The following Letters were not the produce of mere recollection, but were formed from the substance of a journal kept, with considerable care, during the progress of the events which they record. Some of these were, indeed, too striking to have been easily forgotten, as to their general character; but for the detail of minute circumstances, which, it is hoped, will be found to possess some degree of interest, memory alone would not have been a secure or sufficient guide. The introductory and final forms of epistolary writing have been purposely omitted; but for all the particulars, however extraordinary, the Author is thus: enabled fairly to pledge his credit. The Letters will perhaps, obtain the more attention, as conveying the first detailed account of this concluding expedition of the war.
Philadelphia, July 5, 1821.
The following work, although more fair and candid, in most particulars, than the generality of those published in Europe respecting this country, contains some important errors and misstatements, which have called forth various animadversions in different parts of the United States. The American editor hopes he has performed an acceptable service to his fellow citizens, by presenting, in a condensed form, the most important of those animadversions, with such interlocutory remarks as appeared necessary to connect. and illustrate them.
But the period granted for such indulgence was not of long duration, for, on the following morning, the Tonnant, Ramilies, and two brigs, stood to sea, and on the 26th, the rest of the fleet got under weigh, and followed the Admiral. It is impossible to conceive a finer sea-view than this general stir presented. Our fleet amounted now to upwards of fifty sail, many of them vessels of war, which shaking loose their topsails, and lifting their anchors at the same moment, gave to Negril Bay an appearance of bustle such as it has seldom been able to show. In half an hour all the canvas was set, and the ships moved slowly and proudly from their anchorage, till having cleared the headlands, and caught the fair breeze which blew without, they bounded over the water with the speed of eagles, and long before dark, the coast of Jamaica had disappeared.
There is something in rapidity of motion, whether it be along a high road, or across the deep, extremely elevating; nor was its effect unperceived on the present occasion. It is true, that there were other causes for the high spirits which wow pervaded the armament, but I question if any one was more efficient in their production, than the astonishing rate of our sailing. Whether the business we were about to undertake would prove bloody, or the reverse, entered not into the contemplation of a single individual in the fleet. The sole subject of remark was the speed with which we got over the ground, and the probability that existed of our soon reaching the point of debarkation. The change of climate, likewise, was not without its effect in producing pleasurable sensations. The farther we got from Jamaica, the more cool and agreeable became the atmosphere; which led us to hope that, in spite of its southern latitude, New Orleans would not be found so oppressively hot as we had been taught to expect.
The breeze continuing to last without interruption, on the 29th we came in sight of the island of Grand Cayman. This is a small speck in the middle of the sea, lying so near the level of the water, as to be unobservable at any considerable distance. Though we passed along with prodigious velocity, a canoe nevertheless ventured off from the shore, and making its way through waves which looked as if they would swallow it up, succeeded in reaching our vessel. It contained a white man and two negroes, who brought off a quantity of fine turtle, which they gave us in exchange for salt pork; and so great was the value put upon salt provisions, that they bartered a pound and a half of the one for a pound of the other. To us the exchange was very acceptable, and thus both parties remained satisfied with their bargain.
Having lain to till our turtle merchants left us, we again filled and stood our course. The land of Cayman was soon invisible; nor was any other perceived till the 2d of December, when the western shores of Cuba presented themselves. Towards them we now directed the ship’s head, and reaching in within a few miles of the beach, coasted along till we had doubled the promontory which forms one of the jaws of the Mexican gulf. While keeping thus close to the shore, our sail was more interesting than usual, for though this side of Cuba is low, it is still picturesque, from the abundance of wood with which it is ornamented. There are likewise several points where huge rocks rise perpendicularly out of the water, presenting the appearance of old baronial castles, with their battlements and lofty turrets; and it will easily be believed, that none of these escaped our observation. The few books which we had brought to sea, were all read, many of them twice and three times through; and there now remained nothing to amuse, except what the variety of the voyage could produce.
But the shores of Cuba were quickly passed, and the old prospect of sea and sky again met the gaze. There was, however, one circumstance, from which we experienced a considerable diminution of comfort. As soon as we entered the gulf, a short disagreeable swell was perceptible; differing in some respects from that in the Bay of Biscay, but to my mind infinitely more unpleasant. So great was the motion, indeed, that all walking was prevented; but as we felt ourselves drawing every hour nearer and nearer to the conclusion of our miseries, this additional one was borne without much repining. Besides, we found some amusement in watching from the cabin windows, the quantity and variety of weed with which the surface of this gulf is covered. Where it originally grows, I could not learn, though I should think most probably in the gulf itself; but following the course of the stream, it floats continually in one direction; going round by the opposite coast of Cuba, towards the banks of Newfoundland, and extending sometimes as far as Bermuda and the Western Isles.
It is not, however, my intention to continue the detail of this voyage longer than may be interesting; I shall therefore merely state, that, the wind and weather having undergone some variations, it was the 10th of December before the shores of America could be discerned. On that clay we found ourselves opposite to the Chandeleur Islands, and near the entrance of Lake Borgne. There the fleet anchored, that the troops might be removed from the heavy ships, into such as drew least water; and from this and other preparations, it appeared, that to ascend this lake was the plan determined upon.
But before I pursue my narrative farther, it will be well if I endeavour to give some account of the situation of New Orleans, and of the nature of the country against which our operations were directed.
New Orleans is a town of some note, containing from twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. It stands upon the eastern bank of the Mississippi, in 30� north latitude, and about 110 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Though in itself unfortified, it is difficult to conceive a place capable of presenting greater obstacles to an invader; and at the same time more conveniently situated with respect to trade. Being built upon a narrow neck of land, confined on one side by the river, and on the other by impassable morasses, its means of defence require little explanation; and as these morasses extend only a few miles, and are succeeded by Lake Pontchartrain, which again communicates through Lake Borgne, with the sea, its peculiar commercial advantages must be equally apparent. It is by means of the former of these Lakes, indeed, that intercourse is maintained between the city and the northern parts of West Florida, of which it is the capital ; a narrow creek, called, in the language of the country, a Bayou or Bayouke, navigable for vessels drawing less than six feet water, running up through the marsh, and ending within two miles of the town. The name of this creek is the Bayouke of St. John, and its entrance is defended by works of considerable strength.
But to exhibit its advantages in a more distinct point of view, it will be necessary to say a few words respecting that mighty river upon which it stands. The Mississippi, (a corruption of the word Mechasippi, signifying, in the language of the natives, ‘the father of rivers,’) is allowed to be inferior, in point of size and general navigability, to few streams in the world. According to the Sioux Indians, it takes its rise from a large swamp, and is increased by many rivers emptying themselves into its course as far as the fall of St. Anthony, which, by their account, is upwards of seven hundred leagues from its source. But this fall, which is formed by a rock thrown across the channel, of about twelve feet perpendicular height, is known to be eight hundred leagues from the sea; and Pontchartrain. They are both extremely shallow, varying from 12 to 6 feet in depth. Therefore the whole course of the Mississippi, from its spring to its mouth, may be computed at little short of 5,000 miles.
Below the fall of St. Anthony, again, the Mississippi is joined by a number of rivers considerable in point of size, and leading out of almost every part of the continent of America. These are the St. Pierre, which comes from the west; St. Croix, from the east; the Moingona, which is said to run 150 leagues from the west, and forms a junction about 250 below the fall; and the Illinois, which rises near the Lake Michigan, 200 leagues east of the Mississippi.
But by far the most important of these auxiliary streams is the Missouri, the source of which is as little known as that of the Father of Rivers himself. It has been followed by traders upwards of 400 leagues, who traffic with the tribes which dwell upon its banks, and obtain an immense return for European goods. The mouth of this river is five leagues below that of the Illinois, and is supposed to be 800 from its source, which, judging from the flow of its waters, lies in a northwest direction from the Mississippi. It is remarkable enough, that the waters of this river are black and muddy, and prevail over those of the Mississippi, which, running with a clear and gentle stream till it meets with this addition, becomes from that time both dark and rapid.
The next river of note is the Ohio, which, taking its rise near Lake Erie, runs from the northeast to the southwest, and joins the Mississippi about seventy leagues below the Missouri. Besides this, there are the St. Francis, an inconsiderable stream, and the Arkansas, which is said to originate in the same latitude with Santa Fé in New Mexico, and which, holding its course nearly 300 leagues, falls in about 200 above New Orleans. Sixty leagues below the Arkansas, comes the Yazous from the northeast; and about fifty-eight nearer to the city, is the Rouge, so called from the colour of its waters, which are of a reddish dye, and tinge those of the Mississippi at the time of the floods. Its source is in New Mexico, and after running about 200 leagues, it is joined by the Noir thirty miles above the place where it empties itself into the Mississippi.
Of all these rivers, there is none which will not answer the purposes of commerce, at least to a very considerable extent; and as they join the Mississippi above New Orleans, it is evident that this city may be considered as the general mart of the whole. Whatever nation, therefore, chances to possess this place, possesses in reality the command of a greater extent of country than is included within the boundary line of the whole United States; since from every direction are goods, the produce of East, West, North, and South America sent down by the Mississippi to the Gulf. But were New Orleans properly supplied with fortifications, it is evident that no vessels could pass without the leave of its governor; and therefore is it that I consider that city as of greater importance to the American government, than any other within the compass of their territories.
Having said so much on its commercial advantages, let me now point out more distinctly than I have yet done, the causes which contribute to its safety from all hostile attempts. The first of these is the shallowness of the river at its mouth, and the extreme rapidity of the current. After flowing on in one prodigious sheet of water, varying in depth from one hundred to thirty fathoms, the Mississippi, previous to its joining the Mexican Gulf, divides into four or five mouths, the most considerable of which is encumbered by a sand-bank, continually liable to shift. Over this bank, no vessel drawing above seventeen feet water, can pass; when once across, however, there is no longer a difficulty in being floated; but to anchor is hazardous, on account of the huge logs which are constantly carried down the stream. Should one of these strike the bow of the ship, it would possibly dash her to pieces; while, independent of this, there is always danger of drifting, or losing anchors, owing to the number of sunken logs which the undercurrent bears along within a few feet of the bottom. All vessels ascending the river are accordingly obliged, if the wind be foul, to make fast to the trees upon the banks; because, without a breeze at once fair and powerful, it is impossible to stem the torrent.
But besides this natural obstacle to invasion, the mouth of the river is defended by a fort, which, from its situation, may be pronounced impregnable. It is built upon an artificial causeway, and is surrounded on all sides by swamps totally impervious, which extend on both sides of the river to a place called the Detour des Anglais, within twenty miles of the city. Here two other forts are erected, one on each bank. Like that at the river’s mouth, these are surrounded by a marsh, a single narrow path conducting from the commencement of firm ground to the gates of each. If, therefore, an enemy should contrive to pass both the bar and the first fort, he must here be stopped, because all landing is prevented by the nature of the soil; and however fair his breeze may have hitherto been, it will not now assist his farther progress. At this point the Mississippi winds almost in a circle, in so much that vessels which arrive are necessitated to make fast, till a change of wind occur.
From the Detour des Anglais towards New Orleans, the face of the country undergoes an alteration. The swamp does not, indeed, end, but it narrows off to the right, leaving a space of firm ground, varying from three to one mile in width, between it and the river. At the back of this swamp, again, which may be about six or eight miles across, come up the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, and thus a neck of arable land is formed, stretching for some way above the city. The whole of these morasses are covered, as far as the Detour, with tall reeds; a little wood now succeeds, skirting the open country, but this is only a mile in depth, when it again gives place to reeds. Such is the aspect of that side of the river upon which the city is built; with respect to the other, I can speak with less confidence, having seen it but cursorily. It appears, however, to resemble this in almost every particular, except that it is more wooded, and less confined with marsh. Both sides are flat, containing no broken ground, or any other cover for military movements; for on the open shore there are no trees, except a few in the gardens of those houses which skirt the river, the whole being laid out in large fields of sugar-cane, separated from one another by rails and ditches.
From this short account of the country, the advantages possessed by a defending army must be apparent. To approach by the river is out of the question, and therefore an enemy can land only from the Lake. But this can be done no where, exceptwhere creeks or bayous offer conveniences for that purpose, because the banks of the lake are universally swampy; and can hardly supply footing for infantry, far less for the transportation of artillery. Of these, however, there are not above one or two which could be so used. The Bayou of St. John is one; but it is too well defended, and too carefully guarded for any attempts; and the Bayou of Catiline is another, about ten miles below the city. That this last might be found useful in an attack, was proved by the landing effected by our army at that point; but what is the consequence? The invaders arrive upon a piece of ground, where the most consummate generalship will be of little avail. If the defenders can but retard their progress; which, by crowding the Mississippi with armed vessels, may very easily be done, the labour of a few days will cover this narrow neck with entrenchments; while the opposite bank, remaining in their hands, they can at all times gall their enemy with a close and deadly cannonade. Of wood, as I have already said, or broken ground which might conceal an advance, there exists not a particle. Every movement of the assailants must, therefore, be made under their eyes; and as one flank of their army will be as well defended by morass, as the other by the river, they may bid defiance to all attempts at turning.
Such are the advantages of New Orleans; and now it is only fair, that I should state its disadvantages: these are owing solely to the climate. From the swamps with which it is surrounded, there arise, during the summer months, exhalations extremely fatal to the health of its inhabitants. For some months of the year, indeed, so deadly are the effects of the atmosphere, that the garrison is withdrawn, and most of the families retire from their houses to more genial spots, leaving the town as much deserted, as if it had been visited by a pestilence. Yet, in spite of these precautions, agues and intermittent fevers abound here at all times. Nor is it wonderful that this should be the case; for independent of the vile air which the vicinity of so many putrid swamps occasions, this country is more liable than perhaps any other, to sudden and severe changes of temperature. A night of keen frost, sufficiently powerful to produce ice, a quarter of an inch in thickness, frequently follows a day of intense heat; while heavy rains and bright sunshine often succeed each other several times, in the course of a few hours. But these changes, as may be supposed, occur only during the winter; the summer being one continued series of intolerable heat and deadly fog.
Of all these circumstances, the conductors of the present expedition were not ignorant. To ready the forts which command the navigation of the river, it was conceived, was a task too difficult to be attempted; and for any ships to pass without this reduction, was impossible. Trusting, therefore, that the object of the enterprize was unknown to the Americans, Sir Alexander Cochrane and General Keane determined to effect a landing somewhere on the banks of the Lake; and pushing directly on to take possession of the town, before any effectual preparation could be made for its defence. With this view the troops were removed from the larger into the lighter vessels, and these, under convoy of such gun-brigs as the shallowness of the water would float, began on the 13th to enter Lake Borgne. But we had not proceeded far, when it was apparent that the Americans were well acquainted with our intentions, and ready to receive us. Five large cutters, armed with six heavy guns each, were seen at anchor in the distance, and as all endeavours to land, till these were captured, would have been useless, the transports and largest of the gun-brigs cast anchor, while the smaller craft gave chase to the enemy.
But these cutters were built purposely to act upon the Lake. They accordingly set sail, as soon as the English cruisers were within a certain distance, and running on, were quickly out of sight, leaving the pursuers fast aground. To permit them to remain in the hands of the enemy, however, would be fatal, because, as long as they commanded the navigation of the Lake, no boats could venture to cross. It was, therefore, determined at all hazards, and at any expense, to take them; and since our lightest craft could not float where they sailed, a flotilla of launches and ship’s barges was got ready for the purpose.
This flotilla consisted of fifty open boats; most of them armed with a carronade in the bow, and well manned with volunteers from the different ships of war. The command was given to Captain Lockier, a brave and skilful officer, who immediately pushed off; and about noon, came in sight of the enemy, moored fore and aft, with the broadsides pointing towards him. Having pulled a considerable distance, he resolved to refresh his men before he hurried them into action; and, therefore, letting fall grapplings just beyond reach of the enemy’s guns, the crews of the different boats cooly ate their dinner.
As soon as that meal was finished, and an hour spent in resting, the boats again got ready to advance. But, unfortunately, a light breeze which had hitherto favoured them, now ceased to blow, and they were accordingly compelled to make way only with the oar. The tide also ran strong against them, at once increasing their labour, and retarding their progress; but all these difficulties appeared trifling to British sailors; and giving an hearty cheer, they moved steadily onward in one extended line.
It was not long before the enemy’s guns opened upon them, and a tremendous shower of balls saluted their approach. Some boats were sunk, others disabled, and many men were killed and wounded; but the rest pulling with all their mieht and occasionally returning the discharges from their comrades, succeeded, after an hour’s labour, in closing with the Americans. The marines now began a deadly discharge of musketry; while the seamen, sword in hand, sprang up the vessels’ sides in spite of all opposition; and sabring every man that stood in the way, hauled down the American ensign, and hoisted the British flag in its place.
One cutter, however, which bore the commodore’s broad pennant, was not so easily subdued. Having noted its pre-eminence, Captain Lockier directed his own boat against it; and happening to have placed himself in one of the lightest and fastest sailing barges in the flotilla, he found himself along side of his enemy, before any of the others were near enough to render him the smallest support. But nothing dismayed by odds so fearful, the gallant crew of this small bark, following their leader, instantly leaped on board the American. A desperate conflict now ensued, in which Captain Lockier received several severe wounds; but after fighting from the bow to the stern, the enemy were at length overpowered; and other barges coming up to the assistance of their commander, the commodore’s flag shared the same fate with the others.
Having thus destroyed all opposition in this quarter, the fleet again weighed anchor, and stood up the Lake. But we had not been many hours under sail, when ship after ship ran aground : such as still floated were, therefore, crowded with the troops from those which could go no farther, till finally the lightest vessel stuck fast; and the boats were of necessity hoisted out, to carry us a distance of upwards of thirty miles. To be confined for so long a time, as the prosecution of this voyage would require, in one posture, was of itself no very agreeable prospect; but the confinement was but a trifling misery, when compared with that which arose from the change in the weather. Instead of a constant bracing frost, heavy rains, such as an inhabitant of England cannot dream of, and against which no cloak will furnish protection, began. In the midst of these were the troops embarked in their new and straitened transports, and each division, after an exposure of ten hours, land ed upon a small desert spot of earth, called Pine Island, where it was determined to collect the whole army, previous to its crossing over to the main.
Than this spot, it is scarcely possible to imagine any place more completely wretched. It was a swamp, containing a small space of firm ground at one end, and almost wholly unadorned with trees of any sort or description. There were, indeed, a few stinted firs upon the very edge of the water; but these were so diminutive in size, as hardly to deserve an higher classification than among the meanest of shrubs. The interior was the resort of wild ducks and other water fowl; and the pools and creeks with which it was intercepted abounded in dormant aligators.
Upon this miserable desert, the army was assembled, without tents or huts, or any covering to shelter them from the inclemency of the weather : and in truth we may fairly affirm, that our hardships had here their commencement. After having been exposed all day to a cold and pelting rain, we landed upon a barren island, incapable of furnishing even fuel enough to supply our fires. To add to our miseries, as night closed, the rain generally ceased, and severe frosts set in; which congealing our wet clothes upon our bodies, left little animal warmth to keep the limbs in a state of activity and the consequence was, that many of the wretched negroes, to whom frost and cold were altogether new, fell fast asleep, and perished before morning.
For provisions, again, we were entirely dependent upon the fleet. There were here no living creatures which would suffer themselves to be caught; even the water-fowls being so timorous, that it was impossible to approach them within musket shot. Salt meat and ship biscuit therefore, our food, moistened by a small allowance of rum; fare, which, though no doubt very wholesome, was not such as to reconcile us to the cold and wet under which we suffered.
On the part of the navy, again, all these hardships were experienced in a four-fold degree. Night and day were boats pulling from the fleet to the island, and from the island to the fleet; for it was the 21st before all the troops were got on shore; and as there was little time to inquire into men’s turns of labour, many seamen were four or five days continually at the oar. Thus, they had not only to bear up against variety of temperature, but against hunger, fatigue, and want of sleep in addition; three as fearful burdens as can be laid upon the human frame. Yet, in spite of all this, not a murmur nor a whisper of complaint could be heard throughout the whole expedition. No man appeared to regard the present, while every one looked forward to the future. From the General down to the youngest drum-boy, a confident anticipation of success seemed to pervade all ranks; and in the hope of an ample reward in store for them, the toils and grievances of the moment were forgotten. Nor was this anticipation the mere offspring of an over-weaning confidence in themselves. Several Americans had already deserted, who entertained us with accounts of the alarm experienced at New Orleans. They assured us that there were not at present 5,000 soldiers in the State; that the principal inhabitants had long ago left the place; that such as remained were ready to join us as soon as we should appear among them; and that, therefore, we might lay our account with a speedy and bloodless conquest. The same persons likewise dilated upon the wealth and importance of the town, upon the large quantities of government stores there collected, and the rich booty which would reward its capture; subjects well calculated to tickle the fancy of invaders, and to make them unmindful of immediate afflictions, in the expectation of so great a recompense.
While the troops were thus assembling, an embassy was dispatched to the Chactaws, a tribe of Indians with whom our government chanced to be in alliance. Along with this embassage I had the good fortune to be sent; and a most amusing expedition it proved to be.
We set sail in a light schooner, and running along the coast till we came to a district not far from Apalachicola, pushed our vessel into a creek, and landed. Proceeding a short distance from the shore, we arrived at a considerable settlement of these savages; as singular a collection of human habitations as ever I beheld. It consisted of upwards of thirty huts, composed of reeds and branches of trees, erected in the heart of a wood, without any regard to form or regularity; each hut standing at a short distance from the rest. At the doors of these huts sat the men, in a posture of the most perfect indolence, with their knees bent upwards, their elbows resting upon their knees, and their chins upon their hands. Not a word was interchanged between man and man, while they appeared to be totally absorbed, each in his own private contemplations. The women, however, were differently employed. Upon them, indeed, all the toil of domestic economy seemed to have devolved; for they were carrying water, splitting wood, lighting fires, and cooking provisions. Some children, though not so many as one would have expected, from the extent of the settlement, were likewise playing about; but their sports had little of the spirit of European games; and frequently ended in quarrels and combats.
On our approach, two men rose from the doors of their huts, and came to meet us. These proved to be the chief, and the principal warrior of the tribe; the first an elderly infirm person, and the last a man of fierce countenance, probably about the age of forty. They were not, however, distinguished from their countrymen by any peculiarity of dress; being arrayed, as the others were, in buffalo hides, with a loose scarf of cotton thrown over one shoulder, and wrapped round their loins; the size of their ornaments alone indicated that they were persons of consequence, the king having two broad pieces of gold suspended from his ears, and bracelets of the same metal round his wrists; while the warrior’s ears were graced with silver rings, and a whole Spanish dollar hung from his nose. With these men, Colonel Nickolls of the Marines, who conducted the embassy, was well acquainted, having been previously appointed Generalissimo of all their forces; and they therefore extended to us the right hand of friendship, and conducted us into the largest hut in the town.
The rest of the warriors were by this time roused from their lethargy, and soon began to crowd about us; so that in a few minutes the hut was filled with upwards of an hundred savages, each holding in his hand the fatal tomahawk, and having his scalping knife suspended from a belt fastened round his middle. The scene was now truly singular. There is a solemnity about the manner of an Indian chief extremely imposing; and this, joined with the motions which were meant to express welcome, compelled me, almost in spite of myself, to regard these half-naked wretches with veneration.
With the form, complexion, and costume of an American Indian, most Englishmen are well acquainted. In stature, they hardly come up to the common height of an European, and in appearance of robustness they are greatly inferior, being generally spare and slender in their make. Nor, indeed, do they at all equal the natives of Europe in strength. Their agility is superior to ours, but in muscular power they fall much short of us. Their complexion is a dark red, resembling brick dust rather than copper; their hair is universally long, coarse, and black; they have little or no beard, and the body is entirely smooth. Their features are high, and might perhaps be regular, were nature left to herself; but they are usually twisted and distorted into the most frightful shapes, with the view of adding to the ferocity of their looks. Their dress is of the simplest kind, consisting partly of the skins of wild beasts, and party of a scarf, made of cotton cloth. For their legs and feet they have no covering, and instead of a cap, they wear their own hair twined into a knot, and ornamented with various coloured feathers. Besides the tomahawk and scalping knife, each man is armed with a rifle or firelock, in the use of which they are exceedingly dexterous.
The women, again, are as much the reverse of beautiful as it is easy to conceive. Being forced by their husbands to undergo the greatest fatigues, and to perform the most menial offices, their air has in it nothing of the commanding dignity which characterizes that of the men. On the contrary, they are timid and servile, never approaching the other sex without humble prostrations; while their shape is spoiled by hard labour, and their features disfigured with ornaments. Whenever the tribe marches, they are loaded with the children, and all culinary utensils, the haughty warrior condescending to carry nothing except his arms; and as soon as it halts, they are condemned to toil for the benefit of the men, who throw themselves upon the ground, and doze till their meal is prepared.
But I must not attempt to describe the manners and customs of this strange people, which have been so frequently and so much better described already. I would rather relate such incidents as fell under my own immediate observation, without suffering; my simple narrative to aim at a dignity to which it is not entitled.
Having brought with us an interpreter, we were informed by him that the king declined entering upon business till after the feast. This was speedily prepared, and laid out upon the grass, consisting of lumps of Buffalo flesh, barely warmed through, and swimming in blood; with cakes of Indian corn and manioc. Of dishes and plates, there were none. The meat was brought in the hand of the females who had dressed it, and placed upon the turf; the warriors cut slices from it with their knives; and holding the flesh in one hand, and the cake in the other, they eat, as I thought rather sparingly, and in profound silence. Besides these more substantial viands, there were likewise some minced-meats of an extraordinary appearance, served up upon dried hides. Of these the company seemed to be particularly fond, dipping their hands into them without ceremony, and thus conveying the food to their mouths; but for my own part, I found it sufficiently difficult to partake of the raw flesh, and could not overcome my loathing so much as to taste the mince.
When the remnant of the food was removed, an abundant supply of rum, which these people had received from our fleet, was produced. Of this they swallowed large potations; and, as the spirit took effect, their taciturnity gave way before it; till at last, speaking all together, each endeavoured, by elevating his voice, to drown the voices of his companions, and a tremendous shouting was the consequence. Springing from the ground, where hitherto they had sat cross-legged, many of them likewise began to jump about, and exhibit feats of activity; nor was I without apprehension that this riotous banquet would end in bloodshed. The king and chief warrior alone still retained their senses sufficiently unclouded to understand what was said. From them, therefore, we obtained a promise, that the tribe would afford to the expedition. Every assistance in their power; after which wc retired for the night to a hut assigned for our ac commodation, leaving our wild hosts to continue the revel as long as a single drop of spirits remained.
On the following morning, having presented the warriors with muskets and ammunition, we departed, taking with us the two chiefs at their own request. For this journey they had equipped themselves in a most extraordinary manner; making their appearance in scarlet jackets, which they had obtained from Colonel Nickolls. old fashioned steel-bound cocked hats, and shoes. Trowsers they would not wear, but permitted their lower parts to remain with no other covering than a girdle tied round their loins; and sticking scalping knives in their belts, and holding tomahawks in their hands, they accompanied us to the fleet, and took up their residence with the Admiral.
In the mean time, the disembarkation was going on with much spirit. The cutters being taken, and all difficulties removed, the troops began, on the 16th, to quit the ships, and onthe 21st, were assembled in force upon Pine Island. But before they could cross over to the main, it was necessary that some arrangements should be made, and that the different battalions should be divided into corps and brigades. With this design, General Keane reviewed his army on the 22d, and distributed it into the following order.
Instead of a light brigade, he determined to form three battalions into an advanced guard. The regiments appointed to this service, were the 4th, 85th, and 95th; and as an officer of courage and enterprising talent is required to lead the advance of an army, they were put under the command of Colonel Thornton. Attached to this corps of infantry, were a party of rocket-men, and two light three-pounder guns; a species of artillery convenient enough, where celerity of movement is alone regarded, but of very little service in the field. The rest of the troops were arranged as before into two brigades. The first, composed of the 21st, 44th, and one black regiment, was intrusted to Colonel Brook; and the second, containing the 93d, and the other black corps, to Colonel Hamilton, of the 7th West India regiment. To each of these, a certain proportion of artillery and rockets was allotted; while the dragoons, who had brought their harness and other appointments on shore, remained as a sort of body-guard to the General, till they should provide themselves with horses.
The adjustment of these matters having occupied a considerable part of the 22d, it was determined that all things should remain as they were till next morning. Boats, in the mean time, began to assemble from all quarters, supplies of ammunition were packed, so as to prevent the possibility of damage from moisture, and stores of various descriptions were got ready. But it appeared, that even now, many serious inconveniences must be endured, and obstacles surmounted, before the troops could reach the scene of action. In the first place, from Pine Island to that part of the main towards which prudence directed us to steer, was a distance of no less than 80 miles. This, of itself, was an obstacle, or at least an inconvenience of no slight nature, for should the weather prove boisterous, open boats heavily laden with soldiers, would stand little chance of escaping destruction. in the course of so long a voyage. In the next place, and what was of infinitely greater importance, it was found that there were not throughout the whole fleet, a sufficient number of boats to transport above one-third of the army at a time. But to land in divisions, would expose our forces to be attacked in detail, by which means, one party might be cut to pieces before the others could arrive to its support. The undertaking was, therefore, on the whole, extremely dangerous, and such as would have been probably abandoned by more timid leaders. Ours, however, were not so to be alarmed. They had entered upon a hazardous business, in whatever way it should be prosecuted; and since they could not work miracles, they resolved to lose no time in bringing their army into the field, in the best manner which circumstances would permit.
With this view, the advance, consisting of 1,600 men, and two pieces of cannon, was next morning embarked. I have already stated that there is a small creek, called the Bayou de Catiline, which runs up from Lake Pontchartrain through the middle of an extensive morass, about ten miles below New Orleans. Towards this creek were the boats directed, and here it was resolved to effect a landing. When we set sail, the sky was dark and lowering, and before long, a heavy rain began to fall. Continuing without intermission during the whole of the day, towards night it as usual ceased, and was succeeded by a sharp frost; which taking effect upon men thoroughly exposed, and already cramped by remaining so long in one posture, rendered our limbs completely powerless. Nor was there any means of dispelling the benumbing sensation, or effectually resisting the cold. Fires of charcoal, indeed, were lighted in the sterns of the boats, and were suffered to burn as long as day-light lasted; but as soon as it grew dark, they were of necessity extinguished, lest the flame should be seen by row-boats from the shore, and an alarm be thus communicated. Our situation was, therefore, the reverse of comfortable; since even sleep was denied us, from the apprehension of fatal consequences.
Having remained in this uncomfortable state till midnight, the boats cast anchor, and hoisted awnings. There was a small piquet of the enemy stationed at the entrance of the creek, by which we meant to effect our landing. This it was absolutely necessary to surprise; and while the rest lay at anchor, two or three fast sailing barges were sent on to execute the service. Nor did they experience much difficulty in accomplishing their object. Nothing, as it appeared, was less dreamt of by the Americans than an attack from this quarter, consequently, no persons could be less on their guard than the party here stationed. The officer who conducted the force sent against them, found not so much as a single sentinel posted; but having landed his men at two places, above and below the hut which they inhabited, extended his ranks so as to’ surround it, and closing gradually in, took them all fast asleep, without noise or resistance.
When such time had been allowed as was deemed sufficient for the accomplishment of this undertaking, the flotilla again weighed anchor, and without waiting for intelligence of success, pursued their voyage. Hitherto we had been hurried along at a rapid rate by a fair breeze, which enabled us to carry canvas; but this now left us, and we made way only with rowing. Our progress was, therefore, considerably retarded, and the risk of discovery heightened by the noise which that labour necessarily occasions; but in spite of all this, we reached the entrance of the creek by dawn; and about nine o’clock, were safely on shore.
The place where we landed was as wild as it is possible to imagine. Wherever we looked, nothing was to be seen except one huge marsh, covered with tall reeds; not a house, nor a vestige of human industry could be discovered; and even of trees, there were but a few growing upon the banks of the creek. Yet it was such a spot as, above all others, favoured our operations. No eye would watch us, or report our arrival to the American General. By remaining quietly among the reeds, we might effectually conceal ourselves from notice; because, from the appearance of all around, it was easy to perceive that the place which we occupied was seldom, if ever before marked with a human footstep. Concealment, however, was the thing of all others which we required, for be it remembered, that there were now only sixteen hundred men on the main land. The rest were still at Pine Island, where they must remain till the boats which had transported us should return for their conveyance, consequently many hours must elapse before this small corps could be either reinforced or supported. If, therefore, we had sought for a point where a descent might be made, in secrecy and safety, we could not have found one better calculated for mat purpose than the present; because it afforded every means of concealment to one part of our force, until the others should be able to come up.
It was, therefore, confidently expected, that no movement would be made previous to the arrival of the other brigades; but, in our expectations of quiet, we were deceived. The deserters who had come in, and accompanied us as guides, assured the General that he had only to show himself, when the whole district would submit. They repeated, that there were not five thousand men in arms throughout the state; that of these, not more than twelve hundred were regular soldiers, and that the whole was at present several miles on the opposite side of the town, expecting an attack on that quarter, and apprehending no danger on this. These arguments, together with the nature of the ground on which we stood, so ill calculated for a proper distribution of troops, in case of attack, and so well calculated to hide the movements of a force acquainted with all the passes and tracks which, for aught we knew, intersected the morass, induced our leader to push forward at once into the open country. As soon, therefore, as the advance was formed, and the boats had departed, we began our march, following an indistinct path along the edge of a ditch or canal. It was not, however, without many checks that we were able to proceed. Other ditches, similar to that whose course we pursued, frequently stopped us by running in a cross direction, and falling into it at right angles. These were too wide to be leaped, and too deep to be forded; consequently, on all such occasions, the troops were obliged to halt, while bridges were hastily constructed of what materials could be procured, and thrown across.
Having advanced in this manner for several hours, we, at length, found ourselves approaching a more cultivated region. The marsh became gradually less and less continued, being intercepted by wider spots of firm ground; and the reeds gave place, by degrees, to wood; and the wood to inclosed fields. Upon these, however, nothing grew, harvest having long ago ended. They presented, therefore, but a melancholy appearance, being covered with the stubble of sugar-cane, which resembled the reeds we had just quitted, in every thing except altitude. Nor as yet was any house or cottage to be seen. Though we knew, therefore, that human habitations could not be far off, it was impossible to guess where they lay, or how numerous they might prove; and as we could not tell whether our guides might not be deceiving us, and whether ambuscades might not be laid for our destruction, as soon as we should arrive where troops could conveniently act, our march was now conducted with more caution and regularity.
But in a little while, some groves of orange trees presented themselves; on passing which, two or three farm-houses appeared. Towards these, our advanced companies immediately hastened, with the hope of surprising the inhabitants, and preventing any alarm from being raised. Hurrying on at double quick time, they surrounded the buildings, succeeded in securing the inmates, and capturing several horses; but becoming rather careless in watching their prisoners, one man contrived to effect his escape; after which, nil hope of eluding observation was laid aside. The rumour of our landing would, we knew, spread faster than we could march; and it now only remained to make that rumour as terrible as possible.
With this view, the column was ordered to widen its files, and to present as formidable an appearance as could be assumed. Changing our order, therefore, we marched, not in sections of eight or ten abreast, but in pairs, and thus contrived to cover with our small division as large a track of ground, as if we had mustered thrice our present numbers. Our steps were likewise quickened, that we might gain, if possible, some advantageous position, where we might be able to cope with any force that might attack us; and thus hastening on, we soon arrived at the main road, which leads directly to New Orleans. Turning to the right, we then advanced in the direction of that town for about a mile; when having reached a spot where it was considered that we might encamp in comparative safety, our little column halted; the men piled their arms, and a regular bivouac was formed.
The country where we had now established ourselves, answered, in every respect, the description I have already given of the neck of land on which New Orleans is built. It was a narrow plain of about a mile in width, bounded on one side by the Mississippi, and on the other by the marsh from which we had just emerged. Towards the open ground, this marsh was covered with dwarf-wood, having; the semblance of a forest rather than of a swamp; but on trying the bottom, it was found that both characters were united, and that it was impossible for a man to make his way among the trees, so boggy was the soil upon which they grew. In no other quarter, however, was there a single hedge-row, or plantation of any kind; excepting a few apple and other fruits trees in the gardens of such houses as were scattered over the plain, the whole being laid out in large fields for the growth of sugar-cane; a plant which seems as abundant in this part of the world as in Jamaica.
Looking up towards the town, which we at this time faced, the marsh is upon your right, and the river upon your left. Close to the latter runs the main road, following the course of the stream all the way to New Orleans. Between the road and the water, is thrown up a lofty and strong embankment, resembling the dykes in Holland, and meant to serve a similar purpose; by means of which, the Mississippi is prevented from overflowing its banks, and the entire flat is preserved from inundation. But the attention of a stranger is irresistibly drawn away from every other object, to contemplate the magnificence of this noble river. Pouring along at the prodigious rate of four miles an hour, an immense body of water is spread out before you; measuring a full mile across, and nearly a hundred fathoms in depth. What this mighty stream must be near its mouth, I can hardly imagine, for we were here upwards of a hundred miles from the ocean.
Such was the general aspect of the country which we had entered; our own position, again, was this. The three regiments turning off from the road into one extensive green field, formed three close columns within pistol-shot of the river. Upon our right, but so much in advance as to be of no service to us, was a large house, surrounded by about twenty wooden huts, probably intended for the accommodation of slaves. Towards this house, there was a slight rise in the ground, and between it and the camp was a small pond of no great depth. As far to the rear again as the first was to the front, stood another house, inferior in point of appearance, and skirted by no out-buildings : this was also upon the right; and here General Keane, who accompanied us, fixed his head-quarters; but neither the one nor the other could be employed as a covering redoubt, the flank of the division extending, as it were, between them. Immediately in front, where the advanced posts were stationed, ran a dry ditch and a row of lofty palings; and thus, both it and the left were in some degree protected; while the right and rear were wholly without cover. Though we occupied this field, therefore, and might have looked well in a peaceable district, it must be confessed that our situation hardly deserved the title of a military position.
NOON had just passed, when the word was given to halt, and therefore every opportunity was afforded of posting the piquets with leisure and attention. Nor was this deemed enough to secure tranquillity; several parties were sent out in all directions to reconnoitre, who returned with an account that no enemy nor any trace of an enemy could be discerned. The troops were accordingly suffered to light fires, and to make themselves comfortable; only their accoutrements were not taken off, and the arms were piled in such form as to be within reach at a moment’s notice.
As soon as these agreeable orders were issued, the soldiers proceeded to obey them both in letter and in spirit. Tearing up a number of strong palings, large fires were lighted in a moment; water was brought from the river, and provisions were cooked. But their bare rations did not content them. Spreading themselves over the country as far as a regard to safety would permit, they entered every house, and brought away quantities of hams, fowls, and wines of various descriptions: which being divided among them, all fared well and none received too large a quantity. In this division of good things, they were not unmindful of their officers; for upon active warfare the officers are considered by the privates as comrades, to whom respect and obedience are due, rather than as masters.
It was now about three o’clock in the afternoon, and all had as yet remained quiet. The troops having finished their meal, lay stretched beside their fires, or refreshed themselevs by bathing, for today the heat was such as to render this latter employment extremely agreeable, when suddenly a bugle from the advanced posts sounded the alarm, which was echoed back from all in the army. Starting up, we stood to our arms, and prepared for battle, the alarm being now succeeded by some firing; but we were scarcely in order, when word was sent from the front that there was no danger, only a few horse having made their appearance, who were checked and put to flight at the first discharge. Upon this intelligence, our wonted confidence returned, and we again betook ourselves to our former occupations, remarking that, as the Americans had never yet dared to attack, there was no great probability of their doing so on the present occasion.
In this manner the day passed without any farther alarm; and darkness having set in, the fires were made to blaze with increased splendour, our evening meal was eat, and we prepared to sleep. But about half-past seven o’clock, the attention of several individuals was drawn to a large vessel, which seemed to be stealing up the river till she came opposite to our camp; when her anchor was dropped, and her sails leisurely furled. At first we were doubtful whether she might not be one of our own cruisers which had passed the fort unobserved, and had arrived to render her assistance in our future operations. To satisfy this doubt, she was repeatedly hailed, but returned no answer; when an alarm spreading through the bivouac, all thought of sleep was laid aside. Several musket shots were now fired at her with the design of exacting a reply, of which no notice was taken; till at length having fastened all her sails, and swung her broadside towards us, we could distinctly hear some one cry out in a commanding voice, ‘Give them this for the honour of America.’ The words were instantly followed by the flashes of her guns, and a deadly shower of grape swept down numbers in the camp.
Against this dreadful fire we had nothing whatever to oppose. The artillery which we had landed was too light to bring into competition with an adversary so powerful; and as she had anchored within a short distance of the opposite bank, no musketry could reach her with any precision or effect. A few rockets were discharged, which made a beautiful appearance in the air; but the rocket is an uncertain weapon, and these deviated too far from their object to produce even terror among those against whom they were directed. Under these circumstances, as nothing could be done offensively, our sole object was to shelter the men as much as possible from this iron hail. With this view, they were commanded to leave the fires, and to hasten under the dyke. Thither all, accordingly, repaired, without much regard to order and regularity, and laying ourselves along wherever we could find room, we listened in painful silence to the pattering of grape shot among our huts, and to the shrieks and groans of those who lay wounded beside them.
The night was now as dark as pitch, the moon being but young, and totally obscured with clouds. Our fires deserted by us, and beat about by the enemy’s shot, began to burn red and dull, and, except when the flashes of those guns which played upon us cast a momentary glare, not an object could be distinguished at the distance of a yard. In this state we lay for nearly, an hour, unable to move from our ground, or offer any opposition to those who kept us there; when a straggling ire of musketry called our attention towards the piquets, and warned us to prepare for a closer and more desperate strife. As yet, however, it was uncertain from what cause this dropping fire arose. It might proceed from the sentinels, who, alarmed by the cannonade from the river, mistook every tree for an American; and till this should be more fully ascertained, it would be improper to expose the troops, by moving any of them from the shelter which the bank afforded. But these doubts were not permitted to continue long in existence. The dropping fire having paused for a few moments, was succeeded by a fearful yell; and the heavens were illuminated on all sides by a semi-circular blaze of musketry. It was now clear that we were surrounded, and that by a very superior force; and, therefore, no alternative remaining, but, either to surrender at discretion, or to beat back the assailants.
The first of these plans was never for an instant thought of; and the second was immediately put into force. Rushing from under the bank, the 85th and 95th flew to support the piquets, while the 4th, stealing to the rear of the encampment, formed close column, and remained as a reserve. But to describe this action is altogether out of the question, for it was such a battle as the annals of modern warfare can hardly match. All order, all discipline, were lost. Each officer, as he was able to collect twenty or thirty men round him, advanced into the middle of the enemy, when it was fought hand to hand, bayonet to bayonet, and sword to sword, with the tumult and ferocity of one of Homer”s combats.
To give some idea of this extraordinary combat, I shall detail the adventures of a friend of mine, who chanced to accompany one of the first parties sent out. Dashing through the bivouac under an heavy discharge from the vessel, his party reached the lake, which was forded, and advanced as far as the house where General Keane had fixed his head quarters. The moon hail by this time made her way through the clouds; and though only in her first quarter gave light enough to permit their seeing, though not distinctly. Having now gone far enough to the right, the party pushed on towards the front, and entered a sloping field of stubble; at die upper end of which they could distinguish a dark line of men; but, whether they were friends or foes it was impossible to determine. Unwilling to fire, lest he should kill any of our own people, my friend led on the volunteers whom he had got round him, till they reached some thick piles of reeds, about twenty yards from the object of their notice. Here they were saluted by a sharp volley, and being now confident that they were enemies, he commanded his men to fire. But a brother officer who accompanied him, was not so convinced, assuring him that they were soldiers of the 95th, upon which they agreed to divide the forces; that he who doubted, should remain with one part, where he was, while my friend, with the rest, should go round upon the flank of this line, and discover certainly to which army it belonged.
Taking with him about fourteen men, he accordingly moved off to the right, when falling in with some other stragglers, he attached them likewise to his party, and advanced. Springing over a high rail, they came down upon the left of those concerning whom the doubt had existed, and found them to be, as my friend had supposed, Americans. Not a moment was lost in attacking, but having got unperceived, within a few feet of where they stood, they discharged their pieces, and rushed on to the charge. In the whole course of my military career, I do not recollect any scene at all resembling that which followed. Some soldiers having lost their bayonets, laid about them with the butt end of their firelocks; while many a sword, which till to night had not drank blood, became in a few minutes crimsoned enough.
The contest, though desperate, was of short duration. Panic struck at the vigour of the assault, the Americans soon fled, and our people pursued them through a garden, and into the middle of the huts, which I have stated as surrounding a large house upon the right front of our original position. Here they found a considerable number of our own men, and one or two officers taken, and guarded by a detachment of Americans. These they immediately released, who, catching up what weapons they could find, followed their liberators in the chase of the flying enemy.
But, having now got as far in advance of the main body as he considered prudent, my friend determined to pause here, till he should discover how things went in other parts of the field.
With this view he halted his party, amounting, by the late addition, to forty men and two officers; and proceeding alone towards the front, he descried another line, of the length of one strong battalion, at the bottom of a field on the left. Being anxious to discover who they were, he walked forward, when a voice from among them called out not to fire, because they were Americans. But my friend had more in view than merely to discover what countrymen they were, and therefore, answering as one of themselves, he demanded to what corps they belonged. To this the speaker replied, that they were the 2d battalion of the 1st Regiment, and requested to be informed what had become of the 1st battalion. Still imitating the American twang, my friend again made answer that it was upon his right; and assuming a tone of authority, commanded them to remain as they were, till he should join them with a party of which he was at the head.
Having ended this conversation, he returned to the village, and forming his party in line, lad them on in deep silence towards the 2d battalion of the 1st Regiment. As they drew near he called out for the commanding officer, or him who had spoken, to come forward, adding that he had something to communicate; upon which an elderly man, armed with a huge dragoon sabre, advanced to meet him. As soon as they were together, my friend seized his sword, and desired him to surrender, declaring that he and his regiment were surrounded, and that resistance would only occasion unnecessary blood, shed. The man was completely confounded, and resigned his sword immediately; when, turning to another officer he demanded his. This person, however, was younger, and appeared to have his wits more about him, for instead of giving up his weapon, he made a cut at my friend’s head, which he had scarcely time to ward of. Their countrymen, likewise, who had hitherto stood motionless, took courage at the deed, and began firing; when, as all chance of cheating them into a surrender was at an end, our soldiers dashed amongst them, and once more renewed the combat hand in hand.
But though the enemy had so far recovered from their panic as to refuse a surrender, their resolution did not prompt them to any determined resistance. Charged as they were upon the flank, it is not wonderful that they soon fell into confusion, and being closely pressed by the brave little party, they had no time given to rally. In less than an hour, therefore, they began to fly; and as my friend considered that he had been rash enough in attacking a force so superior, with a handful of men, he did not add to that rashness, by continuing the pursuit too far; but having chased them a little way, recalled his followers, and returned to the hamlet.
In giving a detail so minute of the adventures of an individual, on the present occasion, I am far from wishing to exhibit him in the light of an hero of romance. The fact is, that what he did, was done in a greater or less degree by every officer in the army; for this was a combat which compelled every man, in spite of himself, to rely solely on his own resources. Attacked unexpectedly, and in the dark, surrounded by enemies before any arrangements could be made to oppose them, it is not conceivable that order, or the rules of disciplined war could be preserved. We were mingled with the Americans, frequently before we could tell whether they were friends or foes; because speaking the same language with ourselves, there was no mark by which to distinguish them, at least none whose influence extended beyond the distance of a few paces. The consequence was, that more feats of individual gallantry were performed in the course of this night, than many campaigns might have afforded an opporrunity of performing; while viewing the affair as a regular action, none can be imagined more full of blunders and confusion. No man could tell what was going forward in any quarter, except where he himself chanced immediately to stand; no one part of the line could bring assistance to another, because, in truth, no line existed. It was in one word a perfect tumult, resembling, except in its fatal consequences, those scenes which the night of an Irish fair usually exhibits, much more than an engagement between two civilised armies.
The night was far spent, and the sound of fighting had begun to die away, when my friend once more established himself among the huts. Here, likewise, considerable numbers of our people assembled, from whom he learned that the enemy were repulsed on all sides. The combat had been long and obstinately contested, having begun at eight in the evening, and continuing till three in the morning, but the victory was decidedly ours; for the Americans retreated in the greatest disorder, leaving us in possession of the field. Our loss, however, was enormous. Not less than 500 men had fallen, many of whom were our finest soldiers and best officers, and yet we could not but consider ourselves fortunate in escaping from the toils, even at the expense of so great a sacrifice.
The recal being sounded, our troops were soon brought together, and filing to the left, formed line in front of the ground, where we had at first encamped. Here we remained ready for whatever might occur till morn, when, to avoid the fire of the vessel, we again betook ourselves to the bank, and lay down. For some hours past, indeed, she had ceased to annoy us, but this we knew was owing merely to the ignorance of her crew, where to direct her aim; and we were well aware that, unless we contrived to cover ourselves before that ignorance was removed, we should undoubtedly suffer for our temerity.
Day light was beginning to appear, and we were just able to distinguish that our enemy was a line schooner, pierced for eighteen guns, and crowded with men, when we retreated to the bank. Here we lay for some hours worn out with fatigue and want of sleep, and shivering in the cold air of a frosty morning, without being able to light a fire, or prepare a morsel of provisions. Whenever an attempt of the kind was made; as soon as two or three men began to steal from shelter, the schooner’s guns immediately opened; and thus was the whole division kept, as it were, prisoners, for the space of an entire day.
While our troops lay in this uncomfortable situation, I stole away with two or three men to find out and bury a friend who was among the slain. In wandering over the field for this purpose, the most shocking and disgusting sights every where presented themselves. I have frequently beheld a greater number of dead bodies in as small a compass, though these, indeed, were numerous enough, but wounds more disfiguring or more horrible, I certainly never witnessed. A man, shot through the head or heart, lies as if he were in a deep slumber; in so much, that when you gaze upon him, you experience little else than pity. But of these many had met their death from bayonet wounds, sabre cuts, or heavy blows from the butt ends of muskets; and the consequence was, that not only were the wounds themselves exceedingly frightful, but the very countenances of the dead exhibited the most savage and ghastly expressions. Friends and foes lay together in small groups of four or six, nor was it difficult to tell almost the very hand by which some of them had fallen. Nay, such had been the deadly closeness of the strife, that in one or two places, an English and American soldier might be seen with the bayonet of each fastened in the others body.
Having searched for some time in vain, I at length discovered my friend lying behind a bundle of reeds, where, during the action, we had separated; and shot through the temples by a rifle bullet so remarkably small, as scarcely to leave any trace of its progress. I am well aware that this is no fit place to introduce the working of my own personal feelings, but he was my friend, and such a friend as few men are happy enough to possess. We had known and loved each other for years; our regard had been cemented by a long participation in the same hardships and dangers; and it cannot therefore surprise, if even now I pay that tribute to his worth and our friendship, which, however unavailing it may be, they botli deserve.
When in the act of looking for him, 1 had flattered myself, that I should be able to bear his loss with something like philosophy, but when I beheld him pale and bloody, I found all my resolution evaporate. I threw myself on the ground beside him, and wept like a child. But this was no time for the indulgence of useless sorrow. Like the royal bard, I knew that I should go to him, but he could not return to me, and I could not tell whether an hour would pass before my summons would arrive Lifting him, therefore, upon a cart, I had him carried down to head-quarter house, now converted into an hospital, and having dug for him a grave at the bottom of the garden, I laid him there as a soldier should be laid, arrayed, not in a shroud, but in his uniform. Even the very privates, whom I brought with me to assist at his funeral, mingled their tears with mine, nor are many so fortunate as to return to the parent dust more deeply or more sincerely lamented.
Retiring from the performance of this melancholy duty, I strolled into the hospital, and visited the wounded. It is here that war loses its grandeur and show, and presents only a real picture of its effects. Every room in the house was crowded with wretches mangled, and apparently in the most excruciating agonies. Prayers, groans, and I grieve to add, the most horrid exclamations, smote upon the ear wherever I turned. Some lay at length upon straw, with eyes half closed, and limbs motionless; some endeavoured to start up, shrieking with pain; while the wandering eye and incoherent speech of others, indicated the loss of reason, and usually foretold the approach of death. But there was one among the rest, whose appearance was too horrible ever to be forgotten. He had been shot through the wind-pipe, and the breath making its way between the skin and the flesh, had dilated him to a size absolutely terrific. His head and face were particularly shocking. Every feature was enlarged beyond what can well be imagined; while his eyes were so completely hidden by the cheeks and forehead, as to destroy all resemblance to an human countenance.
Passing through the apartments where the private soldiers lay, I next came to those occupied by officers. Of these there were five or six in one small room, to whom little better accommodation could be provided than to their inferiors. It was a sight peculiarly distressing, because all of them chanced to be personal acquaintances of my own. One had been shot in the head, and lay gasping and insensible; another had received a musket ball in the belly, which had pierced through and lodged in the back bone. The former appeared to suffer but little, giving no signs of life, except what an heavy breathing produced; the latter was in the most dreadful agony, screaming out, and gnawing the covering under which he lay. There were many besides these, some severely, and others slightly hurt; but as I have already dwelt at sufficient length upon a painful subject, I shall only observe, that to all was afforded every assistance which circumstances would allow; and that the exertions of their medical attendants were such, as deserved and obtained the grateful thanks of even the most afflicted among the sufferers themselves.
IN the mean time the rest of the troops were landing as fast as possible, and hastening to join their comrades. Though the advance had set out from Pine Island by themselves, they did not occupy all the boats in the fleet. Part of the second brigade, therefore, had embarked about twelve hours after their departure; and rowing leisurely on, were considerably more than half way across the lakes when the action began. In the stillness of night, however, it is astonishing at what distance a noise is heard. Though they must have been at least twenty miles from the Bayou when the schooner first opened, the sound of firing reached them, and roused the rowers from their indolence. Pulling with all their might, they now hurried on, while the most profound silence reigned among the troops, and gaining the creek in little more than three hours, sent fresh reinforcements to share in the danger and glory of the night.
Nor was a moment lost by the sailors in returning to the island. Intelligence of the combat spread like wild-fire; the boats were loaded even beyond what was strictly safe, and thus by exerting themselves in a degree almost unparalleled, our gallant seamen succeeded in bringing the whole army into position before dark on the 24th. The second and third brigades, therefore, now took up their ground upon the spot where the late battle was fought, and resting their right upon the woody morass, extended so far towards the river, as that the advance by wheeling up might continue the line across the entire plain.
But instead of taking part in this formation, the advance was still fettered to the bank, from which it was additionally prevented from moving by the arrival of another large ship, which cast anchor about a mile above the schooner. Thus were three battalions kept stationary by the guns of these two formidable floating batteries, and it was clear that no attempt to extricate them could be made without great loss, unless undercover of night. During the whole of the 24th, therefore, they remained in this uncomfortable situation; but as soon as darkness had well set in, a change of position was effected. Withdrawing the troops, company by company, from behind the bank, General Keane stationed them in the village of huts; by which means the high road was abandoned to the protection of a piquet, and the left of the army covered by a large chateau.
Being now placed beyond risk of serious annoyance from the shipping, the whole army remained quiet for the night. How long we were to continue in this state, nobody appeared to know, not a whisper was circulated as to the time of advancing, nor a surmise ventured respecting the next step likely to be taken. In our guides, to whose rumours we had before listened with avidity, no farther confidence was reposed. It was perfectly evident, either that they had purposely deceived us, or that their information was gathered from a most imperfect source; therefore, though they were not exactly placed in confinement, they were strictly watched, and treated more like spies than deserters. Instead of an easy conquest, we had already met with vigorous opposition; instead of finding the inhabitants ready and eager to join us, we found the houses deserted, the cattle and horses driven away, and every appearance of hostility. To march by the only road was rendered impracticable, so completely was it commanded by the shipping. In a word, all things half turned out diametrically opposite to what had been anticipated; and it appeared, that instead of a trifling affair, more likely to fill our pockets, than to add to our renown, we had embarked in an undertaking which presented difficulties not to be surmounted, without patience and determination.
Having effected this change of position, and covered the front of his army with a strong chain of outposts, General Keane, as I have said, remained quiet during the remainder of the night, and on the morrow was relieved from farther care and responsibility by the unexpected arrival of Sir Edward Pakenham, and General Gibbs. As soon as the death of Ross was known in London, the former of these officers was dispatched to take upon himself the command of the army. Sailing immediately with the latter, as his second in command, he had been favoured, during the whole voyage, by a fresh and fair wind, and now arrived in time to see his troops brought into a situation from which all his abilities could scarcely expect to extricate them. Nor were the troops themselves ignorant of the unfavourable circumstances in which they stood. Hoping everything, therefore, from a change, they greeted their new leader with an hearty cheer; while the confidence which past events had tended in some degree to dispel, returned once more to the bosoms of all. It was Christmas Day, and a number of officers clubbing their little stock of provisions, resolved to dine together in memory of former times. But at so melancholy a Christmas dinner I do not recollect at any time, to have been present. We dined in a barn; of plates, knives and forks there was a dismal scarcity, nor could our fare boast of much either in intrinsic good quality, or in the way of cooking. These, however, were mere matters of merriment: it was the want of many well known and beloved faces that gave us pain; nor were any other subjects discussed, besides the amiable qualities of those who no longer formed part of our mess, and never would again form part of it. A few guesses as to the probable success of future attempts alone relieved this topic, and now and then a shot from the schooner drew our attention to ourselves; for though too far removed from the river to be in much danger, we were still within cannon shot of our enemy. Nor was she inactive in her attempts to molest. Elevating her guns to a great degree, she contrived occasionally to strike the wall of the building within which we sat; but the force of the ball was too far spent to penetrate, and could therefore produce no serious alarm.
While we were thus sitting at table, a loud shriek was heard, after one of these explosions, and on running out, we found that a shot had taken effect in the body of an unfortunate soldier. I mention this incident, because I never beheld in any human being so great a tenacity of life. Though fairly cut in two at the lower part of the belly, the poor wretch lived for nearly an hour, gasping for breath, and giving signs even of pain.
But to return to my narrative: as soon as he reached the camp, Sir Edward proceeded to examine, with a soldier’s eye, every point and place within view. Of the American army nothing whatever could be perceived, except a corps of observation, composed of five or six hundred mounted riflemen, which hovered along our front, and watched our motions. The town itself was completely hid, nor was it possible to see beyond the distance of a very few miles, either in front or rear so flat and unbroken was the face of the country. Under these circumstances, little insight into the state of affairs could be obtained by reconnoitring The only thing, indeed, which he could learn from it was, that while the vessels kept their present station upon the river, no advance could be made; and, as he felt that every moment’s delay was injurious to us, and favourable to the enemy, he resolved to remove these incumbrances, and to push forward as soon as possible.
With this view nine field-pieces, two howitzers, and one mortar were brought down to the brink of the stream, as soon as it was dark. Working parties were likewise ordered out, by whom a battery was thrown up opposite to the schooner; and having got all things in readiness, at dawn on the 26th a heavy cannonade was opened upon her with red-hot shot. It was not long before we could perceive her crew hastening into their boats, while the smoke, which began to rise from her decks, proved that the balls had taken effect. She was, in fact, on fire, and being abandoned without resistance in little more than an hour, she blew up. In itself the sight was a fine one, but to us it was peculiarly gratifying, for we could not but experience something like satiated revenge at the destruction of a vessel from which we had suffered so much damage. A loud shout accordingly followed the explosion, and the guns were immediately turned against the ship. But the fate of her companion had warned her not to remain till she herself should be attacked. Setting every inch of canvas, and hoisting out her boats, she began to stem the stream at the very instant the schooner took fire, and being impelled forward both by towing and sailing, she succeeded in getting beyond the range of shot before the guns could be brought to bear. One shell, however, was thrown with admirable precision, which falling upon her deck, caused considerable execution : but, excepting this, she escaped without injury, and did not anchor again till she had got too far for pursuit.
Having thus removed all apparent obstacles to his future progress, the General made dispositions for a speedy advance. Dividing the army into two columns, he appointed General Gibbs to the command of one, and General Keane to the command of the other. The left column, led on by the latter officer, consisted of the 95th, the 85th, the 93d, and one black corps; the right, of the 4th, 21st, 44th, and the other black corps. The artillery, of which we had now ten pieces in the field, though at present attached to the left column, was designed to act as circumstances and the nature of the ground would permit; while the dragoons, few of whom had as yet provided themselves with horses, were appointed to guard the hospitals, and to secure the wounded from any sudden surprise or molestation from the rear.
But the day was too far spent in making these arrangements, and in clearing the way for future operations, to permit any movement before the morrow. The whole of the 26th was therefore spent in bringing up stores, ammunition, and a few heavy guns from the ships, which being placed in battery upon the banks of the river, secured us against the return of our Abating adversary. All this was done quietly enough, nor was there any cause of alarm till after sunset; but from that time till towards dawn, we were kept in a constant state of anxiety and agitation. Sending down small bodies of riflemen, the American General harassed our piquets, killed and wounded a few of the sentinels, and prevented the main body from obtaining any sound or refreshing sleep. Scarcely had the troops lain down, when they were roused by a sharp firing at the outposts, which lasted only till they were in order, and then ceased; but as soon as they had dispersed, and had once more addressed themselves to repose, the same cause of alarm returned, and they were again called to their ranks. Thus was the entire night spent in watching, or at best in broken and disturbed slumbers, than which nothing is more trying, both to the health and spirits of an army.
With the piquets, again, it fared even worse. For the out-posts of an army to sleep is at all times considered as a thing impossible; but in modern and civilised warfare they are nevertheless looked upon, in some degree, as sacred. Thus, while two European armies remain inactively facing each other, the out-posts of neither are molested, unless a direct attack upon the main body be intended; nay, so far is this tacit good understanding carried, that I have myself beheld French and English sentinels not more than twenty yards apart. But the Americans entertained no such chivalric notions. An enemy was to them an enemy, whether alone, or in the midst of five thousand companions; and they therefore counted the death of every individual as so much taken from the strength of the whole. In point of fact, they no doubt reasoned correctly, but to us at least it appeared an ungenerous return to barbarity. Whenever they could approach unperceived within proper distance of our watch fires, six or eight riflemen would fire amongst the party that sat round them, while one or two, stealing as close to each sentinel as a regard to their own safety would permit, acted the part of assassins rather than of soldiers, and attempted to murder them in cold blood. For the officers, likewise, when going their rounds, they constantly lay in wait; and thus, by a continued dropping fire, they not only wounded some of those against whom their aim was directed, but occasioned considerable anxiety and uneasiness throughout the whole line.
Having continued this detestable system of warfare till towards morning, they retired, and left us at rest. But as soon as day began to break, our piquets were called in, and the troops formed in order of attack. The right column, under General Gibbs, took post near the skirts of the morass, throwing out skirmishers halfway across the plain, while the left column drew up upon the road, covered by the rifle corps, which in extended order met the skirmishers from the other. With this last divison went the artillery, already well supplied with horses; and, at the signal given, the whole moved forward.
It was a clear frosty morning, the mists had dispersed, and the sun shone brightly upon our arms when we began our march. The enemy’s corps of observation fell back as we advanced, without offering in any way to impede our progress, and it was impossible to guess, ignorant as we were of the position of his main body, at what moment opposition might be expected. Nor, in truth, was it matter of much anxiety. Our spirits, in spite of the troubles of the night, were good, and our expectations of success were high, consequently many rude jests were bandied about, and many careless words spoken. For soldiers are, of all classes of men, the freest from care, and on that account, perhaps, the most happy. By being continually exposed to it, danger with them ceases to be frightful; of death, they have no more terror than the beasts that perish, and even hardships, such as cold, wet, hunger, and broken rest, lose at least part of their disagreeableness, by the frequency of their recurrence.
Moving on in this merry mood, we advanced about four or five miles without the smallest check or hindrance; when, at length, we found ourselves in view of the enemy’s army, posted in a very advantageous manner. About forty yards in their front was a canal, which extended from the morass to within a short distance of the high road. Along their line were thrown up breast-works, not indeed completed, but even now formidable. Upon the road, and at several other points were erected powerful batteries; while the ship, with a large flotilla of gun-boats, flanked the whole position from the river.
When I say that we came in sight of the enemy, I do not mean that he was gradually exposed to us in such a manner, as to leave time for cool examination and reflection. On the right, indeed, he was seen for some time, but on the left, a few houses built at a turning in the road, entirely concealed him; nor was it till they had gained that turning, and beheld the muzzles of his guns pointed towards them, that those who moved in this direction were aware of their proximity to danger. But that danger was indeed near, they were quickly taught; for scarcely had the head of the column passed the houses, when a deadly fire was opened from both the battery and the shipping. That the Americans are excellent shots, as well with artillery as with rifles, we have had frequent cause to acknowledge; but, perhaps, on no occasion did they assert their claim to the title of good artillery-men more effectually than on the present. Scarce a bullet passed over, or fell short of its mark, but all striking full into the midst of our ranks, occasioned terrible havoc. The shrieks of the wounded, therefore, the crash of firelocks, and the fall of such as were killed, caused at first some little confusion; and what added to the panic, was, that from the houses beside which we stood, bright flames suddenly burst out. The Americans expecting this attack, had filled them with combustibles for the purpose; and directing one or two guns against them, loaded with red-hot shot, in an instant set them on fire. The scene was altogether very sublime. A tremendous cannonade mowed clown our ranks, and deafened us with its roar; while two large chateaux and their out-buildings, almost scorched us with the flames, and blinded us with the smoke which they emitted.
The infantry, however, was not long suffered to remain thus exposed; but, being ordered to quit the path, and to form line in the fields, the artillery was brought up, and opposed to that of the enemy. But the contest was in every respect unequal, since their artillery far exceeded ours, both in numerical strength and weight of metal. The consequence was, that in half an hour, two of our field-pieces, and one field-mortar, were dismounted; many of the gunners were killed; and the rest, after an ineffectual attempt to silence the fire of the shipping, were obliged to retire.
In the mean time, the infantry having formed line, advanced under a heavy discharge of round and grape shot, till they were checked by the appearance of the canal. Of its depth, they were of course ignorant, and to attempt its passage without having ascertained whether it could be forded, might have been productive of fatal consequences. A halt was therefore ordered, and the men were commanded to shelter themselves as well as they could from the enemy’s fire. For this purpose, they were hurried into a wet ditch, of sufficient depth to cover the knees, where, leaning forward, they concealed themselves behind some high rushes which grew upon its brink, and thus escaped many bullets which fell round them in all directions.
Thus fared it with the left of the army, while the right, though less exposed to the cannonade was not more successful in its object. The same impediment which checked one column, forced the other likewse to pause; and after having driven in an advanced body of the enemy, and endeavoured, without effect, to penetrate through the marsh, it also was commanded to halt. In a word, all thought of attacking was for this day abandoned; and it now only remained to withdraw the troops from their present perilous situation, with as little loss as possible.
The first thing to be done was to remove the dismounted guns. Upon this enterprize, a party of seamen was employed, who, running forward to the spot where they lay, lifted them, in spite of the whole of the enemy’s fire, and bore them off in triumph. As soon as this was effected, regiment after regiment stole away; not in a body, but one by one, under the same discharge which saluted their approach. But a retreat, thus conducted, necessarily occupied much time. Noon had therefore long past, before the last corps was brought off; and when we again began to muster, twilight was approaching. We did not, however, retire to our former position; but, having fallen back only about two miles from the canal, where it was supposed that we should be beyond reach of annoyance from the American artillery, we there established ourselves for the night, having suffered less during the day than, from our exposed situation, and the enemy’s heavy fire, might have been expected.
The ground which we now occupied resembled, in almost every particular, what we had quitted. We again extended across the plain, from the marsh to the river; no wood, or cover of any description concealing our line, or obstructing the view of either army; while, both in front and rear, was an open space, laid out in fields, and intersected by narrow ditches. Our outposts, however, were pushed forward to some houses within a few hundred yards of the enemy’s works, sending out advanced sentinels even farther; and the headquarters of the army were established near the spot where the action of the 23d had been fought.
In this situation we remained inactive during the 28th, 29th, and 30th; but not so the enemy. Day and night we could observe numerous parties employed in strengthening his lines; while from the increased number of tents, which almost every hour might be discerned, it was evident that strong reinforcements were continually pouring into his camp. Nor did he leave us totally unmolested. By giving to his guns a great degree of elevation, he contrived at last to reach our bivouac; and thus were we constantly under a cannonade which though it did little execution, proved nevertheless extremely annoying. Besides this, he now began to erect batteries on the opposite bank of the river; from which a flanking fire could be thrown across the entire front of his position. In short, he adopted every precaution which prudence could suggest, and for the reception of which, the nature of his post was so admirably adapted.
Under these circumstances, it was evident that the longer an attack was delayed, the less likely was it to succeed; that something must be done immediately every one perceived, but how to proceed, was the difficulty. If we attempted to storm the American lines, we should expose ourselves to almost certain destruction from their artillery; to turn them, seemed to be impossible; and to draw their troops by any manœuvring from behind their entrenchments, was a thing altogether out of the question. There seemed, therefore, to be but one practicable mode of assault; which was, to treat these field-works as one would treat a regular fortification; by erecting breaching batteries against them, and silencing, if it were possible, at least some of their guns. To this plan, therefore, did our leader resort; and, in consequence, the whole of these three days were employed in landing heavy cannon, bringing up ammunition, and making such preparations as might have sufficed for a siege.
At length, having completed his arrangements, and provided such means as were considered sufficient to ensure success, General Pakenham determined to commence operations without delay. One half of the army was accordingly ordered out on the night of the 31st, and marched to the front, passing the piquets, and halting about three hundred yards from the enemy’s line. Here it was resolved to throw up a chain of works; and here the greater part of this detachment, laying down their firelocks, applied themselves vigorously to their tasks, while the rest stood armed and prepared for their defence.
The night was dark, and our people maintained a profound silence; by which means, not an idea of what was going on existed in the American camp. Labouring, therefore, with all diligence, six batteries were completed long before dawn, in which were mounted thirty pieces of heavy cannon; when, falling back a little way, this force united itself to the remainder of the infantry, and lay down behind some rushes, in readiness to act, as soon as it should be wanted.
In the erection of these batteries, a circumstance occurred worthy of notice, on account of its singularity. I have already stated, that the whole of this district was covered with the stubble of sugar-cane: and I might have added, that every storehouse and barn, attached to the different mansions scattered over it, was filled with barrels of sugar.
In throwing up these works, the sugar was used instead of earth. Rolling the hogsheads towards the front, they were placed upright in the parapets of the batteries; and it was computed, that sugar to the value of many thousand pounds sterling was thus disposed of.
THE infantry having retired, and the gunners taken their station, dawn was anxiously expected. But the morning of the 1st of January chanced to be peculiarly gloomy. A thick haze obscured for a long time the rays of the sun, nor could objects be discerned with any accuracy till a late hour.
But, at length, the mist gave way, and the American camp was fully exposed to view. Being at this time only three hundred yards distant, we could perceive all that was going forward with great exactness. The different regiments were upon parade; and being dressed in holiday suits, presented really a fine appearance. Mounted officers were riding backwards and forwards through the ranks, bands were playing, and colours floating in the air; in a word, all seemed jollity and gala; when suddenly our batteries opened, and the face of affairs was instantly changed. The ranks were broken; the different corps dispersing, fled in all directions, while the utmost terror and disorder appeared to prevail. Instead of nicely dressed lines, nothing but confused crowds could now be observed; nor was it without much difficulty that order was finally restored.
While this consternation prevailed among the infantry, their artillery remained silent; but as soon as the former rallied, they also recovered confidence, and answered our salute with great rapidity and precision. A heavy cannonade therefore commenced on both sides, and continued during the whole of the day; till, towards evening, our ammunition began to fail, and our fire in consequence to slacken. The fire of the Americans, on the other hand, was redoubled: landing a number of guns from the flotilla, they increased their artillery to a prodigious amount; and directing, at the same time, the whole force of their cannon on the opposite bank, against the flank of our batteries, they soon convinced us, that all endeavours to surpass them in this mode of fighting, would be useless. Once more, therefore, were we obliged to retire, leaving our heavy guns to their fate; but as no attempt was made by the Americans to secure them, working parties were again sent out after dark, and such as had not been destroyed, were removed.
Of the fatigue undergone during these operations by the whole army, from the General down to the meanest sentinel, it would be difficult to form an adequate conception. For two whole nights and days, not a man had closed an eye except such as were cool enough to sleep amidst showers of cannon-ball; and during the day, scarcely a moment had been allowed, in which we were able so much as to break our fast. We retired, therefore, not only baffled and disappointed, but in some degree disheartened and discontented. All our plans had as yet proved abortive; even this, upon which so much reliance had been placed, was found to be of no avail; and it must be confessed, that something like murmuring began to be heard through the camp. And, in truth, if ever an army might be permitted to murmur, it was this. In landing, they had borne great hardships, not only without repining, but with cheerfulness; their hopes had been excited by false reports, as to the practicability of the attempt in which they were embarked; and now they found themselves entangled amidst difficulties from which there appeared to be no escape, except by victory. In their attempts upon the enemy’s line, however, they had been twice foiled; in artillery, they perceived themselves so greatly overmatched, that there own could hardly assist them; their provisions being derived wholly from the fleet, were both scanty and coarse; and their rest was continually broken. For not only did the cannon and mortars from the main of the enemy’s position play unremittingly upon them both day and night; but they were likewise exposed to a deadly fire from the opposite bank of the river, where no less than eighteen pieces of artillery were now mounted, and swept the entire line of our encampment. Besides all this, to undertake the duty of a piquet, was as dangerous as to go into action. Parties of American sharp-shooters harassed and disturbed those appointed to that service, from the time they took possession of their post, till they were relieved; while to light fires at night, was impossible, because they served but as certain marks for the enemy’s gunners. I repeat, therefore, that a little murmuring could not be wondered at. Be it observed, however, that these were not the murmurs of men anxious to escape from a disagreeable situation by any means. On the contrary, thev resembled rather the growling of a chained dog, when he sees his adversary, and cannotreach him; for in all their complaints, no man ever hinted at a retreat, while all were eager to bring matters to the issue of a battle, at any sacrifice of lives.
Nor was our gallant leader less anxious to fight than his followers. To fight upon something like equal terms, how ever, was his wish; and for this purpose, a new scheme was invented, worthy, for its boldness, of the school in which Sir Edward had studied his profession. It was determined to divide the army, to send part across the river, who should seize the enemy’s guns, and turn them on themselves; while the remainder should at the same time make a general assault along the whole entrenchment. But before this plan could be put into execution, it would be necessary to cut a canal across the entire neck of land from the Bayo de Catiline to the river, of sufficient width and depth to admit of boats being brought up from the lake. Upon this arduous undertaking were the troops immediately employed. Being divided into four companies, they laboured by turns, day and night; one party relieving another after a stated number of hours, in such order as that the work should never be entirely deserted. The fatigue undergone during the prosecution of this attempt, no words can sufficiently describe; yet it was pursued without repining, and at length, by unremitted exertions, they succeeded in effecting their purpose by the 6th of January.
While these things were going on, and men’s minds were anxiously turned towards approaching events, fresh spirit was given to the army by the unexpected arrival of Major General Lambert, with the 7th and 43d; two fine battalions, mustering each eight hundred effective men. By this reinforcement, together with the addition of a body of sailors and marines from the fleet, our numbers amounted now to little short of eight thousand men; a force which, in almost any other quarter of America, would have been irresistible. Of the numbers of the enemy, again, various reports were in circulation; some stating them at 23, and others at 30,000; but perhaps I may come nearer the truth, if I choose a middle course, and suppose their whole force to be about 25,000 men. It is at least certain, that they exceeded us in numbers as much as they did in resources; and that scarcely an hour passed which did not bring in new levies to their army.
The canal, as I have stated, being finished on the 6th, it was resolved to lose no time in making: use of it. Boats were accordingly ordered up for the transportation of 1400 men; and Colonel Thornton with the 85th Regiment, the marines, and a party of sailors was appointed to cross the river. But a number of untoward accidents occurred, to spoil a plan of operations as accurately laid down as any in the course of the war. The soil through which the canal was dug, being soft, parts of the bank gave way, and choking up the channel, prevented the heaviest of the boats from getting forward. These again blocked up the passage, so that none of those which were behind, could proceed, and thus, instead of a flotilla for the accommodation of 1400 men, only a number of boats sufficient to contain 350 was enabled to reach their destination. Even these did not arrive at the time appointed. According to the preconcerted plan, Colonel Thornton’s detachment was to cross the river immediately after dark. They were to push forward, so as to carry all the batteries, and point the guns before day light; when, on the throwing up of a rocket, they were to commence firing upon the enemy’s line, which at the same moment was to be attacked by the main of our army.
In this mannner was one part of the force to act, while the rest were thus appointed. Dividing his troops into three columns, Sir Edward directed that General Keane, at the head of the 95th, the light companies of the 21st, 4th and 44th, together with the two black corps, should make a demonstration, or sham attack upon the right; that General Gibbs with the 4th, 21st, 44th, and 93d, should force the enemy’s left, while General Lambert with the 7th and 43d remained in reserve, ready to act as circumstances might require. But in storming an entrenched position, something more than bare courage is required. Scaling ladders and fascines had, therefore, been prepared, with which to fill up the ditch and mount the wall; and since to carry these was a service of danger, requiring a corps well worthy of dependence, the 44th was for that purpose selected, as a regiment of sufficient numerical strength, and already accustomed to American warfare. Thus were all things arranged on the night of the 7th, for the 8th was fixed upon as the day decisive of the fate of New Orleans.
While the rest of the army, therefore, lay down to sleep till they should be roused up to fight, Colonel Thornton with the 85th, and a corps of marines and seamen, amounting in all to 1400 men, moved down to the brink of the river. As yet, however, no boats had arrived; hour after hour elapsed before they came; and when they did come, the misfortunes which I have stated above were discovered, for out of all that had been ordered up, only a few made their appearance. Still it was absolutely necessary that this part of the plan should be carried into execution. Dismissing, therefore, the rest of his followers, the Colonel put himself at the head of his own regiment, about fifty seamen, and as many marines, and with this small force, consisting of no more than 340 men, pushed off. But, unfortunately, the loss of time nothing could repair. Instead of reaching the opposite bank, at latest by midnight, dawn was beginning to appear before the boats quitted the canal. It was in vain that they rowed on in perfect silence, and with oars muffled, gaining the point of debarkation without being perceived. It was in vain that they made good their landing and formed upon the beach, without opposition or alarm; day had already broke, and the signal rocket was seen in the air, while they were yet four miles from the batteries, which ought hours ago to have been taken.
In the mean time, the main body armed and moved forward some way in front of the piquets. There they stood waiting for day-light, and listening with the greatest anxiety for the firing which ought now to be heard on the opposite bank. But this attention was exerted in vain, and day dawned upon them long before they desired its appearance. Nor was Sir Edward Pakenham disappointed in this part of his plan alone. Instead of perceiving every thing in readiness for the assault, he saw his troops in battle array, indeed, but not a ladder or fascine upon the field. The 44th, which was appointed to carry them, had either misunderstood or neglected their orders; and now headed the column of attack, without any means being provided for crossing the enemy’s ditch, or scaling his rampart.
The indignation of poor Pakenham on this occasion may be imagined, but cannot be described. Galloping towards Colonel Mullens, who led the 44th, he commanded him instantly to return with his regiment for the ladders, but the opportunity of planting them was lost, and though they were brought up, it was only to be scattered over the field by the frightened bearers. For our troops were by this time visible to the enemy. A dreadful fire was accordingly opened upon them, and they were mowed down by hundreds, while they stood waiting for orders.
Seeing that all his well-laid plans were frustrated, Pakenham gave the word to advance, and the other regiments, leaving the 44th with the ladders and fascines behind them, rushed on to the assault. On the left, a detachment of the 95th, 21st, and 4th, stormed a three gun battery and took it. Here they remained for some time in the expectation of support; but none arriving, and a strong column of the enemy forming for its recovery, they determined to anticipate the attack, and pushed on. The battery which they had taken was in advance of the body of the works, being cut off from it by a ditch, across which only a single plank was thrown. Along this plank did these brave men attempt to pass; but being opposed by overpowering numbers, they were repulsed; and the Americans, in turn, forcing their way into the battery, at length succeeded in recapturing it with immense slaughter. On the right, again, the 21st and 4th being almost cut to pieces and thrown into some confusion by the enemy’s fire, the 93d pushed on and took the lead. Hastening forward, our troops soon reached the ditch; but to scale the parapet without ladders was impossible. Some few, indeed, by mounting one upon another’s shoulders, succeeded in entering the works, but these were instantly overpowered, most of them killed, and the rest taken; while as many as stood without were exposed to a sweeping fire, which cut them down by whole companies. It was in vain that the most obstinate courage was displayed. They fell by the hands of men whom they absolutely did not see; for the Americans, without so much as lifting their faces above the rampart, swung their firelocks by one arm over the wall, and discharged them directly upon their heads. The whole of the guns, likewise, from the opposite bank, kept up a well directed and deadly cannonade upon their flank; and thus were they destroyed without an opportunity being given of displaying their valour, or obtaining so much as revenge.
Poor Pakenham saw how things were going, and did all that a General could do to rally his broken troops. Riding towards the 44th, which had returned to the ground, but in great disorder, he called out for Colonel Mullens to advance; but that officer had disappeared, and was not to be found. He, therefore, prepared to lead them on himself, and had put himself at their head for that purpose, when he received a slight wound in the knee from a musket ball, which killed his horse. Mounting another, he again headed the 44th, when a second ball took effect more fatally, and he dropped lifeless into the arms of his aide-de-camp.
Nor were General Gibbs and Keane inactive. Ruling through the ranks, they strove by all means to encourage the assailants and recal the fugitives; till at length both were wounded, and borne off the field. All was now confusion and dismay. Without leaders, ignorant of what was to be done, the troops first halted and then began to retire; till finally the retreat was changed into a flight, and they quitted the ground in the utmost disorder. But the retreat was covered in gallant style by the reserve. Making a forward motion, the 7th and 43d presented the appearance of a renewed attack; by which the enemy were so much awed, that they did not venture beyond their lines in pursuit of the fugitives.
While affairs were thus disastrously conducted in this quarter, the party under Colonel Thornton had gained the landing place. On stepping ashore, the first thing they beheld was a rocket thrown up as a signal that the battle was begun. This unwelcome sight added wings to their speed. Forming in one little column, and pushing forward a single company as an advanced guard, they hastened on, and in half an hour reached a canal, along the opposite brink of which a detachment of Americans was drawn up. To dislodge them was the work of a moment; a boat with a carronade in her bow, got upon their flank, gave them a single discharge of grape, while the advanced guard extended its ranks, and approached at double quick time. But they scarcely waited till the latter were within range, when, firing a volley, they fled in confusion. This, however, was only an outpost. The main body was some way in rear, and amounted to no fewer than 1500 men.
It was not long, however, before they likewise presented themselves. Like their countrymen on the other side, they were strongly entrenched, a thick parapet with a ditch covering their front; while a battery upon their left swept the whole position, and two field pieces commanded the road. Of artillery, the assailants possessed not a single piece, nor any means beyond what nature gave, of scaling the rampart. Yet nothing daunted by the obstacles before them, or by the immense odds to which they were opposed, dispositions for an immediate attack were made. The 85th extending its files, stretched across the entire line of the enemy, the sailors in column prepared to storm the battery, while the marines remained some little way in rear of the centre as a reserve.
These arrangements being completed, the bugle sounded, and our troops advanced. The sailors raising a shout, rushed forward, but were met by so heavy a discharge of grape and canister, that for an instant they paused. Recovering themselves, however, they again pushed on; and the 85th dashing forward to their aid, they received a heavy fire of musketry, and endeavoured to charge. A smart firing was now for a few minutes kept upon both sides, but our people had no time to waste in distant fighting, and accordingly hurried on to storm the works; upon which, a panic seized the Americans, they lost their order, and fled, leaving us in possession of their tents, and of eighteen pieces of cannon.
In this affair our loss amounted to only three men killed, and about forty wounded, among the latter of whom was Colonel Thornton. Nor could the loss on the part of the enemy greatly exceed our own. Had they stood firm, indeed, it is hardly conceivable that so small a force could have taken an entrenched position from numbers so superior; at least it could not have been done without much bloodshed. But the fact is, that they were completely surprised. An attack on this side was a circumstance of which they had not dreamed; and when men are assaulted in a point which they deem beyond the reach of danger, it is well known that they defend themselves with less vigour, than where such an event was anticipated.
When in the act of storming these lines, the word was passed through our ranks, that all had gone well on the opposite bank. This naturally added to the vigour of the assault; but we had not followed our flying enemy above two miles, when we were commanded to halt. The real state of the case had now reached us, and the same messenger who brought the melancholy news, brought likewise an order to return.
The place where we halted was in rear of a canal, across which was thrown a wooden bridge, furnishing, apparently, the only means of passing. At the opposite end of this bridge, stood a collection of wooden cottages, and one chateau of some size. Here, a company was stationed to serve the double purpose of a piquet, anda rear-guard; while the rest of the troops, having rested for half an hour, began their march towards the point where they had landed.
As soon as the main body had got sufficiently on their way, the piquet likewise prepared to follow. But in doing so, it was evident that some risk must be run. The enemy having rallied, began once more to show a front; that is to say, parties of sixty or a hundred men now approached to reconnoitre. These, however, must be deceived, otherwise a pursuit might be commenced, and the re-embarkation of the whole corps hindered or prevented. The officer commanding the piquet, accordingly formed his men, and made a show of advancing. Upon which the Americans fled; when wheeling about, he set fire to the chateau; and, undercover of the smoke, destroyed the bridge and retreated. Making all haste towards the rear, he overtook his comrades just as they had begun to embark; when the little corps being once more united, entered their boats, and reached the opposite bank without molestation.
AS soon as the whole army was reunited, and the broken regiments had recovered their order, a flag of truce was despatched with proposals for the burial of the dead. To accomplish this end, a truce of two days was agreed upon, and parties were immediately sent out to collect and bury their fallen comrades. Prompted by curiosity, I mounted my horse, and rode to the front; but of all the sights I ever witnessed, that which met me there was beyond comparison the most shocking, and the most humiliating. Within the small compass of a few hundred yards, were gathered together nearly a thousand bodies, all of them arrayed in British uniforms. Not a single American was among them; all were English; and they were thrown by dozens into shallow holes, scarcely deep enough to furnish them with a slight covering of earth. Nor was this all. An American officer stood by smoking a cigar, and apparently counting the slain with a look of savage exultation; and repeating over and over to each individual that approached him, that their loss amounted only to eight men killed, and fourteen wounded.
I confess that when I beheld the scene, I hung down my head half in sorrow, and half in anger. With my officious informant I had every inclination to pick a quarrel; but he vas on duty, and an armistice existed, both of which forbade the measure. I could not, however, stand by and repress my choler, and since to give it vent would have subjected me to more serious inconvenience, than a mere duel, I turned my horse’s head, and galloped back to the camp.
But the change of expression, visible there in every countenance, no language can pourtray. Only twenty hours ago, and all was life and animation; wherever you went you were enlivened by the sound of merriment and raillery; while the expected attack was mentioned in terms indicative not only of sanguine hope, but of the most perfect confidence as to its result. Now gloom and discontent every where prevailed. Disappointment, grief, indignation, and rage succeeded each other in all bosoms; nay, so completely were the troops overwhelmed by a sense of disgrace, that, for a-while, they retained their sorrow without so much as hinting at its cause. Nor was this dejection occasioned wholly by the consciousness of laurels tarnished. The loss of comrades was to the full as afflicting as the loss of honour; for out of more than 7000 men brought on this side into the field, no fewer than 2000 had fallen. Among these were two generals (for Gibbs survived his wound but a few hours) and many officers of courage and ability; besides which hardly an individual survived, who had not to mourn the loss of some particular and well-known companion.
Yet it is most certain that amid all this variety of conflicting passions, no feeling bordering upon despair, or even terror, found room. Even among the private soldiers no fear was experienced, for if you attempted to converse with them on the subject of the late defeat, they would end with a bitter curse upon those to whose misconduct they attributed their losses, and refer you to the future, when they hoped for an opportunity of revenge. To the Americans they would allow no credit, laying the entire blame of the failure upon certain individuals among themselves; and so great was the indignation expressed against one corps, that the soldiers of other regiments would hardly exchange words with those who chanced to wear that uniform. Though deeply afflicted, therefore, we were by no means disheartened, and even yet anticipated with an eagerness far exceeding what was felt before, a renewal of the combat.
But General Lambert, on whom the chief command had devolved, very prudently determined not to risk the safety of his army by another attempt upon works evidently so much beyond their strength. He considered, and considered justly, that his chances of success were in every respect lessened by the late repulse. In the first place an extraordinary degree of confidence was given to the enemy; in the next place the only feasible plan of attack having been already tried, they would be more on their guard to prevent its being again put in execution, and lastly his own force was greatly diminished in numbers, while theirs continued every day to increase. Besides, it would be casting all upon the hazard of a die. If again defeated, nothing could save our army from destruction, because, unless it retreated in force, no retreat could be effected. A retreat, therefore, while yet the measure appeared practicable, was resolved upon, and towards that end were all our future operations directed.
To the accomplishment of this desirable object, however, one great obstacle existed; by what road were the troops to travel, and in what order were they to regain the fleet. On landing, we had taken advantage of the creek or bayou, and thus come up by water within two miles of the cultivated country. But to adopt a similar course in our retreat was impossible. In spite of our losses there were not throughout the armament a sufficient number of boats to transport above one half of the army at a time. If, however, we should separate, the chances were that both parties would be destroyed; for those embarked might be intercepted, and those left behind would be obliged to cope with the entire American force. Besides, even granting that the Americans might be repulsed, it would be impossible to take to our boats in their presence; and thus at least one division, if not both, must be sacrificed.
To obviate this difficulty, prudence required that the road which we had formed on landing should be continued to the very margin of the lake; while appearances seemed to indicate the total impracticability of the scheme. From firm ground to the water’s edge was here a distance of many miles, through the very centre of a morass where human foot had never before trodden. Yet it was desirable at least to make the attempt; for if it failed, we should only be reduced to our former alternative of gaining a battle, or surrendering at discretion.
Having determined to adopt this course, General Lambert immediately dispatched strong working parties, under the guidance of engineer officers, to lengthen the road, keeping as near as possible to the margin of the creek. But the task assigned them was burthened with innumerable difficulties. For the extent of several leagues no firm footing could be discovered, on which to rest the foundation of a path; nor any trees to assist in forming hurdles. All that could be done, therefore, was to bind together large quantities of reeds, and lay them across the quagmire; by which means, at least the semblance of a road was produced, however wanting in firmness and solidity. But where broad ditches came in the way, many of which intersected the morass, the workmen were necessarily obliged to apply more durable materials. For these, bridges composed in part of large branches brought with immense labour from the woods, were constructed; but they were, on the whole, little superior in point of strength to the rest of the path, for though the edges were supported by timber, the middle was filled up only with reeds.
To complete this road, bad as it was, occupied the space of nine days, during which time our army remained in position without making any attempts to molest the enemy. The Americans however, were not so inactive. In the course of two days, six guns were again mounted upon the bank of the river, from which a continual fire was kept up upon our camp. The same mode of proceeding was adopted in front, and thus, night and day were we harassed by danger against which there was no fortifying ourselves. Of the extreme unpleasantness of our situation, it is hardly possible to convey any adequate conception. We never closed our eyes in peace, for we were sure to be awakened before many minutes elapsed, by the splash of a round-shot or shell in the mud beside us. Tents we had none, but lay some in the open air, and some in huts made of boards, or any materials that could be procured. From the first moment of our landing, not a man had undressed excepting to bathe; and many had worn the same shirt for weeks together. Besides all this, heavy rains now set in, accompanied with violent storms of thunder and lightning, which lasting during the entire day, usually ceased towards dark, and gave place to keen frosts. Thus were we alternately wet and frozen; wet all day, and frozen all night. With the out-posts, again, there was constant skirmishing. With what view the Americans wished to drive them in I cannot tell; but every day were they attacked, and compelled to maintain their ground by dint of hard fighting. In one word, none but those who happened to belong to this army can form a notion of the hardships which it endured, and the fatigue which it underwent.
Nor were these the only evils which tended to lessen our numbers. To our soldiers every inducement was held out by the enemy to desert. Printed papers, offering lands and money as the price of desertion, were thrown in to the piquets, while individuals made a practice of approaching our posts, and endeavouring to persuade the very sentinels to quit their stations. Nor could it be expected that bribes so tempting would always be refused. Many desertions began daily to take place, and became before long so frequent, that the evil rose to be of a serious nature.
There occurred, however, one instance of magnanimous fidelity, on the part of a British soldier, which I cannot resist the inclination of repeating. A private of the 95th, whose name I should have joyfully mentioned had I not forgotten it, chanced one day to stand sentinel, when he was addressed by an American officer. The American offered him a hundred dollars and a quantity of land if he would come over; representing, at the same time, the superiority of a democratical government, and railing, as these persons generally do, against the title of king. Though the Englishman heard what was said distinctly enough, he nevertheless pretended to be deaf, and begged his tempter to come a little nearer, that, in his own words, “he might tell him all about it.” Jonathan, exulting at the prospect of drawing this fine fellow from his duty, approached within twenty paces of where he stood, when just as he had opened his mouth to renew his offer, the sentinel levelled his piece and shot him through the arm. Nor was he contented with inflicting this punishment. Walking forward he seized his wounded enemy, and reproaching him with dishonourable dealings, brought him in a prisoner to the camp. But unhappily conduct such as this was rare; in the course of a week, men quitted their colours, and fled to the enemy.
In the mean time, the whole of the wounded, except such as were too severely hurt to be removed, were embarked upon the canal, and sent off to the fleet. Next followed the baggage and stores, with the civil officers, commissaries, purveyors, and last of all such of the light artillery as could be withdrawn without trouble, or the risk of discovery. But of the heavy artillery, of which about ten pieces were mounted in front of the bivouac, and upon the bank of the river, no account was taken. They were ship’s guns, of little value, and extremely cumbersome; consequently, their removal, had it been practicable, would scarcely have rewarded the trouble. It was therefore determined to leave them behind; and they were accordingly permitted to retain their stations to the last.
These preparations being continued for some days, on the 17th no part of our force remained in camp except the infantry. Having therefore delayed only till the abandoned guns were rendered unserviceable, on the evening of the 18th it also began its retreat. Trimming the fires, and arranging all things in the same order as if no change were to take place, regiment after regiment stole away, as soon as darkness concealed their motions; leaving the piquets to follow as a rear guard, but with strict injunctions not to retire till day-light began to appear. As may be supposed, the most profound silence was maintained; not a man opening his mouth, except to issue necessary orders, and even then speaking in a whisper. Not a cough or any other noise was to be heard from the head to the rear of the column; and even the steps of the soldiers were planted with care to prevent the slightest stamping or echo. Nor was this extreme caution in any respect unnecessary. In spite of every endeavour to the contrary, a rumour of our intended movement had reached the Americans; for we found them of late watchful and prying, whereas they had been formerly content to look only to themselves.
For some time, that is to say, while our route lay along the high road and beside the brink of the river, the march was agreeable enough; but as soon as we began to enter upon the path through the marsh, all comfort was at an end. Being constructed of materials so slight, and resting upon a foundation so infirm, the treading of the first corps unavoidably beat it to pieces; those which followed were therefore compelled to flounder on in the best way they could; and by the time the rear of the column gained the morass, all trace of a way had entirely disappeared. But not only were the reeds torn asunder and sunk by the pressure of those who had gone before, but the bog itself, which at first might have furnished a few spots of firm footing, was trodden into the consistancy of mud. The consequence was that every step sunk us to the knees, and frequently higher, Near the ditches, indeed, many spots occurred which we had the utmost difficulty in crossing at all; and as the night was dark, there being no moon, nor any light except what the stars supplied, it was difficult to select our steps, or even to follow those who called to us that they were safe on the opposite side. At one of these places I myself beheld an unfortunate wretch gradually sink till he totally disappeared. I saw him flounder in, heard his cry for help, and ran forward with the intention of saving him; but before I had taken a second step I myself sunk at once as high as the breast. How I contrived to keep myself from smothering is more than I can tell, for I felt no solid bottom under me, and continued slowly to go deeper and deeper, till the mud reached uy arms. Instead of endeavouring to help the poor soldier, of whom nothing could now be seen except the head and hands, I was forced to beg assistance for myself; when a leathern canteen strap being thrown to me, I laid hold of it, and was dragged out, just as my fellow sufferer became invisible.
Over roads such as these did we continue our journey during the whole of the night; and in the morning reached a place called Fisherman’s Huts, upon the margin of the lake. The name is derived from a clump of mud-built cottages, situated in as complete a desert as the eye of man was ever pained by beholding. They stand close to the water, upon a part of the morass rather more firm than the rest. Not a tree or bush of any description grows near them. As far as the eye could reach, a perfect ocean of reeds every where presented itself, except on that side where a view of the lake changed without fertilizing the prospect. Were any set of human beings condemned to spend their lives here, I should consider their fate as little superior to that of the solitary captive; but during many months of the year, these huts are wholly unoccupied, being erected, as their name denotes, merely to shelter a few fishermen, while the fishing season lasts.
Here at length we were ordered to halt; and perhaps I never rejoiced more sincerely at any order than at this. Wearied with my exertions, and oppressed with want of sleep, I threw myself on the ground without so much as pulling off my muddy garments; and in an instant all my cares and troubles were forgotten. Nor did I wake from that deep slumber for many hours, when I rose cold and stiff, and creeping beside a miserable fire of reeds, addressed myself to the last morsel of salt pork which my wallet contained.
The whole army had now come up, the piquets having escaped without notice, or at least without annoyance, forming along the brink of the lake, a line of out-posts was planted, and the soldiers were commanded to make themselves as comfortable as they could. But in truth the word comfort is one which cannot in any sense be applied to people in such a situation. Without tents or huts of any description (for the few from which the place is named were occupied by the General and other heads of departments) our bed was the morass, and our sole covering the clothes which had not quitted our backs for upwards of a month. Our fires, upon the size and goodness of which much of a soldier’s happiness depends, were composed solely of reeds; a species of fuel which like straw, soon blazes up, and soon expires again, almost without communicating any degree of warmth. But above all, our provisions were expended, and from what quarter to obtain an immediate supply defied the most inventive genius to discover. Our sole dependence was upon the boats. Of these a flotilla lay ready to receive us, in which were embarked the black corps, with the 44th, but they had brought with them only food for their own use. It was therefore necessary that they should reach the fleet and return again, before they could furnish us with what we so much wanted. But the distance to the nearest of the shipping could not be less than eighty miles, and if the weather should become boisterous, or the winds obstinately adverse, we might starve before any supply could arrive.
These numerous grievances, however, were without remedy, and we therefore bore them with patience; though for two whole days the only provisions issued to the troops were some crumbs of biscuit and a small allowance of rum. For my own part I did not fare so badly as many others. Having been always fond of shooting, I took a fire-lock and went in pursuit of wild ducks, which abounded throughout the bog. Wandering along in this quest I reached a lake, by the margin of which I concealed myself, and waited for my prey; nor was it long before I had an opportunity of firing. Several large flocks flew over me, and I was fortunate enough to kill three birds. But alas! those birds, upon which I had already feasted in imagination, dropped into the water; my dog, more tired than her master, would not fetch them out, and they lay about twenty yards off, tantaliz ing me with the sight of a treasure which I could not reach. Moving off to another point, I again took my station where I hoped for better fortune; but the same evil chance once more occurred, and the ducks fell into the lake. This was too much for a hungry man to endure; the day was piercingly cold, and the edge of the pool was covered with ice; but my appetite was urgent, and I resolved at all hazards to indulge it. Pulling off my clothes, therefore, I broke the ice and plunged in; and though shivering like an aspin leaf, I returned safely to the camp with a couple of birds. Next day I adopted a similar course, with like success; but at the expense of what was to me a serious misery. My stockings of warm wool were the only part of my dress which I did not strip off, and today it unfortunately happened that one was lost. Having secured my ducks, I attempted to land where the bottom was muddy; but my leg stuck fast, and in pulling it out, off came the stocking; to recover it was beyond my power, for the mud closed over it directly, and the consequence was, that till I regained the transport only one of my feet could be warm at a time. To those who can boast of many pairs of fine cotton and woollen hose, this misfortune of mine may appear light, but to me, who had only two stockings on shore, the loss of one was very grievous; and I therefore request that I may not be sneered at, when I record it as one of the disastrous consequences of this ill-fated expedition.
As soon as the boats returned, regiment after regiment embarked, and set sail for the fleet; but the distance being considerable, and the wind foul, many days elapsed before the whole could be got off. Excepting in one trifling instance, however, no accident occurred, and by the end of the month, we were all once more on board our former ships. But our return was far from triumphant. We, who only seven weeks ago had set out in the surest confidence of glory, and, I may add, of emolument, were brought back dispirited and dejected. Our ranks were wofully thinned, our chiefs slain, our clothing tattered and filthy, and even our discipline in some degree injured. A gloomy silence reigned throughout the armament, except when it was broken by the voice of lamentaion over fallen friends; and the interior of each ship presented a scene well calculated to prove the short-sightedness of human hope, and human prudence.
The accident to which I allude, was the capture of a single boat by the enemy. About thirty men of the 14th dragoons having crowded into an unarmed barge, were proceeding slowly down tlir lake, when a boat mounting a carronade in its bow, suddenly darted from a creek, and made towards them. To escape, was impossible; for their barge was too heavily laden to move at a rate of even moderate rapidity; and to fight, was equally out of the question, because of the superiority which their cannon gave to the Americans. The whole party was accordingly compelled to surrender to six men and an officer; and having thrown their arms into the lake, their boat was taken in tow, and they were carried away prisoners.
This, however, was the only misfortune which occured. Warned by the fate of their comrades, the rest kept together in little squadrons, each attend by one or more armed launches; and thus rowing steadily on, they gained the shipping, without so much as another attempt at surprisal being made.
On reaching the fleet, we found that a considerable reinforcement of troops had arrived from England. It consisted of the 40th Foot, a fine regiment containing nearly a thousand men, which, ignorant of the fatal issue of our attack, had crossed the lakes, only to be sent back to the ships, without so much as stepping on shore. The circumstance, however, produced little satisfaction. We felt that the coming of thrice the number could not recover what was lost, or recall past events; and therefore no rejoicing was heard, or the slightest regard paid to the occurrence. Nay, so great was the despondency which had taken possession of men’s minds, that not even a rumour respecting the next point of attack, obtained circulation; while a sullen carelessness, a sort of indifference as to what might happen, seemed to have succeeded all our wonted curiosity, and confidence of success, in every undertaking.
In this state we remained wind-bound till the 4th of February, when, at length, getting under weigh, the fleet ran down as far as Cat Island. This is a spot of sandy soil at the mouth of the lake, remarkable for nothing except a solitary Spanish family, which possesses it. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, an old man, his wife, two daughters, and a son, dwell here in apparent happiness and contentment. Being at least one hundred and twenty miles from the main, it is seldom that their little kingdom is; visited by strangers, and I believe that till our arrival, the daughters, though grown up to womanhood, had seen few faces besides those of their parents and brother. Their cottage, composed simply of a few boughs, thatched and woven with straw, is beautifully situated within a short distance of the water. Two cows, and a few sheep, grazed beside it, while a small tract of ground covered with stubble, and a little garden well stocked with fruit trees and vegetables, at once gave proof of their industry, and showed the source from whence they supplied themselves with bread.
It may appear childish, but I confess that the sight of domestic peace flourishing, as it were, in the midst of wars and tumults, extremely delighted me. While we continued at anchor, therefore, I paid frequent visits to this cottage, and forming a sort of acquaintance with the old man, soon possessed myself of his little history. He had emigrated from Spain many years ago, and married in America. Having been unsuccessful in business, he had saved from the wreck of his property only enough to hire labourers, by whose assistance his present cottage was erected, and his little farm cleared; when, with his wife and three children, then very young, he had withdrawn from society, and settled himself here, where he had remained ever since. Once a year, he or his son visited the main to sell their wool, and purchase such necessaries as their island could not produce; but excepting on these occasions, or when a fishing-boat arrived in his bay, which rarely occurred, he had had no intercourse with any human being, besides his own family, for a great lapse of time. As may be imagined, I found this tribe as simple in their ideas as in their mode of living. Of reading and writing all except the patriarch himself were ignorant, nor did they seem to waste a thought upon any subject not immediately connected with their bodily wants. They professed, indeed, to be Christians, and would have been probably shocked, had I questioned their claim to sound Catholicism, though I much doubt whether they in the slightest degree understood the meaning of either term.
Having remained here till the 7th, we again took advantage of a fair wind, and stood to sea. As soon as we had cleared the lake, we directed our course towards the east, steering, as it was rumoured, upon Mobile; nor was it long before we came in sight of the bay which bears that name. This is formed by a projecting head-land, called Point Bayo, in a large island called Isle Dauphin Upon the first is erected a small fort, possessing the same title with the promontory, which commands the entrance; for though the island is at least five miles from the main, there is no water for floating a ship of any burthen, except within a few hundred yards of the latter. The island is, like Cat Island, uninhabited, except by one family, and unprovided with any works of defence.
As the attack of Mobile was professedly our object, it was clear that nothing could be done previous to the reduction of the fort. The ships accordingly dropped anchor at the mouth of the bay, and immediate preparations were made for the size. But the fort was too inconsiderable in point of size to require the employment of all our forces in its investment. While one brigade, therefore, was allotted to this service, the rest proceeded to establish themselves on the island, where, carrying tents and other conveniences on shore, the first regular encampment which we had seen since our arrival in this hemisphere, was formed.
The spot of ground, of which we had now taken possession, extended twelve miles in length, and from one to three in width. Its soil is in general dry and sandy, well covered with grass, and ornamented by continued groves of pine, cedar, oak and laurel. On one side only is there a swamp, but not of sufficient size to contaminate the atmosphere of the whole, which is considered so peculiarly healthy, that the place is generally used as a depot for the sick in the American army. At present, as I have said, it was tenanted by no more than a single family, the master of which was a midshipman in the American navy, and banished hither for some misdemeanour; but what was to us of much greater importance, it was likewise stocked with cattle resembling in appearance the black cattle of the highlands of Scotland, and not behind them in point of wildness.
While the remainder of the army spent their time here, the 4th, 21st and 44th, being landed above the fort, were busied in the siege. This small work stands, as I have stated, at the extremity of a promontory. Towards the sea, its fortifkations are respectable enough, but on the landside it is little better than a block-house. The ramparts being composed of sand, not more than three feet in thickness, and faced with plank, are barely cannon proof; while a sand-hill rising with in pistol-shot of the ditch, completely commands it. Within, again, it is as much wanting in accommodation, as it is in strength. There are no bomb-proof barracks, nor any hole or arch under which men might find protection from shells; indeed, so deficient is it in common lodging rooms, that great part of the garrison slept in tents. To reduce this place, therefore, occupied but a short time. The troops having assembled on the 8th, drove the enemy’s within their lines on the 9th, and broke ground the same evening. On the 10th, four eighteen pounders with two howitzers were placed in battery upon the top of the sand-hill; on the 11th, the fort surrendered; and on the 12th, the garrison, consisting of 400 men of the second American regiment, marched out with all the honours of war, and laid down their arms upon the glacis.
With the reduction of this trifling work ended all hostilities in this quarter of America, for the army had scarcely re-assembled, when intelligence arrived from England of peace. The news reached us on the 14th, and I shall not deny that it was received with much satisfaction. Though war is the soldier’s harvest, yet it must be confessed, that when carried on as it had of late been conducted, it is a harvest of which men soon become weary; and many of us having been absent for several years from our native shores, experienced absolute delight at the prospect of returning once more to the bosom of our families. The communication was therefore welcomed with unfeigned joy, nor could any other topic of conversation gain attention throughout the camp, except the anticipated re-embarkation.
But as the preliminaries only had been signed, and as Mr. Madison’s approval was required before we should be at liberty to depart, our army still continued stationary upon the island. Of the President’s conduct, however, no doubts were entertained, and all thoughts of future military operations were in consequence laid aside. The sole aim of every individual was thenceforth to make himself as comfortable as circumstances would permit, duringhis sojourn in this wilderness. To effect this end various expedients were adopted. Among others, a theatre was erected, in which such officers as chose to exhibit performed for their own amusement, and the amusement of their friends. In shooting and fishing, likewise, much of our time was spent; and thus, by adopting the usual expedients of idle men, we contrived to pass some days in a state of tolerable comfort.
Occupations such as these, however, soon grew insipid,and it was therefore with sincere rejoicing that we heard Mr. Madison’s agreement to the terms proposed on the 5th March promulgated. All was now hope and exultation, an immediate departure was anticipated, and those were pitied as unfortunate whose lot, it was supposed, might detain them even a day behind their fellows. But as yet no movement took place; our provisions were not sufficient to authorize the undertaking so long a voyage as we must undertake, did we attempt to run for the nearest British settlement; we were therefore forced to remain where we were, till a frigate should return, which had been sent forward to solicit supplies from the governor of Cuba.
During this interval, the same occupations were resorted to; and others of a less agreeable nature undertaken. As summer came on, the island sent forth multitudes of snakes from their lurking places, which infested the camp, making their way in some instances into our very beds. This was bad enough, but it was not the only nuisance to which we were subject. The aligators, which during the winter months lie in a dormant state, now began to awake, and prowling about the mar gin of the pool, created no little alarm and agita tion. Apparently confounded at our invasion of their territories, those monsters at first confined themselves to the marshy part of the island, but becoming by degrees more familiar, they soon ventured to approach the very precincts of the camp. One of them at length entered a tent, in which only a woman and a child chanced to be, and having stared round as if in amazement, walked out again without offering to commit any violence. But the visit was of too serious a nature to be overlooked. Parties were now formed for their destruction, and it was usual on their return, instead of asking how many birds, to demand how many snakes and aligators they had shot. Of the former, indeed, great numbers were killed, and of the latter not a few, the largest of which measured about nine feet from the snout to the tail.
Another employment, also, deserves to be noted, because it is truly characteristic of the boyish jollity of young soldiers. Wearied with a state of idleness, the officers of the 7th, 43d, and 14th dragoons made an attack with fir-apples upon those of the 85th, 93d, and 95th. For the space of some days they pelted each other, from morning till night, laying ambuscades, and exhibiting, on a small scale, all, the stratagems of war; while the whole army, not even excepting the Generals themselves, stood by and spurred them on.
But to continue a detail of such proceedings would only swell my narrative, without amusing you; I shall therefore content myself with observing, that things remained in this state till the 14th of March, when the long-looked for frigate at length arrived, and on the 15th, the first division of the army embarking, set sail for England. The wind, however, was foul, nor did the ships make any way till the 17th, when a fresh breeze springing up, we stood our course, and by ten o’clock on the 21st, could distinguish the high land of Cuba. But the violence of the gale having driven us considerably to leeward, we were forced to bear up, and beat along the coast, on which account it was not till the 23d that we came opposite to the port of Havannah.
Than the approach to this city, and its first appearance from the water, it is impossible to conceive any thing more grand and imposing. A little bay, extremely narrow at the entrance, forms the harbour. On each side of it stand forts of prodigious strength, particularly those on the left, where the ground is considerably elevated, while the city itself, with its ramparts and towers, its numerous steeples, spires, and public buildings, gives an assurance of wealth and magnificence peculiarly striking. When we entered, every tower was surmounted by a national banner half mast high, a circumstance which at least did not diminish the effect of a first view; and the guns from the forts answering our salute, showed us how desperate must be the condition of an enemy that should venture within their range. Why the flags should thus indicate a general mourning, we were at a loss to guess, till the pilot informed us that this was holy week. Then, indeed, we remembered that we had returned to a Roman Catholic country, and rejoiced at the lucky accident which had brought us thither at such a season.
As it was late before we anchored, I was prevented from landing that night; but on the morrow I went on shore at an early hour, with the intention of seeing as much as my time would allow. But in my proposed visits to the different points worthy of attention I was interrupted. It was Good Friday, consequently all public places were shut, and neither guides nor carriages could be procured. But if I was disappointed in this, my disappointment was amply compensated by a view of the religious ceremonies peculiar to that day.
Walking into the largest church in the city, I beheld, beside the altar, a figure of our Saviour as large as life, nailed to a cross. Beside this figure stood a number of Monks, one of whom presented a rod, with a sponge affixed to its mouth, while a second thrust a spear into its side, from which came out a liquor having the colour of blood and water. This being carefully caught in a golden dish, the figure was taken down from the cross, wrapped round with white linen clothes, and laid upon a bier, when an imposing procession began in the following order : First marched a military band, playing slow and solemn music; next came a guard of soldiers, with heads bent down, and arms reversed; then followed about two hundred Monks belonging to different orders, arrayed in their dark robes, with hands and feet bare, and crucifixes suspended from their necks. A short interval now succeeded, and another party of monks dressed in white, appeared, singing hymns in honour of the Virgin. Next came a splendid couch surmounted by a canopy, covered with white silk, and sparkling with gold and jewels, upon which sat a waxen image of the Mother of God, clothed in gorgeous apparel. Following this was another party of white robed Monks, chaunting a requiem for a departed soul, and then a second interval. At the distance of perhaps twenty yards from these came two Monks bearing two large silver nails, then two others bearing a spear and a rod, and then the body of our Saviour, stretched at full length upon the bier. After the bier came two Monks bearing two other nails, and then other two bearing a small cross and a ladder. Here, again, there was another interval, which was succeeded by a third white-robed party likewise chaunting a requiem. Next to these came about twenty canons arrayed in scarlet; then another couch covered with crimson velvet, which supported a figure of Mary Magdalen, likewise in a sitting posture: then a second body of canons suceeded by about two hundred Monks in black; after these, another guard of soldiers, and last of all a second military band.
In spite of prejudice, I could not avoid being deeply struck by this solemn possession. The airs performed by the bands were slow and mournful, the voices of the singers were deep and musical, the dresses were rich to a degree of splendour, and the whole was gone through with much apparent devotion. No doubt, when regarded with the eye of reflection, the whole may seem something worse than ludicrous, but it is impossible to witness the scene, and to reason on its propriety at the same time. As long as the pageant is before your eyes, you are lost in wonder, and a species of awe; nor is it till after it has disappeared, that you are inclined to ask yourself why you gave way to feelings of that nature. Yet, among the natives, I thought I could observe a considerable degree of levity. It is true, that as many as were in the streets, or at the windows, dropped upon their knees while the procession passed, but their careless looks and suppressed smiles sufficiently proved, that they knelt only because they were obliged to kneel.
Commencing at the door of the church where the representation of the crucifixion had been exhibited, the funeral party, (for it was neither more nor less,) proceeded through the principal streets in the town, with a slow and measured pace. As all except the soldiers walked two and two, it covered, I should conceive, little less than a mile in extent, and after winding from lane to lane, and from square to square, directed its steps towards a particular convent where the waxen image was solemnly deposited in a vault. It is said, but with what truth I cannot pretend to determine, that a different image is made use of every year, and that the vault is now so full of waxen corpses, that it will be necessary before long to have some of them destroyed.
Having now got rid of the most sacred part of their burthen, the Monks, bearing only the two couches, returned in procession by the same route and in the same order as they had proceeded, only the bands struck up lively airs, and the singers chaunted hymns of rejoicing and hallelujahs. Instead of walking at a slow pace, likewise, they stepped out almost in a sort of dance, and reaching the door of the great church, they there separated, each party hastening to its own house to celebrate mass.
Into one or two of the convent chapels I likewise entered, and was present during the performance of their very striking service. I found them ornamented in the most magnificent manner. I lie rafters of many being gilded over, and all the windows crowded with stained glass. Of pictures, and what struck me as something better than mere daubs, there were also great numbers. In a word, it seemed as if I had reached the heart and capital of Roman Catholic splendour. Nothing that I had beheld in the mother country could at all compare with what was now before me, and I returned in the evening to my ship, not indeed a convert to the principles of that religion, but decidedly astonished and confounded at the solemn magnificence of its ceremonies.
AT an early hour next morning I returned to the city, and found that the face of affairs had undergone a complete revolution. No more melancholy countenances, no closed shops and vacant streets were now to be seen; all was bustle and rejoicing, bells ringing, carriages rattling along, flags flying, and guns firing. The solemnity of Good-Friday ends, it appeared, at ten o’clock on Saturday morning; and from that time the merriments of Easter have their commencement.
The whole of this day I spent in strolling over the different walks, and points of view from whence the town and surrounding country may be seen to most advantage, and I certainly must pronounce it by far the most magnificent colonial capital I have visited. The streets are in general wide, clean, and airy; the houses, except in the suburbs, are composed entirely of stone, and being occasionally intermingled with convents, churches, and other public buildings, produce a very striking and handsome effect. Though surrounded by a rampart, Havannah has little of the confined and straightened appearance by which fortified towns are generally disfigured. The works being of great extent, have left within their circumference abundant room for the display of elegance and neatness in its construction, an advantage which has not been neglected; while from their situation they command as glorious a prospect as can well be imagined.
When you ascend a bastion which overhangs the harbour, the city with all its towers and spires lies immediately and distinctly beneath your gaze. Beyond it, again, you perceive a winding of the bay, which washes three sides of the promontory where the city stands; numerous fields of sugar cane and Indian corn succeed, intersected by groves of orange and other fruit trees, which extend for some miles in a sort of inclined plane, and are at length bounded by lofty and rugged mountains. On your left again is the creek or entrance to the bay, separating you from the Moro, a line of castles remarkable for their strength and extent. Behind sweep the waters of the Gulf of Mexico; and on the right is another view much resembling that which lies before you, only that it is more narrowed; the high ground bearing in this direction closer upon the city. On the whole, I do not remember to have been more forcibly struck by any scenery, than that which I beheld from this bastion; so well were town and country, castles and convents, land and water, hill and valley, combined.
Having spent some hours in wandering through the city, I endeavoured to make my way into the forts, and to examine the state of the works. But in both of these attempts I was interrupted. Without an order from the Governor I was informed, none, even of the natives are permitted to enter the Moro, and all applications on the part of foreigners, are uniformly refused. There was a degree of jealousy in this, as needless as it was illiberal, but indeed the whole conduct of the Spanish authorities gave proof of their reluctance to admit their old allies, even to the common rites of hospitality. From the moment we entered the harbour the militia of the island were called out, many of the guns which commanded our shipping were shotted, and artillerymen with lighted fuses, stood constantly beside them. An order was likewise issued, prohibiting more than two persons to land at the same time from each vessel, and many other precautions were taken, little complimentary to the good faith of those, to whom Spain must feel that she owes her very existence. In spite of these drawbacks, however, I contrived to spend a week in this city with much satisfaction. The Opera and Theatre opening on Easter Sunday, and continuing open during the remainder of our stay, fur nished sufficient amusement for the evenings. while in walking or riding about, in examining the different churches and chapels, and in chatting with nuns through the grate, or Monks within their cells, my mornings passed away more quickly than I desired.
At length, our victualling and watering being complete, on the 9th of April we bade adieu to the shores of Cuba, and running along with the gulf stream, took our course towards Bermuda. The wind favoured us greatly, and on the 17th we again reached these islands; where we delayed till the 23d, when once more setting sail, we steered directly for England. During the remainder of the voyage nothing of importance occurred till the 7th of May, when reaching in towards the shores of Brest, we were astonished by beholding the tri-coloured flag floating from the citadel. Of the mighty events which had taken place in Europe, we were as yet in perfect ignorance. Though surprised, therefore, at the first view of that beacon of war, we naturally concluded it to be no more than a signal, and passed on without enquiry. As we ascended the channel, however, we were hailed by a schooner which professed to communicate some news concerning Buonaparte; but the wind being high, we could not distinctly tell what was said; nor was it till the 9th, when we had anchored off Spit-head, that the re-appearance of that wonderful man was made known.
The effect of this intelligence it would be difficult to describe. At first it was received with acclamations, but by and by, those who had dreamed of home began to perceive in it the destruction of their visions. Yet we considered that we were soldiers, and certainly no regret was experienced when we were ordered to re-embark, and sail for the Downs.
Having thus brought my narrative to a conclusion, I cannot lay aside my pen without offering a few remarks upon the events of this busy year, and the nature of an American war in general. In doing so, 1 shall begin with the unfortunate attack upon New Orleans, and endeavour, in as few words as possible, to assign the true causes of its failure.
From the account which I have given of this affair, it will appear that from its very commencement it was replete with error, and gave promise of no better result than actually occurred. I do not here allude to the spot fixed upon for landing, because that was as appropriate as could be chosen, Neither do I allude to the groundless rumours brought in by deserters; for to such all assailants are liable; but the error lay in the steps subsequently adopted; in the unhappy advance of the first division from a place of concealment into the open country, without pushing forward to the extent required. The fact is, that having reached the main land in safety, one out of two plans might have been selected by General Keane; which, in all probability, would have been equally attended with success. Either he might have remainei in the morass till the whole army was assembled; or if this was deemed dangerous, he ought to have advanced upon the city, with the first division alone. If it be objected, that a force of 1,600 men was incompetent for an undertaking so hazardous as the latter, I reply that there could be no more hazard in it than in the step which was taken. New Orleans is not a regular fortification, requiring a large army, and a powerful battering train for its reduction. In obtaining possession of it there would have been no difficulty, because I have every reason to believe that the American troops really were, at the time of our landing, some miles above the city; and surely it would not have been more hard to repulse an attack within a town, than in the open country. But neither of these courses was pursued. The advance was withdrawn from concealment, and intelligence of the point threatened, communicated to the American general : the consequence of which was a well-directed attack upon our bivouac, and an immediate commencement of those works which afterwards resisted and repelled all our efforts.
The second error evident in this business, was the selection of the schooner instead of the ship for destruction. Had the latter, which lay farther up the stream, been destroyed, it is clear that the former never could have passed our battery, nor been of further annoyance to us; whereas, the schooner being burnt, the ship was only removed out of the reach of danger, and posted where she could be infinitely more advantageous to her friends, and detrimental to her enemies. This in itself was a fatal error, and beyond all doubt contributed, in a very great degree, to the repulse on the 29th of December.
The third error, and one which continued to exert its influence throughout the whole campaign, was the delay in bringing on a general action. Why our troops fell back upon the 29th, I confess is to me a mystery. It was not to be supposed that an officer who had shown so much judgment as the American General, Jackson, displayed in his first endeavours to check an advance, would lose the advantages which the nature of his position afforded. That he would fortify the neck of land, indeed, was exactly what must have been expected; and, therefore, every hour during which an attack was deferred, contributed so much to his strength and to our weakness. It is true that we should have suffered, and probably suffered severely; but unquestionably our chances of suffering were not diminished by delay. We ought, therefore, instead of falling back, to have pursued our operations with vigour on that day; because the American lines were not then tenable, and would have assisted, rather than retarded our progress.
Having once retired, however, and wasted three days in idleness, no other blame can be laid upon the leader of the expedition. His attempt to silence the enemy’s guns was unsuccessful, and may therefore be deemed unfortunate in its issue, rather than in its design; but his subsequent plan no words can sufficiently applaud. It was at once bold and judicious; and deserved, in every point of view, a different result from that with which it was attended. But for its failure poor Pakenham is in no way answerable. Against the falling in of the canal, no prudence could provide; and to the loss of time thereby occasioned, the fatal issue of the decisive battle may in some measure be ascribed.
It must, however, be confessed, that this sad calamity was not wholly occasioned by unavoidable accidents. For the conduct of Colonel Mullens, and the 44th Regiment under his command, no excuse can be offered. When I include that corps in the censure bestowed upon its commander, it is evident that I do so only as one would blame schoolboys for deficiency of learning, whose master was unfit for his office. Unless a leader understand his duty, it is not possible that a regiment can conduct itself with propriety; and as the 44th was as much composed of British soldiers us any battalion in America, no doubt can be entertained but that, had it been differently commanded, it would have made a different figure on the present distressing occasion.
But the behaviour of the Colonel was disgraceful in the highest degree. When the orders were issued for his regiment to bear the fascines and ladders, instead of feelings pride at the honour conferred upon them, that officer fell into despair. He stated, in the hearing of the private soldiers, that his corps was devoted to destruction: and conducted himself, in every respect, like a condemned criminal on the night previous to his execution. When the troops got under arms, instead of bringing his battalion to the redoubt, where he had been instructed to find the ladders, he marched directly past it, and led them into the field without a single ladder or fascine. When the day datvned, and he was sent back for these instruments, he headed his corps in its retrogade movement, but left it to return as it could to the front; and when sought for to guide the attack, he was no where to be found. That a regiment, thus abused and deserted by its commanding officer, should fall into confusion, cannot occasion any surprise; and therefore the subsequent disorderly advance and hasty retreat of the 44th, were no more than might have been expected.
It may here be asked whether, provided all things had gone right on this side of the river, provided the 44th had done its duty, and the ladders and fascines had been properly brought up, the delay in carrying the batteries on the opposite side would not alone have occasioned a defeat. This must of course remain as a matter of doubt; but my own private opinion is that it would not. Had the fascines been at .hand to cast into the ditch, and the ladders to plant against the rampart as soon as daylight appeared, I conceive that the battle would have ended in favour of the assailants; but as this was not the case, as the army was under fire before these implements were so much as sought for, it is no wonder that victory declared for the Americans. To plant ladders and fascines in open day, and under a heavy discharge of musketry and artillery, requires much coolness and determination, neither of which was evinced by the corps to which that duty was assigned: for being deserted by their leader, and ignorant of the point whither they were to proceed, the soldiers lost their ranks, and advanced or retreated as their individual feelings urged them, covering the field with those very machines which they ought to have carried to the foot of the ramparts. The consequence of this w r as, that other regiments likewise fell into confusion; and before order could be restored, all the generals were borne dead or wounded from the field. Much the greater part, therefore, of the blame attachable to this failure, must rest where fidelity of narration has obliged me to place it.
But the primary cause of this defeat may be traced to a source even more distant than any I have mentioned; I mean to the disclosure of our designs to the enemy. How this occurred I shall not take it upon me to declare, though several rumours, bearing at least the guise of probability, have been circulated. The attack upon New Orleans was professedly a secret expedition; so secret, indeed, that it was not communicated to the inferior officers and soldiers in the armament, till immediately previous to our quitting Jamaica. To the Americans, however, it appears to have been known long before, and hence it was, that, instead of taking them unawares, we found them fully prepared for our reception. But it is past, and cannot be recalled, and therefore to point out errors on the part of my countrymen can serve no good end. That the failure is to be lamented, no one will deny, since the conquest of New Orleans would have been beyond all comparison the most valuable acquisition that could be made to the British dominions, throughout the whole western hemisphere. In possession of that post, we should have kept the entire southern trade of the United States in check; and furnished means of commerce to our own merchants, of incalculable value.
The fact is, however, that when we look back upon the whole series of events produced by the late American war, we shall find little that is likely to flatter our vanity, or increase our self-importance. Except a few successes in Canada, at its very commencement, and the brilliant inroad upon Washington, it will be found that our arms have been constantly baffled or repulsed on shore; while at sea, with the exception of the capture of the Chesapeake, and one or two other affairs towards its conclusion, we have been equally unsuccessful. From what cause does this proceed not from any inferiority in courage or discipline, because in these particulars British soldiers and sailors will yield to none in the world. There must, then, be some other cause for these misfortunes, and the cause is surely one which has continually baffled all our plans of American warfare.
We have long been habituated to despise the Americans, as an enemy unworthy of serious regard. To this alone it is to be attributed that frigates half manned were sent out to cope with ships capable of containing them within their hulls; and to this, also, the trifling handfuls of troops dispatched to conduct the war by land. Instead of fifteen hundred had ten thousand men sailed from the Garonne under General Ross, how differently might he have acted! There would have been then no necessity for a re-embarkation after the capture of Washington, and consequently no time given for the defence of Baltimore; but marching across the country, he might have done to the one city what he did to the other. And it is thus only that a war with America can be successfully earned on. To penetrate up the country amidst pathless forests and boundless deserts, and to aim at permanent conquest, is out of the question America must be assaulted only on her coasts. Her harbours destroyed, her shipping burned, and her seaport towns laid waste, are the only evils which she has reason to dread; and were a sufficient force embarked with these orders, no American war would be of long continuance.
A melancholy experience has now taught us that such a war must not be entered into, unless it be conducted with spirit; and there is no conducting it with spirit, except with a sufficient numerical force. To the plan which I propose of making desert the whole line of coast, it may be objected, that by so doing, we should distress individuals, and not the Govern ment. But they who offer this objection, forget the nature both of the people whose cause they plead, and of the Government under which they live. In a democratical Government, the voice of the people must at all times prevail. The very mem bers of the House of Representatives are the persons who, from such proceedings, would suffer most severely, and we all know how far private suffering goes to influence a man’s public opinions. Besides, the very principle upon which the advocates for the sacredness of private property proceed, is altogether erroneous. I admit, that, in absolute monarchies, where war is more properly the pastime of kings, than the desire of subjects, non-combatants ought to be dealt with as humanely as possible. Not so, however, in States governed by popular assemblies. By compelling the constituents to experience the real hardships and mysteries of warfare, you will soon compel the representatives to a vote of peace; and surely that line of conduct is, upon the whole, most humane, which puts the speediest period to the cruelties of war. There are few men who would not rather endure a raging fever for three days, than a slow and lingering disease for three months. So it is with a democracy at war. Burn their houses, plunder their property, block up their harbours, and destroy their shipping in a few places; and before you have time to proceed to the rest, you will be stopped by entreaties for peace. Whereas, if you do no mischief that can be avoided, if you only fight their fleets and armies wherever you meet them, and suffer the inhabitants to live in undisturbed tranquillity, they will continue these hostilities till they have worn out the means of one party, and greatly weakened those of both.
Should another war break out between Great Britain and America, this is the course to be adopted by the former. Besides this, I humbly conceive that a second attempt should be made upon New Orleans, since the importance of the conquest would authorise any sacrifice for its attainment; and when once gained, it could be easily defended. The neck of land, upon which that city is built, extends in the same manner above it as below; and therefore the same advantages which it holds out to its present defenders it would likewise hold out to us. A chain of works thrown across from the river to the marsh would render it inaccessible from above; while, by covering the Lakes and the Mississippi with cruisers, all attacks from below would be sufficiently guarded against.
Gleig, George R. A Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army, at Washington, Baltimore, and New Orleans, under Generals Ross, Pakenham & Lambert, in the Years 1814 and 1815; with Some Account of the Countries Visited. Philadelphia: M. Carey & Sons, 1821. Internet Archive. MSN. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <https:// archive.org/ details/ narrativeof campa00glei>.