly heard in New Orleans, whilst the battle was going on, as if the event had taken place in its suburbs. Describing the condition of the city during this period of suspense and anxiety, Judge Martin, who witnessed all that occurred, who, in his History of Louisiana, does full justice to the patriotism displayed by the State during the invasion, and who treats with much asperity the attitude which, five days after the battle of the 23d, General Jackson assumed toward the Legislature, says:

"A report was spread that Jackson, before his departure, had taken measures and given positive orders for blowing up the magazine and setting fire to various parts of the city, in case the British succeeded in forcing his ranks. His conduct in this respect was considered by some as an evidence of his deeming his defeat a probable event. The old inhabitants, who had great confidence in the natural obstacles which the situation of the capital presents to an invading foe, and which they thought insurmountable if proper attention was bestowed, concluded that it had been neglected. They lamented that the protection of the city had been confided to an utter stranger to the topography of its environs,  p436 and while frequent explosions of musketry and artillery reminded them that their sons were facing warlike soldiers, they grieved that the commander was an officer who, in the beginning of the year, had hardly ever met but an Indian enemy, and whose inexperience appeared demonstrated by the rash step attributed to him. The truth or falsity of the report was sought to be ascertained by an application to the officer left in command at the city, who declined to admit or deny that the steps had been taken, or the order given.

"A circumstance tended to present the conflagration of New Orleans as a more distressing event than that of Moscow. The burning of the houses of several planters above the city, in 1811, was remembered, and apprehensions had been entertained that British emissaries would be ready, a short time before the main attack, to induce the slaves toward Baton Rouge, or Donaldsonville, to begin the conflagration of their owners' houses, and march toward the city, spreading terror, dismay, fire and slaughter; and a dread prevailed that Jackson's firing of the city would be taken by them for the signal at which they were to begin the havoc, even in case their apprehensions from British emissaries were groundless. The idea of thus finding themselves with their wives, children, and old men driven by the flames of their houses toward a black enemy bringing down destruction, harrowed up the minds of the inhabitants. Persons, however, who hourly came up from the field of battle, brought from time to time such information as gradually dispelled these alarms, and in the morning a sense of present safety inspired quite different sensations, and the accounts which were received of Jackson's cool, intrepid, and soldierlike behavior excited universal admiration."

If this is the truth; if General Jackson was informed, as he must have been by those who were thought to be interested in prejudicing his mind, that while he was confronting the enemy, and doing his best to save New Orleans from the direful calamity with which it was threatened, his conduct was considered by "some" in the city "as an evidence of his deeming his defeat a probable event;" and that the old inhabitants had come to the conclusion "that he did not know how to avail himself of the naturally insurmountable obstacles which the capital  p437 offered to an invading foe;" if they lamented that the protection of the city "had been confided to an utter stranger to the topography of its environs;" if, while frequent explosions of musketry and artillery reminded them that their sons were facing warlike soldiers, "they grieved that their commander was an officer who, in the beginning of the year, had hardly met any but an Indian enemy, and whose inexperience appeared demonstrated by the rash step attributed to him," in ordering the burning of the city, is it not to be supposed that, in this convulsive state of terror and distrust, those who thus suffered in mind may have used imprudent expressions, and been betrayed into the uttering of statements liable to misconstructions, which, being reported to General Jackson with the usual exaggerations in such cases, may have produced an impression that explains what he did subsequently, much to the mortification and resentment of those for whom it was perhaps but too natural that they should not be able to take a dispassionate view of the whole question?

We must also bear in mind that an application was made to the officer left in command of the city, at the time when the issue of the battle was doubtful, to ascertain what orders the commander-in‑chief had given him. That officer very properly refused to reply to such inquiries. Who took such an extraordinary step? Could they be others than citizens of note and influence? Were they members of the Legislature, although acting in an unofficial capacity? Judge Martin does not say. What could be the object, when the battle was going on, in thus attempting to ferret out the orders left by General Jackson with the commanding officer in the city? Was it to facilitate those orders? Was it to obstruct them? However patriotic or guiltless the intention was, the act itself was highly injudicious; it was probably the mere  p438 consequence of extreme fear. If these facts were reported to General Jackson, they certainly must have produced an unpleasant impression, and may have revived some of those suspicions which he had unfortunately entertained, and which seemed lately to have entirely died away, although he must have made a large allowance for the thoughtlessness and imprudence of minds "harrowed up by the recollection of the burning of Moscow," by the apprehensions of a worse fate in consequence of a negro insurrection, or by the prospect of a Saragozaº conflict from street to street in New Orleans, and of the horrors which might be perpetrated by an infuriated foe. All these circumstances we shall have to take into consideration, when we shall relate and appreciate, like an honest and truthful historian, an event which has produced so deep a feeling of resentment that, to the present day, a tone of anger frequently pervades the pages of history when dealing with the subject. We shall endeavor to divest ourself of all passion and to do sober justice to all parties.

Well, however, might the citizens of New Orleans on the next morning feel their alarms of the preceding night "gradually dispelled;" well might, when rose the sun of the 24th, "a sense of safety have inspired them with quite different sensations;" well might "the accounts which they received of Jackson's cool, intrepid and soldierlike behavior have excited universal admiration;" for the battle of the 23d had saved Louisiana. Jackson had accomplished all that he wanted; he had successfully opposed his raw troops to far-famed veterans, and gloriously administered to his undisciplined and new-fledged soldiers the baptism of fire. The result was that they now had confidence in him and in themselves. He had stunned the enemy by giving him a sudden and unexpected blow which made him reel back. He gained  p439 time by it — the time which he needed to fortify, and receive reinforcements. He made the enemy believe that he was stronger than he was, caused him to hesitate, and inspired him with doubts and apprehensions which he did not entertain before. The British now felt that there were no despicable obstacles before them. If General Jackson had wavered, if he had not marched to attack the foe with such well-devised impetuosity, it is not improbable that at daybreak, on the 24th, the two divisions of the British troops, having operated their junction and being five thousand strong, would have marched against New Orleans, which was situated in an open plain without the shadow of any fortification. General Jackson could at best have brought into the field no more than an equal number of men to those of the British, who, in broad daylight, would at a glance have seen the small number of badly-armed militia they had to contend with. Most of the militia were unprovided with bayonets, that terrible weapon which the highly disciplined troops of Great Britain would have used with its usual efficacy. It is not, therefore, too much to say that, according to all human probabilities, the British would have won the day, and the consequences of such a disaster can easily be appreciated.

Fortunately, General Jackson gave them no such chance. He fought the battle of the 23d under circumstances which permitted him to hope for the victory which he gained. After that victory he acted with consummate prudence. Aware of the necessity of immediately assuming a position where he might throw up intrenchments, at 4 o'clock in the morning, after having passed the night on the battle-field, he fell back about two miles nearer to the city, where he determined to remain encamped behind a canal known as the Rodriguez Canal, and wait there for the arrival of the expected  p440 Kentucky militia and other reinforcements. "As the safety of the city," wrote Jackson to the Secretary of War, "will depend on the fate of this army, it must not be incautiously exposed."

Governor Claiborne, in the relation​23 which he sent of this affair to Governor Blount of Tennessee, rendered full justice to the Louisianians and to the patriotic concord which existed among all the troops: "The enemy," he said, "suffered considerably, and, but for the darkness of the night which caused some little confusion in our ranks, the affair would have been decisive. The Tennessee troops equal the high expectations which were formed of them. It is impossible for men to display more patriotism, firmness in battle, or composure under fatigue and privations. The Louisianians also deserve and will receive the highest approbation. We are united as one man, and a spirit prevails which insures our safety."

The Author's Notes:

1 Claiborne's Dispatch to Monroe, December 9, 1814.

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2 Major Lacarriere Latour was a Frenchman, and a very able officer. He was employed as Principal Engineer in the Seventh Military District of the U. S. Army.

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3 Latour's Historical Memoir, p55.

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4 Latour's Memoir, p7.

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5 Martin's History of Louisiana, p346, vol. 2.

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6 Do., p346, vol. 2.

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7 Martin's History of Louisiana, p344, vol. 2

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8 Martin's History of Louisiana, p340, vol. 2

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{ Jones's Report to Commodore Patterson.
Lockyer's to Admiral Cochrane.
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10 Latour's Historical Memoir, p65.

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11 Latour's Historical Memoir, p74.

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12 Preamble of the Act to grant delays in the cases therein mentioned, approved December 18, 1814.

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13 Martin's History of Louisiana, p351, vol. 2.

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14 Lacarriere Latour's Historical Memoir, p82.

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15 Lacarriere Latour's Historical Memoir, p91.

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16 Commodore Patterson's dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy.

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17 Latour's Historical Memoir, p106.

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18 Latour's Historical Memoir, p96.

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19 Latour's Memoir, p110.

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20 Latour's Memoir,º p99.

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21 Latour's Memoir, p100.

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22 Latour's Memoir, p102.

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23 Claiborne to Gov. Blount of Nashville, Dec. 30, 1814.

Thayer's Notes:

a The comprehensive final edition (1867) of Gayarré's own History of Louisiana — that you are now reading — was published in New York.

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b French military engineer Louis de Tousard has half a claim to being the founder of the United States Military Academy. His background and his proposal to the American Secretary of War (1798) for a military school are examined in some detail in "The Forgotten 'Founder' of West Point", Military Affairs 24:177‑188.

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