Major Arséne Lacarriére Latour.
Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15.
DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA, to wit:
BE IT REMEMBERED, That on the sixth day of March, in the fortieth year of the independence of the United States of America, A. D. 1816,
Arsene Lac` arriere Latour,
of the said district, hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof he claims as Author, in the words following, to wit:
Historical Memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. with an Atlas. By major A. Lacarriere Latour, principal engineer in the late seventh military district United States' army. Written originally in French, and translated for the author, by H. P. Nugent, esqr.
Bis Tusci Rutulos egere ad contra reversos,
Bis rejecti armis respectant terga tegentes.
Turbati fugiunt Rutuli————————
Disjectique duces, desolatique mauipli,
In conformity to the act of congress of the United States, entitled, "An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books to the authors and proprietors of such copies during the times therein mentioned." And also to the act, entitled, "An act supplementary to an act, entitled, " An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies during the times therein mentioned, and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints."
Clerk of the District of Pennsylvania.
MAJ. GEN. ANDREW JACKSON.
Allow me to offer you the following pages, in which I have endeavoured to record the events of that memorable campaign which preserved our country from conquest and desolation. The voice of the whole nation has spared me the task of showing how much of these important results are due to the energy, ability and courage of a single man.
Receive, sir, with this inadequate tribute to your high merits, the assurance of respect and devotion with which I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient
and humble servant,
A. LACARRIERE LATOUR.
Orleans, August 16, 1815.
The immense debt of Great Britain, and the expenses of a war carried on for nearly twenty years with hardly any intermission, having exhausted the ordinary sources of her riches, while the war continued to rage with greater fury than ever, she found herself compelled to create new resources to enable her to persevere in the arduous struggle in which she was engaged. For this purpose the rights of neutral nations, founded on the principles of natural equity, established for many ages by the unanimous consent of civilized nations, and secured by the faith of a long succession of treaties, were openly violated by the English government, which, prompted by its inordinate ambition, wished to appropriate to itself the lives and fortunes of their peaceable citizens. To accomplish this purpose, it became necessary to set aside those principles which, until then, had been universally acknowledged, and to substitute new political axioms in their stead. By the mere arbitrary declaration of the British cabinet, the right of blockade was extended over the most extensive coasts, which all the maritime power of the world combined could not have
with effect. The obsolete right of searching neutral ships for enemy’s property, this absurd remnant of the barbarous jurisprudence of the dark ages, justly rejected by the more enlightened policy of later times, was revived and enforced with increased severity, and the right of pressing seamen on board of neutral vessels was claimed as a consequence of the same principle, while, by a further extension of the rights of belligerents, the trade of neutrals with the colonial possession of enemies, was at times entirely prohibited, and at others partially tolerated, by decrees which the belligerent government could construe at pleasure, and which only served to allure the unwary, and secure a certain prey to the hungry swarm of British cruisers. Thus the plunder of neutrals, and the impressment of their seamen, were erected into a system,
the true principles of which could only be discovered from its effects.
The United States of America, whose industrious citizens carried on a regular and immense commerce with all the nations of the globe, which had long excited the jealousy of their powerful rival, experienced more than any other nation the pernicious effects of the new system, conceived and executed by this overbearing state; and indeed it appeared to have been established principally with a view to check their commercial pursuits. The American vessels were plundered, detained, or confiscated. The mariners were impressed upon the most frivolous pretences, put on board the ships of war of His Britannic majesty, and subjected to the most rigorous treatment, in order to compel them to shed their blood in a cause in which they were not interested. On the high seas, in neutral harbours, upon the coasts, and even in the waters exclusively subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, the American seamen were seized by the petty officers of the British navy, who constituted themselves judges, de facto, of the most sacred prerogatives of man, and from the mere similarity of names, or, as their caprice dictated, transformed a free citizen into a slave, without regard to the place of his birth, or to the natural and unalienable right, that all men have to choose their country. The sacred flag of the government itself was no longer a sufficient protection; the sanctuary of a ship of war was violated — freemen were dragged by force and carried away, in savage triumph, from an American frigate sailing quietly, in the midst of a profound peace; — the most ignominious punishment —— But I forbear. — This unheard of outrage, which then, for the first time, astonished the world, lias been since sufficiently avenged.
The American government at first only opposed to these enormous violations of the law of nations mild and conciliating representations, and pacific measures, which produced only some partial and momentary disavowals and reparations. With the humane view of saving the country from the horrors of war, and in hopes of inducing England to adopt principles of equity and moderation, by making her government perceive that the people of America would never submit to measures so tyrannical and degrading, the national legislature resolved to interdict every sort of foreign commerce, and laid an embargo on all the ports of the United States.
This measure received the approbation of the whole nation. The citizens no longer deceived themselves with respect to the views and motives of the British government. They preferred submitting for a time to the inconveniences which the stagnation of commerce would naturally produce, to seeing their country exposed to endless humiliations, or compelled to engage in a war, the effects of which could not be calculated. For it was believed by many, that the constitution of the United States was only suited for a state of peace, and that war would infallibly produce a dissolution of the union. These considerations were weighty, and might well induce a nation to pause before it involved itself in a contest which seemed to threaten such a fatal issue. — The embargo was then a wise measure, as there appeared no alternative between it and war. Indeed it is probable that if it had been continued, we might have avoided a recourse to arms, and compelled Great Britain to return to the practice, if not to the principles of justice.
But it was not so ordered, and after little more than one year thte embargo was removed. Let us throw a patriotic veil over the causes which produced this unexpected step. It does not belong to me to inquire into its expediency or its motives. Such an inquiry is entirely foreign to the purposes of this work. As it was to be expected, the resumption of maritime commerce was followed by a renewal of spoliations on the part of Great Britain, who mistook our patience for weakness, and ascribed to timidity and other unworthy motives, a conduct which merely arose from an earnest and laudable desire to preserve peace, and avoid the effusion of human blood. Far from foreseeing the privations and hardships to which the people of America would submit, and the exertions which they were capable of making, if driven to extremity, Britain, blinded by her pride, saw in the removal of the embargo nothing else than the result of an inordinate thirst for maritime commerce, and an effeminate attachment to the luxuries with which she had been in the habit of supplying us. As little she foresaw how much she would have to suffer before she discovered her mistake — how much of her treasure was to be spent, and of her blood was to be spilt, before she should be taught to know the spirit and perseverance of a nation which she affected to view with contempt. At last the repetition of injuries filled the measure of American longanimity, and War was solemnly declared by the United States, on the 18th of June, 1812. So little premeditated was this measure — so much was it produced by a sudden burst of the national indignation, that no preparations had been made to support the dreadful contest that was now about to take place. Our military establishment was hardly sufficient to afford garrisons for the most exposed points of our widely-extended frontier — the numerous ports upon our sea-board were left exposed, unguarded and unfortified, and our marine consisted only of a few ships of war. But the bravery and energy of our citizens promised abundant resources for our military operations on the land side, and the skill and martial ardour of our seamen, and particularly their excellent commanders, presaged certain and glorious triumphs on the ocean. The riches of an immense soil, and the activity and patriotism of its inhabitants, gave a sufficient pledge to the government to justify the reliance which they had placed on the aid and co-operation of the nation, which, on another and ever-memorable occasion, had proved to the world that there are no sacrifices that it is not ready to make in support of its independence, and in the defence of its just rights.
Thus the United States were forced into a war which they had not provoked; — America took up arms in support of her rights, and for the preservation of her national honour, with a firm determination not lay them down until the object should be attained. Providence blessed our efforts, and our arms were crowned with the most brilliant triumphs over those of our enemy. The army and navy exhibited a noble rivalship of zeal, devotion, and glory. In the one Lawrence, Bainbridge, Decatur, Perry, M‘Donough, Porter; — in the other Pike, Scott, Brown, Jackson, and many more, proved to the enemy, and to the world, that we possessed resolution to defend our rights, and power to avenge our injuries.
The relation of these various exploits is the proper province of history. An abler pen than mine will one day consecrate to posterity this monument of American fame. My humble task has been to collect a part of the materials that may serve to erect it, and which I offer in the present work.
The volume which I present to the public is devoted to the relation of the campaign of the end of 1814 and beginning of 1815: that is to say, from the first arrival of the British forces on the coast of Louisiana, in September, until the total evacuation, in consequence of the treaty of peace, including a period of about seven months. During that space of time, particularly from the 14th of December to the 19th of January, events of the highest importance succeeded each other with rapidity; but it was in the short period, from the 23d of December, the day of the landing of the British troops, to the memorable 8th of January, that the American arms acquired that lustre which no time can efface.
Nec poterit tempus, nec edax abolere vetustas.
The preparations which the British government had made for the conquest of Louisiana were immense. So certain were they of complete success, that a full set of officers, for the administration of civil government, from the judge down to the tide-waiter, had embarked on board of the squadron with the military force. The British speculators, who are always found in the train of military expeditions, had freighted a part of the transports for conveying the expected booty, which they estimated beforehand at more than fourteen millions of dollars. The British government well knew that they could not keep Louisiana, even if they should obtain the possession of it. They were not ignorant that the western states could pour down, if necessary, one hundred thousand men to repel the invaders; they therefore could only rely on a momentary occupation, which they hoped, nevertheless, to prolong sufficiently to give them time to pillage and lay waste the country. Therefore they had neglected no means of securing the plunder which they expected to make. Such, indeed, was their certainty of success that it was not thought necessary in Europe to conceal the object of the expedition. At Bordeaux, at the time of the embarkation of the troops, the conquest of Louisiana was publicly spoken of as an enterprize that could not fail of succeeding, and the British officers spoke of that campaign as of a party of pleasure, in which there was to be neither difficulty nor danger. It is even asserted, (though I will not vouch for the truth of the assertion) that the prime minister of Great Britain, lord Castlereagh, being at Paris when the news of the capture of Washington arrived there, boasted publicly that New Orleans and Louisiana would soon be in the power of his
Yet this formidable expedition had already sailed from Europe when its precise object and destination were not known in America. It will be seen, in the course of this memoir, that about the beginning of December, the greatest part of the British force had arrived on our coast, when general Jackson had hardly sufficient time to make the first preparations for defence. Without fearing to be accused of flattery, we may justly call him (under God) the saviour of Louisiana: for, in the space of a few days, with discordant and heterogeneous elements, he created and organized the little army which succeeded so well in humbling the British pride. It is true, that the love of country, the hatred of England, the desire of avenging the outrages which we had suffered from that haughty power, fired every heart; — but all this would have availed nothing without the energy of the commander-in-chief: which will appear so much the more extraordinary, when it is considered that he was constantly sick during this memorable campaign, so much so that he was on the point of being obliged to resign his command. Although his body was ready to sink under the weight of sickness, fatigue, and continual watching, his mind, nevertheless, never lost for a moment that energy which he knew so well how to communicate to all that surrounded him. To obstacles, which to others would have appeared insurmountable — to the want of the most indispensable supplies for the army, he opposed the most constant perseverance, until he succeeded either in obtaining what was required, or in creating supplementary resources.
I have already said, that the energy manifested by general Jackson spread, as it were, by contagion, and communicated itself to the whole army. I shall add, that there was nothing which those who composed it did not feel themselves capable of performing, if he ordered it to be done; it was enough that he expressed a wish, or threw out the slightest intimation, and immediately a crowd of volunteers offered themselves to carry his views into execution. Such perfect harmony — so entire and reciprocal a confidence between the troqps and their commander, could not fail to produce the happiest effects. Therefore, although our army was, as I have already observed, composed of heterogeneous elements, of men speaking different languages, and brought up in different habits, the most perfect union and harmony never ceased for a moment to prevail in our camp. No one can better than myself bear testimony to the good understanding that reigned among our troops. In the course of the labours at the fortifications, which were erected under my direction, I had occasion to employ soldiers in fatigue duty, who were drafted by detachments from each of the several corps. These men were kept hard at work even to the middle of the night, and by that means lost the little portion of sleep which they could have snatched in the interval of their military duties. I was almost constantly with them, superintending their labours; but I may truly say, that I never heard among them the least murmur of discontent, nor saw the least sign of impatience. Nay, more, four-fifths of our army were composed of militia-men or volunteers, who, it might be supposed, would with difficulty have submitted to the severe discipline of a camp, and of course would often have incurred punishment; yet nothing of the kind took place; and I solemnly declare, that not the smallest military punishment was inflicted. This is a fact respecting which I defy contradiction in the most formal manner. What, then, was the cause of this miracle? The love of country, the love of liberty. It was the consciousness of the dignity of man — it was the noblest of feelings, which pervaded and fired the souls of our defenders — which made them bear patiently with their sufferings, because the country required it of them. They felt that they ought to resist an enemy who had come to invade and to subdue their country; — they knew that their wives, their children, their nearest and dearest friends were but a few miles behind their encampment, who, but for their exertions, would inevitably become the victims and the prey of a licentious soldiery. A noble city and a rich territory looked up to them for protection; those whom their conduct was to save or devote to perdition, were in sight, extending to them their supplicating hands. Here was a scene to elicit the most latent sparks of courage. What wonder, then, that it had so powerful an effect on the minds of American soldiers — of Louisianian patriots! Every one of those brave men felt the honour and importance of his station, and exulted in the thought of being the defender of his fellow citizens, and the avenger of his country’s wrongs. Such are the men who will always be found, by those who may again presume to insult a free nation, determined to maintain and preserve her rights.
I have in this work endeavoured to relate in detail, with the utmost exactness and precision, the principal events which took place in the course of this campaign. I have related facts as I myself saw them, or as they were told me by credible eye-witnesses. I do not believe, that through the whole of this narrative I have swerved from the truth in a single instance; if, however, by one of those unavoidable mistakes to which every man is subject, I have involuntarily mis-stated, or omitted to state, any material circumstance, I shall be ready to acknowledge my error whenever it shall be pointed out to me. I therefore invite those of my readers, who may observe any error in my narrative, to be so good as to inform me of it, that I may correct it in a subsequent edition.
Although several documents contained in the Appendix have been already published, I have nevertheless thought proper to insert them as necessary parts of the whole, and as the vouchers of the facts which I have related. I might, indeed, have reduced some of them to the form of an extract, but they would thereby have lost something of their original character. Some might, perhaps, have doubted their authenticity. I therefore preferred giving them entire.
WAR IN WEST FLORIDA AND LOUISIANA.
The abdication of the emperor of the French, and the temporary pacification of Europe, consequent on that event, enabled Great Britain to dispose of the numerous forces which she had till then employed against France. The British cabinet resolved that the war against the United States should be vigorously prosecuted. The British presses were set to work, in order to prepare the mind of the nation, and give it a bias favourable to the views of the government. The same journals which for several years had been filled with invectives against the emperor Napoleon, now began to vilify the chief magistrate of the United States. The artifices so long employed to alienate the French nation from her chief, were now resorted to against Mr. Madison. The friends, or rather the agents of Britain, in die United States, repeated the same calumnies, invented the same fictions, advanced the same specious falsehoods, to destroy the President’s popularity, and incite the nation to an insurrection against the government, which, according to British writers and emissaries, had drawn her into an impolitic, unjust, parricidal and sacrilegious war. It was, they maintained, become necessary to punish the inhabitants of the United States, for having preferred a free government, of their own choice, to that of a British king: nay, the United States must be reduced to their original colonial subjection, as a chastisement for their having dared to declare war against Great Britain, rather than suffer the lives and fortunes of their citizens to be forcibly employed in support of die British flag; and for their having presumed to oppose those pretended maritime rights, to which all the governments of Europe had thought proper to submit.
The ministerial papers denounced the Americans as rebels, the devoted objects of vengeance. British publications now breathed the same rage as at the period of the declaration of our independence; and the ministerial writers had recourse to the grossest scurrilities in their endeavours to vilify our government. As they pretended that it was not against France that they had waged so long a war, but against the chief who presided over her councils; so now they affected to proclaim that their hostilities were not directed against the people of the United States, nor against the American nation, but merely against the leader of a dominant faction. It was to restore to our nation the enjoyment of prosperity, that they were determined to overturn our government! It was obvious that the cessation of hostilities in Europe, would afford Britain the means of executing a part of her threats; and reflecting men considered the fall of the emperor of the French (so long wished for by the friends of Britain) as a sure presage that we should soon have to contend with a formidable British force by sea and land; nor was it long before these apprehensions were realized.
On the frontiers of Canada, the British had hitherto conducted the war with much dexterity and intrigue, but without any considerable number of troops. The courage of our soldiers could not remedy the faults of our generals, and the two first campaigns produced nothing more than some brilliant exploits, some particular instances of bravery, that could have no influence on great military operations. Courage without military tactics, an ill-disciplined army conducted without any fixed plan, with a defective system of organization, were the means with which we long opposed the British troops; and it may be truly said that the two first campaigns in Canada were consumed in a war of observation, and in the taking and retaking of a few posts. The British, by all possible means of seduction, had stirred up against us a great number of Indians on the north-western confines of the United States, and excited them to commit depredations on our frontiers, and massacre our citizens. History cannot record all the atrocities committed by those allies of Great Britain, some of which are of such a description that the most credulous would disbelieve them, were not the facts supported by the most creditable witnesses and the most authentic proofs.
Experience at last opened the eyes of our government, and more numerous armies, under able and faithful officers, were sent into Canada, to carry on the war more effectually. It is foreign from the design of this work, to enter into any discussion on that subject; and I will merely observe that it was in some measure owing to a defect in the law then in force for calling out the militia, that our military operations in Canada, during the two first campaigns, were attended with so little success. I allude to the law which called out certain portions of the militia for six months only, at the expiration of which term the men were allowed to return home. Independently of the time necessary to repair from the middle states to the frontiers of Canada, or to Louisiana, six months are hardly sufficient to train a soldier to military discipline and evolutions, so as to render him fit to contend in the field against veteran troops. A subsequent law has, indeed, partly remedied this evil, by prolonging the time of service to twelve months; but even this term would probably be insufficient, had we to carry on a war with vigour.
The arrival of reinforcements to the British army in Canada, was the prelude to more extensive operations. The taking of Washington, and the several attacks made on different points of the Chesapeake, sufficiently evinced the intention of the British government, to endeavour to execute the threats denounced against us through their newspapers. The burning of Havre-de-Grace, the excesses committed at Hampton, and at Frenchtown, enabled us to form a just idea of the men who professed the intention of delivering us from a "government ridiculously despotic," and who in the meantime insulted our wives and daughters, destroyed or plundered our property, and indiscriminately set fire to humble cottages and stately palaces. The capitol itself, that noble monument that might have commanded respect even from barbarians, became a prey to the flames; and that we should not remain in doubt as to the fate we were to expect, the commander of the British naval forces, in an official communication to the secretary of state, explicitly avowed his determination to continue the same system of inhuman warfare, and to lay waste and destroy the American coast,
From that moment all eyes were opened; the cry of indignation was heard from one extremity of the union to the other, and all minds were now bent on an obstinate and determined resistance. It was evident to all that we had no longer to contend for the precarious possession of an inconsiderable extent of country, but that we were called on to defend our wives and children from British insult and brutality; our fortunes from the rapacity of British invaders, and our homes from pillage, fire and devastation. Those who had hitherto considered the war only as an honourable contest between two nations, mutually esteeming each other, but set at variance by conflicting interests, were now convinced that our enemies were determined to wage against us a war of extermination, and that we had to repel a savage foe, who came to cover our country with mourning and desolation. The Halifax papers announced the embarkation of troops that had composed part of lord Wellington’s army. In the list of the regiments and of the general officers, appear several of the former and of the latter who since came to the banks of the Mississippi. The expedition against New Orleans was to consist of eighteen thousand men. The same papers predicted that the calamities of war would be severely and extensively felt by the inhabitants of the United States.
From that time it was generally believed that the British would attack the southern states in the ensuing autumn or winter, and Louisiana was particularly pointed out as their most probable object of invasion: yet so ill does the general government appear to have been served by its agents in that remote part of the union, that as late as in the month of September, nothing had been done in the way of effectual preparations, to put that country in a state of defence.
Louisiana, which was particularly marked out as the principal point against which was to be directed a formidable British force, with a considerable extent of coast, numerous communications by water, and with hardly any fortified points, open on all sides, having in its neighbourhood a Spanish settlement freely admitting the enemy’s ships, and a great proportion of whose population was disposed to aid him, had no force on which to rely for the defence of her shores, except six gun-boats and a sloop of war. From the gallant defence made by the brave crews of these vessels, we may judge what would have been effected by a number proportionate to the extent of coast to be defended. Fort Plaquemines, that of Petites Coquilles, and fort Bowyer at Mobile point, were the only advanced points fortified; and none of them capable of standing a regular siege.
It may now be made known, without any other danger than that of its appearing incredible, that Louisiana, whose coasts are accessible to such flat-bottomed vessels as are used in conveying mortars, had but two of these engines which belonged to the navy, and which were landed from bomb-ketches that had been condemned. Nor is this all: there were not a hundred bombs of the calibre of those mortars; nor, indeed, could much advantage be derived from them, however well served or supplied. Professional men will understand, that from the construction of their carriages, they were only fit to be mounted on board of vessels, and by no means calculated for land batteries.
The fort of Petites Coquilles was not finished at the time of the invasion, nor was it in a condition to make an ordinary resistance. As to fort Bowyer, at Mobile point, it will appear from the particular account given in this work of the two attacks it sustained, that the brave garrison defending it did all that could be reasonably expected from its local situation and means of resistance. Such was the inconsiderable defence that protected the shores of Louisiana, and covered a country that has an extent of coast of upwards of six hundred miles, and of which even a temporary possession by an enemy might be attended with consequences baneful to the future prosperity of the western states. The general government might and ought to have been well informed of the vulnerable points of Louisiana. Accurate maps of the country on a large scale had been made, by the engineer B. Lafon and myself, and delivered to brigadier-general Wilkinson, who, it is presumable, did not fail to forward them to the secretary of war. That part of the state, in particular, by which the enemy penetrated, was there laid down, and in 1813 brigadier-general Flournoy ordered major Lafon, then chief engineer of the district, to draw up an exact account of all the points to be fortified for the general defence of Louisiana. The draughts, which were numerous, and formed an atlas, were accompanied with very particular explanatory notes. That work, which reflects great credit on its author, pointed out in the most precise and clear manner what was expedient to be done, in order to put the country in a state of security against all surprise. I have always understood that those draughts were ordered and executed for the purpose of being sent to the then secretary of war, to enable the government to determine in their wisdom the points proper to be fortified. To what fatality then was it owing, that Louisiana, whose means of defence were so inadequate; which had but a scanty white population, composed, in a great proportion, of foreigners speaking various languages; so remote from any succours, though one of the keys of the union — was so long left without the means of resisting the enemy? I shall be told that to fortify the coast in time of peace, were to incur an unnecessary expense. This position I by no means admit; but I further observe that the war had already existed two years; and we ought to have presumed, had positive proof been wanting, that the British, having numerous fleets, and every means of transporting troops to all points of the coast of the United States, would not fail to make an attempt against Louisiana; — a country which already by its prodigious and unexampled progress in the culture of sugar, was become a dangerous rival to the British colonies. The city of New Orleans contained produce to a vast amount. The cotton crops of the state of Louisiana and the Mississippi territory, accumulated during several years, were stored in that city, surrounded with considerable plantations, having numerous gangs of slaves. It was, in a word, the emporium of the produce of a great portion of the western states. The Mississippi on which it lies, receives the streams that water upwards of a million of square miles, and wafts to New Orleans the annually increasing productions of their fertile banks. — It is by the Mississippi and the rivers emptying into it, that the communication is kept up between the western and northern states. — And by the Mississippi and the Missouri, there will, at no distant period, be carried on, without difficulty, or with very little obstruction, the most extensive inland navigation on the globe.
All these advantages were calculated to excite the cupidity of the British, and inspire them with the desire of getting possession of a country which, besides its territorial wealth, insured to whoever might hold it, an immediate control over the western states. In possessing themselves of Louisiana, the least favourable prospect of the enemy was the plunder of a very considerable quantity of produce, the destruction of a city destined to become commercial, and opulent in the highest degree, and the ruin of numerous plantations which must one day rival in their productions, those of the finest colonies of European nations. Their other prospects, less certain indeed, but in which they were not a little sanguine, were the separation of the western states from the rest of the union; the possibility of transferring the theatre of war to the westward, by the possession of the Mississippi, and effecting a junction with their army in Canada; and lastly, being masters of Louisiana, to import by the river their various manufactures, and secure to themselves the monopoly of the fur trade.
Let us now see in what manner the British began to execute their hostile designs against Louisiana: In the course of the summer of 1814, the brig Orpheus had landed arms and officers in the bay of Apalachicola, and entered into arrangements with the Creeks, to act against fort Bowyer at Mobile point, justly looked upon as a place the possession of which was of the greatest importance towards the execution of the grand operations projected against Louisiana. The British officers diligently executed the object of their instructions, and had completely succeeded in rallying under their standard all the tribes of Indians living to the cast of the Chactaws, when an expedition of some troops, on board the sloops of war Hermes and Caron, sailed from Bermuda under the command of colonel Nicholls, of the artillery, an enterprising, active, and brave officer, and on the 4th of August touched at the Havanna, in hopes of obtaining the co-operation of the Spanish governor, the assistance of some gun-boats and small vessels, with permission to land their troops and artillery at Pensacola. On the refusal of the captain-general, they sailed for Pensacola, determined to land there; although the captain-general had positively refused to grant them permission. (See Appendix, No. 2.)
Colonel Nicholls accordingly landed at Pensacola, where he established his head-quarters, and enlisted and publicly drilled Indians, who wore the British uniform in the streets.
The object of that inconsiderable expedition appears to have been to sound the disposition of the inhabitants of the Floridas and Louisiana; to procure the information necessary for more important operations, and to secure pilots to conduct the expedition on our coast and in our waters, rather than to attempt any thing of importance.
Colonel Nicholls directed captain Lockyer of the brig Sophia, to convey an officer to Barataria with a packet for Mr. Lafitte, or whoever else might be at the head of the privateers on Grande Terre.
To give a correct idea of that establishment at Barataria, of which so much has been said, it is necessary to enter into some details, by a digression which will naturally bring us back to our subject.
At the period of the taking of Guadaloupe by the British, most of the privateers commissioned by the government of that island, and which were then on a cruise, not being able to return to any of the West India islands, made for Barataria, there to take in a supply of water and provisions, recruit the health of their crews, and dispose of their prizes, which could not be admitted into any of the ports of the United States; we being at that time in peace with Great Britain. Most of the commissions granted to privateers by the French government at Guadaloupe, having expired some time after the declaration of the independence of Carthagena, many of the privateers repaired to that port, for the purpose of obtaining from the new government, commissions for cruising against Spanish vessels. They were all received by the people of Carthagena with the enthusiasm which is ever observed in a country that for the first time shakes off the yoke of subjection; and indeed a considerable number of men, accustomed to great political convulsions, inured to the fatigues of war, and who by their numerous cruises in the gulf of Mexico and about the West-India islands, had become well acquainted with all those coasts, and possessed the most effectual means of annoying the royalists, could not fail to be considered as an acquisition to the new republic.
Having duly obtained their commissions, they in a manner blockaded for a long time all the ports belonging to the royalists, and made numerous captures, which they carried into Barataria. Under this denomination is comprised part of the coast of Louisiana to the west of the mouths of the Mississippi, comprehended between Bastien bay on the east, and the mouths of the river or bayou la Fourche on the west. Not far from the sea are lakes called the great, the small, and the larger lake of Barataria, communicating with one another by several large bayous with a great number of branches. There is also the island of Barataria, at the extremity of which is a place called the Temple, which denomination it owes to several mounds of shells thrown up there by the Indians, long before the settlement of Louisiana, and which from the great quantity of human bones, are evidently funereal and religious monuments.
The island is formed by the great and the small lakes of Barataria, the bayou Pierrot, and the bayou or river of Ouatchas, more generally known by the name of bayou of Barataria; and finally the same denomination is given to a large basin which extends the whole length of the Cypress swamps, lakes, prairies and bayous behind the plantations on the right bank of the river, three miles above New Orleans, as far as the gulf of Mexico, being about sixty miles in length and thirty in breadth, bounded on the west by the highlands of la Fourche, and on the east by those of the right bank of the Mississippi. These waters disembogue into the gulf by two entrances of the lake or rather the bayou Barataria, between which lies an island called Grande Terre, six miles in length and from two to three miles in breadth, running parallel with the coast. In the western entrance is the great pass of Barataria, which has from nine to ten feet of water. Within this pass, about two leagues from the open sea, lies the only secure harbour on all that coast, and accordingly this is the harbour frequented by the privateers, so well known by the name of
Social order has indeed to regret that those men, mostly aliens, and cruising under a foreign flag, so audaciously infringed our laws as openly to make sale of their goods on our soil; but what is much more deplorable and equally astonishing is, that the agents of government in this country so long tolerated such violation of our laws, or at least delayed for four years to take effectual measures to put a stop to these lawless practices. It cannot be pretended that the country was destitute of the means necessary to repress these outrages. The troops stationed at New Orleans were sufficient for that purpose, and it cannot be doubted but that a well conducted expedition would have cleared our waters of the privateers, and a proper garrison stationed at the place they made their harbour, would have prevented their return. The species of impunity with which they were apparently indulged, inasmuch as no rigorous measures were resorted to against them, made the contraband trade carried on at Barataria, be considered as tacitly tolerated. In a word, it is a fact no less true than painful for me to assert, that at Grande Terre, the privateers publicly made sale, by auction, of the cargoes of their prizes. From all parts of Lower Louisiana people resorted to Barataria, without being at all solicitous to conceal the object of their journey. In the streets of New Orleans it was usual for traders to give and receive orders for purchasing goods at Barataria, with as little secrecy as similar orders are given for Philadelphia or New York. The most respectable inhabitants of the state, especially those living in the country, were in the habit of purchasing smuggled goods coming from Barataria. The frequent seizures made of those goods, were but an ineffectual remedy of the evil, as the great profit yielded by such parcels as escaped the vigilance of the custom-house officers, indemnified the traders for the loss of what they had paid for the goods seized; their price being always very moderate, by reason of the quantity of prizes brought in, and of the impatience of the captors to turn them into money, and sail on a new cruise. This traffic was at length carried on with such scandalous notoriety, that the agents of government incurred very general and open reprehension, many persons contending that they had interested motives for conniving at such abuses, as smuggling was a source of confiscation, from which they derived considerable benefit.
It has been repeatedly asserted in the public prints throughout the union, that most of those privateers had no commissions, and were really pirates. This I believe to be a calumny, as I am persuaded they all had commissions either from Carthagena or from France, of the validity of which it would seem the government of those respective countries were alone competent judges.
The privateers of Barataria committed indeed a great offence against the laws of the United States in smuggling into their territory goods captured from nations with which we were at peace; and for this offence they justly deserved to be punished. But in addition to this acknowledged guilt, to charge them with the crime of piracy, when on the strictest inquiry no proof whatsoever of any act amounting to this species of criminality has been discovered, and though since the pardon granted to them by the president of the United States, they have shown their papers and the exact list of the vessels captured by them, to every one who chose to see them, seems evidently unjust. Without wishing to extenuate their real crime, that of having for four years carried on an illicit trade, I again assert that the agents of government justly merit the reproach of having neglected their duty. The government must surely have been aware of the pernicious consequences of this contraband trade; and they had the means of putting a stop to it. It is true that partial expeditions had been fitted out for that purpose; but whether through want of judgment in the plan, or through the fault of the persons commanding those expeditions, they answered no other purpose than to suspend this contraband trade in one part, by making it take a more western direction. Cat island, at the mouth of the bayou or river la Fourche, became the temporary harbour of the privateers, whose vessels were too well armed to apprehend an attack from land troops in ordinary transports. Hence the troops stationed at Grande Terre, la Fourche, &c. could do no more than prevent the continuance of the illegal trade, while they were on the spot; but on their departure, the Baratarians immediately returned to their former station.
There have been those who pretended that the privateers of Barataria were secretly encouraged by the English, who were glad to see a commerce carried on that must prove so injurious to the revenue of the United States. But this charge is fully refuted by this fact, that at different times the English sought to attack the privateers at Barataria, in hopes of taking their prizes, and even their armed vessels. Of these attempts of the British, suffice it to instance that of the 23d of June, 1813, when two privateers being at anchor off Cat island, a British sloop of war anchored at the entrance of the pass, and sent her boats to endeavour to take the privateers; but they were repulsed after having sustained considerable loss.
Such was the state of affairs when on the 2d of September 1814, there appeared an armed brig on the coast opposite the pass. She fired a gun at a vessel about to enter and forced her to run aground; she then tacked and shortly after came to an anchor at the entrance of the pass. It was not easy to understand the intentions of this vessel, who having commenced with hostilities on her first appearance, now seemed to announce an amicable disposition. Mr. Lafitte, the younger, went off in a boat to examine her, venturing so far that he could not escape from the pinnace sent from the brig and making towards the shore, bearing British colours and a flag of truce. In this pinnace were two British naval officers, captain Lockyer, commander of the brig, and an officer who interpreted for him, with captain Williams of the infantry. The first question they asked was, where was Mr. Lafitte? He, not choosing to make himself known to them, replied that the person they inquired for was on shore. They then delivered him a packet directed "To Mr. Lafitte — Barataria;" requesting him to take particular care of it, and to deliver it into Mr. Lafitte’s own hands. He prevailed on them to make for the shore, and as soon as they got near enough to be in his power, he made, himself known, recommending to them at the same time to conceal the business on which they had come. Upwards of two hundred persons lined the shore, and it was a general cry amongst the crews of the privateers at Grande Terre, that those British officers should be made prisoners and sent to New Orleans, as being spies who had come under feigned pretences to examine the coast and the passages, with intent to invade and ravage the country. It was with much difficulty that Mr. Lafitte succeeded in dissuading the multitude from this intent, and led the officers in safety to his dwelling. He thought, very prudently, that the papers contained in the packet might be of importance towards the safety of the country, and that the officers, being closely watched, could obtain no intelligence that might turn to the detriment of Louisiana. He took the earliest opportunity, after the agitation among the crews had subsided, to examine the contents of the packet; in. which he found a proclamation addressed by colonel Edward Nicholls, in the service of his Britannic Majesty and commander of the land forces on the coast of Florida, to the inhabitants of Louisiana, dated Headquarters, Pensacola, 29th August, 1814; a letter from the same, directed to Mr. Lafitte, or to the commandant at Barataria; an official letter from the honourable W. H. Percy, captain of the sloop of war Hermes, and commander of the naval forces in the gulf of Mexico, dated September 1st, 1814, directed to himself; and finally, a letter containing orders from the same captain Percy, written on the 30th of August on board the Hermes, in the road of Pensacola, to the same captain Lockyer commanding the sloop of war Sophia. (For these different papers see Appendix, No. 3.)
When Mr. Lafitte had perused these papers, captain Lockyer enlarged on the subject of them, and proposed to him to enter into the service of his Britannic majesty with all those who were under his command, or over whom he had sufficient influence; and likewise to lay at the disposal of the officers of his Britannic majesty the armed vessels he had at Barataria, to aid in the intended attack of the fort of Mobile. He insisted much on the great advantages that would thence result to himself and his crews; offered him the rank of captain in the British service, and the sum of thirty thou sand dollars, payable, at his option, in Pensacola or New Orleans, and urged him not to let slip this opportunity of acquiring fortune and consideration. On Mr. Lafitte’s requiring a few days to reflect upon these proposals, captain Lockyer observed to him that no reflection could be necessary, respecting proposalsthatobviously precluded hesitation, as he was a Frenchman, and of course now a friend to Great Britain, proscribed by the American government, exposi d to infamy, and had a brother at that very time loaded with irons in the jail of New-Orleans. He added, that in the British service he would have a fair prospect of promotion; that having such a knowledge of the country, his services would be of the greatest importance in carrying on the operations which the British government had planned against lower Louisiana; that, as soon as possession was obtained, the army would penetrate into the upper country, and act in concert with the forces in Canada; that every thing was already prepared for carrying on the war against the American government in that quarter with unusual vigour; that they were nearly sure of success, expecting to find little or no opposition from the French and Spanish population of Louisiana, whose interests, manners and customs were more congenial with theirs than with those of the Americans; that finally, the insurrection of the negroes, to whom they would offer freedom, was one of the chief means they intended to emplov, being confident of its success.
To all these splendid promises, all these ensnaring insinuations, Mr. Lafitte replied, that in a few days he would give a final answer; his object in this procrastination being to gain time to inform the officers of the state government of this nefarious project. Having occasion to go to some distance for a short time, the persons who had proposed to send the British officers prisoners to New-Orleans, went and seized them in his absence, and confined both them and the crew of the pinnae-. , in a secure place, leaving a guard at the door. The British officers sent for Mr. Lafitte; but he, fearing an insurrection of the crews of the privateers, thought it advisable not to see them, until he had first persuaded their captains and officers to desist from the measures on which they seemed bent. With this view he represented to the latter that, besides the infamy that would attach to them, if they treated as prisoners, persons who had come with a flag of truce, they would lose the opportunity of discovering the extent of the projects of the British against Louisiana, and learning the names of their agents in the country. While Mr. Lafitte was thus endeavouring to bring over his people to his sentiments, the British remained prisoners the whole night, the sloop of war continuing at anchor before the pass, waiting for the return of the officers. Early the next morning, Mr. Lafitte caused them to be released from their confinement, and saw them safe aboard their pinnace, apologizing for the disagreeable treatment they had received, and which it had not been in his power to prevent. Shortly after their departure, he wrote to captain Lockyer the letter that may be seen in the Appendix, No. 4.
His object in writing that letter was, by appearing disposed to accede to their proposal, to give time to communicate the affair to the officers of the state government, and to receive from them instructions how to act, under circumstances so critical and important for the country. He accordingly wrote on the 4th of September to Mr. Blanque, one of the representatives of the state, sending him all the papers delivered to him by the British officers, with a letter addressed to his excellency W. C. C. Claiborne, governopof the state of Louisiana. (See Appendix, No. 5.) The contents of these letters do honour to Mr. Lafitte’s judgment, and evince his sincere attachment to the American cause.
Persuaded that the country was about to be vigorously attacked, and knowing that at that time it was little prepared for resistance, he did what his duty prescribed; apprising government of the impending danger; tendering his services, should it be thought expedient to employ the assistance of his crews, and desiring instructions how to act; and in case of his offers being rejected, he declared his intention to quit the country, lest he should be charged with having cooperated with the invading enemy. On the receipt of this packet from Mr. Lafitte, Mr. Blanque immediately laid its contents before the governor, who convened the committee of defence lately formed, of which he was president; and Mr. Rancher, the bearer of Mr. Lafitte’s packet, was sent back with a verbal answer, of which it is understood that the purport was to desire him to take no steps until it should be determined what was expedient to be done; it is added, that the message contained an assurance that, in the meantime, no steps should be taken against him for his past offences against the laws of the United States.
At the expiration of the time agreed on with captain Lockver, his ship appeared again on the coast with two others, and continued standing off and on before the pass for several days.
Mr. Lafitte now wrote a second letter to Mr. Blanque, urging him to send him an answer and instructions. (See Appendix No. 6.) In the mean, time he appeared not to perceive the return of the sloop of war, who, tired of waiting to no purpose, and mistrusting Mr. Lafitte’s intentions, put out to sea and disappeared.
About this time, Mr. Lafitte received information that instead of accepting his services, and endeavouring to take advantage of the confidence the British had in him, to secure the country against an invasion, and defeat all their projects, the constituted authorities were fitting out at New-Orleans a formidable expedition against Barataria. He then retired to the German coast, where, strictly adhering to the principles he had professed, he warned the inhabitants of the danger with which they were threatened from the means intended to be employed by the enemy.
About this time, there fell into Mr. Lafitte’s hands an anonymous letter directed to a person in New-Orleans, the contents of which left no doubt as to the intentions of the British, and which is the more interesting, as all that it announced has since been fully verified. (See Appendix, No. 2.)
Such are the particulars of the first attempt made by the British against Louisiana — an attempt in which they employed such unjustifiable arts, that it may fairly be inferred that the British government scruples not to descend to the basest means, when such appear likely to contribute to the attainment of its ends. Notwithstanding the solemn professions of respect for the persons and property of the inhabitants, so emphatically made in the proclamation of colonel Nicholls, we see that one of their chief reliance for the success of operations in Louisiana, was on the insurrection of the negroes. Is it not then evident from this, that the British were bent on the destruction of a country whose rivalship they feared in their colonial productions, and that the cabinet of St. James had determined to carry on a war of plunder and devastation against Louisiana?
In coming to Barataria, to endeavour to gain over the privateers to their interests, they acted consistently with their known principles, and on a calculation of probabilities; for it was an obvious presumption that a body of men proscribed in a country whose laws they had violated, reflecting on their precarious existence, would embrace so favourable an opportunity of recovering an erect attitude in society, by ranging themselves under the banners of a powerful nation. But this calculation of the British proved fallacious; and in this instance, as in every other, they found in every individual in Louisiana, an enemy to Britain, ever ready to take up arms against her; and those very men, whose aid they so confidently expected to obtain, signally proved throughout the campaign, particularly in the service of the batteries at Jackson’s lines, that the agents of the British government had formed a very erroneous opinion of them. (See
Note No. 1,
at the end of the volume.)
The British finding themselves disappointed in their expectation of drawing over to their interests the privateersmen of Barataria, concentrated their preparations at Pensacola and Apalachicola. In this latter place, they had landed not only troops, but also twenty-two thousand stand of arms, with ammunition, blankets, aiid clothing, to be distributed among the Indians; and it was generally reported at that time, that several of their vessels had already sailed for Jamaica, to take in black troops.
General Armstrong, the then secretary of war, by a circular letter of the 4th of July, had informed the different state governments of the quota of militia they were respectively to furnish, pursuant to the president’s requisition of the same date. (See Appendix, No. 7.) On the 6th of August, the go-v vernor of the state of Louisiana published, conformably to that requisition, militia general orders, in which, after having laid before his constituents the views and intentions of the general government, to employ an adequate force to maintain with honour the contest in which our country was engaged, he exhorted the citizens of the state zealously to Stand the necessary draught for completing the thousand men demanded by the above mentioned requisition. (See Appendix, No. 8.)
All the western and southern newspapers were at that time loudly inveighing against the shameful assistance afforded by the governor of Pensacola to the British, at least inasmuch as he suffered the character of his nation to be sullied, by permitting them publicly to make hostile preparations in that town, where they had established their head-quarters, and where they were, if not the nominal, at least the virtual masters. Such repeated violations, and the succours constantly furnished to the Indians, who were evidently the allies of our enemy, contributed not a little to rouse the national spirit in that part of the union. I cannot refrain from giving here an extract from one of the papers that appeared about that time, in which the writer, after having enumerated all the grievances that the United States had to complain of against the Spanish governor of Florida, says: "who of us would not prefer to take his fortune as a common soldier, to remaining at home in affluence, while the community of which he is a member, submits tamely, silently and unresistingly to such indignities."
The commander-in-chief of the 7th district, wrote to the governor of the state, from fort Jackson, on the 15th of August, announcing to him the necessity of holding all the forces of Louisiana militia in readiness to march at the first signal, in consequence of the preparations making at Pensacola, of which he had received certain information. (See Appendix, No. 9.) Conformably to this order, the governor published in militia general orders, an extract from his letter to the commanders of the two divisions of state militia, in which he gave them instructions and regulations for their respective divisions. Commodore Patterson, commanding the station of New Orleans and its dependencies, received intelligence of the appearance of five British ships of war, which had landed a small number of men on the point at Dauphine island.
General Jackson had at this time removed his head-quarters to Mobile, from which place he wrote to the governor, on the 22d of August, a letter of which the following is an extract:
"I have no power to stipulate with any particular corps, as to particular or local service; but it is not to be presumed at present, that the troops of Louisiana will have to extend their services beyond the limits of their own state. Yet circumstances might arise, which would make it necessary they should be called to face an invading enemy beyond the boundary of the state, to stop his entry into their territory."
In consequence of this letter, the governor published, on the 5th of September, militia general orders, and afterwards general orders, directing the militia of the two divisions of the state, to hold themselves in readiness to march, the first division under major-general Villeré, being to be reviewed on the 10th of the same month, by major Hughes, assistant inspector-general of the district, in the city of New Orleans; and the second, under the command of major-general Thomas, to be reviewed at Baton Rouge on the first of October. (See Appendix, No. 10.)
By another general order, dated New Orleans, 8th September, governor Claiborne ordered the different militia companies in the city and suburbs of New Orleans, to exercise twice, and those of the other parts of the state, once a week. He also recommended to fathers of families, and men whose advanced age exempted them from active service in the field, to form themselves into corps of veterans, choose their own officers, procure arms, and to exerpjfje occasionally. The governor announces to his fellow citizens the dangers with which the country is threatened, urging to them that the preservation of their property, the repose and tranquillity of their families, call on every individual to exert all his efforts and vigilance; his order enters into minute details as to the precautions and police to be observed in the existing circumstances; it recommends the greatest diligence to be exerted in procuring arms, and the greatest care to be taken of them; and finally prescribes the conduct to be observed by all the militia officers, in case of the enemy’s penetrating into the state. (See Appendix, No. 11.)
About that time, there appeared a Spanish translation of an order of the day published at Pensacola, addressed to a detachment of the royal marines at the moment of their landing. This piece, written in a style of importance that might be used in addressing a numerous army, from which might be expected the most brilliant military achievements, breathes inveterate hatred against the Americans, loudly announcing that the object of the expedition is to avenge the Spaniards for the pretended insults offered them by the United States.
That document, replete with invectives against the American character, contains moreover a strong recommendation to sobriety; and from the earnest manner in which the author insists on that subject, one would be led to believe that the soldiers whom he addresses, stood in great need of his exhortations. This piece requires no further comment, as it speaks for itself; the tone of falsehood and duplicity that pervades it, lias induced me to publish it, especially as it may furnish some features in the portrait of our enemy. (See Appendix, No. 12.)
On the 16th of September, a meeting of a great number of the citizens of New Orleans was held at 'the Exchange Coffee-house, in that city, and by them was appointed a committee of defence to co-operate with the constituted authorities of the state, and with the general government, towards the defence of the country. The president of that committee, Mr. Edward Livingston, after an eloquent speech, in which he showed the expediency of making a solemn declaration of the patriotic sentiments which prevailed among the inhabitants of Louisiana, who had, on several occasions, been calumniated, and represented as disaffected to the American government, and disposed to transfer their allegiance to a foreign power, proposed a spirited resolution which was unanimously adopted. (See Appendix, No. 13.)
This resolution was, within a few days, followed by an address from the committee of defence to their fellow citizens. The patriotic sentiments expressed in this address, were such as need no comment, as the mere perusal of it will suffice to evince the spirit which animated the people, of whom the committee of defence were on that occasion the organ. (See Appendix, No. 14.)
FIRST ATTACK ON FORT BOWYER.
The preparations which the British had been long making at Pensacola, where, regardless of the rights of neutrality, the Spanish governor permitted the enemy of a nation with which his government was at peace, publicly to recruit, nay, even exercise his troops and the savage Indians whom he had enlisted, and whom he excited by every means of seduction, to renew the horrid scenes exhibited at fort Mims; the little care they took in their proud and frantic spirit to conceal their projects; the advantageous situation of the point of Mobile, as a military post, were among the circumstances which made it probable that fort Bowyer was the object of the expedition the British were fitting out at Pensacola.
Major Lawrence, who commanded that fort, was well aware of the means which the enemy intended to employ against him; and accordingly he made the utmost exertions to put the post confided to him, in a condition to make a vigorous resistance; while the brave garrison under his command ardently longed for an opportunity of evincing their zeal and devotedness for the honour and interest of their beloved country.
Before I enter on the glorious defence made by that garrison, it seems proper that I describe the situation of fort Bowyer, and that of Mobile point. It is indeed unnecessary to show how important the occupation of that spot must necessarily have been towards the success of military operations intended against Louisiana, as that will sufficiently appear from the bare inspection of the map. I will, therefore, merely observe that the point of the Mobile commands the passes at the entrance of the bay, and consequently the navigation of the rivers which empty into it; that on the eastern side it commands the species of archipelago which extends in a parallel direction as far as the passes Mariana and Christiana; that from its situation advancing into the gulf, it must ever afford to those who hold it, the means of exercising an almost exclusive control over the navigation of the coast of West Florida; and that its proximity to Pensacola secures to it a prompt and easy communication with that town.
This point, forming the extremity of a peninsula, joined to the continent by an isthmus four miles wide, between the river and bay of Bonsecours and the bay Perdido, extends in an east and west direction, inclining a little towards the south, for the space of twenty-nine miles in length, from the mouth of the Perdido. A large oblong lake, called Borgne, occupies the greater portion of its interior towards the east, which, independently of the narrow neck of land formed by the two bays, affords in several points the facility of cutting off all communication with the continent. The breadth of the peninsula decreases as it extends towards the west, so that three miles from the point it is only half a mile wide. This part affords another means of defence, of which the British availed themselves when they encamped on the peninsula during their last attack; I mean a ditch or coulée,
communicating with a lagoon, the whole occupying upwards of half the breadth of the peninsula. Some briars and stunted fir trees and live oaks grow here and there on a soil almost entirely formed of sand and shells, which mixture gives it a very firm consistency. Within two miles of the point vegetation ceases almost entirely, and the soil becomes a succession of downs, ditches, ravines, and hillocks of sand, arid and moving in some places, and in others as hard as beaten ground. These ditches are from four to eight feet deep, forming several sinuosities, where one sees here and there a few tufts of grass. It is nearly at the extremity of this tongue of land, on the point rounding towards the northeast, that fort Bowyer is situated. The part that is nearest the shore is the angle of the north curtain and the semicircular battery facing the pass, and opening a little at the distance of fifty yards, contiguous to a bluff which skirts the peninsula on both sides, nearly in its whole length.
Fort Bowyer is a redoubt formed on the seaside, by a semi-circular battery of four hundred feet in development, flanked with two curtains sixty feet in length, and joined to a bastion whose capital line passes through the centre of the circular battery. This bastion has but thirty-five feet in its gorge, with two flanks, each capable of receiving but one piece of artillery, and fifty feet in length on its front and rear aspects.
Its interior dimensions are one hundred and eighty feet in length from the summit of the bastion to the parapet of the circular battery, and two hundred feet for the length of tlie cord of the arc described by the battery. The receding angles formed by the curtains with the flanks of the bastion and those of the battery, considerably diminish the dimensions of this fort, the superficies of which may be estimated at twenty-two thousand feet.
The circular parts and the flanks which join it to the curtains, have a parapet fifteen feet thick at the summit, and in all the rest of the perimeter of the fort, the parapet does not exceed the thickness of three feet above the platforms; a fosse twenty feet wide surrounds the fort, and a very insufficient glacis without a covered way completes the fortification. The interior front of the parapet is formed of pine, a resinous wood which a single shell would be sufficient to set on fire. The fort is destitute of casemates (the only shelter from bombs) even for the sick, the ammunition or provisions. To these inconveniencies may be added the bad situation of the fort, commanded by several mounds of sand, as above described, at the distance of from two to three hundred yards. On the summit of those mounds it would be very easy to mount pieces of artillery, whose slanting fire would command the inside of the fort.
From the first information of the preparations making by the British at Pensacola, until the 12th of September, on which day four large vessels were discovered in the offing, the garrison of the fort had been constantly employed in putting the fortifications in a condition to resist the enemy. Major Lawrence now ordered all the men of the garrison to enter within the fort, and to keep themselves in readiness for action. From that moment the garrison passed each night under arms, every man at his post.
Before I enter on the particulars of the events posterior to the 12th, it may be proper to give a statement of the strength of the garrison, and of the means of defence.
The garrison consisted of one hundred and thirty men including officers, and the whole artillery of the fort was twenty pieces of cannon, distributed in the following manner: two twenty-fours, six twelves, eight nines, and four fours; the twenty-fours and twelves being alone mounted on coast carriages, and all the others on Spanish carriages little fit for service. One nine-pounder and three fours were mounted on the bastion, all the rest on the circular battery and its flanks. Those guns in the rear bastion and on the flanks, were on temporary platforms, and the men exposed from their knees upwards.
On the 12th of September, the sentinel stationed towards lake Borgne, reported that on the morning of that day the enemy had landed six hundred Indians or Spaniards, and one hundred and thirty marines, and on the evening of the same day, two English sloops of war, with two brigs, came to anchor on the coast, within six miles east of the fort.
On the 13th, the enemy sent reconnoitring parties towards the back of the fort, who approached to within three quarters of a mile of it. At half after twelve, the enemy approached within the distance of seven hundred yards, whence they threw against the fort three shells and one cannon ball. The shells did no injury, having exploded in the air; but the ball, which was a twelve pound shot, struck a piece of timber that crowned the rampart of the curtain, part of which it carried away and then rebounded. The fort returned a few shots in the direction of the smoke of the enemy’s guns, they being covered by the mounds of sand.
Meanwhile, the enemy, under cover of those mounds, retired a mile and a half behind the fort, and appeared to be employed in raising intrenchments. Three discharges of cannon were once more sufficient to disperse them. In the afternoon, several light boats having attempted to sound the channel nearest the point, were forced, by the balls and grape-shot fired against them, to return to their ships.
On the 14th, at six in the morning, the enemy still continued at the same distance, apparently employed in some works of fortification; the ships likewise remained at the same anchorage.
On the 15th of September, a day ever memorable for the garrison of fort Bowyer, the enemy by his movements gave early indications of his intention to attack; for by break of day, a very active communication was perceived between the ships and the troops on shore.
Towards noon, the wind having slackened to a light breeze from the southeast, the ships weighed anchor and stood out to sea: at two o’clock they tacked and bore down against the fort before the wind in line of battle, in the channel, the foremost ship being the Hermes, on board of which was the commodore, captain Percy.
Major Lawrence seeing the enemy determined on making a regular attack, called a council of all his officers. They unanimously agreed to make the most obstinate resistance, vigorously exerting every means of defence, and came to the following resolution:
"That in case of being, by imperious necessity, compelled to surrender (which could only happen in the last extremity, on the ramparts being entirely battered down, and the garrison almost wholly destroyed, so that any further resistance would be evidently useless,) no capitulation should be agreed on, unless it had for its fundamental article that the officers and privates should retain their arms and their private property, and that on no pretext should the Indians be suffered to commit any outrage on their persons or property; and unless full assurance were given them that they would be treated as prisoners of war, according to the custom established among civilized nations."
A11 the officers of the garrison unanimously swore, in no case, nor on any pretext, to recede from the above conditions; and they pledged themselves to each other, that in case of the death of any of them, the survivors would still consider themselves bound to adhere to what had been resolved on.
By 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the commodore’s ship being within the reach of our great guns, a fire was opened on her from two twenty-four-pounders, but with little effect. The ship then fired one of her fore guns, but her shot did not reach the fort. As the ships appeared, all the guns that could be brought to bear opened on them a brisk fire.
At half past four, the Hermes came to anchor under our battery, within musket shot of the fort; and the other three took their station behind that ship, forming a line of battle in the channel. The engagement now became general, and the circular, battery kept up a dreadful fire against the most advanced ships, whilst, on the other hand, the four ships discharged against the fort whole broadsides, besides frequent single shots. Meanwhile captain Woodbine, the person who had enlit ed and trained the Indians in Pensacola, opened the fire of a battery that he had established behind the bluff on the southeast shore, at the distance of seven hundred yards from the fort. That battery had one twelve-pounder and a six-inch howitzer, firing balls and shells: these the south battery of the fort soon silenced. It was now that the fire on both sides raged with the greatest fury; the fort and the ships being enveloped in a blaze of fire and smoke, until half past five, when the haliards of the commodore’s flag were carried away by a ball, and the flag fell.
On this major Lawrence, with his characteristic humanity, instantly caused the firing to cease, with a view to ascertain the real intention of the enemy, who discontinued firing for five minutes; at the expiration of which, the brig next to the Hermes, discharged a whole broadside against the fort, and at the same time the commodore hoisted a new flag. All the guns of the battery being at that moment loaded, they were all fired at once, and produced such a commotion that it shook the ground. A few moments of silence succeeded. The enemy began to perceive the effect his conduct had on the minds of the garrison, who indignant at the manner in which the British made war, resolved, from the moment of the flag’s being replaced, to bury themselves under the ruins of the fort, rather than surrender. The fire being renewed, continued for some time on both sides with the same violence. The Hermes having had her cable cut, was carried away by the current, and presented her head to the fort, and in that position she remained from fifteen to twenty minutes, whilst the raking fire of the fort swept fore and aft almost every thing on deck. At the moment when the fire was most intense, the flagstaff was carried away. This the British plainly perceived; but instead of following the example of major Lawrence, in suspending their fire, they redoubled it, and each of the ships discharged her whole broadside against the fort.
Major Lawrence immediately hoisted another flag on the edge of the parapet, having fastened it to a sponge-staff.
No sooner had the flag of the fort fallen, than the enemy’s troops on shore advanced towards the fort, believing it had surrendered; but a few discharges of grape-shot soon convinced them of their error, and forced them to retire again behind the mounds of sand. The Hermes no longer holding by her cable, drifted with the current about half a mile, and having run aground on the bank, the commodore set her on fire. The brig that was next in the line to the Hermes., had suffered so much, that it was with difficulty she could retire beyond the reach of the guns of the fort; but at last the three remaining ships' got out to sea. The fort continued firing on the Hermes until night, by which tkhe she appeared in flames, and burned until eleven, when the fire having reached the powder, she blew up with a tremendous explosion.
During the action, two of the guns of the fort were dismounted, and one broken off by a thirty-two pound ball, and another burst. I must observe, that of the whole number of guns that were in the fort, eight could not be brought to bear on the ships, and that the greater part of the men who served at the guns, belonged to the infantry, and had never seen artillery service before they were stationed at fort Bowyer: several of their officers also were little acquainted with artillery. (See Atlas, plate No. 3.)
To form a just estimate of the merit of the brave garrison of fort Bowyer, it is necessary to know the force they had to contend against; I therefore give here the statement of that force, as follows:
From the above statement, the proportion appears to have been above ten to one; and five to one pieces of artillery.
The loss sustained by the garrison was four killed and four wounded. That of the enemy was:
The proportion appears thus to be twenty-nine killed on the side of the British to one on the side of the garrison.
Such was the result of the expedition fitted out at Pensacola with the greatest care, and with all manner of assistance on the part of the Spaniards.
This victory of the American arms over the British troops under such circumstances, with so extraordinary a disproportion of force and of loss, was but the harbinger of the brilliant successes which the sons of liberty were very soon to obtain on the banks of the Mississippi, and of the humiliation that awaited British pride.
Commodore Percy relied so much on the superiority of the number of troops with which he was about to attack fort Bowyer, that he made no secret of his intention to allow the garrison but twenty minutes to capitulate. But how wofully he was disappointed in his expectations!
Instead of the laurels he was so confident of gathering, he carried off the shame of having been repulsed by a handful of men, inferior by nine-tenths to the forces he commanded. Instead of possessing himself of an important point, very advantageous for the military operations contemplated by his government, he left under the guns of fort Bowyer the wrecks of his own vessel, and the dead bodies of one hundred and sixty-two of his men. Instead of returning to Pensacola in triumph, offering the Spaniards, as a reward of their good wishes and assistance, a portion of the laurels obtained, and the pleasure of seeing the American prisoners he was confident of taking, he brought back to that port, which had witnessed his extravagant boasting, nothing but three shattered vessels full of wounded men.
The Spaniards, too timid and too weak to dare to attempt any thing by themselves, saw in the British avengers sent to realize the chimerical dreams with which they had fondly suffered themselves to be deluded. At the Havanna, in Pensacola, and even in New Orleans, six months before the attack on fort Bowyer, it had been currently reported that the time was not far off when the Spanish government was to recover possession of that part of Florida annexed to the state of Louisiana and to the Mississippi territory.
Too prudent to attempt any thing without being sure of success, too weak for any undertaking by themselves, the Spaniards relied on the English for the recovery, without danger to them, of that which, with so little foundation, they claimed as a portion of their territory.
This guile and duplicity of the Spaniards, was seen through by the Americans, and it will hereafter appear that the commander of the seventh military district of the United States, thought it his duty to put a stop to their infamous proceedings.
The important service rendered by the garrison of fort Bowyer could not fail to be justly estimated. On the 17th general Jackson, then at Mobile, wrote a complimentary letter to major Lawrence, expressive of the joy he felt on hearing of the glorious defence made by the garrison under his command, and acquainting him that he had despatched information of it to the general government, who would not fail duly to reward the brave defenders of the rights and honour of the American people.
The New Orleans committee of defence resolved that their president, Edward Livingston, esqr. should be directed to write in their name to major Lawrence, to assure him of the sentiments of gratitude and joy with which the inhabitants of that city had learned the gallant defence of fort Bowyer, and the important service rendered by the garrison, not only to Louisiana, but to the whole union, in preserving to them so important a point. At the same time it was resolved that, in testimony of these sentiments, there should be presented to major Lawrence a sword adorned with suitable emblems. (See Appendix, No. 15.)
On the 21st of September, major-general Jackson, whose head-quarters wert at that time at Mobile, issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of Louisiana, in which he sets forth the perfidious conduct of the British on our coasts, and the proposal made to the privateers of Barataria, to join them, and rally round their standard. That proclamation announces to the Louisianians that the government and the general rely on their zealous assistance in repelling the enemy, should he dare to set foot on our soil. (See Appendix No. 16.) On the same day, general Jackson issued a proclamation addressed to the free men of colour of Louisiana, inviting them to unite under the banners of their country for the purpose of contributing to its defence. That proclamation refers them to governor Claiborne for instructions as to the mode of forming corps. (See Appendix, No. 17.)
The spirit of patriotism and zeal which had been evinced with so much ardour for the defence of the country, in Tennessee, by the levying of the troops that had already joined general Jackson, and were encamped on the Alabama, under the command of general Coffee, was again manifested in the further levy of five thousand men, which took place in that state about the middle of October. The general government had received information that the enemy was preparing an expedition against the state of Louisiana, by the way of Mobile, and that his intention was to obtain possession of all the coast, from cape Florida, as far as the Spanish provinces to the west of the Mississippi.
EXPEDITION AGAINST PENSACOLA.
The Creek Indians in the year 1813 had been defeated and routed by a body of the Tennessee militia commanded by major general Andrew Jackson, and deputies of the Creek nation having sued for peace, had agreed to meet him or some American commissioners on the 10th of August 1814, to determine the boundaries of their nation with the United States. The treaty, as now in force, was settled; but a certain proportion of the Creeks having refused to participate in it, remained still at war with the United States, committing depredations on our settlements on the Alabama, the Tombigbee, and Mobile bay, and they were aided and abetted by the Spaniards, who supplied them with arms and ammunition, and received in Pensacola the property plundered from our citizens. General Jackson demanded satisfaction from the Spanish governor of Pensacola, who in a haughty answer said, that he would protect, clothe and arm, his Indians (as he termed them) — that in the ensuing fall he would expatiate more largely on the subject, evidently alluding to the intended attack of the southern states by the British. The messenger who brought this answer had hardly arrived, when a British force, allied with the Creek Indians, came from Pensacola and attacked, on the 15th September 1814, fort Bowyer on Mobile Point; and after having been repulsed, as has been above related, with the loss of a ship and a great number of men, they returned to Pensacola, and there were received, as the friends and allies of the Spaniards, who suffered them to garrison their forts, and even arrested and confined some American citizens, who were suspected of being unfriendly to the British government.
Major-general Jackson, to put an end to this breach of the law of nations, determined to take possession of Pensacola, thereby to deprive the Indians and their British allies of a place of shelter and refuge, after their aggressions on our territory. He accordingly assembled, near fort Montgomery on the Alabama, an army of about four thousand men, composed of detachments of the 3d, 39th, and 44th regiments of infantry, the militia of Tennessee, and a battalion of volunteer dragoons of the Mississippi territory.
A detachment of cavalry under lieutenant Murray of the Mississippi dragoons were sent to reconnoiter. They made prisoners a Spanish advanced picket, but could perceive nothing; he shot lieutenant Murray having imprudently followed alone an Indian whom he saw at some distance. He was regretted as a brave and excellent officer. The army arrived on the 6th of November 1814, within two miles of Pensacola. (See Atlas, plate No. 2.)
Major-general Jackson dispatched major Peire to the governor with a summons; but when that officer was at about two or three hundred yards distance of fort St. Michael, in defiance of the sacred laws of nations, he was fired upon from a twelve-pounder, although his character, as a flag of truce, could not be mistaken, he having a large white flag and approaching alone; major Peire, after having reconnoitered the fort and seen it occupied by British troops, reported to the commanding general, who had been previously informed that two flags (one Spanish the other British) had been displayed on the walls of the fort, and that the latter had only been withdrawn the day before the arrival of the American army; and making no doubt that this wanton behavior towards the sacred character of a flag of truce, was only to be attributed to the British, who, doubtless, did not wish to be seen in the act of violating the neutrality of the Spanish territory, the major-general impelled by a sense of humanity towards the oppressed Spaniards sent a letter by a prisoner, to the governor, demanding an explanation and satisfaction of the affront offered to his flag.
The army was at the same time encamped one mile and a half from the town. The Spanish governor immediately dispatched an officer with assurances of his not having had any participation in the transaction of the morning, and added that if the major-general was pleased to renew the communication, he pledged himself that his messenger should be received with due respect. Major Peire went again at midnight, with instructions. The governor having assembled his principal officers, was informed of the conditions proposed by general Jackson, viz: to receive an American garrison in the forts St. Michael and Barrancas, until the Spanish government could procure a sufficient force to enable them to maintain their neutrality against its violation by the British who had possessed themselves of the fortresses, notwithstanding the remonstrances and protest of the Spanish governor. That the American forces should be
withdrawn as soon as such a respectable force should arrive. These conditions having been refused, major Peire declared, agreeably to his instructions, that however reluctant to the feelings of the general, recourse would be had to arms.
On his return, the 7th November, 1814, three thousand men were marched from the encampment in three columns: the centre, composed of detachments of the 39th and 44th regiments of infantry, commanded by major Woodruff, and two pieces of artillery. The right column, composed of general Coffee’s volunteers of Tennessee, and the left of the drafted militia of Tennessee and the Chactaw Indians, commanded by major Blue, marched in the rear, with a battalion of volunteer dragoons of the Mississippi territory, under major Hinds.
The column was directed to precede along the sea beach towards the eastward of the town, to avoid passing under the fire of fort St. Michael; when in sight of the town, the sand proving too heavy for the artillery to make any progress, the centre column was ordered to charge, which was done in the most gallant manner. As soon as the head of the column appeared in the principal street, a Spanish battery of two pieces was opened against them, but was immediately carried at the point of the bayonet, with the loss of eleven men killed and wounded; amongst the latter were the gallant captain LavaPof the 3d, and lieutenant Flournoy of the 44th regiment. The Spaniards lost only a few men, four killed and six wounded; the American soldiers, with that mild disposition which characterizes the brave, having spared the vanquished.
The governor of Pensacola, don Gonzales Manriques, having sent a flag of truce to the American general, hostilities immediately ceased, and it was agreed that the block houses in town, fort St. Michael, and Barrancas, should receive an American garrison. But the commandant of fort St. Michael refused to obey the order of the governor. The general sent him a summons offering him the same advantageous propositions which had been made the night before, and giving him half an hour to determine; and having given the command of the town to major Peire and left him eight hundred men, with instructions to get possession of the fort before night, either by negotiating or by force, retired to his camp with the remainder of the troops. As he left the town, the British shipping attempted to annoy him with long guns, but without effect.
It was of the utmost importance that the forts should be taken possession of before morning, as the British frigate the Seahorse, the Sophia sloop of war, and the ———— had springs to their cables and were ready either to set fire to the town or effect a landing. The following measures were taken. Two companies, with three pieces of cannon, under the command of captain Denkins, were placed on mount St. Bernard, a position which commands fort St. Michael, and five hundred men were placed on the beach to oppose a landing if attempted. At six o’clock P. M. colonel Sotto, commandant of fort St. Michael, after having sent by two captains a verbal acceptance of the conditions offered him, refused to receive captain Denkins with his command, whom major Peire had sent to take possession of the fort, saying they could not evacuate it before morning. These delays and the bad faith of the Spanish commandant were evidently designed to give the British time to prepare to come to their assistance. This did not escape the American commandant, who ordered captain Denkins to commence an attack upon the fort immediately, and was about to march his forces to storm the place, when colonel Sotto, aware of the consequences, surrendered, under the same conditions proposed at first by the general in chief — and possession was taken of the fort at eleven o’clock P. M. On the same afternoon a battery called St. Rose, situated opposite fort Barrancas at the entrance of the bay, was blown up by the Spaniards.
It is here worthy of remark that property was respected and good order and decorum as much observed as if the American troops had entered a friendly town; and although it had been taken by storm, not a single act of insubordination was complained of. The Spaniards were so much pleased with this behavior, that they expressed their admiration and astonishment, at being better treated by the Americans, who seemingly had entered their town as foes, than by their British allies and friends, who used them very cavalierly and secreted on board their ships nearly four hundred slaves, who had ran away from their masters, and who, notwithstanding severe remonstrance’s and repeated applications from the Spanish authorities, refused to restore them.
Next morning, the 8th, the governor having been applied to, for his order to the commandant of the Barrancas to receive an American garrison, refused to give it, alleging that it would not be obeyed. General Jackson then resolved to go down and take that fortress. The Barrancas is a strong battery, of ———— twenty-four pounders, and together with fort St. Rose, on a small island situated opposite, commands effectually the entrance of Pensacola bay; but on the landside it is not so well defended. Preparations were making to march the army down to take that fort; when in the evening, an explosion was heard and flames were seen proceeding from the same direction. General Jackson soon heard by a prisoner, (which afterwards proved to be the fact, the general having sent to the spot to reconnoiter) that the British had persuaded the Spanish commandant to blow up the fortifications, and to retreat to the Havanna, with all his force, amounting to three or four hundred men.
The British shipping by this occurrence dropped down unmolested, and put to sea. The following was the situation of affairs. The British expelled from Pensacola bay; the Indians wandering in those low islands, perishing for want of food; the Spaniards punished for their want of good faith, and taught by sad experience, that they could not expect to injure their peaceable neighbors with impunity. On the other hand, the American army, composed of about four thousand men, of whom one thousand were mounted, could be supplied only by land conveyance (the British commanding the sea) from a country which was itself in want of provisions: — the winter was setting in. — The object of the expedition being accomplished, the major-general seeing that the presence of most of the troops would be wanted for the defence of New Orleans, determined to withdraw then from the Spanish territory, and march the army back to Mobile and New Orleans. The army set out on the 9th of November, for fort Montgomery on the Alabama, whence the troops were marched to their respective destinations, and the general, after having made some dispositions at Mobile for the protection of that place, set out the 21st November, by land, and arrived at New Orleans the 2d of December, 1814.
The legislature of the state of Louisiana, which had convened by the governor’s proclamation of the 5th of October, met on the 10th of November. The following day, the governor delivered to both houses, a speech, on which the limits of this work do not permit us to enlarge; we shall, therefore, merely observe, that after taking a cursory view of the military events that had taken place from the commencement of the war, and particularly during the last campaign, the governor informed the legislature of the well-founded apprehensions entertained of an attack on Louisiana by the British, with a force, as was presumed, of from twelve to fifteen thousand men. The governor next entered into minute details as to the forces we had to oppose to those of the enemy. He informed the legislature, that the troops, which had already taken the field, were shortly to be joined by considerable reinforcements of Tennessee and Kentucky militia. He expressed his satisfaction at the zeal, patriotism, and military ardor, displayed by the inhabitants of the country, in this critical conjuncture; commended the alacrity wide which the several militia officers had effected the levy of the quota of militia called out; and bestowed particular expressions of commendation, on the zeal of the inhabitants of Attakapas and Feliciana, who had already formed two companies of cavalry.
The governor finally recommended to the legislature to order the expenses to be incurred by the movements of the militia, in the event of the enemy’s effecting a landing in any part of the state, to be advanced out of the state treasury, saving a claim on the general government for the reimbursement of the sums advanced.
On the 2d of December, general Jackson arrived at New Orleans, where he established his headquarters. On the same day he reviewed the battalion of the uniform companies of New Orleans militia, commanded by major Daquin. The military appearance of those companies, completely equipped, and the precision of their maneuvers, gave the general great pleasure, and he testified his satisfaction to the officers. From that day the general foresaw what he might expect from that gallant battalion; and we shall see in the course of the campaign that it realized his expectations.
The situation of our country at that period, owing to the proximity of the enemy — the number of whose ships of war on our coast was daily increasing — was critical in the extreme: but the unbounded confidence which the nation in general had in the talents of general Jackson, made us all look up to that officer, as a commander destined to lead our troops to victory, and to save our country. It is hardly possible to form an idea of the change, which his arrival produced, on the minds of the people. Hitherto partial attempts had been made to adopt measures of defence; the legislature had appointed a joint committee of both houses, to concert with the governor, commodore Patterson, and the military commandant, such measures as they should deem most expedient; but nothing had been done. There wanted that concentration of power, so necessary for the success of military operations. The citizens, having very little confidence in their civil or military authorities, for the defence of the country, were filled with distrust and gloomy apprehension. Miserable disputes on account of two different committees of defence; disputes, unfortunately countenanced by the presence and influence of several public officers, had driven the people to despondency; they complained, and not without cause, that the legislature wasted time, and consumed the money of the state, in idle discussions on empty formalities of election, while all their time, and all the wealth they squandered, might be profitably employed in the defence of the country. Credit was annihilated — already for several months had the banks suspended the payment of their notes; to supply the want of specie, one and three dollar notes had been issued, and dollars had been cut as a substitute for small change. On the banks' refusing specie, the monied men had drawn in their funds, which they no longer lent out, without an usurious interest of three or four per cent, per month. Every one was distressed; confidence had ceased; and with it, almost every species of business.
Our situation seemed desperate. In case of an attack, we could hope to be saved only by a miracle, or by the wisdom and genius of a commander-in chief. Accordingly, on his arrival, he was immediately invested with the confidence of the public, and all hope centered in him. We shall, hereafter, see how amply he merited the confidence which he inspired.
With his usual activity, adhering to his constant practice of seeing every thing himself, as far as practicable, general Jackson, the second day after his arrival, set out to visit fort St. Philip, at Plaquemines, and to examine what parts of the river below New Orleans, it might be expedient to fortify. Previously to his departure, he had sent orders to governor Claiborne to cause all the bayous leading from the ocean into the interior of the country, to be obstructed. This measure had been ordered to be executed along the whole coast, from Attakapas to Chef-Menteur and Manchac.
On visiting fort St. Philip, the general ordered the demolition of the wooden barracks within the fort, several additional pieces of artillery to be mounted on the rampart, and a thirty-two pounder and a mortar in the Covered way. He also ordered two batteries to be constructed, the one opposite the fort on the right bank, on the site of the former fort Bourbon, and the other half a mile above the fort, and on the same bank. These batteries were to be mounted with twenty-four pounders. The latter, in particular, was in a situation extremely advantageous for commanding the river, and could join its fire with that of fort St. Philip.
On his return to New Orleans, the general ordered me to draw out the necessary plans for those two batteries, which plans being drawn out and approved of by him, the necessary measures were taken for putting them into immediate execution. General Jackson proceeded to visit Chef-Menteur, and having gone as far as the confluence of the bayou Sauvage and the river of Chef-Menteur, he ordered the erection of a battery at that point.
In the evening of the 13th of December, commodore Patterson received information that the naval forces of the enemy at anchor at Ship island, were increased to thirty sail, of which six were ships of the line; that others were every moment arriving, especially a number of light vessels, calculated for navigating on our coast where there is but little water, and that the enemy appeared to be sounding the passes.
The general wrote on the 10th to the governor of the state, and informed him of his return from visiting the posts down the river as far as fort St. Philip. In that letter he observes that the river is capable of being well defended, provided suitable batteries be raised on its banks; and that he has fixed on the points on which they ought to be erected. The general proposes to the governor to call on the patriotism of the members of the legislature, to assist him in the present conjuncture, with all the means in their power. As the works to be raised chiefly consist of earth thrown up, he is of opinion that it would be expedient to suggest to the planters the propriety of furnishing their gangs of negroes, to be employed for a certain time in those works. He thinks the importance of the subject worthy the immediate attention of the legislature, who, he hopes, will not delay a moment to furnish means for putting the country in a state of defence, by the erection of the fortifications contemplated. These, when completed, the general thinks, will secure the river against the attacks of the enemy; but not a moment, says he, is to be lost in, perfecting the defence of the Mississippi. With vigour, energy, and expedition, all is safe; delay may lose all.
The general concludes by requesting the governor to let him know, as soon as possible, what the legislature is disposed to do, to assist him in erecting the fortifications; he instances to him as a bright example, what had been done in New York. In case the legislature should not be able to realize the expectations he had conceived from their patriotism, the general wishes to know it, that he may make arrangements according to the means he possesses, for the defence of the country.
On the 14th of December, governor Claiborne addressed a circular letter to the inhabitants of the parishes of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, and St. John the Baptist, informing them of a resolution passed by the legislature, requiring the governor to call upon the inhabitants of such parishes as he might think proper, to send all such male negroes as they could dispose of to fort St. Charles or to the English Turn, to be thence sent to the different points that might be judged proper to be fortified, there to work on the fortifications. The governor in his circular letter, makes known to the inhabitants, that the state is in danger, that the enemy is in considerable force on our coast, and that his movements indicate a disposition to land. He concludes by expressing his reliance on the patriotism of the inhabitants, and his hopes that in the hour of peril, the voice of government will be listened to and respected by every good citizen.
CAPTURE OF THE GUN-BOATS.
THE arrival of a great number of the enemy’s ships of various force on our eastern coast, sufficiently announced the intention of the British, soon to make an attack in this quarter. Commodore Daniel T. Patterson, commanding the New Orleans station, had received from Pensacola, a letter, dated the 5th of December, informing him of the arrival of sixty sail of British vessels, and of a still greater number being expected; that those vessels had on board a considerable number of troops destined to act against New Orleans. (See Appendix, No. 18.) On this information, the commodore had sent five gunboats, one tender, and a dispatch boat, towards the passes Mariana and Christiana, to watch the enemy’s movements in that quarter. The command of this flotilla was given to Thomas Asp. Catesby Jones, who hoisted his flag on board gunboat No. 156. Commodore Patterson’s instructions directed that, if possible, it would be well to wait for the enemy’s barges, launches, and penances on the outside of the Rigolets; that perhaps the enemy would endeavour to cut off the gun-boats with his small craft, and that if his forces were too considerable, it was not advisable to remain too long at the same anchoring ground, at that time between Ship and Cat islands, and that it was important to secure a retreat at the Rigolets, where they must wait for the enemy, and sink him or be sunk. The commodore particularly recommended the most vigilant attention in watching the enemy’s movements, directing information thereof to be sent to him as frequently as possible.
Pursuant to his instructions, lieutenant Jones had detached gun-boats No. 23, lieutenant M‘Keever, and No. 163, sailing-master Ulrick, to Dauphine island. On the 9th of December, these two vessels being at anchor within the island, espied two ships of war out at sea, steering westward. The two gunboats immediately set sail, and accompanied them, keeping within the island till night; when the ships appeared to come to an anchor, the gun-boats continued on their course, and joined company, opposite Biloxi, with the three other gun-boats Nos. 5, 156 and 162, which composed the whole flotilla. They made sail the whole night, apprehending that if they remained at anchor, the enemy might send barges in the night to take them.
On the 10th, by break of day, they discovered an entire fleet of the enemy’s vessels at anchor in the channel between Cat-island and Ship-island; on which the gun-boats made for pass Mariana, within which they anchored, and received provisions from the bay St. Louis.
On the 11th they remained at anchor the whole day, and put the gun-boats in the best condition to sustain an attack; and on the 12th they made sail towards the eastern point of Cat-island, whence they discovered the enemy’s fleet so considerably increased, that it would have been imprudent to continue any longer where they then were.
On the 13th the gun-boats sailed for the bay St. Louis. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon were discovered a considerable number of the enemy’s barges making for pass Christiana; upon which, agreeably to instructions, the gun-boats endeavoured to make for the Rigolets; but the wind having died away, and the current making strong towards the east, they could get no farther than the channel between the main land and Isle aux Malheureux, where they were obliged to come to an anchor about 2 after midnight.
Sailing-master Johnson, commanding the Seahorse tender, was then in the bay St. Louis for the purpose of protecting the public stores established on its western shore, when he was attacked that same day by several of the enemy’s barges. He was supported in his defence by a battery of two six-pounders, and some of the enemy’s barges were destroyed; but at last captain Johnson was forced to yield to numbers, and set fire to his vessel, as likewise to the public stores, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy.
On the 14th, by break of day, were discovered, five miles to the eastward, a great number of barges formed in a line, which came to and laid on their graplings for about fifteen minutes, after which they advanced in a line of about forty-five barges and other craft in front, to attack the gun-boats. Lieutenant M‘Keever’s, No. 23, carrying a thirty-two pounder, tried immediately to fire on the barges, but the ball could not reach them. A small division of them made for the tender Alligator, which had been prevented by the calm from joining the gun-boats, and was at anchor two miles from them, to the southeast of Malheureux island. Having taken the Alligator, the division rejoined the flotilla, which continued to advance in line of battle, until they got so near that the fire from the gun-boats began to produce some confusion; on which they separated into three divisions. One of these consisting of fifteen barges, attacked commodore Jones’s gun-boat, No. 156, at anchor half a cable’s length from the others, in the centre towards the enemy. The others divided so as to attack all the gun-boats at once. By half after eleven in the forenoon, the attack became general, and after three quarters of an hour of a most vigorous resistance, made by one hundred and eighty-two men, including officers distributed in the different gun-boats, against about twelve hundred of the enemy in very large barges and other craft, carrying nine and tweivepounders and twenty-four pound carronades, the gunboats were forced to strike, after having lost six men, and thirty-five being wounded, many of them severely. (See Atlas, plate No. 4.)
Lieutenant Jones who commanded the flotilla, was wounded in the left shoulder. Lieutenant R. Spidden was wounded in both his arms, one of which it was necessary to amputate; and lieutenant M‘Keever was also wounded, but slightly. The enemy having got possession of one of the gun-boats, fired several shot from her upon the others, without striking the American flag. The enemy’s loss was very considerable, amounting, it is supposed, to upwards of three hundred men. Nor will this estimate appear exaggerated when it is considered that a great number of barges and lanches were sunk. One of the latter, with a crew of one hundred and eighty men, went down astern of No. 156.
In the report made by lieutenant Jones to commodore Patterson, (see Appendix No. 9) and transmitted by the latter to the secretary of war, may be seen all the particulars of the obstinate resistance made by the officers and crews of the gun-boats, notwithstanding the disadvantageous circumstances under which they were attacked. Amongst these was a very strong current running against them, while several of them were sunk eighteen inches in the mud, so that it was impossible to manœuvre against barges almost as large as the gun-boats themselves. It is presumable that had not the wind died away, the gun-boats under sail, would have destroyed the flotilla, though numerous and well armed. The British during the fight manœuvred very skilfully, and as soon as they became masters of any gun-boat, they directed her fire against such of the others as had not struck.
The observation, which a due regard to truth compelled me to make at the beginning of this work, respecting the defenceless state in which Louisiana was found at the time of its invasion, here forces itself again upon me. But it is far from my intention to impute any fault to those whose conduct exempted them from censure. Probably a concurrence of untoward circumstances, unknown to me, may have occasioned the apparent neglect of Louisiana. No one is more disposed than I am to render justice to the patriotism, activity and zeal displayed by the heads of the different departments of our administration during the whole course of the war, which is now so happily terminated: nor is any one more ready to acknowledge the firmness and wisdom that so strongly marked the line of conduct pursued by our worthy president. Twenty-five gun-boats, however, might at that time have saved Louisiana, by rendering it impossible for the British to land, and obliging them to abandon the project of attacking New Orleans by the lakes. In that case, the enemy would have been forced to take post at Mobile, in order to carry on the war by land in the Floridas. And fortunate it would have been for us, had he pursued this course, and much it is to be wished he may attempt it, should our country ever hereafter be at war with Great Britain. I predict that all the British troops that may attempt to march through the pine-barrens of Florida, will find their graves there; and for the accomplishment of my prediction, I would rely entirely on Tennessee riflemen.
Commodore Patterson, who had served several years on the New Orleans station, which he had commanded from nearly the commencement of the war, was perfectly acquainted with our coast, and consequently knew what means were necessary to defend it. On this subject he had written, at an early period, and several times since, to the secretary of the navy. At Tchifonte, on the eastern shore of lake Pontchartrain, a flat-bottomed frigate had been begun to be built, two years before, calculated for the navigation of the lakes and of our coasts. She was to carry forty-two pieces of cannon, twenty-six of which were to be thirty-two pounders. The building of this frigate was suspended in consequence, I believe, of the representations of brigadier-general Flournoy, then commanding this district. From his first taking the command of the station, commodore Patter, son had not ceased to solicit government to authorize him to have that frigate finished. Governor Claiborne’s correspondence with the heads of the different departments was also to the same effect; but though much was promised, nothing was performed. It might have been thought, from the little regard that was paid to the representations of the superior officers of the district, and of our representatives in congress, that Louisiana was considered as a bastard child of the American family; or that to attack her was looked upon as an impossibility. Yet the attack made on us was within a hair’s breadth of succeeding; for had the enemy appeared a few weeks sooner, before general Jackson arrived in New Orleans, he might have entered the city with little or no opposition, there being no means of resisting him; and however well inclined the citizens were to defend themselves, it would have been impossible to prevent the taking of the city. The capture of our gun-boats having left our coast defenceless, and permitted the enemy to choose whatever point he thought most convenient to land on, it became necessary to redouble our efforts in making preparations for defence.
General Jackson was returning from a tour of observation to the river of Chef-Menteur, when the intelligence of the loss of the gun-boats reached him. He immediately ordered the militia-battalion of men of colour, commanded by major Lacoste, and the dragoons of Feliciana, to proceed with two pieces of cannon and take post at the confluence of bayou Sauvage and the river of Chef-Menteur, in order to cover the road to the city on that side, and watch the enemy’s movements. Major Lacoste was also ordered to erect a close redoubt surrounded with a fosse, according to a plan which I drew agreeably to general Jackson’s orders.
On his arrival in town, the general bent his attention to the fortifying of all assailable points, it being impossible to ascertain which the enemy would make choice of, the want of vessels on the lake depriving us of all means of obtaining any certain intelligence of his movements, before he could effect his landing.
Captain Newman of the artillery, who commanded the fort of Petites Coquilles, which stands at the inner entry of the pass of the Rigolets, towards lake Pontchartrain, was positively ordered to defend his post to the last extremity, and in case of his not being able to hold out, to spike the guns, blow up the fort, and evacuate on the post of Chef-Menteur.
Capvain P. Jugeant was authorized to levy and form into companies all the Chactaw Indians he could collect.
On the 15th the commander-in-chief informed generals Coffee, Carrol and Thomas of the taking of the gun-boats, by letters sent by express, urging them to use all possible speed in marching to New Orleans with the troops under their command.
General Winchester commanding at Mobile, was also informed of the loss of our naval force, and it was earnestly recommended to him to use the greatest vigilance in protecting the vicinity of that town, as the enemy might endeavour to make an attack in that quarter.
On the 16th general Jackson wrote to the secretary of war, apprizing him of the capture of the gunboats; he expressed to him his concern for the consequences that might attend that event, which he apprehended might happen, when he wrote to government suggesting the propriety of giving the necessary orders for finishing the block-ship building at Tchifonte, and when he gave orders for supplying forts Strother, Williams, and Jackson, with six months provisions. The general apprehended lest the interruption of our communications by water with Mobile, might be attended with consequences fatal to the safety of the country. He however assured the secretary of war that, should the enemy effect a landing, he would, with the help of God, do all he could to repel him. He also informed the secretary that neither the Tennessee troops nor those of Kentucky had yet arrived, but that they were daily expected, and that in the meanwhile he was putting the river below the city in the best possible state of defence. He acquainted him with the taking of the post of the Balise, with all the pilots, and a detachment of troops that was there stationed, but he informed him at the same time of the establishment of martial law, and of the rising of the militia in mass. "The country," said the general, "shall be defended, if in the power of the physical force it contains, with the auxiliary force ordered. We have no arms here — will the government order a supply? If it will, let it be speedily. Without arms, a defence cannot be made."
During the summer, while yet among the Creeks, general Jackson had made a requisition of a quantity of arms, ammunition, heavy cannon, balls, bombs, &c. to be sent to New Orleans; but such was the fatality that appeared to be attached to all the measures adopted for our defence, that it was not till the middle of January, 1815, that a very small proportion of what had been ordered, arrived at New Orleans.
A special law of the state had, some time before, authorized the formation of a battalion of free men of colour; and we have seen that it had already taken the field under the command of major Lacoste, and had been stationed at Chef-Menteur. Colonel Michael Fortier, senior, a respectable and worthy citizen of New Orleans, having the superior command of all the corps of men of colour, presided over the levying of a new battalion of the same description, formed by the exertions and under the direction of the gallant captain Savary, who had acquired an honourable and distinguished reputation in the wars of St. Domingo. It was chiefly with refugees from that island, that colonel Savary formed that battalion, whose officers were immediately commissioned by the governor of the state; and its command was confided to major Daquin of the 2d regiment of militia. We shall hereafter see in the relation of the different engagements, that that brave corps realized, by a brilliant display of valour, the hopes that had been conceived of it.
The capture of the gun-boats was announced to the senate and hpuse of representatives of the state, by a message from the governor: "I lay before you," said he, "a letter addressed to me by commodore Patterson, announcing the capture of five of the United States gun-boats of the New Orleans station, by a vastly superior force of the enemy. The length of the combat is a proof of the valour and firmness with which our gallant tars maintained the unequal contest, and leaves no doubt that, although compelled ultimately to strike, their conduct has been such as to reflect honour upon the American name and navy. The ascendancy which the enemy has now acquired on the coast of the lake, increases the necessity of enlarging our measures of defence."
Commodore Patterson addressed a second letter to the governor, in which he complained of the want of seamen to man the armed vessels then at New Orleans, and requested the support and assistance of the state authorities. This letter was laid by the governor before the legislature, who, on the day of December, passed a resolution giving a bounty of twenty-four dollars to each seaman who would enter the service of the United States for three months, and to this end placed at the disposition of the governor six thousand dollars. The governor forthwith issued his proclamation (see Appendix No. 19.) Between seventy and eighty sailors received the bounty of the state, and were of the number of those brave tars who, by their incessant fire from the ship Louisiana and the schooner Carolina, so annoyed the enemy in all his movements, and so particularly harassed him on the night of the 23d of December, as will be seen
On the 18th of December, general Jackson reviewed the New Orleans militia, the first and second regiments, the battalion of uniform companies under the command of major Plauché, and part of the free men of colour. Addresses were read to them, and answered with acclamations of applause. My voice is too weak to speak of these addresses in adequate terms; I leave the reader to form an idea of the effect they must have produced on the minds of the militia, from the impression that the mere perusal of them will make on himself. (See Appendix, No. 20.)
These corps had two days before entered upon actual service, and did regular duty like troops of the line. On the 18th, Plauché’s battalion was sent to bayou St. John, and the major took the command of that post.
A general order of this day enjoined all officers commanding detachments, out-posts, and pickets, on the approach of the enemy, to remove out of his reach every kind of stock, horses, &c. and provisions; and directed them upon their responsibility to oppose the invaders at every point, and harass them by all possible means. It concluded with this animating sentence:
"The major-general anticipating that the enemy will penetrate into this district in a few days, requests of the people of Louisiana to do their duty cheerfully, and bear the fatigues incident to a state of war, as becomes a great people,anticipating from the ardour pervading, and the present help at hand, to make an easy conquest of them, and teach them in future to respect the rights of liberty and the property of freemen."
The garrison of fort St. John, on lake Pontchartrain, had been reinforced by the volunteer company of light artillery, under the command of lieutenant Wagner.
By an order of the day of the 19th, the commander-in-chief ordered several persons confined in the different military prisons, for having violated the laws of the country, to be set at liberty, on their offering to take up arms in defence of the country.
But that favour was restricted to such persons as were within two months of completing the term of imprisonment to which they had been condemned. These and all others not under sentence were, in pursuance of that order, set at liberty by the commanding officers at fort St. Charles, the barracks, and the powder magazine.
The country being now in imminent danger, it became necessary to adopt the most vigorous measures to prevent all communication with the enemy; and in order that such persons as might be apprehended for having given the British information as to the situation of the country, its means of defence in troops, artillery, fortifications, &c. might not escape punishment, general Jackson wrote to the governor, suggesting to him the propriety of his recommending to the legislature to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. As the danger was daily increasing, the general could not, without exposing the safety of the country, whose defence was committed to him, wait till the dilatory forms of deliberation should empower him to take the steps necessary for saving it. Nor did it escape his penetration that the legislature was not disposed to second his views, by that energetic measure. The hour of combat grew near, that of discussing, deliberating, and referring to committees, had gone by. The time called for action and promptitude; and accordingly general Jackson proclaimed martial law, (see Appendix, No. 21.) and from that moment his means became more commensurate with the weight of responsibility he had to sustain. The object of his commission was to save the country; and this, he was sensible, could never be effected by half-measures. It was necessary that all the forces, all orders, all means of opposition to be directed against the enemy, should receive their impulse from the centre of the circumference they occupied. They ought to be radii, diverging from one and the same point, and not entangling chords intersecting that circumference and each other. From the moment martial law was proclaimed, every thing proceeded with order and regularity, nor did any of our means prove abortive. Every individual was stationed at his proper post. The guard of the city was committed to the corps of veterans and fire-engine men, who were to occupy the barracks, hospitals, and other posts, as soon as the troops of the line and the militia should be commanded on service out of town.
The privateers of Barataria, and all persons arrested for, or accused of, any infraction of the revenue laws, sent to tender their services to general Jackson. Mr. J. Lafitte, adhering to the line of conduct he had marked out for himself, and from which he had never deviated from the beginning of September, when the British officers made him proposals, waited on the commander-in-chief, who, in consideration of the eventful crisis, had obtained for him a safe conduct from judge Hall, and from the marshal of the district.
Mr. Lafitte solicited for himself and for all the Baratarians, the honour of serving under our banners, that they might have an opportunity of proving that if they had infringed the revenue laws, yet none were more ready than they to defend the country and combat its enemies.
Persuaded that the assistance of these men could not fail of being very useful, the general accepted their offers. Some days after, a certain number of them formed a corps under the command of captains Dominique and Beluche, and were employed during the whole campaign at the lines, where, with distinguished skill, they served two twenty-four pounders, batteries Nos. 3 and 4. Others enlisted in one or other of the three companies of mariners, raised by captains Songis, Lagaud, and Colson. The first of these companies was sent to the fort of Petites Coquilles, the second to that of St. Philip, and the third to bayou St. John.
All classes of society were now animated with the most ardent zeal. The young, the old, women, children, all breathed defiance to the enemy, firmly resolved to oppose to the utmost the threatened invasion. General Jackson had electrified all hearts; all were sensible of the approaching danger; but they waited its presence undismayed. They knew that, in a few days, they must come to action with the enemy; yet, calm and unalarmed, they pursued their usual occupations, interrupted only when they tranquilly left their homes to perform military duty at the posts assigned them. It was known that the enemy was on our coast, within a few hours sail of the city, with a presumed force of between nine and ten thousand men; whilst all the forces we had yet to oppose him amounted to no more than one thousand regulars, and from four to five thousand militia.
These circumstances were publicly known, nor could any one disguise to himself, or to others, the dangers With which we were threatened. Yet, such was the universal confidence, inspired by the activity and decision of the commander-in-chief, added to the detestation in which the enemy was held, and the desire to punish his audacity, should he presume to land, that not a single warehouse or shop was shut, nor were any goods or valuable effects removed from the city. At that period, New Orleans presented a very affecting picture to the eyes of the patriot and of all those whose bosoms glow with the feelings of national honour, which raise the mind far above the vulgar apprehension of personal danger. The citizens were preparing for battle as cheerfully as if it had been a party of pleasure, each in his vernacular tongue singing songs of victory. The streets resounded with Yankee Doodle, the Marseilles Hymn, the Chant du Depart, and other martial airs, while those who had been long unaccustomed to military duty, were furbishing their arms and accoutrements. Beauty applauded valour, and promised with her smiles to reward the toils of the brave. Though inhabiting an open town, not above ten leagues from the enemy, and never till now exposed to war’s alarms, the fair sex of New Orleans were animated with the ardour of their defenders, and with cheerful serenity at the sound of the drum, presented themselves at the windows and balconies, to applaud the troops going through their evolutions, and to encourage their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers, to protect them from the insults of our ferocious enemies, and prevent a repetition of the horrors of Hampton.
The several corps of militia were constantly exercising from morning till evening, and at all hours was heard the sound of drums, and of military bands of music. New Orleans wore the appearance of a camp; and the greatest cheerfulness and concord prevailed amongst all ranks and conditions of people. All countenances expressed a wish to come to an engagement with the enemy, and announced a foretaste of victory.
Commodore Patterson sent gun-boat No. 65 to fort St. Philip. Lieutenant Cunningham who commanded it, had orders to send an armed boat to the Balise, for the purpose of bringing up the customhouse officer, and of ascertaining, if possible, the enemy’s force. He was further directed to give to the commanding officer at Plaquemine all the assistance in his power. The commodore ordered captain W. B. Carrol, the officer who had the command of the navyyard at Tchifonte, to cause the brig Ætna to ascend the bayou, and take a station opposite the unfinished block-ship, for the defence of the latter, in case of the approach of the enemy. Captain Carrol was further ordered not to suffer any boat to leave Tchifonte for the bayou St. John, without a passport, and in the event of the enemy’s entering lake Pontchartrain, not to let the mail-boat pass.
Mr. J. Shields, purser, and doctor R. Morrell, surgeon of the navy, were sent, on the 15th December, at night, by commodore Patterson, with a flag of truce, to the British fleet, for the purpose of obtaining, correct information as to the situation of the officers and crews made prisoners on board the gun-boats, and of endeavouring to obtain their being suffered to return to town on parole. Doctor Morrell was likewise sent to administer his professional assistance to the wounded. On the following day, near the eastern branch of Pearl river, they fell in with gun-boat No. 5, one of those taken. Shortly after they went on board the frigate Seahorse, captain Gordon, to whom they stated the object of their mission, and by whom they were sent in a tender to admiral Cochrane, who commanded the squadron. They met the admiral in his barge, who having read commodore Patterson’s letter and the credentials he had given to those gentlemen, returned the letter without any observation, and ordered the tender to anchor at the mouth of Pearl river.
On the 18th, in the morning, the admiral sent for the gentlemen, who accordingly waited on him on shore on Isle-aux-Pois. He first inquired what rank they held in the American navy: and next observed that their visit was unseasonable under the existing circumstances; that he could not permit them to return, until the intended attack was made, and the fate of New Orleans decided. In support of his opinion, 'he instanced a similar case that had occurred at Baltimore, and concluded by observing, that prudence and policy obliged him to send them on board some vessel belonging to the fleet. On the gentlemen’s expressing a wish to know in what light he thought proper to consider them, the admiral replied that it was his intention to respect the flag of truce, though he thought he should not be reprehensible, were he to treat them as prisoners of war.
The motive which induced these gentlemen to inquire of the British admiral in what light they were to be considered, was the just suspicion which they entertained from the previous conduct of the enemy towards them. Their boat had been moored astern of the tender, and plundered of all its rigging, and a guard had been stationed in her. It was with the greatest difficulty that a sail was obtained to shelter the men from the rain and intense cold during the night. Next morning, the tender was ordered to convey them on board the Gorgon, hospital ship, where were most of the wounded men of the crews of the gun-boats. Through the negligence of the officer commanding the tender, the boat which he had in tow, was sunk, and every thing on board of her was lost. But what particularly evinced the outrageous spirit of the British, was that the officer commanding the tender, forced the crew of the boat under a flag of truce, to work like his own sailors. To put a stop to this violation of the law of nations, it was necessary to come to an explanation with that officer, lieutenant Johnston; who, being irritated at the circumstance, refused to give the least assistance to some of our wounded men, who had been already twenty-eight hours on board the tender, whither they had been removed from on board the brig Anaconda, without having yet received any nourishment whatever. On board the Gorgon, the gentlemen found our wounded perfectly well treated by the British. As it is with reluctance that I have been under the necessity of reproaching them with their cruelty in a variety of instances, it is here particularly grateful to me, to have occasion to do justice to their humanity; for in describing the horrors of war, the feeling heart finds a most pleasing relief from his painful task, in dwelling upon instances of humane conduct.
Admiral Cochrane had promised Messrs. Shield and Morrell that they, should be permitted to visit their countrymen, and yet, with duplicity unworthy his high rank, he gave a written order, "that on no pretence whatever were they to be permitted to leave the Gorgon, until further orders."
The loss of their boat having left these officers entirely without linen or any other clothes than those on their persons, and there appearing no rational ground to detain them as prisoners who had come under the sanction of a flag of truce, they several times, through the channel of different officers, applied to the admirah claiming to be set at liberty, with their boat’s crew. But all their applications were to no purpose, until the 12th of January, on which day they were released, and on the 18th they arrived in town.
The defence of the country requiring the absence of a number of citizens from their homes, an interruption of business became unavoidable; and the obligation of performing military duty, precluded the possibility of fulfilling commercial engagements. This state of things induced the legislature to pass a law prolonging the term of payment on all contracts, till the 1st of May next ensuing, and providing various regulations on that subject. (See Appendix, No. 22.)
On the 21st of December, when the orders that had been given for obstructing the different canals of the bayous below Manchac were presumed to have been executed, a detachment of the 3d regiment of militia, consisting of eight white men and a serjeant, two mulattoes and one negro, with a single boat, was sent by major Villeré (the son) to the village of the Spanish fishermen, on the left bank of the bayou Bienvenu, a mile and a half from its entrance into lake Borgne, for the purpose of discovering whether the enemy might try to penetrate that way, and to give notice of such attempt.
The bayou Bienvenu is unfortunately become so remarkable from the British forces having penetrated through it, into Louisiana, that it deserves a particular description.
This bayou, formerly called the river St. Francis, under which designation it is laid down in some old maps, is the creek through which run all the waters of a large basin, of a triangular form, about eighty square miles in surface, bounded on the south by the Mississippi, on the west by New Orleans, by bayou Sauvage or Chef-Menteur on the northwest, and on the east by lake Borgne, into which it empties. It receives the waters of several other bayous, formed by those of the surrounding cypress swamps and prairies, and of innumerable little streams from the low grounds along the river. It commences behind the suburb Marigny, at New Orleans, divides the triangle nearly into two equal parts from the summit to the lake which forms its basis, and runs in a south-easterly direction. It is navigable for vessels of one hundred tons as far as the forks of the canal of Piernas' plantation, twelve miles from its mouth. Its breadth is from one hundred and ten to one hundred and fifty yards, and it has six feet water on the bar, at common tides, and nine feet at spring tides. Within the bar, there is for a considerable extent, sufficient water for vessels of from two to three hundred tons. Its principal branch is that which is called bayou Mazant, which runs towards the southwest, and receives the waters of the canals of the plantations of Villcre, Lacoste, and Laronde, on which the enemy established his principal encampment. It was at the forks of the canal Villeré and bayou Mazant that the British ascended in their pinnaces, and effected a landing.
Of the other branches of the bayou Bienvenu we shall take no particular notice; that called bayou Mazant being the only one connected with the British military movements. (See Atlas, plate No. 5.)
The level of the great basin, or the bank of the principal bayou, is usually twelve feet below the level of the banks of the Mississippi. The slope is usually one half of that height, or six feet, for the descent of the lands under culture, of from about one half to two-thirds of a mile in depth from the river, and the remaining six feet is the slope of cypress swamps and prairies, which are usually three or four times the depth, or extent of the high-lands susceptible of cultivation; so that one thousand yards, the usual depth of the lands under culture, have a slope of six feet, which gives less than 0,005 of a foot to each yard, whilst the prairies and cypress swamps together, commonly six thousand yards in depth, have but 0,001 of a foot to the yard in slope. The overflowing of the waters of all those bayous and canals, occasioned by the tide of the sea, or by the winds raising the waters in the lake, forms on all their banks deposits of slime, which are continually raising them above the rest of the soil, so that the interval between two bayous is, of course, below the level of their banks, and the soil is generally covered with water and mud, aquatic plants, or large reeds, growing there in abundance to the height of from six to eight feet: it sometimes happens that the rains, or the filtrated waters, collected in these intervals or basins, not finding any issue to flow off, form what are called trembling prairies, which are at all seasons impassable for men and domestic animals.
In times of great drought, and in low tides, the ordinary prairies are passable, and some of them are frequented by the cattle of the neighbouring plantations, which prefer the grass they find there to that which grows on the banks of the river, on account of the saline particles deposited among the former by the waters of the lakes overflowing into the bayous. Such is nearly the structure of those basins or prairies, which are very extensive in Louisiana, and what we have observed of those which are immediately connected with our subject, is applicable, more or less, to all the others in the country. From the high-lands of the Floridas, where the first hills begin, all the rest, as far as the sea, is alluvion land, gained from the water by the deposits from streams, particularly the Mississippi. This space is crossed in different directions by strips of high-land, between which there is invariably a river or bayou, more or less subject to periodical swells or tides; the surface of these waters is usually but little below the soil contiguous to their banks, and always higher than that which is at a certain distance. In a word, the land in Lower Louisiana slopes in the inverse direction of the soil of other countries, being most elevated on the sides of the rivers, and sinking as it recedes from them. The Mississippi swells annually and periodically at New Orleans fourteen or fifteen feet, and is then from three to four feet above the level of its banks. To contain its waters within its bed, dikes or ramparts called in Louisiana levées, have been raised on its banks, from the high-lands towards its mouth a little above the level of the highest swells; without which precaution the lands would be entirely overflowed from four to five months in the year. When, from accident, or negligence in keeping up these dikes, the river breaks through them, the rupture, called in this country a crevasse, occasions an extensive inundation, which lays the adjacent cypress swamps under ten and the prairies under twelve feet water. Such accidents, unfortunately too common, usually destroy at once the crops of ten and sometimes of twenty plantations. It is hoped that the frequent recurrence of the evil, owing to a defective system of police for the levées, will determine the legislature to take effectual measures to prevent such disasters, by ceasing to confide to the respective landholders a care so important to the whole country as that of the levées, and imposing a tax on the lands where they run, for the purpose of keeping them always in repair.
This digression appeared to me necessary, to give a precise idea of the ground which was the the atre of the military operations I am about to relate, and which could not be perfectly understood without these preliminary observations.
The detachment, composed as I have observed, repaired in the night of the 21st December to the post assigned, the fishermen’s village, consisting ol twelve very large cabins, capable of containing from two hundred to three hundred men, and constructed with stakes, thatched and inclosed with palmetto leaves, on a tongue of land on the left bank of bayou Bienvenu. In these cabins lived about thirty or forty fishermen, almost all Spaniards or Portuguese. From lake Borgne, which being shallow and in their vicinity, afforded them an advantageous fishing ground, they used to convey their fish in pirogues (periaguas) to the extremity of the canal of La Ronde’s and Villeré’s plantations, from which place it was transported in wagons to town. The owners of those plantations Messrs. Villeré, Lacoste and La Ronde, permitted those fishermen to enjoy the gratuitous use of their canals, and constantly afforded relief to such of those wretches as happened to fall sick; and it will soon appear that in return for the beneficence of those gentlemen, the wretches sold the lives and fortunes of their benefactors.
I have not been able to discover the names of all those fishermen, to consign them to execration and infamy, as I here do the following few who have come to my knowledge.
These are well known to have aided the British in disembarking their troops, serving as pilots on board their vessels and boats, and acting as spies for them from the period of their arrival on our coast. It was their practice, when they came to town to sell their fish, to get all the information they could, for the purpose of carrying it to the English, when they went out to fish in lake Borgne. On the 20th of December, the day preceding the arrival of the detachment at the village, the British captain Peddie had come disguised, accompanied by the three first named of these fishermen, as far as the bank of the Mississippi, and had even tasted its water. It was from his report, after having thus examined the country, that the enemy determined to penetrate by Villeré’s canal, whose banks at the time afforded firm footing from the landing place in the prairie to the river.
When the detachment arrived at the village, they found only one fisherman, and him sick, all the others, having gone the day before, under the pretence of fishing, to serve as pilots to the British barges. A few men were immediately sent into the lake to discover whether the enemy were already arrived, and on their return, a sentinel was posted at some distance in advance of the last cabin, for the rest of the night.
On the 22d by break of day a reconnoitring party of three men was again sent two miles into the lake, and during that whole day, fresh parties were sent out every two hours, to discover whether the enemy were approaching. Towards evening, three men in a pirogue arrived from Chef-Menteur, who had traversed part of the lake without seeing any enemy. That night a sentinel was again posted in advance of the Cabins.
AFFAIR OF THE 23d DECEMBER.
SOME time after midnight, the sentinel having heard a noise, called his comrades, who all instantly seized their arms. By the last gleams of the setting moori, they perceived five barges full of men, with some pieces of artillery, ascending the bayou; on which, thinking it would be imprudent to fire, considering the great disproportion of numbers, they retired for concealment behind a cabin. As soon as the five barges had passed this cabin, a party determined to attempt to escape by the lake, and give information of the arrival of the enemy. With this view, seven men of the detachment had already got into the boat, when one of the barges having perceived them, gave the alarm to the four others, who all made for the boat and became masters of it, before it could be got ready to push off. Only four of those in the boat had time to land, and the remaining three were taken, as were two others on shore; so that of the whole detachment, only four escaped, who ran in different directions into the prairies; and of these four, three individuals, after having wandered a whole day in the prairies, where the height of the grass hindered them from seeing any way to get out of them, happened to fall into the hands of the enemy, at the very village from which they had fled. One alone, Mr. A. Rey, more persevering, or perhaps more fortunate, after three days of uncommon fatigue, hardships and perils, over trembling prairies, bayous, lagoons, and through cane brakes, arrived at the post of Bertoniere on the road leading from Gentilly to Chef-Menteur.
The enemy having made prisoners of all these men, shut them up in the cabin which they used as their quarters, and placed a guard at the door. What further corroborates the evidence of the communication of the fishermen with the British, is the precaution that had been taken by the only one of them that was at the village with the detachment on the arrival of the enemy, to shut up in a cabin, that same evening, all the dogs in the village, who had kept up an incessant barking, during all the preceding night. But this is not all: the British, through a mistake, shut up one of the fishermen with the detachment, on the morning of the 23d. This man seeing a British officer passing by the cabin, called to him, and on discovering himself to him as one of those whom he had frequently seen aboard British vessels, he was immediately set at liberty.
About an hour afterwards, Mr. Ducros, a native of Louisiana, was taken from among the prisoners in the cabin, and put on board a boat in which was captain Spencer of the navy, with a colonel of infantry. The boat proceeded to the lake, in which, when they had advanced about a mile, they met the rest of the first division, consisting of about three thousand men in eighty boats. That division was composed of the light brigade formed of the 85th and 95th regiments, captain Lane’s rocketeers, one hundred men of fhe engineer corps, and the 4th regiment, all under the command of colonel Thornton.
Captain Spencer announced his prisoner to general Keane and admiral Cochrane, as one of those taken at the village. The admiral then inquired of Mr. Ducros, what might be the number of the American forces in the city and environs. The answer he received was, that there were from twelve to fifteen thousand men in the city, and from three to four at the English Turn. The admiral then ordered captain Spencer to proceed with all speed with the advanced guard, and to effect a landing at the point agreed on. The division proceeded accordingly, and when it arrived at the village, admiral Cochrane with several other officers, went on shore, and the division, under the command of general Keane, proceeded up the bayou. The admiral and the other officers put again to all the prisoners, the questions they had asked Mr. Ducros, and received from all nearly the same answer in consequence of a conversation the evening before, in which they had made the number of troops already arrived, or hourly expected at New Orleans, to amount to eighteen thousand men.
The division arrived at the extremity of Villeré’s oanal hy four in the morning, and soon effected a landing, being almost wholly composed of light troops. After the troops had rested some hours, the British colours were displayed at the top of a tree, while the band played God save the King; and at about ten o’clock, they commenced their march towards the banks of the Mississippi, cutting cane, as they went along, to facilitate their passage over the prairie and small bayous or coulees. From the mouth of the canal to the skirts of the wood, the distance is about a mile, and from thence to the bank of the river nearly two miles. At about half after eleven, the advance arrived at the side of the wood next the river, and immediately extended along VillerS’s canal. They now surrounded the house of general Villeré, in which was stationed a company of the third regiment of militia, whom they made prisoners, and where they surprised major Villeré, his son, who, notwithstanding several pistols fired at him, made his escape through a window, and got to the river, where finding a pirogue, he crossed over to the right bank. Colonel Denis de la Ronde, who on that very night, the 23d, as indeed throughout the whole campaign, rendered essential services to his country, had also escaped from the enemy, and arrived in town by the opposite bank.
The rest of the troops of the division continued to arrive at general Villeré’s house, and were on their march towards the higher boundary of the plantation, with intent to encamp there, when they were first discovered. Colonel Denis de la Ronde, who had stationed detachments of his regiment, the third of Louisiana militia, on general Villeré’s and Jumonville’s plantations, had, in the evening of the 22d, sent to inform general Jackson that several sails of vessels had been seen off the point of the three bayous, behind Terre aux Bœufs. The general ordered me to go, in company with major Tatum, topographical engineer, to ascertain whether this report were true; directing us to examine very particularly all the communications from Terre aux Bœufs to lake Borgne. We left town at eleven o’clock in the forenoon of the 23d, and when we arrived at the boundary of Bienvenu’s and la Ronde’s plantations, we met several persons flying towards town, who told us that the British had got to general Villeré’s house by the canal, and had taken prisoner major Villeré, the general’s son. It being of the utmost importance to inform general Jackson of an event no longer doubtful, major Tatum immediately returned to town, and I proceeded forward as far as over the boundary of Lacoste’s and Villeré’s plantations, whence 1 discover ed British troops occupying the ground from the commencement of the angle made by the road in thai place to the head of the canal. (See the plan of the affair of the 23d, Plate 6, in which that position is laid down.) I approached within rifle-shot of those troops, arT1i judged that their number must amount to sixteen or eighteen hundred men. It was then half past one P. M., and within twenty-five minutes after, general Jackson was informed of the enemy’s position. On this the general, with that heroism and prompt decision which is characteristic of him, and of which he had exhibited such signal instances during the campaign, instantly said he would go to meet the British; and immediately issued orders to that effect
The alarm-gun was fired; the battalion of uniform Volunteer companies, commanded by major Plauché, then stationed at the bayou St. John, was ordered to return and join the other corps with all possible speed, which order the battalion executed, running all the way.
By half after two in the afternoon, a detachment of artillery, two field pieces, commanded by lieutenant Spotts, and lieutenant-colonel M'Rae, the seventh of the line, the command of which regiment was given, for the present, to major Peire, on account of an accidental wound disabling major Nicks from active service, and a detachment of marines, commanded by lieutenant Bellevue, were all formed on the road, near Montreuil’s plantation. Orders had likewise been sent to generals Coffee and Carroll, who were encamped four miles above the city, to march down with their commands, and these orders were executed in one hour’s time.
General Coffee’s command of mounted riflemen, j and the volunteer dragoons of the Mississippi territory, formed the advance; the Orleans rifle company, commanded by captain Beale, followed on closely, and by four o’clock had taken a position on Rodriguez’s canal; the battalion of men of colour, under major Daquin, the forty-fourth regiment, under captain Baker, and Plauché’s battalion, which arrived about five o’clock from the bayou, marched with all expedition against the enemy. Commodore Patterson was requested to order such armed vessels as were ready, to drop down and take a station opposite the enemy. The schooner Carolina, captain Henley, was the only one in a condition to perform this service, as, there being no wind, the sloop of war Louisiana could not steer in the 6tream. Commodore Patterson went on board the Carolina, and there continued during the engagement. (See the commodore’s letters to the secretary of the navy, Appendix, No. 23 )
Governor Claiborne was ordered, with the first, second, and fourth regiments of the Louisiana militia, and the volunteer company of horse, under captain Chauveau, to take a position between the Colson and Darcantel plantations, in the plain of Gentilly, in order to cover the city on the side of Chef-Menteur. About four o’clock, a piquet of five mounted riflemen, who had been sent to reconnoitre the road, was assailed by a discharge of musketry from a British out-post concealed behind the fence on the boundary of Laronde’s and Lacoste’s plantations, by which the reconnoitring party, too weak and too rash, lost a horse killed, and had two men wounded. Colonel Haines, inspector-general of the division, went forward, shortly after, with one hundred men, to reconnoitre the enemy; but he had no opportunity to form a correct estimate of their number, which he made to amount to no more than two hundred men; an error probably proceeding from his having taken the advance on the road for the troops drawn up in column some hours before, as reported by the officer who had first seen them.
A negro was apprehended, who had been sent by the British with printed copies of a proclamation, in French and Spanish, nearly in the following terms: "Louisianians! remain quiet in your houses; your slaves shall be preserved to you, and your property respected. We make war only against Americans." Signed by admiral Cochrane and major-general Keane.
We have seen, in the account of the offers made to Mr. Lafitte, what reliance was to be had on their promise to preserve slaves to their masters.
An hour before these papers were seized, the British had stuck up the same proclamation on the fences, all along the road below Laronde’s plantation.
The troops now moved forward; general Coffee took the command of the left, composed of a part of his brigade, the Tennessee mounted riflemen, the Orleans company of riflemen, under captain Beale, forming the extremity of the left, a part of the Mississippi dragoons and mounted riflemen, amounting in all to seven hundred and thirty-two fighting men.
Colonel de la Ronde, the owner of the plantation on which the troops were formed, after having, about noon, escaped from the British at Villeré’s, and crossed the river, had come to town and joined captain Beale’s company as a volunteer; from his knowledge of the ground, he was now ordered by general Jackson to accompany general Coffee as a guide.
About nightfall, the left entered on La Ronde’s plantation, and took a position in the back of it, on its boundary with Lacoste’s.
The right formed on a line almost perpendicular to the river, stretching from the levée to the garden of La Ronde’s plantation, and on its principal avenue. The artillery occupied the high road, supported by the detachment of marines. On the left of the artillery were stationed the seventh and forty-fourth of the line, Plauehe’s and Daqum’s battalions, and eighteen Chactaw Indians, commanded by captains Jugeant and Allard, forming the extremity of the right wing towards the woods. The superior command of the battalions of militia was given to colonel Ross.
The boats that had landed the first division of the British troops returned down the bayou, and at eight o’clock passed the village on their way to take in the second division, which had been embarked in small vessels, and was already in the lake. By four in the afternoon, that division, consisting of the twenty-first, forty-fourth, and ninety-third regiments, with a division of artillery, in all two thousand five hundred men, arrived at the village. At half after seven in the evening, they were disembarking, when the firing was first heard from the schooner Carolina, which now opened on the division encamped on the river bank.
Admirals Cochrane and Malcolm, with several officers of the army and navy, had remained at the village to hasten the landing of the troops, and had there passed the whole day, during which time they frequently conversed with the prisoners, endeavouring to persuade them that the British army came with no hostile intent against the inhabitants of the country, who being mostly Frenchmen or Spaniards by birth or descent, must naturally (as these English gentlemen naturally supposed) prefer the British government to that of the United States. They told them that their intentions were to obtain and keep possession of the country, and to penetrate far up the Mississippi, to make the upper country the theatre of war; that to convince the inhabitants of their friendly intentions, they had brought with them three natives of Louisiana, serving in the troops of his catholic majesty in Pensacola; and accordingly those three persons alluded to, Messrs. Guillemard, Regio, and Grand Pré, were seen shortly after in company with the British officers; but fortunately were not able to give them any great assistance.
On the arrival of the second division at the village, the prisoners Were embarked on board one of the boats, to be conveyed to their own homes. They landed at half past seven, with the second division, who, on hearing the report of the cannon, made all haste to repair to the scene of action, where they arrived in less than an hour, long before the action was over, so that several corps of that division were engaged in it.
The first division of British troops, having encamped, or rather bivouacked, as I have already observed, at the angle formed by the road, on the highest part of Villeré’s plantation, in irregular order, some on the side of the levée, and others in the plain, out-posts had been stationed at different places, in an oblique line, extending from the boundary between La Ronde’s and Lacoste’s plantations, running along the negro huts of the latter, on the back of the dwelling house, as far as a cluster of live oaks, on Villeré’s canal, near the wood. There was stationed a strong detachment to cover the communication with the rest of the army, by the road on the right bank of the canal. Through the plain ran a chain of out-sentries, very closely posted. A detachment of fifty men was stationed at Jumonville’s bridge, on the border of the canal, on the road. One company had advanced as far as the bank of the river, behind the levée, and to the angle forming Mr. Villeré’s inclosed batture, probably in order to prevent all surprise by the river. The detachment of the rocket brigade was stationed behind the levée, to use that diabolical invention against such vessels as might endeavour to annoy the camp. A few pieces of cannon had already arrived, and were mounted in the court near Villeré’s sugar-works. A strong detachment of about five hundred men was stationed on the left bank of Villeré’s canal, near the negro huts. General Keane and his officers, among whom was colonel Thornton, had established their headquarters in Mr. Villeré’s house.
The British general having thus, with little difficulty, succeeded in bringing his troops to the banks of the Mississippi, and there establishing his camp, in the belief that his arrival and position could not be known at New Orleans till late in the night, expected to meet with little or no resistance. Such was the security and confidence of the British army, that part of the troops had lain down in their bivouacs, and some picquets of the out-posts had lighted up large fires, at which the men were cooking their suppers, when they were surprised. It appears, indeed, not unlikely that the opinion they had of their superior military skill, the expectation with which they had been deluded, that the old population of the country would hail their arrival with joy, the cheering thoughts of their having arrived on the banks of the Mississippi, within nine miles of New Orleans, without having had occasion to fire a musket, contributed to make the British believe themselves in perfect security from any attack. (See the plan, Plate No. 6.)
About seven o’clock the Carolina came to anchor on the brink of Villeré’s batture, opposite the centre of the British encampment, within musket-shot. Such was the security of the British, that taking that vessel for a common boat plying on the Mississippi, numbers of them went on the levée to examine her more closely. At half after seven the Carolina opened on them a dreadful fire, which continued for ten minutes before they could recover from the consternation with which they were struck by that sudden attack; so that they had not. yet run to their arms, when the guns of the schooner had already killed or wounded upwards of a hundred of their men. The British at last extinguished the fires in their camp, and attempted to answer the schooner with a fire of musketry, from which the crew sustained no injury. Some Congreve rockets were tried with as little effect, and those who discharged them were forced to conceal themselves behind the levée. In less than half an hour the schooner drove the enemy from his camp. (See commodore Patterson’s letter to the secretary of the navy, Appendix No. 24.)
At this moment a company of the seventh, commanded by lieutenant M‘Klelland, under colonel Piatt, quarter-master-general, advanced from the gate of La Ronde’s plantation, on the road, to the boundary of Lacoste’s, at the distance of fifteen paces, where the detachment was received with a discharge of musketry, from one of the enemy’s out-posts stationed on the road. Though this out-post consisted of a considerable number of men, that gallant company attacked them vigorously, and forced them to retire; and colonel Piatt, with a few men of the detachment, advanced to the ground from which they had just driven the enemy. The latter, having received a reinforcement of two hundred men, and being now about three hundred strong, returned to resume their former position, and kept up a brisk fire of musketry against the detachment, who as briskly returned it. In this affair colonel Piatt received a wound in the leg, lieutenant M‘Klelland and a serjeant were killed, and a few men wounded.
Meantime the 7th regiment advanced by heads of companies parallel to the right, appuye on the high road, to the distance of 150 yards, where it formed in battalion before the enemy, with whom it instantly engaged with a very brisk and close fire. The 44th came up at the same time, formed on the left of the 7th, and commenced firing. The artillery having now arrived, the two pieces were put in battery on the road, the marines being drawn up on the right of the artillery on the river bank. The engagement now became general on both sides; the front of the British line greatly outflanked our line on the left, and the enemy seeing that he could not make our troops give way, caused some of his to file off on the old levée by a gate, three hundred yards from the river, with intent to turn our flank. The 44th had already been obliged to oblique on the left, to avoid being turned, when major Plauché’s battalion, with that of major Daquin, with a very small number of Indians, advanced at the moment when their left was appuye on the angle of Laronde’s garden, and the right a little in the rear of the 44th. The enemy’s column advancing silently in the dark, to endeavour to turn the troops of the line, fell suddenly almost within pistolshot of the extremity of Daquin’s battalion, and instantly commenced a brisk firing. Plauché’s battalion, now forming the centre, advanced in close column, and displayed under the enemy’s fire which was then kept up by his whole front, from the bank of the river to Laronde’s garden, forming an angle, or curve, in the centre. Already had our troops, animated with martial ardour, forced the enemy to give way; and they continued to advance, keeping up an incessant fire; the cry of charge! charge! push on with the bayonet! ran from rank to rank on the left, when the enemy thought proper to retire, favoured by the darkness which was increased by the fog, and by the smoke which a light breeze from the south blew full in the faces of our men. The artillery had all this time been playing upon the enemy, who made an attempt to seize it; but the fire from the right of the 7th regiment, and from the marines, frustrated his intent. At last when the smoke dispersed, the enemy had already retired within the limits of Lacoste’s plantation.
In the meantime, general Coffee’s division had advanced towards the back of Laronde’s plantation in order to fall on the enemy’s rear, according to the advice of colonel Laronde, the owner of the premises. General Coffee ordered his riflemen to dismount on the edge of the ditch separating the two plantations, where he left about one hundred men to take care of the horses, and have them ready when wanted. The division crossed the boundary line, and pushed forward in a direction perpendicular to that line. Captain Beale’s company, which had advanced near the wood, within a short distance of one of the enemy’s advanced guards,followed the movements of general Coffee, who drew up his division almost on the limits between the grounds of Lacoste and Villeré. The detachment of cavalry under the command of major Hinds, not being able to manœuvre in fields cut up with ditches at very close intervals, remained drawn up on the edge of a ditch in the middle of the plantation. Colonel Coffee’s division extended its front as much as possible, and the general ordered it to advance in silence, and fire without order, taking aim with their utmost skill. Long practice had enabled these riflemen to keep up a very brisk fire, the more destructive, as not a man discharged his piece without doing execution. The division continued to advance, driving the enemy before it, and took its second position in front of Lacoste’s plantation, where was posted the 85th, which, on receiving the first discharge, fell back behind the old levée, towards the camp. Captain Beale’s company advanced on the left within Viller�’s plantation, almost in the midst of detachments of the enemy, incessantly coming up on that side. It was principally engaged with a corps of the enemy near the old levée, which it forced to fall back. About the same time Coffee’s division discovered that several parties of the enemy were posted among Lacoste’s negro huts. On this the general ordered his men to move forward to the right, to drive the enemy from that position, which was soon effected.
The negro huts of Mr. Lacoste’s plantation still exhibit evident proofs of the unerring aim of the gallant Tennesseans of Coffee’s division: in one spot particularly are seen half a dozen marks of their balls in a diameter of four inches, which were probably all fired at the same object.
Some British soldiers were killed or taken prisoners in endeavouring to escape towards the woods near the huts, in a direction opposite to that of their camp; so true it is that the British troops were struck with consternation on being attacked that night in so vigorous, judicious and unexpected a manner.
Captain Beale’s company, after having penetrated into the very camp of the enemy, and made several prisoners, pushed forward to the right, following the movement of general Coffee; but unfortunately a party of those brave and most estimable men, through a mistake owing to the darkness, fell among a corps of one hundred and fifty of the British, who were moving on rapidly towards the camp, taking them for part of Coffee’s division, and were made prisoners. The others followed the road to the right, and took; several prisoners.
Coffee’s division at last took a position in front of the old levée, near Laronde’s boundary, where it continued to keep up a destructive fire on the troops that had been repulsed towards the right, as they were endeavouring to escape.
It was now about half after nine, when the enemy having learned by experience that he could not hope to obtain any advantage over our troops, and persuaded that he would greatly endanger his own safety by continuing the combat in which he had already suffered so much, fell back to his camp, where all the troops passed the night under arms and without fire.
During the engagement the second division arrived, and a considerable part of it was in the thickest of the fire. The fear of being cut off from the sole communication he had with the fleet, made the enemy take every precaution to prevent such a disaster. His posts were in continual alarm the whole night, and such were his apprehensions that he posted double lines of sentinels, so that as the one turned it was crossed by the other walking in a contrary direction.
General Jackson seeing that the darkness rendered it impossible for him to follow up victory any farther, was forced to content himself for the present with having convinced the British that Americans were not to be intimidated by the martial renown of the heroes of Wellington. He therefore led back his troops to their former position, from the principal entrance to the buildings of Laronde’s plantation, where they remained until four in the morning. General Coffee took his position for the night in front of Laronde’s garden, on the left of the other troops. About half after eleven a firing of musketry was heard in the Erection of Jumonville’s plantation.
The detachment of the Louisiana drafted militia, in cantonments at the English Turn, under the command of brigadier-general David Morgan, three hundred and fifty men strong, having learned, at about one o’clock in the afternoon, that the enemy was on Villeré’s plantation, ran to their arms, and all the officers and privates desired to be led against him. General Morgan, not having received orders to that effect, did not think proper to yield to the earnest solicitations of the troops, whose impatience of inactivity increased every moment. At half after seven, when the report of the Carolina’s guns struck their ears, it became almost impossible to hinder the men from marching against the enemy; and at last general Morgan, at the pressing request of the officers, gave orders to march, which diffused joy through the whole detachment.
Having instantly set out, it arrived at the entrance of the road to Terre-aux-Bœufs, during the hottest of the action, and continued to advance, preceded by two piquets, the one on the high road, the other in the fields near the woods. The picquet that followed the high road, being arrived within a short distance of the bridge over Jumonville’s plantation, perceiving some of the enemy’s troops, but not being able to ascertain their number, hailed them; but receiving no answer, the picquet fired on the enemy, who returned their fire, and instantly fell back behind the canal.
Some men were sent on reconnoitring, to endeavour to discover their strength, but without effect. Suspecting an ambush, the battalion took a position in a neighbouring field, where it remained until about three next morning, when it was thought advisable to return to the camp.
General Morgan, not thinking it expedient to quit his position before day-break, held a council of all his officers, in which it was resolved that, as they were ignorant of the position of the American army, it was advisable to march back to their station at the Turn, as soon as day appeared, which was executed accordingly.
The battalion arrived in its cantonments early in the morning, after much fatigue, having, from eight in the evening, marched fifteen miles in very muddy roads. Several soldiers belonging to the battalion, who had just left the hospital to march against the enemy, were obliged to remain behind, being exhausted with fatigue. These on their return, reported that in the same field in which the battalion had formed in the night, there was within a short distance a British corps of six hundred men, who, probably thinking . the battalion stronger than it was, had not dared to attack it.
From the most accurate information that could be obtained, the enemy lost in this affair four hundred men. Their official report acknowledges three hundred and five killed, wounded or prisoners: the number of the latter was eighty-five, including officers.
The loss on our side was twenty-four killed, one hundred and fifteen wounded, officers included, and seventy-four prisoners, in all two hundred and thirteen men.
The loss of colonel Lauderdale, of general Coffee’s brigade of mounted riflemen, was.particularly regretted; he was a brave and accomplished officer; his death is lamented by all who knew him; and their only consolation is that he died at the post of honour, fighting in defence of his country.
Though the precise amount of the enemy’s forces in this action cannot be exactly ascertained, it is well known that half of general Keane’s division was encamped on the banks of the Mississippi, at the beginning of the attack; and that the remaining half of the division, which had embarked at the encampment on Isle-aux-Pois, in light vessels, several of which had run aground in the lake, had got on board of the barges that returned, after having landed the first half, and were disembarking when the cannon began to fire; that the greater part of these troops set out immediately from the landing place, two miles and a half from the Mississippi, and ran towards the field of battle, where their first platoons had already arrived, before Coffee’s division began to fire, and where they all successively arrived long before the action was over, as it lasted, till ten o’clock at night.
That division, composed of the regiments we have already mentioned, could not amount to less than four thousand five hundred men, as we know the strength of each regiment.
The first disembarkation consisted of the light brigade commanded by colonel Thornton, composed
On the supposition that each regiment left a party on board the vessels, to take care of the baggage, as is sometimes the case, there would still remain four thousand five hundred effective men landed on the 23d before nine o’clock in the evening; and indeed several accounts from Jamaica, Providence and Bermuda, make the number amount to five thousand.
Let us now see with what number, and what kind of troops, the commander-in-chief, general Jackson, attacked this enemy, so powerful, so enured to warfare, preceded by a great reputation, and enjoying every possible advantage.
The right, commanded by general Jackson in person, was composed of a detachment of marines,
Of this number it is to be observed that the Mississippi dragoons were not in the action, but were, all the time it lasted, in the back ground of Lacoste’s plantation. Two companies of Coffee’s brigade had been left on the border of Laronde’s plantation, to hold the horses whose riders had all dismounted; which reduces the number of fighting men to about one thousand eight hundred effective men. Plauché’s battalion being composed of companies wearing each a distinct uniform, the enemy took those several companies for so many battalions, and represented them as such. I have thought proper to rectify this misrepresentation, by stating the number of each particular company.
This inconsiderable number of men, — strangers to the art of war, and of whom few had ever seen an engagement; but animated with that martial ardour which is soon excited in the breasts of men enjoying freedom, and indignant at seeing the soil of their country, the land of liberty, invaded by a mercenary soldiery, who came to renew in Louisiana the scenes of devastation and pillage recently exhibited on the banks of the Potomac and the shores of the Chesapeake, — advanced against the enemy with eager alacrity. Several of the corps, particularly Plauché’s battalion, continued running as they advanced, till they arrived on the field of battle. All impatiently longed to be engaged and all were inspired with an auspicious presentiment of victory. In the heat of the action, the enemy was making towards the centre a movement which seemed to indicate that he designed to charge with bayonets. Instantly, the desire of anticipating him electrified our ranks, and they all expressed a wish to be ordered to charge. This impetuosity, however, the officers thought proper to restrain.
. On the left of general Coffee’s division, captain . Beak’s whole company of riflemen penetrated into the midst of the enemy, without bayonets or any other weapon of defence, except their rifles; supported by their courage, excited by their love for their country, and breathing rage and vengeance against its invaders, these brave men, almost all fathers of families, holding offices of honour and trust, or at the head of considerable commercial houses, regardless of all selfish or private considerations, advanced rashly into the centre of the hostile battalions, where they made a number of prisoners, and carried them almost all off; but, unfortunately, not without leaving several of their own companions prisoners to the foe.
General Coffee’s Tennesseans, those modest and simple sons of nature, displayed that firm composure which accompanies and indicates true courage. In their expedition against Pensacola, and on their march to New Orleans, they had given abundant proofs of their bravery, good conduct and patience, in enduring hardships and privations. Instinctively valiant, disciplined without having passed through the formal training of reviews and garrison manœuvres, they evinced on this memorable night, that enthusiasm, patriotism, and a sense of a just cause, which were of far more avail than scientific tactics. The heroes of Wellington, who boasted of their military talents and disciplined valour, were often doomed, by woful experience, to appreciate the prowess of those warlike sons of the western country.
The gallant officer who commanded them, ever calm, ever active, without precipitation, tranquilly giving orders, which he well knew how to cause to be promptly obeyed; vigilant and provident to avoid unnecessarily exposing his men, for whose safety he was as anxious as a father for his son’s, acquired by his conduct that night the strongest claim to the esteem and gratitude; of his country. Sensible that in an incessant fire most of the discharges are ineffectual, general Coffee led on his men within a sure distance, and continually passing along the line, recommended to them to take deliberate aim, and never to fire at random.
Notwithstanding the darkness of the night, and the difficulty of manoeuvring with two pieces of cannon in a road forty feet wide, bordered with ditches, the artillery took a position, and was served with the utmost promptitude. It several times forced the enemy to abandon the road, and to retire to the levée, and behind gates and the ridges beside the ditches; in short, it contributed not a little to convince the enemy of our superiority.
The 7th regiment, commanded by major Peire, withstood and kept up a very brisk fire; having first come into action, and having been the longest engaged of all the corps that took part in it, that gallant regiment evinced that steadiness, precision in movements, regularity and promptitude in firing, implicit obedience to the orders of its commander, and, in short, proved that the discipline that constitutes troops of the line, do not exclusively belong to Europeans. The brave officers of that regiment, sacrificing to the exigency of the moment, and to the safety of the country, all particular attachment to their own corps, which is indeed natural and highly conducive to the united strength of an army, obeyed, without a murmur, the orders of major Peire, an officer drawn from another corps, whom general Jackson, in his discretion, had thought worthy to supply the place of thenchief, major Nicks, who was prevented, by an accidental wound, from leading his men to victory.
The 44th regiment, which came into action soon after the seventh, though younger, and formed of more heterogeneous elements, fought with the steadiness and valour of veteran troops. Forced continually to oblique to the left, to avoid being turned by the enemy, this regiment showed that it was not intimidated by the enemy’s manœuvre, and vigorously returned his fire. Captain Baker, who commanded it, and all the officers under him, though young in the art of war, and little acquainted with military evolutions, displayed great bravery, and were not deficient in the skill and judgment that the occasion called for.
Major Plauché’s battalion of volunteers, coming into the line at the moment when the enemy was pressing hard upon the left of the 44th, and endeavouring to turn it, proved, by two or three brisk and well-directed fires, that it was worthy to be stationed by the side of veteran troops. This corps, though composed of several independent companies, has ever been exemplary for perfect union, harmony and subordination. Several of its officers, who had formerly followed the military profession, enjoyed the unlimited and well-deserved confidence of their men. These were ready to follow, wherever those might lead the way; and to speak to the former (all of whom were citizens of New Orleans) of marching against the enemy, was sufficient to exhilarate their spirits, and fill their hearts with exultation. Almost the whole of them were Frenchmen by birth or descent, "and bore an inveterate hatred to Great Britain, from whose government most of them had suffered wrongs, which they wished to avenge. On this trying occasion they flew to the defence of the country which had kindly received them, and of which they were become citizens, with the ardour and enthusiasm so characteristic of the French nation. Persuaded that musketry is often destructive, without producing any decided effect, the men of this battalion longed to charge with bayonets, and they expressed their wishes by loud acclamations. Already had the drums of the battalion began to beat in compliance with their desire, and the men waited only for the word of command to fall on the enemy with their national weapon, when colonel Ross, who had the superior command of the two battalions of volunteers, came up to restrain their ardour. Yet, had that manœuvre been made, had Plauché’s battalion advanced to the charge, the enemy’s retreat would have been cut off on his right, and he would have been completely surrounded by general Coffee’s brigade, which was advancing in his rear, Plauché’s battalion on his left, Daquin’s in front, and Laronde’s great hedge of orange trees on the right; so that most of that column would have been forced to lay down their arms.
The above observations, as to Plauché’s battalion, are almost wholly applicable to that commanded by major Daquin. The men composing it had the same motives of hatred towards the enemy, and of gratitude to this country; for they were almost all men who had long and bravely defended their native country, St. Domingo, against the British, and against the rebels, who at length subdued it, and who, choosing rather to go into exile than to become accomplices of the monsters who are desolating their native shores, came to this hospitable land to find repose in the peaceful exercise of their industry. At the call of general Jackson — at the cry of honour and of war against Britain, those brave men instantly united and joined our forces. In that memorable night they showed that they had not forgotten the exercise of arms; and almost in contact with the enemy on the left, they convinced him that in Louisiana, as formerly in St. Domingo, they should always experience from them a vigorous opposition.
It would not be proper for one whose name has appeared in general orders, to make particular mention of the several individuals who distinguished themselves on this occasion: he might expose himself to be taxed with partiality, or even to be reproached with injustice. I therefore refer the reader, for such details, to the general orders, and to the major-general’s letters to the secretary of war. (See Appendix, No. 25.)
But I cannot decline paying the tribute of justice to general Jackson, to say that no man could possibly have shown more personal valour, more firmness and composure, than was exhibited by him through the whole of this engagement, on which depended, perhaps, the fate of Louisiana. I may say, without fearing to be taxed with adulation, that on the night of the 23d, general Jackson exposed himself rather too much. I saw him in advance of all who were near him, at a time when the enemy was making a charge on the artillery, within pistol shot, in the midst of a shower of bullets, and in that situation I observed him spiriting and urging on the marines, and the right of the seventh regiment, who, animated by the presence and voice of their gallant commander-in-chief, attacked the enemy so briskly, that they soon forced him to retire.
The result of the affair of the 23d was the saving of Louisiana; for it cannot be doubted but that the enemy, had he not been attacked with such impetuosity, when he had hardly effected his disembarkation, would, that very night, or early next morning, have marched against the city, which was not then covered by any fortification, and was defended by hardly five thousand men, mostly militia, who could not, in the open field, have withstood disciplined troops, accustomed to the use of the bayonet, a weapon with which most of the militia were unprovided.
Aware of this, the commander-in-chief was sensible of the necessity of immediately taking a position where he might throw up intrenchments; and accordingly, at four in the morning of the 24th, he ordered his little army to go and encamp on the left bank of Rodriguez’s canal, about two miles behind the field of battle. The Mississippi mounted riflemen, and the Feliciana dragoons, with the 7th regiment, were left at Laronde’s, in order to observe the enemy’s movements.
Early next morning the enemy was seen drawn up at the distance of about three hundred yards from Laronde’s boundary, occupying the space between the two levées. (See the plan of the affair of the 23d.) On the front boundary line was stationed a strong detachment. Towards eight o’clock, the British line broke, and the troops returned to their encampment. They occupied the whole of the front, and the greater part of the back of Lacoste’s plantation. The whole extent of its principal ditch was lined with British troops, and there ran an oblique line of sentries from their advanced-posts on the road to the wood.
All this day our troops were employed in working on the intrenchments on Rodriguez’s canal; the two six-pounders that had served on the preceding night were now mounted behind the line, on the bank of the river, to command the road. I received orders from the commander-in-chief, to cause the levée to be cut, on the fore-ground of Chalmette’s plantation, for the purpose of overflowing the ground in front of our line; which was effected by several trenches, which let in a sufficient quantity of water to render the road impracticable for troops. But the temporary swell of the river having subsided, that measure proved at last ineffectual, for on the 28th the river was nearly on a level widi the road.
Nothing of importance took place in the course of die three following days. Parties of our troops frequently went out to reconnoitre. Major Hinds, with his cavalry, several time sdisplayed in sight of the enemy, who never ventured out of his position. In this interval he landed the rest of his troops, with his artillery, stores, and provisions.
The enemy, on this and the following day, cut up the road by an epaulment with a ditch, on the boundary line between Lacoste’s and Laronde’s, at the distance of one hundred yards towards his encampment, and at the back of the levée, opposite the sloop of war, the Louisiana, which was at anchor near the right bank. On the 26th, the enemy was employed day and night in preparing a battery on the most advanced angle of the levée, towards the west side of Villeré’s plantation, for the purpose of firing on the schooner Carolina, which was at anchor near the right bank, opposite to it.
Major Nicks, who, by reason of an accidental wound, being incapable of active service, had been placed at the head of the arsenal and ordnance department, the duties of which station he performed with a zeal worthy of the highest praise, had been ordered the preceding day to remove the powder which was stored in great quantities in the magazine opposite the city, on board a vessel prepared to receive and convey it to Baton Rouge, reserving only such quantity as captain Humphreys should judge necessary for the daily service.
On the same day it was reported verbally to general Jackson, that the enemy had landed at Chef-Menteur, and that, in consequence of that event, major Lacoste, who commanded the post at the confluence of bayou Sauvage and Chef-Menteur river, had found himself under the necessity of abandoning it, and of removing his camp three miles back, on the principal plantation of Lafon. This report had alarmed all the troops stationed in the plain of Gentilly, insomuch that every officer and private apprehended an attack, though in that quarter the enemy could make no movement, from which danger could be apprehended, without undergoing the greatest fatigues and surmounting unheard-of difficulties. Major Lacoste informed the gencral-in-chief, by letter, of the movement he had concluded to make, to avoid being intercepted in his rear. The prairies of ChefMenteur were at that time very dry, and several bayous admitted of the enemy’s approaching within a very short distance of Lafon’s principal plantation. Some soldiers had even seen and pursued in a prairie some British sailors, who had landed to set fire to the dry grass. Such circumstances indicated an intention in the enemy to penetrate on that side; and hence the retrograde movement, made by major Lacoste, was proper and judicious. When he determined on retreating, he had the precaution to leave a piquet at the encampment he quitted, to give information of any movement the enemy might make by the river of Chef-Menteur.
General Jackson ordered me to repair with all speed to Chef-Menteur, with a re-enforcement of two hundred men from general Coffee’s brigade, commanded by colonel N * * * *, who was to take command of the post of Chef-Menteur, reoccupy the point of the confluence, finish the closed battery that had been begun by major Lacoste’s battalion, and to leave on the main plantation a detachment sufficient to cover the retreat, in the event of its becoming necessary, and keep open the communication with the city. As to the manner of executing these orders, that was left to the discretion of colonel N * * * *, major Lacoste, and myself.
I must be allowed here to express the pleasure 1 felt on being ordered on such service. The perfect knowledge I had of the situation, which left on my mind no doubt of our being able, with three hundred riflemen, to rout ten times that number of the enemy, animated me with joyful assurance of success; and had the enemy, dared to penetrate into the wood of Chef-Menteur, the opinion I had of the Louisianians composing major Lacoste’s battalion, and of the gallant Tennesseans, whom I was ordered to accompany, made me fully confident of his complete discomfiture.
On arriving at the advanced post on Bertoniere’s estate, we discovered that the report of the landing of the enemy was false. It was decided that the detachment should encamp on Dreux’s plantation 'until further orders. The same day I repaired to major Lacoste’s camp, which he had judiciously established, with the bivouacs close to the skirt of the wood, so that, in case of surprise, the men could instantly get among the trees, from behind which they might fire with the more advantage, as they were covered by very thick underwood.
On the same day general Morgan received orders to evacuate the post at the Turn, transporting the artillery to fort St. Leon, and leaving there a garrison of one hundred men, and to take a position on the right bank, opposite Camp Jackson; which was accordingly executed, and the troops encamped on Flood’s plantation. The two six-pounders placed opposite the road, under the command of lieutenant Spotts, were replaced by the twelves commanded by captain Humphreys, and were established in the centre of the line.
Next day, the 26th, major Lacoste returned with me to head-quarters, where he requested and obtained permission for his battalion to take a station on the lines at Camp Jackson. Orders were given for his being relieved by the 4th regiment of Louisiana militia, colonel G. W. Morgan, one hundred and thirty strong, with two mounted companies of Tennesseans, a detachment of artillery of the line, commanded by lieutenant Bosque, with two field pieces, and about thirty Chactaw Indians. This force, commanded by colonel G. W. Morgan, occupied the former position on the river of Chef-Menteur until the 6th of January, when it returned to the camp of the main plantation.
The general-in-chief sent orders to general Morgan to cause the levée to be cut below the enemy, at Jumonville’s, as near his posts as possible, in order to prevent his extending them. This operation was promptly and successfully executed, under the direction of major Lafon, the engineer attached to the division of the right bank, within musket-shot of the enemy’s advanced sentries; but here, as before Jackson’s lines, the river frustrated our views; and a measure which, had the river continued to rise, would have made an island of the enemy’s encampment, and secured us from any attack, by forcing him to evacuate, produced a very different effect, as it introduced sufficient water into the canals and bayous, which till then were nearly dry, to enable the British to bring up their heavy artillery.
On the 27th, at 7 o’clock in the morning, the enemy opened on the Carolina the fire of a battery of several twelve and eighteen-pounders, and a howitzer, which he had been forty-eight hours erecting. In about fifteen minutes, the schooner was set on fire by the red-hot shot thrown into her, and in that condition the crew abandoned her. About an hour after, she blew up; and now the fire of the battery was directed against the Louisiana, whose preservation was the more important, as she was the only remaining armed vessel in the river, and as her powder magazine was above water. Lieutenant Thompson, who commanded her, endeavoured to take advantage of a light breeze from the east, to sail up the river; but the wind having died away whilst the sails were unfurling, there remained no other expedient than that of towing her up. Accordingly, one hundred men of his crew soon towed her without the range of the enemy’s guns, and she was moored opposite to Flood’s, canal. In the evening, the 1st regiment of Louisiana militia, under colonel Dejan, was ordered from its position at Gentilly, and went, to re-enforce the lines on the left.
AFFAIR OF THE 28th DECEMBER, 1814.
IN the evening of the 27th the enemy moved forward, and by the superiority of his force, obliged our advanced-guards to fall back. He occupied Bienvenu’s and Chalmette’s plantations; and during the night began to establish several batteries on the river. By break of day, he displayed in several columns, and drove in all our advanced-guards. Our posts had till this day occupied Laronde’s plantation, and our reconnoitring parties were extended daily as far as his lines. Major Hinds, with the cavalry and the 7th regiment, had neglected no opportunity of harassing the enemy; and the advanced sentries and piquets had often exchanged with him a few shots. The 2d regiment of Louisiana militia now took a position on the left of the line.
At length the British, having begun to push forwards against our lines, all our out-posts fell back. The general-in-chief had ordered colonel Mackrea, the commander of the artillery, to fire and blow up all the buildings on Chalmette’s plantation, which lay within five or six hundred yards of our lines, as they protected the enemy from our artillery. This order was accordingly executed, but its execution could not be extended to Bienvenu’s plantation, as expedience required, and as the positive orders of the general-in-chief had directed.
The enemy advanced in columns on the road, preceded by several pieces of artillery, some of which played on the ship Louisiana, and the others, on our lines. The British, in this instance, gave a signal proof of their presumption; and while we do justice to the bravery of their troops, we cannot but pity the infatuation of their commanders, who thus brought up their army to lines which, though not completed, were yet proof against musket-shot, and had already five pieces of cannon in battery. They thought, no doubt, to intimidate us by their boldness, hoping that the sight of a deep column marching against our lines, would strike such terror as to make us abandon them, and retreat to the city; but they were greatly deceived. They did not yet know with what adversaries they had to contend, nor that they were destined to atone for their arrogance with streams of their blood. The Louisiana suffered the enemy’s columns to advance a considerable space; and as soon as they had got as near to her as her commander wished, she opened on them a tremendous and well-directed fire. This was at first briskly answered by the enemy’s artillery, which was soon silenced by the guns of the ship, and those of our lines. That very morning the engineer, H. S. Bonneval Latrobe, had established, under the fire of the enemy’s artillery and a cloud of rockets, a twenty-four pounder on the left of the battery No. 1, on the line. This gun dismounted one of the field pieces which the enemy had placed in battery on the road. Captain Humphreys’s battery had incessantly played upon and severely galled him from an early hour in the morning; but the guns of the Louisiana, from her position, were better calculated than any other to annoy him, as her broadside was in an oblique direction to his line of march. One single ball from her killed fifteen of his men. Her fire at last broke his columns, and forced them to disperse and fall back into the fields, where they took a position on Bienvenu’s plantation, under cover of some buildings.
It is but justice to say, that the services rendered on this day by the Louisiana, were of the greatest importance. The cannonading lasted seven hours, during which she fired upwards of eight hundred shot. The spirited exertions of her commander, lieutenant Thompson, on that occasion, cannot be too highly commended. (See Appendix, No. 26.)
During this engagement the enemy abandoned several batteries he liad established on the river the preceding night; and his loss, in otlier respects, was considerable.
Two days previous to this engagement, general Carroll’s troops had taken post on the prolongation of Rodriguez’s canal, and had worked without intermission at the breastwork of the lines, which, until the 1st of January, had towards the left hardly more than sufficient thickness to protect the men from musketry. During the whole day, the enemy incessantly threw Congreve rockets, which wounded some of our men. By one of these, major Carmick, of the marines, had his horse killed, and was himself wounded in the hand. The British had great expectation from the effect of this weapon, against an enemy who had never seen it before. They hoped that its very noise would strike terror into us; but we soon grew accustomed to it, and thought it little formidable; for in the whole course of the campaign, the rockets only wounded ten men, and blew up two caissons. That weapon must doubtless be effectual to throw amongst' squadrons of cavalry, and frighten the horses, or to set fire to houses; but from the impossibility of directing it with any certainty, it will ever be a very precarious weapon to use against troops drawn up in line of battle, or behind ramparts.
The twenty-four-pounder just mentioned, was served in the beginning of the action by a detachment of captain St. Gemes’s dismounted dragoons, and afterwards by a part of the crew of the late Carolina, commanded by lieutenant Norris. About eight in the morning captain Dominique’s artillery company, then about twenty men strong, returned from fort St. John, whither it had been sent on the 23d, and was stationed on the lines; to it was committed the service of a twenty-four-pounder, battery No. 3, which had been mounted the preceding evening. These mariners, all veteran gunners, served their piece with the steadiness and precision of men practised in the management of cannon, and inured to warfare; and the battery No. 3 was not the least destructive to the enemy during the campaign.
Lieutenant Crawley, with another part of the crew of the Carolina, repaired to the lines on the morning of the 28th, and during the whole of the action served a howitzer at the battery No. 1. In the evening, general Jackson having ordered a thirty-two-pounder to be mounted in the centre of the line, lieutenant Crawley caused the platform to be established, and had the piece mounted in the night.
The first regiment of Louisiana militia had taken a position on the right, the preceding evening, and remained on the line during the whole of the action of the 28th. On the morning of the same day, the 2d regiment received orders to re-enforce the extremity of the left, which was under the command of general Coffee.
We lost on that day seven men, and had ten wounded: amongst the former was colonel Henderson, of the Tennessee division, under general Carroll. The enemy’s light troops having advanced along a ditch to a fence which ran in an oblique direction to our lines, its extremity being only at the distance of one hundred yards, opened an irregular fire on our outposts: — general Carroll ordered colonel Henderson to advance with a detachment of two hundred men along the wood, and then to make an oblique movement on the right, towards the river, and endeavour to turn the enemy, who, by this manœuvre, would have been cut off. Instead of executing this order, colonel Henderson advanced towards the right, leaving the fence between him and the wood: the enemy being thus covered by the fence, opened on our detachment a galling fire, which killed the colonel and five men, and forced the others to fall back. The enemy re-occupied the fence, where he maintained his position until our artillery once more dislodged him.
From the destruction that our artillery dealt in the enemy’s ranks, and from the report of a prisoner and some deserters, the British must have lost from two to three hundred men on that day.
The Louisiana had but one man slightly wounded by the bursting of a shell, and the vessel was struck under her bowsprit by a red-hot shot, but without receiving any damage. (See Appendix, No. 27.)
It appears that this attack was but a feint, to try what effect would be produced on raw troops by the sight of columns marching, displaying, and forming in order of battle. But if after the night of the 23d the enemy could still have any doubt of our being firmly disposed to withstand him, the affair of the 28th must have convinced him that his manœuvres could no more intimidate us than his rockets, and that in whatever manner he might attack us, he would find men defending themselves with valour and intrepidity, and determined to sell their lives dearly. That attack served at least to convince the enemy that he must expect a most obstinate resistance, if he attempted to force our lines; and that perhaps, after having sacrificed numbers of his men, he might be once more obliged to retire within his camp, with the shame of having made a useless and disgraceful attempt. He had now witnessed the effect of our artillery, which was soon to prove to him, beyond all doubt, our superiority in skill, promptitude, and precision in firing.
It was ordered by general Jackson that fortified lines should be established on the right bank from the river to the Cypress swamp, behind general Morgan’s encampment. For that purpose I made choice of Boisgervais’ canal, three miles from the city. One hundred and fifty negroes, under the direction of Mr. Lefevre, in six days completed the parapet, the while length of the canal, and levelled the earth to form a glacis on the opposite side. It will be seen in the sequel, that it was behind those lines, which we had not time to complete and secure with bastions and redoubts, that general Morgan s troops rallied after their flighty on the memorable 8th of January.
Captain Henley, of the late Carolina, came also next day to take command of u square redoubt, formed by a brick-kiln, opposite the city, on the very bank of the river. A fosse twenty-five feet wide was dug all round it, and the earth from it served to form a very steep glacis from the summit of the wall, serving as a parapet, to the brink of the fosse. A palisade extended along its whole length on the inside. The redoubt was furnished with a small powder magazine, and was mounted with two twenty-four-pounders. Its battery commanded at once the road and the river.
From all accounts it appears that at that time the British troops of the line amounted to between nine and ten thousand men. General Gibbs' division had landed, and sir Edward Packenham had taken the command of the army. The British head-quarters were at the house of general Villeré; their hospitals were established in the buildings of Jumonville’s plantation, where their black troops were stationed. The British had taken all the horses belonging to the plantations, from Bienvenu’s to Jumonville’s inclusively; the finest were picked out for the officers of the staff, the others served to mount a squadron of dragoons, or to draw the artillery. Their reconnoitring parties advanced as far as Philipon’s Plantation, where they established a post of black troops, which continued there until their final evacuation. The meat served out to the troops was at first supplied by the cattle of the several plantations they occupied; and when this supply was exhausted, they had recourse to the cattle of the nearest plantations successively, as far as the end of Terre-aux-Bœufs, and even to Morgan’s plantation at the Turn; the cattle of which they had almost entirely consumed at the period of their evacuation.
On the 29th lieutenant Spotts transported his two six-pounders to the extremity of the line, not far from the wood, and the detachment of the company of Francs, under the immediate command of lieutenant Bertel, established a platform for a twelve-pounder towards the left, between that of colonel Perry and that of lieutenant Spotts.
Commodore Patterson, on that day, caused to be landed from the Louisiana two twelve-pounders, which he placed in battery behind the levée, in front of Jourdan’s plantation, on the right bank; and the following night he established a twenty-four-pounder beside the former. These pieces, with several others afterwards mounted, formed the marine battery, which rendered such important services during the remainder of the campaign. They were served entirely by sailors, mostly landed from the Louisiana, who had been enlisted or pressed in the streets of New Orleans, after the capture of the gun-boats. Those sailors were almost all of different nations, hardly one-third of them speaking English: but the care of lieutenant Thompson, in establishing excellent discipline among them, rendered eminent service; for it may justly be said that never were guns better served. The position commanded the left flank of the enemy, who was compelled to remove his camp to the back grounds of Laronde’s and Bienvenu’s plantations, and to abandon Chalmette’s and Bienvenu’s houses, where several corps and officers had already taken up their cantonments, in which the marine battery never suffered them to enjoy one moment’s repose. All the buildings and fences of those plantations bear marks which attest how well the fire of that battery was directed. The enemy was even obliged to make several small epaulments, advanced one before the other, to cover the left of his camp, on the lower boundary of Bienvenu’s plantation. The smallest group of British soldiers that was any where perceived, was instantly saluted with a discharge of cannon; so that this battery rendered it impossible for the enemy to attempt any reconnoissance on the river.
From the 28th of December to the 1st of January, the sloop of war every morning dropped down to the station which she occupied on the 28th, and returned every night opposite Cazelar’s plantation.
In the evening, colonel Haines, inspector-general, accompanied by colonel Reuben Kemper, a volunteer in the Feliciana troop, went, by order of general Jackson, to reconnoitre in the Cypress swamp on the left, and ascertained that it was impossible for the enemy to penetrate by that way. It even appears that he was himself under great apprehension from that quarter; for, during the whole campaign, there was no instance of the enemy’s having posted a single picket immediately on the skirt of the wood, so much did he fear lest our riflemen should come on him unawares, and shoot down the men; to avoid which he kept his out-posts beyond musket-shot of the wood. The Tennesseans, on account of their well-known skill at the rifle, were the terror of the British sentinels and advanced-posts. Their uniform, consisting of a brown hunting dress, rendered it difficult to perceive them among the underwood and dry grass through which they approached, to shoot down the British sentinels, whom they never missed. One single incident, which occurred about that time, will suffice to give an idea of the dread in which the British were of the Tennesseans, whom they denominated dirty shirts. An old inhabitant of Tennessee obtained from his officers leave to go on what they called a hunting party. He stole along through ditches and underwood, till he got near a British sentinel, whom he immediately killed; and having seized his arms and accoutrements, he laid them at some distance from that place, and went to post himself in a different direction. When it was time to relieve the sentinel, the corporal of the guard finding him dead, posted another in the same place, where the guard had hardly left him, when the Tennessean shot him down; and having conveyed his arms and accoutrements to the spot where he had left those of the man he had killed before, he again went to lie in wait in another place. The corporal, in his next round, had again to relieve a dead sentinel, and the man who took his place soon shared the fate of the two others; the Tennessean taking the same care to secure his arms and accoutrements, and then posting himself in another place. At last the corporal, amazed to see that in one night three sentinels had been killed at one post, determined to expose no more men in so dangerous a spot. Our Tennessean seeing this, returned to camp with the spoils of the slain, and received the felicitations of his comrades.
The company of marines, commanded by lieutenant Bcllevue, which, from the lines being first occupied, had been stationed in the centre, was removed to the left, near lieutenant Sport’s battery, where it continued until the evacuation.
The 1st regiment of Louisiana militia, under colonel Dejan, was ordered to take a position in the wood on the bank of the canal of Piernas’s plantation. An advanced-post had been stationed at the mouth of the canal, in the bayou Bienvenu, for the purpose of watching the manœuvres which the enemy might attempt by that canal, at die mouth of which it was possible he might ascend with schooners. The first regiment was ordered to furnish intermediate posts, and to support them all in Gase of an attack.
It was the more important to guard the Piernas canal, as it was the only point by which the enemy could have penetrated, on ascending the bayou Bienvenu.
General Jackson sent orders to the mayor of New Orleans, directing him to make domiciliary visits in town, for the purpose of ascertaining what arms were in the possession of private persons.
On the morning of the 30th, major-general Villeré, commanding the first division of Louisiana militia, arrived from the Acadian coast, whither he had gone to forward the arrival of the militia, of whom three hundred next day encamped behind the line Dupré.
General Villeré took also the command of the troops stationed on the Piemas canal. Major Hinds, at the head of the cavalry, went out on reconnoitring towards the enemy’s advanced-posts on the right. His troop sustained the fire of all the outposts, and three dragoons were wounded. Our artillery, especially that of the centre batteries which was of heavy metal, galled the enemy without discontinuance. The thirty-two-pounder, commanded by lieutenant Crawley, and captain Dominique’s twentyfour-pounder, were principally directed against the redoubt which the enemy was throwing up towards the wood. Notwithstanding its great distance, most of the balls struck the parapet, demolishing the work, and killing many men. Neither did the marine battery on the right bank neglect any opportunity of annoying the enemy in his camp, or in his posts. On that day the enemy began to establish in front of Bienvenu’s house, a battery of hogsheads of sugar, ranged on the levée. In our camp, great efforts were making to complete the platforms of the batteries, strengthen the parapet, arrange the tents in proper order, and prolong the lines into the wood. The reports of deserters stated, that the enemy expected shortly to receive considerable re-enforcements, and was bringing up heavy artillery to batter our breastworks.
On the 31st, the enemy, who had already mounted a few guns on the redoubt erecting in front of our left, fired on our advanced-posts, which had some skirmishes with those of the enemy. The cannonading continued on both sides until two in the afternoon. The Louisiana supported our batteries with her fire, and contributed not a little to make the enemy take refuge be'hind some buildings. One of his officers of engineers, having advanced to reconnoitre our forces and our lines, was killed by the advanced-posts.
All these movements and reconnoitrings on the part of the tnemy indicated an approaching attack. Meanwhile we learned the capture of a schooner with an officer and five men, made by our troops in the lake, near Chef-Menteur. That schooner served to transport provisions from the enemy’s encampment on Pearl river, to his troops encamped on the bank of the Mississippi. In the night ffom the 31st December to the 1st of January, the enemy erected two batteries at the distance of about six hundred yards from our lines, on a ditch running along the side of Chalmette’s plantation, the first being placed inadvance of the buildings of the plantation, and at the distance of three hundred and fifty yards from the bank of the river; and the second about three hundred yards farther. During the whole night was heard the noise of the men working at the platforms and mounting the pieces of cannon.
FIRST OF JANUARY, 1815.
THE 1st of January was ushered in with a verythick fog, which did not begin to disperse until toAvards 8 o’clock. As soon as the horizon began to clear up, the enemy opened a very brisk fire from his three batteries, of which the left, established on the road, mounted two twelve-pounders; the centre, eight eighteen-pounders, and twenty-four-pound carronades, and that on the right towards the wood opposite our lines, mounted eight pieces of cannon and carronades. A cloud of Congreve rockets accompanied the balls, and for fifteen minutes the fire was kept up with unexampled celerity. The first discharges of the two batteries nearest the river, were principally directed against Macarty’s house, where the headquarters were established. In less than ten minutes, upwards of one hundred balls, rockets and shells struck the house, and rendered it impossible to remain there. The general-in-chief and all his staff were in the apartments when the firing began; but though bricks, splinters of wood and furniture, rockets and balls, were flying in all directions, not a single person was wounded. This fierce attack of the enemy’s artillery, was answered by ours with a brisk, steady and well-directed fire, which in less than an hour made his slacken in a very perceptible degree. The cannonading however still continued to be kept up, vigorously on the part of the enemy, but with more precision and more effect on ours.
The enemy’s object was to silence our artillery and make a breach in the breastwork of our lines, with a view to push on to the assault. For this purpose the troops were in readiness, drawn up in several parallel lines; but prudendy waiting in the back ditches, and in the intervals between the batteries, for the favourable moment to advance to the attack of our lines. But on this occasion, as on the 28th of December, his expectations were frustrated; and instead of intimidating us by his artillery, he soon perceived the superiority of ours.
Yet every advantage was on the side of the enemy; his batteries presented but a narrow front, and very little elevation, on a spacious plain, the soil of which was from four to six feet below the level of our platforms; his gunners had for a target a line about one thousand yards long, the top of whose parapet was eight or nine feet higher than his platforms — whilst our batteries might be said to have only points to aim at, and our balls could not rebound on so soft a soil. Our batteries were the principal object against which the enemy’s fire was directed; but we were not less intent on demolishing his; for in about an hour’s time, our balls dismounted several of his guns; and when the firing ceased the greater part of his artillery was unfit for service. Justice obliges us to acknowledge that the fire of the British was for a long time vigorously kept up and well directed. We had the carriage of a twenty-four-pounder broken by one of their balls, at captain Dominique’s battery, and that of the thirty-two-pounder, commanded by lieutenant Crawley of the navy, was also damaged by a ball; the fore-train of the twelve-pounder of generar Garrigues was likewise broken by the balls of the enemy. The cheeks of the embrasures of our batteries were formed of bales of cotton, which the enemy’s balls struck and made fly in all directions; the rockets blew up two artillery caissons,v in one of which were a hundred rounds. When the enemy perceived this accident, he suspended his fire for some seconds, and the troops ranged in the ditches, with those at the batteries, gave three cheers, which were instantly answered by a general discharge of all the artillery of our lines. From that moment the enemy’s fire began to slacken in a very perceptible degree, owing probably to his being convinced of the inutility of his attempt, and to the great number of his guns which our artillery had dismounted. About ten o’clock the enemy ordered some platoons of sharp-shooters to penetrate into the woods on the left of our line, with a view to ascertain whether it could be turned; but he soon perceived, from the brisk fire of our musketry, that on the left we were as well prepared to receive him as on the right. Part of general Coffee’s brigade stationed in the fosse, two hundred yards behind the line, received orders to move forward towards the wood, in order to support, if necessary, the troops stationed immediately on the line; but Wellington’s heroes discovered that they were ill qualified to contend with us in woods, where they must fight knee deep in water and mud, and that the various kinds of laurel which abound in Louisiana, in the cypress swamps and prairies, were not intended to grace their brows. Yet of these laurels there never was a fairer opportunity of making an ample provision; and the species called by botanists the laurel of conquerors, is found at every step in the woods and prairies of Louisiana. But on the other hand, cypress trees are still more common; the country presenting one continued forest of them on each bank of the river, for upwards of one hundred leagues in length; and such of the British troops’ as lived to return home, must have made known in England how provident nature has been in accumulating, as it were, on the banks of the Mississippi, the emblem of the disasters which will ever attend the invaders of that country.
The fire continued to slacken until noon, and at one o’clock the enemy’s two batteries towards the right were abandoned. That on the road still continued to throw a few balls and rockets until three in the afternoon, by which time they were all silenced. His troops at last retired to their camp, persuaded that it was not practicable to make the assault, after having continued in the ditches from early in the morning. Our loss of men that day was very inconsiderable, in comparison with that of the enemy, and considering the long continuance of an intense fire; for it amounted to no more than thirty-four wounded or killed, eleven of the latter being persons going to or returning from camp, who were killed on the road behind the lines, by the enemy’s shells or balls which were shot over the breastwork. About two hundred yards behind the line, on the river, near the bank, lay a boat laden with military stores, which was struck by several of the enemy’s balls, and was on the point of sinking, when we succeeded in saving the greater part of the stores.
The batteries that the enemy had on the river in front of Chalmette’s and Bienvenu’s houses, continued likewise the whole day to exchange shots with those of commodore Patterson; and although the balls went through the breastwork, and the shells fell in great numbers in the batteries and on the road, the commodore lost not a single man, nor was his fire for a moment less intense than that of the enemy. It is presumable that in establishing batteries on the river, the enemy’s object was not to command the passage of it, or to do any mischief on the other bank; but merely to destroy the Louisiana: and indeed several deserters reported that for that purpose he constantly kept red-hot balls ready to fire on her the moment she came within the range of his guns. — (See commodore Patterson’s letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Appendix No. 28.)
Major-general Thomas, commanding the second division of Louisiana militia, arrived the same day with five hundred men from Baton Rouge, and encamped on Duprè’s plantation. During the remainder of the day, the enemy was busily employed in "working on the square redoubt he had begun, facing our left, nor did our heavy pieces of artillery one moment cease firing on his working parties, and they always fired with success. The officer commanding those parties stood upon die parapet, and as soon as he perceived the fire of our guns, he gave a signal to his men-, who instantly stooped down behind the parapet.
The redoubt which stood on Bienvenu’s plantation towards the wood, was of a quadrilateral form, its interior dimensions being eighty, sixty-two, one hundred and eight, and seventy feet. Two embrasures were made on the small front opposite our lines, but forming an angle with them. Each of the lateral fronts had likewise an embrasure in the middle, and that on the back had an opening twelve feet wide, serving as an entrance, and covered by a traverse within the fort. Along the intervals between the embrasures above the ground, ran banquettes raised three feet, for the musketry.
The parapet, which was fourteen feet thick at the base, and nine at the summit, had battlements for the musketry on three aspects; a fosse from twelve to fifteen feet wide and three deep surrounded the redoubt. That work had probably been made by the enemy in apprehension of an attack by the wood, with a view to protect the pickets posted on that side. Some days after, the enemy established another redoubt in advance of this, towards our lines, on the ditch separating the plantations of Bienvenu and Chalmette. This latter redoubt was smaller in its dimensions, and had an embrasure in each of the angles towards our lines. In erecting this redoubt, the enemy experienced the greatest difficulty, being constantly galled by our artillery, which mowed down the working parties. He again called in his outposts on the 1st of January, as he had done after the affair of the 28th of December. On all that space from Chalmette’s old plantation in the direction of the furthest redoubt, there were no troops to be seen except near the river. The batteries had been dismantled during the night, and with mush difficulty
their guns were removed, by being dragged through the mud.
On the 2d, early in the morning, several parties went out to view the enemy’s batteries, where they found some barrels of powder, a large quantity of cannon balls and implements of artillery, with broken gun-carriages belonging to the navy, and carronades which our balls had shattered.
General John Adair arrived at head-quarters, and announced the speedy arrival of the Kentucky militia, whom he had left the day before at Lafourche.
General Jackson, being desirous of ascertaining whether the enemy, by ascending the bayou Bienvenu, above the Piernas canal, could possibly penetrate either towards Chef-Menteur or towards the bank of the river, ordered colonel Reuben Kemper, a volunteer in the Feliciana troops, to go down with a detachment along Duprè’s canal, cross the cypress swamps and prairies of the basin of Gentilly, and penetrate to the post of Bertonniere, on the Chef-Menteur road; which orders colonel Kemper executed, not without encountering numerous difficulties. The impossibility of the enemy’s penetrating by that way, was thus fully ascertained, and all uneasiness on that score removed.
During the night of the 3d of January, word was brought to general Jackson that the enemy had ascended bayou Bienvenu as far as the forks of the Piernas canal, where he had landed in considerable force. This movement indicated a design to intercept us in the rear. The general instantly ordered major Davis, assistant inspector-general, to take with him two hundred men of general Coffee’s brigade, and proceed to ascertain whether the report were true; and in case of the enemy’s having really landed, to push on, and drive him into the bayou. Major Davis lost no time in executing these orders, and notwithstanding a heavy rain, and the badness of the road, in which the men sunk up to the knee in mud, the detachment reached the point indicated, where they did not find a single British soldier.
General Jackson, anxious to know whether there existed any possibility of the enemy’s penetrating on that side, ordered colonel Kemper to choose out twenty volunteers from the different corps on the lines, and with them to descend the Piernas canal, as far as its junction with bay'ou Bienvenu, and this latter as far as its junction with bayou Mazant, if possible, and there reconnoitre the enemy’s position. Owing to the difficulty of procuring boats, colonel Kemper was forced to undertake this service with only eleven men, whom he led that evening to the prairie, where they passed the night. Early next morning they proceeded on their way down the bayou, occasionally climbing up the trees on the bank, to see whether they could thence discover the enemy. At last they arrived sufficiently near the junction of the two bayous to perceive the fortified enclosure the enemy had there formed. Colonel Kemper, leaving the boats with some men to guard them, endeavoured to approach and reconnoitre the enemy from the prairie; but soon met with the obstruction of a bayou, which obliged him to return; when he was about half a mile from the point where he had left his boats, he perceived the enemy ascending the bayqu in five small vessels, and distinctly saw sailors looking out from the mast head. When those vessels got near our boats, they fired two musket-shots on those who were left to guard them; on which four of them ran and escaped, and one was taken prisoner. The enemy proceeded up the bayou, setting fire to the prairie as he advanced, so that whoever happened to be in it, had to run from the flames rapidly gaining on the grass, which, as we have already seen, is of considerable height, and as thick as wheat in a field. At length, after great fatigues, the colonel, and part of his detachment, arrived in camp next day by nine o’clock; the others, who, having escaped from the boats, took another road, had reached camp the preceding day towards evening.
This, reconnoitring discovered to us the enemy’s position in the bayous, and on their banks. It was ascertained that at the forks of Villeré’s canal, and bayou Mazant, where he effected his landing, he had thrown up a breastwork, within which he had built magazines for stores, which were guarded by a strong detachment; he had also an advanced sentinel constantly posted in a tree, which commanded a view of the whole prairie and of the bayous.
The precaution the enemy had taken to set fire to the prairie on the banks of bayou Bienvenu, leaves no room to doubt of his having apprehended an attack on that side. Had we indeed been stronger in troops, and better supplied with boats, we might, during the night, have descended bayou Bienvenu, as far as its junction with bayou Mazant, and thence reascending the latter, have surprised, or at least attacked their post at the mouth of Villeré’s canal.
On the 4th of January the drafted militia from Kentucky, to the number of two thousand two hundred and fifty, arrived in town, and went to encamp on Prevost’s plantation. On the following day seven hundred and fifty of them, but only five hundred and fifty being armed, repaired to the lines, and encamped at some distance in the rear. All these troops were under the command of major-general John Thomas, and brigadier-general John Adair, acting adjutantgeneral, took the command of the troops detached to the
In a letter of the 3d of January to the secretary of war, the general complains that the arms sent from Pittsburgh are not yet arrived, expressing his apprehensions as to the consequences with which this delay may be attended, and the effect these may have with regard to the issue of the war in this country. "Hardly," says he, "one third of the Kentucky troops, so long expected, are armed, and the arms they have are not fit for use." Justly does the general
complain of the conduct of the agents of government, and presages that the defeat of our armies, and the dishonour not only of the officers commanding them, but of the nation, must inevitably be the consequence of so defective an administration. The general concludes by informing the secretary of war, that the enemy appears intent on fortifying his position; that it is doubtful whether he will renew his attacks, or change the seat of war; that in either case he has made the best disposition of the troops he commands (much inferior in number to those of the enemy) to act as circumstances may require.
Our artillery continued, in the meantime, to fire on the enemy, and whenever a group of four or five men showed themselves, they were instantly dispersed by our balls or shells. The advantage we derived from that almost incessant cannonading on both banks of the Mississippi, was that we exercised our gunners, annoyed the enemy to such a degree that he could not work at any fortification, nor, indeed, come within the reach of our cannon by day, and was deprived of all repose during the night.
From the report of some deserters, we learned that a re-enforcement of troops, under the command of major-general Lambert, had lately arrived in the British camp, and that the enemy intended shortly to make a general attack. For some days past, the communication between the fleet and bayou Bienvenu had been unusually active.
The 2d regiment of Louisiana militia was ordered to cross the river, to re-enforce general Morgan’s camp. At the confluence of the Piernas canal and bayou Bienvenu, was established a post of cavalry, consisting of a detachment of captain Ogden’s company of dragoons.
On the 6th of January, sailing-master Johnson left Chef-Menteur with three boats under his command, and succeeded in burning a British brig loaded with rum and biscuit, on her way to the fleet at bayou Bienvenu On this occasion we took ten prisoners, and from them we learned that the enemy was digging out Villeré’s canal, and extending it, in order to get his boats into the river.
On the 6th and 7th an unusual stir and bustle appeared to prevail amongst the enemy. Both banks of Villeré’s canal were covered with soldiers and sailors, who seemed to be employed in dragging boats; troops were frequently observed exercising or reviewing, and every thing announced an approaching attack. Commodore Patterson had gone down on the right bank, to the point opposite the mouth of the canal, where he ascertained the movements of the enemy.
In the morning of the 6th'we began to establish a small redoubt for two six-pounders, on that part of the bank of the river which joined the extremity of the right of our line, from which it was separated by the ditch, which in that part was very shallow, and Without any water. This redoubt had two embrasures, which commanded the road and the river bank, and another which flanked the front of the line. A shallow fosse, which was also without water, in consequence of the river’s having fallen, surrounded the redoubt, which was not yet completed on the morning of the 8th.
Before I proceed to relate the events of the 8th of January, a day of ever-glorious memory in the annals of America, and especially in those of Louisiana, I think it not unseasonable here to describe those lines, before which was performed the most important military exploit of the whole war, and, considering local circumstances and the respective forces contending, that which reflects on America the highest glory.
Jackson’s lines, within five miles of the city of New Orleans, and running along the limits of Rodriguez’s and Chalmette’s plantations, formerly the property of the United States, were but one of those ancient mill-races, so common in Louisiana, extending, from the bank of the river to the Cypress swamp. It has been already seen, from my description of the form of the soil in Lower Louisiana, and from its shelving from the river towards the swamps, that when the Mississippi is swelled to its greatest height, the level of the surface of its waters is some feet above that of the contiguous soil, and from twelve to fifteen above that of the prairies and bayous, which at those periods receive the waters flowing from the Mississippi. To add to the mass and the force of the water, the planters dig canals a few feet deep, throwing the earth on both sides, so as to afford a mass of water from eight to eleven feet deep; and at the head of these canals, which are commonly twenty-five feet wide, are constructed saw-mills. The canal on which Jackson’s lines were formed, had long been abandoned, having no longer any mill to turn, so that its banks had fallen in and raised its bottom, which was covered with grass, presenting rather the appearance of an old draining ditch than of a canal. On the 24th of December, general Jackson had taken this position; and that it was well chosen, will sufficiently appear on an inspection of the mapr — (Plate No. 5.) I will only observe, that those lines leave the least possible space between the river and the wood, and that from the lines to Villeré’s canal, the depth of the high-land continually increases, and is at Laronde’s plantation nearly three times as great as-at the lines. As soon as this position was chosen, the troops began to raise a parapet, leaving the ditch as it was, except that by cutting the road it was laid under water, as there was then a temporary rise of the river. Earth was fetched from the rear of the line and thrown carelessly on the left bank, where the earth had been thrown when the canal was originally dug. The bank on the right side being but little elevated above the soil, farmed a kind of glacis. All the pales of the fences in the vicinity were taken to line the parapet, and prevent the earth from falling into the canal. All this was done at various intervals, and by different corps, owing to the frequent mutations in the disposition of the troops. This circumstance, added to the cold and to incessant rain, rendered it impossible to observe any regularity as to the thickness and height of the parapet, which in some places was as much as twenty feet thick at the top, though hardly five feet high; whilst in other places the enemy’s balls went through it at the base. On the 1st of January there was but a very small proportion of the line able to withstand the halls; but on the 8th of January the whole extent, as far as the woodf was proof against the enemy’s canjion. The length of the lines was eight hundred and fifteen toises, or about a mile, somewhat more than half of which ran from the river to the wood, the remainder extending into the depth, where the line took a direction towards the left, which rested on a cypress swamp almost impassable. On that part of the line which was in the wood, the breastwork was not thicker than was necessary to resist musketry; it was formed of a double row of logs, laid one over the other, leaving a space of two feet, which was filled up with earth. Along one part of the line ran a banquette; in some parts, the height of the breastwork above the soil was hardly sufficient to cover the men. The earth thrown up to form the breastwork, had been dug out at various intervals, and without any order, the rainy weather not admitting of the work’s being carried on with regularity, as observed before.
The artillery was distributed on the lines in the following manner. On the soil of the road within the levée was battery No. 1, commanded by captain Humphreys, of the U. S. artillery. It consisted of two brass twelve-pounders, and a six-inch howitzer, on field carriages; these pieces enfiladed the road towards that side where the enemy was posted, and their fire grazed the parapet of the flank of the redoubt, towards the right. Battery No. 1, was seventy feet from the bank of the river. The two twelve-pounders were served by soldiers belonging to the regular artillery, and the howitzer by dragoons of major St, Geme’s company.
Battery No. 2, which had a twenty-four-pounder, was commanded by lieutenant Norris, of the navy, and served by part of the crew of the late schooner Carolina; its distance from No. 1 was ninety yards. This battery was the most elevated above the soil.
Battery No. 3, commanded by captains Dominique and Bluche, commanders of privateers, had two twenty-four-pounders, which were served by French mariners; its distance from No. 2 was fifty yards.
Batterv No. 4, commanded by lieutenant Crawley, of the navy, and served by part of the crew of the Carolina, had a thirty-two-pounder; its distance from No. 3 was twenty yards.
Battery No. 5, commanded by colonel Perry and lieutenant Kerr, of the artillery, had two six-pounders; its distance from No. 4 was one hundred and ninety yards.
Battery No. 6, commanded by general Garrigues Flaujeac, and served by a detachment of the company of Francs, under the immediate command of lieutenant Bertel, had a brass twelve-pounder; its distance from No. 5 was thirty-six yards.
Battery No. 7 had a long brass eighteen-pound culverine, and a six-pounder, commanded by lieutenants Spotts and Chauveau, and served by gunners of the U. S. artillery; its distance from No. 6 was one hundred and ninety yards.
The 8th battery had a small brass carronade, which rendered very little service, on account of the ill condition of its carriage; it was commanded by a corporal of artillery, and served by militia men of general Carroll’s command; its distance from No. 7 was sixty yards.
Next to this piece the line formed a receding elbow, as laid down in the draught of the affair of the 8th — (See Atlas, Plate No. 7.) — enormous holes in the soil made impassable by their being full of water from the canal, rendered this bend in the line unavoidable.
From this bend, where the wood began, to the extremity of the line, die ground was so low, and so difficult to be drained, that the troops were literally encamped in the water, walking knee deep in mud; and the’several tents were pitched on small isles or hillocks, surrounded with water or mudy
It was here that the brave troops of generals Carroll and Coffee, from the 24th of December, 1814, and part of those of Kentucky, from the 6th, until the 20th of January, 1815, gave an example of all the military virtues. Though constantly living, and even sleeping, in the mud, those worthy sons of Columbia never uttered a complaint, nor showed the lest symptom of discontent or impatience. Those who have not seen the ground, cannot form an idea of the deplorable condition of the troops encamped on the left of the line. But it was necessary to guard that quarter against the attacks of the enemy; it was necessary that troops should be stationed there, to repulse him on the edge of the breastwork, if, under cover of the bushes, he advanced to our intrenchments. Those brave men supported all their hardships with resignation, and even with alacrity. The safety of the country was at stake, and their desire to chastise insolent invaders, operated too strongly on hearts inflamed with patriotic ardour, to suffer them to perceive the uncomfortableness of their situation. Such conduct is so much superior to any eulogy I could bestow on it, that I must be content to admire it in silence.
In order to give a correct narrative of the affair of the 8th, I must previously make the reader acquainted with the respective position of the different corps stationed at the lines; that he may perceive, that if a considerable part of the troops exhibited no active valour, it was owing to the attack’s not being made on their position; for had it been general, there can be no doubt but all would have equally vied in ardour and bravery.
The redoubt on the river, in front of the extremity of the line on the right, was guarded by a company of the 7th regiment, commanded by lieutenant Ross. The artillery was served by a detachment of the 44th, under the command of lieutenant Marant. Within the line, at the extremity of the right, between battery No. 1 and the river, was stationed the New Orleans volunteer company of riflemen, about thirty men strong.
The 7th regiment covered from that battery to battery No. 3, taking in the powder-magazine, built since the 1st of January, as also battery No. 2, commanded by lieutenant Norris. This regiment, four hundred and thirty men strong, was commanded by major Peire.
The interval between that battery and No. 4, commanded by lieutenant Crawley, was occupied by major Plauché’s battalion of volunteer uniform companies, and by major Lacoste’s battalion of Louisiana men of colour. The former was two hundred and eighty-nine men strong, and the latter two hundred and eighty.
From battery No. 4, to colonel Perry’s, No. 5, the line was defended by major Daquin’s battalion of St. Domingo men of colour, one hundred and fifty men strong, and from that out by the 44th, two hundred and forty men strong, commanded by captain Baker. All the corps, from the 7th regiment to the 44th inclusively, were under the command of colonel Ross.
Two-thirds of the remaining length of the line, were guarded by the troops commanded by majorgeneral Carroll. On the right of battery No. 7, commanded by lieutenants Spotts and Chauveau, were stationed fifty marines, under the command of lieutenant Bellevue.
On the preceding day, part of the Kentucky troops, under the command of general Adair, had gone to re-enforce that part of the line. The order in which they were ranged may be seen on the plan. All those troops formed a force of about sixteen hundred men.
The troops under the command of general Coffee occupied the rest of the length of the line, as also that part which turned off towards the left into the wood; their number was about five hundred men.
Captain Ogden’s company of cavalry was stationed behind head-quarters, and a detachment of the Attakapas dragoons was posted within the court-yard, together about fifty men strong.
During the attack, captain Chauveau’s compauy of horse volunteers, about thirty men strong, hasted from town and drew up in the same court-yard, to be ready for a sortie, should it be thought expedient.
The Mississippi cavalry, commanded by major Hinds, one hundred and fifty men strong, was encamped in the rear, on Delery’s plantation. Our outposts extended about five hundred yards in front of the line.
Different detachments, making an aggregate of two hundred and fifty men of colonel Young’s regiment of Louisiana militia, were stationed at convenient intervals, on the skirts of the wood, behind the line, as far as the Piernas canal.
Four hundred yards behind the line, a guard was posted on the road, to prevent any one’s going out of camp; and a line of sentinels extended from that post to the wood for the same purpose.
Although the above details show the number of our troops to have amounted to about four thousand men, including one hundred artillerists who did not belong to any corps, it is nevertheless true, that general Jackson’s line was defended by only three thousand two hundred men, the remaining eight hundred having been distributed into various detachments, and posted behind to guard the camp, for the defence of the Piernas canal, and on the outskirts of the wood. — (See Atlas, plates Nos. 5 and 7.)
BATTLE OF THE EIGHTH OF JANUARY.
I HAVE mentioned above, that on the 6th we were informed that the enemy intended shortly to attack our lines; every thing, indeed, announced such a determination; but we were in doubt whether the attack on the left bank would be feigned or real, or whether the enemy would not direct his principal force against general Morgan on the right bank. But in the afternoon of the 7th it became evident that the enemy’s design was to attack Jackson’s lines and attempt to storm them.
Though at so great a distance we could not distinctly see what was passing in the enemy’s camp, we perceived that a great number of soldiers and sailors were at work, endeavouring to move something very unwieldy, which we concluded to be artillery. With the assistance of a telescope in the upper apartment of head-quarters, we perceived soldiers on Laronde’s plantation, busy in making fascines, while others were working on pieces of wood, which we concluded must be scaling ladders. The picketguards near the wood had moreover been increased and stationed nearer each other. Officers of the staff were seen riding about the fields of Laronde’s, Bienvenu’s and Chalmette’s plantations, and stopping at the different posts to give orders. Finally, on the 7th, shortly after night-fall, we distinctly heard men at work in the enemy’s different batteries; the strokes of hammers gave "note of preparation," and resounded even within our lines; and our out-posts informed us that the enemy was re-establishing his batteries: his guards were re-enforced about sunset, probably with a view to cover the movements of the troops. In our camp all was composure; the officers were ordered to direct their subalterns to be ready on the first signal. Half the troops passed the night behind the breastwork, relieving each other occasionally. Every one waited for day with anxiety and impatience, but with calm intrepidity, expecting to be vigorously attacked, and knowing that the enemy had then from twelve to fifteen thousand bayonets to bring into action, besides two thousand sailors and some marines.
A little before daybreak, our out-post came in without noise, having perceived the enemy moving forward in great force.
At last the dawn of day discovered to us the enemy occupying two-thirds of the space between the wood and the Mississippi. Immediately a Congreve rocket went off from the skirt of the wood, in the direction of the river. This was the signal for the attack. At the same instant,the twelve-pounder of battery No. 6, whose gunners had perceived the enemy’s movement, discharged a shot. On this all his troops gave three cheers, formed in close column of about sixty men in front, in very good order, and advanced nearly in the direction of battery No. 7, the men shouldering their muskets, and all carrying fascines, and some with ladders. A cloud of rockets preceded them, and continued to fall in showers during the whole attack. Batteries Nos. 6, 7 and 8, now opened an incessant fire on the column, which continued to advance in pretty good order, until, in a few mimutes, the musketry of the troops of Tennessee and Kentucky, joining their fire with that of the artillery, began to make an impression on it, which soon threw it into confusion. It was at that moment that was heard that constant rolling fire, whose tremendous noise resembled rattling peals of thunder. For some time the British officers succeeded in animating the courage of their troops, and making them advance, obliqueing to the left, to avoid the fire of battery No. 7, from which every discharge opened the column, and mowed down whole files, which were almost instantaneously replaced by new troops coming up close after the first: but these also shared the same fate, until at last, after twenty-five minutes cantinual firing, through which a few platoons advanced to the edge of the ditch, the column entirely broke, and part of the troops dispersed, and ran to take shelter among the bushes on the right. The rest retired to the ditch where they had been when first perceived, four hundred yards from our lines.
There the officers with some difficulty rallied their troops, and again drew them up for a second attack, the soldiers having laid down their knapsacks at the edge of the ditch, that they might be less incumbered.
And now, for the second time, the column, recruited with the troops that formed the rear, advanced. Again it was received with the same rolling fire of musketry and artillery, till, having advanced without much order very near our lines, it at last broke again, and retired in the utmost confusion. In vain did the officers now endeavour, as before, to revive the courage of their men; to no purpose did they strike them with the flat of their swords, to force them to advance: they were insensible to every thing but danger, and saw nothing but death which had struck so many of their comrades.
The attack on our lines had hardly begun, when the British commander-in-chief, the honourable sir Edward Packenham, fell a victim to his own intrepidity, while endeavouring to animate his troops with ardour for the assault. Soon after his fall, two other generals, Keane and Gibbs, were carried off the field of battle, dangerously wounded. A great number of officers of rank had fallen: the ground over which the column had marched, was strewed with the dead and the wounded. Such slaughter on their side, with no loss on ours, spread consternation through their ranks, as they were now convinced of the impossibility of carrying our lines, and saw that even to advance was certain death. In a word, notwithstanding the repeated efforts of some officers to make the troops form a third time, they would not advance, and all that could be obtained from them, was to draw them up in the ditch, where they passed the rest of the day.
Some of the enemy’s troops had advanced into the wood towards the extremity of our line, to make a false attack, or to ascertain whether a real one were practicable. These the troops under general Coffee no sooner perceived, than they opened on them a brisk fire with their rifles, which quickly made them retire. The greater part of those who, on the column’s being repulsed, had taken shelter in the thickets, only escaped our batteries to be killed by our musketry. During the whole hour that the attack lasted, our fire did not slacken for a single moment; and it seemed as though the artillery and musketry tied with each other in vivacity.
When the column first advanced to the attack, the troops partly moved forward along the skirt of the wood, which in that part forms a curve, and were by that means covered till they came within two hundred yards of our lines. After the attack on our left had commenced, the enemy made a column advance on the right by the road, and between the river and the levée. This column precipitately pushing forward, drove in our out-posts, following them so closely that it came up to the unfinished redoubt before we could fire on it more than two discharges of our cannon. A part of the column leaped into the ditch, and got into the redoubt through the embrasures, and over the parapet, overpowering with their numbers the few men they found there: others advancing along the brink of the river, killed the soldiers of the 7th, who bravely defended their post at the point of the bayonet, against a number much superior, and continually increasing.
To get into the redoubt was not a very arduous achievement: the difficulty was to maintain possession of it, and clear the breastwork of the entrenchment in the rear of the redoubt, which still remained to be attacked. Already several British officers, though wounded, were bravely advancing to encourage their men by their example.
Colonel Rence, followed by two other officers of high rank, had begun to mount the breastwork, when the gallant volunteer riflemen under captain Beale, who defended the head of the line, made them all find their graves in that redoubt which they had mastered with so much gallantry. Meanwhile, captain Humphreys' battery No. 1, lieutenaut Norris’s No. 2, and the 7th regiment, which was the only one within musket-shot, kept up a tremendous fire on that column, which, like that on the left, was obliged to fall back in disorder, leaving the road, the levée, and the brink of the river, strewed with its dead and wounded.
The enemy had opened the fire of the battery which he erected on the road on the 28th of December, as also of that erected on the 1st of January, behind the demolished buildings of Chalmette’s plantation. The fire was at first very brisk, and was principally directed against Macarty’s house, in hopes that the general and his staff might still be there: but to the enemy’s disappointment, the general and all the officers had repaired to their post on the lines, long before daybreak. The only mischief done by that prodigious expense of balls and shells, was that major Chotard, assistant adjutant-general, received a contusion in his shoulder, and four or five pillars of the house were knocked down. Our batteries, Nos. 2, 3, and 4, principally directed their fire against those of the enemy, and dismounted several of the guns erected near Chalmette’s buildings. Battery No. 1, after having poured a shower of grape-shot on the enemy’s troops as the retreated, turned its fire against his battery which was opposite to it, and in less than two hours, forced the men to evacuate it. The marine battery on the right bank also fired on the enemy’s column as it advanced along the brink of the river, until the troops which landed on the right bank, pushed forward, and obliged the seamen who served it to attend to their own defence.
By half after eight in the morning, the fire of the musketry had ceased. The whole plain on the left, as also the side of the river, from the road to the edge of the water, was covered with the British soldiers who had fallen. About four hundred wounded prisoners were taken, and at least double that number of wounded men escaped into the British camp; and, what might perhaps appear incredible, were there not many thousands ready to attest the fact, is that a space of ground, extending from the ditch of our lines to that on which the enemy drew up his troops, two hundred and fifty yards in length, by about two hundred in breadth, was literally covered with men, either dead or severely wounded. About forty men were killed in the ditch, up to which they had advanced, and about the same number were there made prisoners. The artillery of our lines kept up a fire against the enemy’s batteries and troops until two o’clock in the afternoon. By the disposition of his troops, the enemy appeared to apprehend lest we should make a sortie, and attack him in his camp. The soldiers were drawn up in the ditches, in several parallel lines, and all those who had been slightly wounded, as soon as their wounds were dressed, were sent to join their corps, to make their number of effective men appear the greater, and show a firm countenance. The enemy’s loss on the left bank, in the affair of the 8th of January, was immense, considering the short duration of the contest, the ground, and the respective number of the contending forces. According to the most probable accounts, it cannot have amounted to less than three thousand men in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The number of officers who fell that day is a much greater loss in proportion, owing to the necessity they were under of exposing themselves in the brunt of the battle, to encourage the men, and lead them on to the desperate assault. Our loss was comparatively inconsiderable, amounting to no more than thirteen in killed and wounded, on the left bank of the Mississippi.
I deem it my indispensable duty to do justice to the intrepid bravery displayed in that attack by the British troops, especially by the officers. If any thing was wanting towards the attack’s being conducted with judgment (speaking in a general and military point of view) it was, in my opinion, that they did not in the onset sacrifice the regularity of their movements to promptitude and celerity. The column marched on with the ordinary step, animating their courage with huzzas, instead of pushing on with fixed bayonets, au pas de charge. But it is well known that agility is not the distinctive quality of British troops. Their movement is in general sluggish and difficult, steady, but too precise, or at least more suitable for a pitched battle, or behind intrenchments, than for an assault. The British soldiers showed, on this occasion, that it is not without reason they are said to be deficient in agility. The enormous load they had to carry contributed indeed not a little to the difficulty of their movement. Besides their knapsacks, usually weighing nearly thirty pounds, and their musket, too heavy by at least one third, almost all of them had to carry a fascine from nine to ten inches in diameter, and four feet long, made of sugarcanes perfectly ripe, and consequently very heavy, or a ladder from ten to twelve feet long.
The duty of impartiality, incumbent on him who relates military events, obliges me to observe that the attack made on Jackson’s lines, by the British, on the 8th of January, must have been determined on by their generals, without any consideration of the ground, the weather, or the difficulties to be surmounted, before they could storm lines, defended by militia indeed, but by militia whose valour they had already witnessed, with soldiers bending under the weight of their load, when a man, unincumbered and unopposed, would that day have found it difficult to mount our breastwork at leisure and with circumspection, so extremely slippery was the soil. Yet those officers had had time and abundant opportunity to observe the ground on which the troops were to act. Since their arrival on the banks of the Mississippi, they had sufficiently seen the effects of rainy weather to form a just idea of the difficulty their troops must have experienced, in climbing up our intrenchments, even had the column been suffered to advance, without opposition, as far as the ditch. But they were blinded by their pride. The vain presumption of their superiority, and their belief that the raw militia of Kentucky and Tennessee, who now for the first time had issued from their fields, could not stand before the very sight of so numerous a body of regular troops advancing to attack them, made them disregard the admonition of sober reason. Had they at all calculated on the possibility of resistance, they would have adopted a different plan of attack, which, however, I am fur from thinking would have been ultimately successful.
It has been repeated that division prevailed in a council of war, and that admiral Cochrane, combating the opinion of general Packenham, who, with more judgment, was for making the main attack on the right bank, boasted that he would undertake to storm our lines with two thousand sailors, armed only with swords and pistols. I know not how far this report may deserve credit, but if the British commander-in-chief was so unmindful of what he owed his country, who had committed to his prudence the lives and honours of several thousands of her soldiers, as to yield to the ill-judged and rash advice of the admiral, his memory will be loaded with the heavy charge of having sacrificed reason in a moment of irritation, though he atoned with his life for having acted contrary to his own judgment.
But to return to the attack on our lines. I cannot forbear to mention a fact which fully proves the truth of my assertion in the beginning of this narrative, that the British had come to America to carry on war in the spirit of atrocity, determined to employ all means whatever to shed American blood, and glut thejr rage against us.
As soon as the wrecks of the British column had disappeared, the fire of our musketry ceased, and our artillery only fired at intervals at the enemy’s batteries, or at scattered platoons that were perceived in the wood. At this time, men from all our different corps, prompted merely by sentiments of humanity, went, of their own accord, to assist the wounded British, to give them drink, and carry them (as they did several on their backs) within our lines. All our troops unanimously applauded the humane sentiments of those brave men, whose dauntless hearts were grieved to behold the slaughter of the day, and in their wounded enemy saw but their suffering fellow creature.
But, with horror I record the atrocity! while they were in the very act of administering consolation — while they were carrying the wounded British — the troops that were in the ditch (in front of our lines) fired on them, and killed and wounded some men. Yet the others, regardless of the danger to which they exposed themselves, persevered in their laudable purpose. This instance of baseness may have proceeded from individuals; nor can it be presumed that the men were ordered to fire by any officer of rank. The known tenor of general Lambert’s honourable and soldierly conduct, sets the commander-in-chief far above the suspicion of his being capable of such atrocity. But the officers who commanded the troops in the ditch, within musket-shot of the men fired on, cannot allege that they misconceived the intention of our men, most of them being unarmed, and assisting the wounded. They were near enough to see their actions, and seeing these, they could not possibly misconceive their motives. Upon a full view of this fact then, whatever reluctance we may feel, in branding with infamy military men whose actions should ever be directed by honour — men, amongst whom there were perhaps several who wore the honourable decorations of valour and good conduct, we cannot forbear to give them the appellation of barbarians. The private soldiers cannot be reproached with this atrocious act; the guilt of it rests solely with those who commanded them. — (See
note No. 2, at the end of the volume.)
After having perused, with pleasing sensations, the recital of the brilliant defence made by our troops on the left hank, every American, whose bosom glows with the love of his country, must learn with pain the contrast exhibited in what took place on the right, the consequences of which were likely to have been so disastrous, that even now my mind shudders at the recollection of that moment, when, seeing our troops on the right bank fall back in disorder, while the enemy was rapidly advancing towards the city, all of us who were at Jackson’s lines, were suddenly hurried from the transporting joy of victory to the fear of shortly seeing all its advantages wrested from our grasp.
As the affair to which the course of my narrative has now brought me, is the only disaster we experienced during the campaign, the only fault committed on our defensive operations, I must request the indulgent attention of the reader, while I lay before him a minute, and perhaps irksome, detail of circumstances necessary to be known, in order that he may become perfectly acquainted with the causes of that unfortunate event.
At the period when the quota of Louisiana was levied, brigadier-general David Morgan, of the militia, was appointed to command it. We have seen that after the affair of the 23d of December, he was ordered to leave the cantonment at the English Turn, on the left bank, and cross the river to encamp on the right bank opposite Jackson’s lines. (See
plate No. 5.) Agreeably to those orders, he made his troops take post near the saw-mill, on Flood’s plantation. A few days after, those troops moved forward to Jourdan’s plantation, next to that of Flood’s, where they remained till the 7th of January, on which day they took a position along Raguet’s old canal, near the lower boundary of the plantation. At this time the contingent amounted to no more than two hundred and sixty effective men.
We have already seen that in the morning of the 4th the second regiment of Louisiana militia, colonel Zenon Cavelier had crossed over to th� right bank, and encamped on Cazelard’s plantation. On the 7th, that regiment also took a position on Raguet’s canal, on the left of the quota; its effective force being then only one hundred and seventy-six men armed.
The first regiment of militia, under colonel Dejean, quitted, in the evening of the 6th, the position, it occupied on the Piernas canal, and that same day took a station on the left of the 2d regiment, and formed the extremity of the line on the bank of the river. To this regiment was annexed a detachment. of the 6th Louisiana militia, forming together a force ef one hundred and ten men, some ill armed,, the rest without any arms.
General Morgan took the command of those troops, which, as I have already observed, he stationed along Raguet’s old canal, where he had commenced lines of defence two hundred yards in length, which was but a very small portion of the whole length of the canal, this extending about two thousand yards to the wood. Thus all that part on the right of the space of two hundred yards, where a breastwork had been begun, was without any other defence than a ditch, and exposed to be turned; this, we shall see, is what actually happened.
Towards the beginning of January, while I was carrying on works at the line on Boisgervais' canal, general Jackson ordered me to assist general Morgan in choosing an advanced position, opposite Jackson’s lines, for the purpose of establishing lines of defence, suitable to the number of troops on the right bank, and to the nature of the situation; and, on the choice being made, to draw a plan of the works, and immediately employ in their execution all the negroes that had till then been working at the battery, near the powder-magazine, and at Boisgervais' line, which then became a second line.
Agreeably to these orders I waited on general Morgan, whom I met accompanied by his staff, and by commodore Patterson, inspecting all the canals in the vicinity. I communicated to him my. orders, observing that I was at his disposal. The general continued his inspection, and returned to his quarters, without having come to any determination, only that he appeared inclined to make choice of the position of the canal of Raguet; he then desired I would inspect the different situations myself, and make my report to him. My orders directed me to assist general Morgan, and my opinion was of course entirely subordinate to his decision. I beg the reader to excuse my appearing here in a conspicuous light, and to believe that it is with much reluctance I am forced to speak of myself, in investigating the cause of a disastrous event; my purpose being to show, by the simple recital of facts, that the disaster might perhaps have been avoided, had another point for defence been adopted.
I chose for the intended lines of defence, an intermediate position, nearly at equal distance from Raguet’s and Jourdan’s canals, in a place where the wood inclines towards the river, leaving only a space of about nine hundred yards of open ground. The adjoining wood being impassable, works occupying this whole space could not be turned. A rough draught, conformable to the plan in
plate No. 5,
under the title of intended line, was made, and immediately the overseer of the works set his men to execute this line. Having gone over to the left bank, I made my report to the commander-in-chief, who approved of the dispositions made, and was sensible of the advantage of the position that had been chosen. That it was a good position, may be seen on a view of the map. The small distance between the wood and the river, required but from a thousand to twelve hundred men to guard it, and half that number would have been sufficient, had pieces of cannon been mounted in the intended outworks. To attack that line, the enemy must have advanced in the open plain, which was commanded in every direction by the salient parts of the intrenchments. The wood, as I have before observed, was impassable towards the extremity of that line; the enemy’s batteries on the left bank could not have infiladed its rear, as was the case with that established on Raguet’s canal. The former, in short, united all advantages, and I dare affirm that, had the works been completed, the British would not have ventured to advance within cannon-shot. That line, defended only by the troops that were on the right bank, on the 8th amounting to about eight hundred men, might have defied the attempts of the British, had they come with three or four times the number that crossed the river, and might have given them a reception similar to that which they experienced on the left bank. But these dispositions had been changed, and the negroes ordered to be set to work on Raguet’s canal.
This line, ako marked in the Map, plate No. 5, had a kind of bastion on the bank of the river, and a small redan at some distance on the right. In the afternoon of the 7th, general Morgan caused one twelve-pounder and two six-pounders to be mounted on the line.
I have already observed, that on the 6th it was suspected that the enemy intended to cross over to the right hank; in the afternoon of the 7th, there no longer remained any doubt of this intention. A little after sunset general Morgan was informed that the enemy was ready to cross the river, and that he might hourly expect to be attacked. On the 8th, before break of day, he received information of the landing of the enemy on the strand of Andry’s plantation. Three miles in advance of the line, on Morin’s estate, half a mile above the spot where the enemy landed, a detachment of one hundred men of the 6th of militia, under the command of major Arnaud,had been stationed, to oppose his landing. These men were very ill armed, most of them having Only fowling-pieces, and musket-cartridges too large for them; several of them were even without any arms, and not one of them, I believe, excepting their commander, had ever been opposed to an enemy before. It is little strange, then, that they retreated. The enemy landed much lower than was his intention, having been carried down by the strength of the current. It was owing to this circumstance, that the attack on the right bank, which was to have been simultaneous with that on the left, did not commence until the latter had completely failed, and our musketry, having routed the enemy, had ceased firing. Having landed his troops, the enemy ascended the river in his boats, carrying carronades and cannon, and keeping close to the bank, covered the flank of his troops, and discharged grape-shot against ours, who retired as he advanced.
In the evening of the 7th, general Jackson had ordered general Adair, on whom, in consequence of the sickness of general Thomas, had devolved the chief command of the Kentucky militia, to send a detachment of five hundred men, to re-enforce general Morgan’s camp. The command of this re-enforcement was given to colonel Davis, and after much fatigue and difficulty in crossing the river, the detachment arrived, harassed and exhausted, at four o’clock in the morning, on Morgan’s line, and there received orders to advance, to meet and repulse the enemy. What was the exact number of men under colonel Davis, has been a question of much contest. It appears pretty certain that, on leaving the camp of Prevost’s plantation, he had five hundred men; that only one-fourth part of these had arms, mostly in an ill condition, and that about seventy of them received arms at the naval arsenal; that colonel Davis had not above two hundred and fifty armed men with him, when he arrived at Morgan’s line, the rest having remained behind, spent with fatigue, and faint for want of food, having taken hardly any nourishment since the morning of the 7th. They had marched five miles, from the ferry near the powder magazine to the line, in bad roads, sometimes knee-deep in mud. It appears also that their arms were in an ill condition, their ammunition bad, and several of their muskets without flints, some having nothing but pebbles in their stead. What could be expected from men thus dispirited, ill armed and exhausted with inanition and fatigue?
Colonel Davis took his station on Mayhew’s canal, about a mile in advance of Morgan’s line, his left resting on the river bank. On the right of his detachment was stationed that of major Arnaud, consisting, as I have already observed, of one hundred men, of whom fifteen were without arms, and the others were armed with fowling-pieces. The enemy arrived in considerable force, and attacked that "position with the troops that had landed, while his boats fired grape-shot at our flank. Colonel Davis made his troops fire two or three volleys, not without effect; but finding it impossible to maintain his ground any longer, as the enemy had already outflanked him on the right, seeing himself abandoned by the detachment of major Arnaud, which, in spite of all the major’s efforts to rally it, had taken to the wood, he determined to make his retreat on Morgan’s lines, where he took a position on the right, along the canal, beyond the part that was fortified. It is to be observed, that owing to some cause to me unknown, there was a space unoccupied between the right of colonel Declouet, commanding the detachment of drafted militia, and colonel Davis’s left. The troops under the latter’s command, occupied a considerable front, the men were placed several feet from each other; and finally, on the same canal, but two hundred yards further to the right, was stationed lieutenant-colonel Caldwell, also of the drafted militia, with a detachment of sixteen men. The disposition of the troops on these lines, when colonel Davis took his station there, was therefore as follows: The first regiment of militia, on the river; on its right the second regiment; on the right of this last, the drafted militia of Louisiana. These corps occupied the whole length of the fortified line. Next to this was a space unguarded, extending to the left of colonel Davis, whose command occupied on the canal three hundred yards in front; and finally two hundred yards from his right was stationed colonel Caldwell with sixteen men; the whole forming a total of about six hundred men, one-third of whom, as before observed, were ill armed. There were mounted on those lines three pieces of cannon, one a twelve-pounder, commanded by midshipman Philibert, and two sixpounders, the one commanded by Mr. Batique, formerly a captain of a vessel, the other by Mr. Hosmer, both these gentlemen belonging to the first regiment of militia.
The enemy advancing rapidly by the road opposite the left of the line, the artillery played on him with effect, and as soon as he approached near enough, the musketry also began to fire; which having obliged him to fall back, he next directed his attack against our right, one column moving towards the wood, and the other towards the centre of the line. It was now that was felt the effect of the bad position that we occupied. One of the enemy’s columns turned our troops, at the extremity of colonel Davis’s detachment, while the other penetrated into the unguarded space between that detachment and the drafted militia. On this, the Kentucky militia gave way, nor was it possible from that moment to rally them, though their officers and general Morgan made every exertion for that purpose. Confidence had vanished, and with it all spirit of resistance. If, instead of extending over so considerable a space, those troops had been formed in close column, the confusion that took place might easily have been avoided; and in case of a retreat’s becoming necessary, it might have been made in good order, our troops still keeping up their fire.
The enemy having turned our right, pushed on towards our left, which continued firing as long as possible; and at last the cannon was spiked, just as the enemy arrived on the bank of the canal.
Commodore Patterson, who, from break of day had, without intermission, kept up a fire from the guns of the marine battery, on the enemy’s troops advancing up the road, wished now to turn his cannon, in order to fire on those who had forced the right of the line; but the Kentucky troops and the drafted militia, masked the guns, and it was impossible to fire without killing our own men. Seeing this, the commodore, enraged, I dare say, determined to spike his cannon, throw the ammunition into the river, and go on board the Louisiana.
The first and second regiments retreated by the road, and went to take a position on Boisgervais’ line, where a considerable number of the flying troops rallied. Jourdan’s mill and bridge, and successively those of Flood and Cazelard were set on fire.
A small detachment of the enemy advanced as far as the bridge of Cazelard’s canal, and retired before evening; and in the course of the night all the enemy’s troops recrossed to the left bank.
Let us now take a retrospective view of this affair, and let us examine the respective conduct of the corps of troops which defended the right bank. The task is painful indeed, but indispensable; for justice requires that it should be ascertained on which side lies the misconduct, that it may not be wrongfully imputed.
The principal charges brought against the Kentuckians are, that they fled before the enemy, when they ought to have waited for him at the point of the bayonet; that they retreated in disorder, instead of keeping up their fire as they retired. To these charges they answer, "We were very ill armed; we had been on our feet for twenty-four hours, during which time we had hardly tasted food; the cartridges we had were too large for our pieces; on our arrival before day, after a hard march of several leagues partly through the mud, without being allowed a moment’s rest, we were ordered to advance a mile further; having obeyed without a murmur, we found ourselves within view of the enemy, on whom we fired several volleys, maintaining that position, which was none of the best, until being outflanked on our right, and cannonaded with grape-shot from the barges on our left, we were forced to retreat on Morgan’s line, where we were ordered to take a position along a canal, uncovered and extended on a front of three hundred yards, our left separated from the other troops by an unguarded space of ground, and our right covered by a paltry detachment of sixteen men, stationed two hundred yards from us; a vast plain, affording no manner of shelter, lying in our rear. We were turned on the right, and cut off on the left. In so precarious a situation, how could we avoid giving way?" To this it may be answered, that the Kentuckians might have retreated without flying in disorder. While I acknowledge that observation to be just, I believe that veteran troops of the line, in a less perilous situation, have not unfrequently been seized with a panic, and given way; nor do I think that any military man of much experience will be surprised that militia troops, ill armed, drawn up, like Indians, on an immense front, seeing themselves turned and cut off by troops of the line, quitted their post, and retired in disorder.
What took place on the right bank, had made so much sensation in the immediate seat of war, and had been so variously reported abroad, to the disparagement of many brave men, that I thought it a duty incumbent on me to inquire into particulars, and trace the effect to its cause. I have stated facts from the best information. I have made observations and drawn inferences. The decision is left to the judgment of the reader.
The result of the attack made by the enemy on the right bank, was, on his part, the loss of one hundred and twenty men killed or wounded, and on ours that of one man killed and five wounded. — (See in Appendix general Jackson’s and commodore Patterson’s letters, No. 29.)
The commander-in-chief having received intelligence of the retreat of the troops on the right bank, ordered general Humbert, who had tendered his services as a volunteer, to cross over with a re-enforcement of four hundred men, take the command of the troops, and repulse the enemy, cost what it might. This general arriving on the ground, communicated to general Morgan the order he had received, which was only verbal, owing to the urgency of the occasion. The latter appeared inclined to furnish general Humbert with the means of justifying the confidence with which general.Jackson had honoured him; but there arose disputes concerning military precedence. Other militia officers did not think it right that a French general, enjoying the confidence of a large proportion of the troops; known by a reputation which he had acquired, not on parade, or at reviews, but by his sword; holding a rank which he owed, not to the commission of a state governor and legislative assembly, but to which he had been raised, step by step, through all the inferior grades, and after having fought in a number of battles — those officers, I say, did not think it becoming, that the general to whom the French government had formerly confided the command of that expedition to Ireland, which will ever be recorded in the glorious pages of history, should be sent to remedy the faults of others, and repulse invaders, who, perhaps, would not, with impunity, have landed on that bank, had he there commanded. Happily, during this discussion, the enemy, as I have observed, thought it prudent to retreat, which they did that night and next morning. General Jackson made an address to the troops on the right bank, on the subject of the retreat they had made before the enemy. That document, breathing the most noble sentiments of patriotism and military ardor, cannot fail to be read with pleasure. (See Appendix, No. 30.)
In the course of the afternoon, the enemy sent a flag of truce, proposing a suspension of arms, for the purpose of burying the dead. General Jackson would grant a suspension for no longer than two hours, and only for the left bank; military operations being to continue on the right bank as usual, flags of truce were reciprocally passing until near four in the afternoon. At that hour, our batteries again began to cannonade those of the enemy, and our heavy artillery fired on the buildings of Laronde’s and Bienvenu’s plantations, where some groups of soldiers were seen. From one of the deserters who came over in the evening of the 8th we learned, that the enemy’s loss amounted to three thousand men, and that the commander-in-chief was killed, and generals Gibbs and Keane wounded. General Lambert, on whom the command had devolved, was lately arrived, and was unknown to this deserter, who could not tell who commanded the
On the 9th, by break of day, the artillery again began to fire at intervals, which greatly annoyed the enemy, who about ten o’clock sent out another flag of truce. The letter addressed to general Jackson, signed “Lambert” but without mentioning that he who bore that name was now commander-in-chief of the British forces; an avowal which he wished to avoid, to conceal from us, as long as possible, the death of general Packenham, of which we were informed on the evening of the 8th. General Jackson replied, that he was ready to treat with the commander-in-chief of the British army, and that it was to him matter of surprise that the letter he had received was not directly from him. On this, general Lambert could not decline answering that he was commander-in-chief; and then general Jack-son granted the suspension of arms required. The bodies of all the British who had died on our side, were delivered to the enemy, on the advanced line of our posts and his; they were received by British officers and buried. On beholding the remains of the three officers killed on the redoubt, and particularly those of colonel Renee, the British soldiers could not forbear to manifest strong emotions of admiration and grief, paying the tribute of their tears to the brave man whom they perhaps had often followed in the road to glory, to a father (for so they called him) who probably had often relieved their wants. He must have been an officer of no common merit, whose death excited such regret! If he did not live long enough to acquire great renown in arms, if the thread of his life was severed before he had time to run a glorious career, at least all of him is not inclosed in the tomb; his memory survives in the grateful hearts of those who experienced his benevolence.
On the 10th and 11th nothing occurred worthy of remark. Our troops on the right bank re-occupied their former position on Jourdan’s plantation, where the engineer Lafon commenced a line of defence, which may be seen on the map, plate No. 5. In the night of the 11th there was heard the report of a very brisk cannonade, which was thought to come from fort St. Philip at Plaquemine, and the next evening we learned that the enemy was bombarding that fort. Our artillery continued to annoy the enemy to such a degree, that the deserters reported that the troops had no rest, and that all the out-posts had been doubled, as an attack was apprehended. On the 12th, fifty prisoners were brought in from Chef-Menteur. We every day continued to cannonade the enemy; the balls of our heavy pieces, as also of our shells, fell in his very camp, and greatly annoyed the men.
Several officers on our lines, who had long followed the military profession, perceived on the 15th some movements in the enemy’s camp, which they thought indicated a retreat, and about the same time a deserter assured us that a retreat would shortly take place.
On the 17th of January, in consequence of proposals made by general Lambert to general Jackson, the latter appointed his aid-de-camp, colonel Edward Livingston, to confer with major Smith, military secretary to general Lambert, between the lines of the out-posts, for the purpose of drawing up a cartel of prisoners; and these officers concluded upon one which was mutually approved of by the commanderin-chief of each army. (See that document, Appendix, No. 31.)
Next day, towards noon, conformably to the articles of the cartel, the enemy delivered to us, on the line, sixty-three of our prisoners; the greater part of whom had been taken in the affair of the 23d of December. A guard of honour, composed of a detachment of the company of carabineers, of Plauché’s battalion, commanded by captain Roche, with a detachment of captain Beale’s riflemen, preceded by the music of the battalion, went to receive and escort them into camp. Several of them were not yet out of danger from their wounds. Their return to their friends and acquaintances was the more grateful to all, as, until that moment, it was feared that many of them were among the dead.
It recurred to Dr. R. Morrell and Mr. S. Shields, on their return from the British fleet, that a few well-armed boats could annoy the enemy on Lake Borgne. This suggestion was made to commodore Patterson on the morning of the 15th January, the period of their arrival in town. The commodore, after various inquiries concerning the description and force of the boats employed by the enemy on the lake, authorized those gentlemen to obtain volunteers for the
On the 19th they proceeded from the bayou
St. John in four boats (one of which carried a twelve pound carronade, the others being small) and thirty, four men, officers included. Next morning they were joined at fort Petites Coquilles by two small boats and nineteen men from captain Newman’s command. This day they remained at the fort to fit masts and sails to the boats, and to distribute the men among the boats so as to give to each a few sailors; for it must be recollected the greater part of their number were soldiers and along-shore men. On the morning of the 20th they proceeded to pass Chef-Menteur, and arrived at the militia camp, situate about three miles from lake Borgne, at 2 P. M. Here they reconnoitred the enemy’s boats, passing and re-passing from their army to their fleet. At 9 P. M. they got under weigh with muffled oars: at 10 were in the lake, and took a course along the land towards the Rigolets. At about 11 P. M. a large boat was discovered at anchor; immediately all hands pulled up to her as fast as possible. She was boarded on the bow, stern and centre nearly at the same moment. She surrendered after very little resistance; and had on board thirty-eight dragoons, a lieutenant and cornet, and a master’s mate and thirteen seamen. All returned to the encampment, where the prisoners were delivered to captain Collins, commanding officer. At 1 A. M. another sortie was made, and rowed about the lake till nearly day-light, but nothing could be found — 21st, laid by. 22d, at 4 A. M. went out again, and steered towards the Rigolets: at 7 A. M. they captured a transport boat; at half past 8 captured a transport schooner of one hundred and ten tons, bound to the army, having only a few casks of rum on board, shaping her course for the RigoJets; soon after captured two lanches. Before 10 A. M. captured three more boats; and at 11 reached the mouth of the Rigolets with some of the small boats. When unfortunately Mr. Shields was obliged to set fire to the schooner, then about two miles off the Rigolets, the bar of which would not permit her to pass. The wind came out strong against us, the tide was also running out rapidly — and in truth boats from the schooner had hardly reached the shore, when we perceived boats standing towards her from all directions. The smoke and blaze was very great. Our situation was now very alarming, having sixty-three prisoners and six prizeboats to guard, with a small force consisting of fifty three men, inclusive, and this unhappily divided; for the wind and tide were so strong, that the largest boat, carrying the only piece of ordnance, was barely able to make the eastern shore of the Rigolets, whereas the others, as well as all the prizes except one, were on the western shore. The British boats, after vainly attempting to board the burning schooner, approached the shore, to ascertain the character of our men. When they discovered them to be Americans, they sent three boats laden with troops, on their way from the army to the fleet, to land about a mile and a half above them. A party of twenty men, led by Dr. Morrell, marched to meet them, and concealed themselves in the high grass, near where the first boat landed As soon as the enemy began to land, a fire was commenced on them: the men being stationed a few yards apart, presented the appearance of a long line. The enemy continued to land, but not so rapidly; a second fire was given which they instantly returned — the other boats came up, but did not land. Our men fired a third round, and they embarked in great confusion, and rowed off. Our detachment returned to the body of our party, where they arrived just in time to beat off three other boats that came in, apparently to cut out two of the prizes. Soon after they saw two boats standing for the lanch on the opposite side, and apprehended she must be taken from the appearance of the enemy’s boats; but happily these fears were soon dispelled — sailing-master Daily throwing three shot so near them, that they hauled off without effecting a landing.
It was now nearly 4 P. M. — our men much fatigued, the prisoners troublesome, the wind and current so strong as to make it impossible to get through the Rigolets, and a gun-boat could be seen beating up for the expedition. It was determined that Dr. Morrell should go to fort Petites Coquilles (nine miles off) for a re-enforcement. Accordingly, he proceeded in a well-manned gig, and at 9 P. M. he reached the fort. Captain Newman promptly granted his request, and immediately embarked forty of his men; but before they could arrive, Mr. Shields thought proper to discharge, on
all the prisoners on the western side. With the greatest exertion he was able to join the lanch on the other side and reach the fort next day at 2 o’clock, where twenty-one prisoners were delivered to captain Newman.
On the morning of the 19th, it was perceived that the enemy had evacuated, not a single man appearing. The commander-in-chief had already given orders to an officer to go out with a reconnoitring party, in order to ascertain whether the apparent evacuation were not a stratagem, when a doctor belonging to the British army arrived at our lines, with a letter from general Lambert, informing general Jackson that the army under his command had evacuated its position on the Mississippi, and had, for the present, relinquished every undertaking against New Orleans and its vicinity. General Lambert recommended to the humanity and generosity of general Jackson, eighty wounded men, of whom three were officers, whom he was obliged to leave behind, as their wounds did not admit of their being removed. One of these officers, lieutenant Darcy, h�d had his two legs carried off by a shell, at the moment when, after having been on guard for several days successively, while, as we have observed, the enemy hourly apprehended an attack, he was taking some repose, stretched on the ground, at the entrance of his bivouac.
Doctor Kerr, surgeon-general of our army, was immediately sent with the British doctor to Jumonville’s plantation, where was the principal hospital of the British army, to visit the wounded, and make suitable arrangements for their accommodation.
Shortly after, general Jackson ordered colonel Hinds, commanding the cavalry, to repair with all speed to Villeré’s canal, and proceed along it as far as possible, harassing the enemy on his retreat. Major Lacoste was ordered to form a detachment of such of the native Louisianians in his battalion as were expert hunters, to scour the woods in the vicinity of Villeré’s canal, and pick up the stragglers of the enemy’s army, as also such negroes as might have escaped from them; for, as might be expected, the British had carried off all the negroes of the plantations occupied by their troops.
General Jackson, accompanied by the officers of his staff, went to view the British camp. They had left in their different batteries fourteen pieces of cannon and carronades, the former spiked, or with a trunnion broken off, and the latter with their pommillions also broken off, so as to be no longer serviceable, and also a quantity of cannon balls. The general next proceeded to visit the wounded officers, whom he assured that they should receive every kind of assistance and attention that could tend to promote their cure. A few days after, all the wounded were conveyed in the steam-boat to New Orleans, where they were attended by the three surgeons who had been left by general Lambert for that purpose. All the buildings, as also the ground, of Chalmette’s, Bienvenu’s, and Laronde’s plantations, attested that our artillery must have been very destructive to the enemy. Chalmette’s sugar-house, and the dwelling house of Bienvenu, were perforated in numerous places, by the balls of the marine battery on the right bank.
Colonel Laronde, accompanied by colonel Kemper, and a detachment of major Hinds’s cavalry, went in pursuit of the enemy through the prairie. They took four prisoners beyond the redoubt erected at the forks of bayou Mazant and Villeré’s canal, and advanced within a mile of the forks of bayou Bienvenu, where, concluding from the confused sound of voices they heard, that the enemy must be very numerous, and that it would be imprudent to advance any fartlter, they returned and made their report to general Jackson.
It appears that, immediately after the affair of the 8th of Januarv, the enemy had determined to evacuate, and that he was desirous of proceeding as far as possible by land. For that purpose he threw bridges over all the small bayous and streams that fall into bayou Mazant by the right bank, and at the confluence of bavou Jumonville he had constructed a bridge of boats. The route still continued on the right bank, as far as the confluence of the bayous Mazant and Bienvenu, where another bridge of boats transferred it to the opposite bank, along which it continued as far as the beginning of a long elbow, where it took a direction in a straight line across the prairie, to the Catalonian village. (See plate No. 5.)
At the confluence of bayou Jumonville, on the right, the enemy in his retreat had thrown up an epaulement to cover the passage; the same had been done at the confluence of the bayous Bienvenu and Mazantr and at the Catalonian village he had commenced a large inclosure, capable of containing one thousand men, but had left it unfinished.
General Jackson received from major Overton, commanding at fort St. Philip, a letter dated the 18th in the morning, announcing to him that the enemy had discontinued to throw shells into the fort, and that his vessels had descended the river before day. General Jackson wrote on the same day to the secretary of war, informing him of the double retreat of the enemy. (See Appendix, No. 32.)
So early as the 17th, general Jackson had given to governor Claiborne the command on the right bank, and had ordered general Morgan to prepare to advance with six hundred men, in order to harass the enemy on his retreat, which was not then expected to be, so prompt and clandestine.
The general requested the reverend abbe Dubourg, apostolical prefect for the state of Louisiana, to appoint a day of public prayer and thanksgiving, for the signal favour it had pleased the Supreme Being to show to our country, in delivering it from its enemies. (See the general’s letter, No. 33.)
We will now proceed to the relation of the bombardment of fort St. Philip by the British; but it seems proper that it be preceded by a short description of the fort, and of the means that had been taken to put it in the best possible state of defence.
BOMBARDMENT OF FORT ST. PHILIP,
Fort St. Philip is an irregular work, the.body a parallelogram. Approaches to it are nearly impracticable, being surrounded by an impassable morass, a ditch, and in addition on the east by the bayou Mardi-Gras, forty-five yards wide. In the fort were mounted twenty-nine twenty-four-pounders, a thirteen-inch mortar, an eight and five-and-half-inch ho%vitzer and a six-pounder, and in the covert-way two thirty-two pounders, mounted on a level with
During the summer of 1814, every effort was made by the garrison of fort St. Philip, consisting of two incomplete companies of artillery, to place that post in the state of defence corresponding with its importance as the key of Louisiana, commanding the pass of the Mississippi. In October, the cannon having been remounted, the gun-carriages repaired, a signal station established three miles below the fort, alterations made in some of the batteries so as to afford security to the artillerists in case of an attack, and additional works erected to protect the rear of the fort, and the season approaching when an attack from the enemy might be expected, it was suggested that if a battery was placed on the opposite side of the river, thirty-two-pounders mounted in the covert-way, and a thirteen-inch mortar fixed in the fort, the defence of the pass would be then complete, supposing the old buildings destroyed, and the requisite number of troops, and quantity of ordnance stores, &c. &c. to be furnished.
In the month of November, a company of infantry re-enforced the garrison, and about the last of that month the inspector-general descended the river to the Balize, and caused a iruard to be stationed there.
Early in December, general Jackson visited the fort, and ordered the battery on the opposite side of the river to be immediately commenced, and that the thirty-two pounders and thirteen-inch mortar should be mounted as before mentioned.
The mouth of the river was now more closely blockaded than before, and the guard stationed at the Balize was surprised and taken by the boats of the Herald sloop of war. The British at this time daily landed at the Balize, at which place a few of our pilots still remained. A re-enforcement arrived at the garrison of another company of the 7th infantry, and a company of volunteer free men of colour.
About the 15th December, major Overton of the rifle corps was placed in command, captain Wollstonecraft, of the artillery, who had charge of the post since the month of May, being ordered to New Orleans. On the 17th, the arrival of the enemy in our waters was ascertained, and a few days afterwards the fate of the gun-boats was known. From the 23d every effort was made to repel the attack which it was supposed would shortly be made. The interior was disencumbered of the rubbish of the barracks which had been torn down, the main magazine was disguised and secured by a covering of timber and earth, small magazines were erected, and covers made for the troops, as a security from the fragments of shells, should a bombardment take place, and the garrison were constantly on fatigue (under charge of captain Wollstonecraft, who had been ordered back from New Orleans,) for the above purpose, and in mounting the thirty-two-pounders in the covert-way, and the thirteen-inch mortar on the Spanish bastion, until the 3d of January. The 24th December, captain Lagan’s company arrived. The battery on the opposite side, which was commenced on the 15th December, progressed but slowly, as many of the carpenters, negroes, and tbe superintendant of artificers, had ascended the river on the first notice of the arrival of the enemy. The cannon intended for that fort were taken over the river to fort St. Philip as a place of security, being useless in the then unfinished state of the works. The carpenters having been sent back from the 3d until the 8th January, the works on the new battery were carried on with unremitted exertion, and when our look-out boat returned with information on that day of the approach of the enemy, but a few days more labour were required for the completing of the gun-carriages and the work itself. On the 8th the gun-boat No. 65 warped into the bayou, and took post so as to flank the rear of the fort. To prevent the unfinished battery on the opposite side, which we were obliged to abandon, from being of any use to the enemy, every material capable of being removed was brought over the river. Our attention was solely occupied on our defence, and we anxiously awaited the approach of the enemy, which was announced to us by signal on the morning of the 9th. About 12 o’clock they hove in sight, when the furnace for hot shot was lighted, and the troops stationed at the posts before assigned to them in case of such an event taking place.
The signal station was abandoned about 1 o’clock, and, in the hurry to escape, the guard omitted to fire the buildings and lime-kiln, which they had been ordered to destroy, and at 2 o’clock that position was occupied by the enemy, by a force landed from their vessels.
The garrison was composed of the following companies, viz.
making, with the crew of gun-boat No. 65, four hundred and six effective men. A detachment of lieutenant Cunningham’s sailors, under the direction of that officer, had charge of two thirty-tvvo-pounders mounted in the covert-way. Captain Walsh commanded the right bastion: the centre bastion, on which an eight-inch howitzer and a tbirteen-incb mortar were mounted, was commanded by captain Wollstonecraft; and the left battery was commanded by captain Murray. The infantry and volunteers not attached to the cannon, were stationed in the rear of the curtain, and otherwise posted under the command of captain Broutin, so as to be able to support the troops on the batteries, and to act as occasion might require. Captain Lagau’s two lieutenants and a party of his company of Louisiana volunteers were attached to the artillerists on the centre and left batteries. At 3 o’clock the enemy advanced several boats to sound opposite a point about one mile and a half from the fort, which had been cleared of its timber some time before, by order of the general. The guns of the left battery and those of the water batteries were opened on them, and they retreated. Having ascertained the distance to which our shot reached their vessels, consisting of a sloop of war, a gunbrig, a schooner and two bomb-vessels, they came to anchor out of the range of our shot, at the distance of 3960 yards; the bomb-vessels formed broadside to the fort, behind the point of land, a little in advance of the men of war, hoisted their colours, and commenced the action. The first shell from the enemy fell short, but the next burst over the interior of the fort. All that day and night the firing continued, with only short intervals, generally a shell every two minutes. No injury was done to the men or works, as the shells, from the nature of the soil, sunk in the ground, without bursting, or burst under the ground, at so great a depth as to produce no other effect than a tremulous motion. In the night several boats approached near the fort, and came so close as to allow us almost distinctly to hear their crews conversing. They fired several rounds of grape and round-shot over and into the fort. The wind blowing fair up the river, and in gusts during the night, this approach of the enemy was only considered as an effort to divert our attention from their vessels, which might attempt to pass under our smoke. Their attack was therefore received in silence, and our attention directed to the vessels alone. Finding we were not to be moved by this stratagem, they retired, and during the rest of the night fired a few shells from their boats stationed on both sides ot the river. On the 10th the bombardment was continued with the same vivacity as on the former day, except that a cessation occurred of about two hours at noon and at sundown, which respite was daily granted us during the remainder of the siege. Occasionally on these two days a fire was opened from the batteries of the fort, but the shot fell short. On the third day of the bombardment several pieces of shells struck the flag-staff and in one instance nailed the halyards to the mast, in another severed them in the midst of the fire; the topmast was lowered down, and it took nearly an hour to have the flag replaced on the mast. This was done by a sailor who had the courage to stand on the cross-trees, exposed as a mark; and though the fire from the enemy was very brisk and well-directed, and several shells burst over his head, he escaped unhurt. The evening of this day the enemy directed their fire with great exactness at the contractor’s store, supposing it to be the main magazine. Several whole shells passed through this building, and two burst in it, killing one man and wounding another; but as their spies had only described the magazine in the state in which it was a few days before the attack commenced, they were deceived; and by making every effort to lodge shells in the before-mentioned building, which had the appearance of the powdermagazine in its former state, the magazine itself escaped, having only been struck two or three times by fragments of shells.
At four this evening the garrison opened an animated fire for a quarter of an hour on the bomb vessels from all the guns that could bear an them, but apparently without any other effect than deranging their fire; it served however, to animate our men, showed the quickness and precision with which our guns were pointed and served, and gave a foretaste of what might be expected should the enemy attempt to pass up.
On the 12th, 13th and 14th the firing continued with the usual intervals, doing comparatively little injury: the enemy, probably aware of the inefficacy of their shells when discharged so as to alight whole in the interior of the works, now arranged their fuses, so that the shells burst in the air over the works, and scattered fragments therein in every direction. The evening of the 14th a man was killed on the right battery, another slightly wounded, a man on the centre battery lost his leg, and several of the gun-carriages were materially injured; on the right and centre batteries, the thirty-two-pounder in the covert way, in the angle of the Spanish bastion, was struck five times, and for upwards of an hour was rendered unserviceable. Several shells entered the blacksmith’s shop; one burst near the main magazine, and another passed into the ditch through the magazine in the covert way.
This evening we were employed in carrying into the fort all the timber that we could collect, and in forming covers between the guns, so as effectually to secure the men on the batteries from the fragments of shells, and to shelter them from the rain, Which had fallen, with little intermission, from the commencement of the siege. This work was finished on the evening of the 15th, and it is almost incredible that during all this time, though the men were more exposed than before, passing in and out of the fort in parties, after materials, no one was hurt. At this time the interior of the fort was nearly a pond of water; the tents stood, many of them, torn by shells, but unoccupied. The small magazines were also strengthened, and an additional quantity of earth thrown on them. This evening several boats arrived, with ammunition from New Orleans, fuses for the thirteen-inch mortars, &c. &c. The 16th was occupied in conveying the powder and ordnance stores from about a mile above the fort into the magazine; and the weather being fair, we were comparatively comfortable, and in high spirits, having now the means of annoying the enemy. On the morning of the 17th, the fire from the enemy was not as animated as usual; in the evening we returned their fire from our mortar with considerable effect, as far as we were able to judge, and for several hours they threw shells more frequently than before. At night one of our shells struck one of their bomb vessels; we distinctly heard the shock, and for near five minutes the fire from one of the vessels was discontinued. The firing continued during the night of the 17th; several shells were lodged in the parapet; one burst passing through the ditch into the angle of the centre bastion. This was the last shot we received: a little before day the enemy got under way, and at daylight we could perceive the sternmost vessel descending the river.
From three o’clock on the 9th until daylight on the 18th the bombardment continued with very little intermission. During that time the enemy threw more than one thousand shells and carcases, expended upwards of seventy tons of shells, and more than twenty thousand pounds of powder, besides small shells, and round and grape-shot from their boats. During the whole of this bombardment, we lost no more than two men, one of whom was killed on the right battery, and the other in the contractor’s store. Our wounded were two men on the right, and three on the centre battery, one in the store, and one in the interior of the garrison.
The troops were on the battery nine days, five days without cover; and exposed to the rain and weather which was extremely cold. They cannot be denied praise for the unremitted exertion they made to receive the enemy, the fatigues they underwent during the bombardment, which was almost incessant, and the patience they exercised thus exposed. Perhaps the duration of the siege would not have been so long, had the fuses, sent from the northward, been of a good quality; for several days the mortar, with which only there was any probability of reaching the enemy, was entirely or nearly useless. From the effect produced after good fuses arrived (for there was no materials in the garrison to make any) it may perhaps be surmised that the enemy’s vessels would have found it unsafe to have remained for so long a time in the station they occupied within the range of our shells.
From the day the attack commenced until it coneluded, we were constantly employed in preparing grape and canister-shot from bar lead, making up fixed ammunition, repairing gun-carriages, making implements, &c. &c. and we were, in fact, in a much better state of defence, and better provided when it terminated, than at its commencement.
After the enemy left us we had time to examine the interior, and the ground in the neighbourhood of the fort; upwards of one hundred shells had fallen and buried themselves within the fort; the surrounding buildings, workshops, stores, and the hospital, were almost in ruins, and the ground for half a mile around, was literally torn up in every direction. (See Appendix, No. 34.)
On the 20th of January the general made the necessary dispositions for the protection of the most vulnerable parts of the country, in case the enemy should attempt a new attack. The 2d regiment of militia was ordered to encamp on Villeré’s plantation, while a detachment of the Kentucky troops encamped on that of Lacoste; and on the 21st, all the troops stationed on Jackson’s lines, except the 7th regiment, which was left to guard them, returned to town.
Their arrival was a triumph; the non-combatant part of the population of New Orleans, that is, the aged, the infirm, the matrons, daughters and children, all went out to meet their deliverers, to receive with felicitations the saviours of their country. Every countenance was expressive of gratitude — joy sparkled in every feature, on beholding fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, who had so recently saved the lives, fortunes, and honour of their families, by repelling an enemy come to conquer and subjugate the country. Nor were the sensations of the brave soldiers less lively, on seeing themselves about to be compensated for all their sufferings by the enjoyment of domestic felicity. They once more embraced the objects of their tenderest affections, were hailed by them as their saviours and deliverers, and felt conscious that they had deserved the honourable title. How light, how trifling, how inconsiderable did their past toils and dangers appear to them at this glorious moment! All was forgotten, all painful recollections gave way to the most exquisite sensations of inexpressible joy.
On the 22d, general Jackson gave orders for erecting a strong battery at the forks of the bayous Bienvenu and Mazant. For that purpose, colonel Laronde was ordered to take the command of two hundred Kentuckians from camp Duprè, where general Thomas’s division had been stationed some days before, and proceed to reconnoitre the enemy. Colonel Laronde came up with the British advanced-posts at the forks of the bayous Jumonville and Mazant, where they had thrown up intrenchments, and had a strong detachment. Two large barges, and four small ones, were stationed opposite the intrenchments in the bayou; these barges fired twenty discharges of cannon, loaded with grape-shot, against colonel Laronde’s detachment, as soon as it approached within cannon-shot; but without any effect. After having reconnoitred the enemy, finding it impossible to cross over for want of boats, bayou Jumonville being in that place sixty yards wide, colonel Laronde retired.
The 23d of January having been appointed as a day of thanksgiving, for the interposition of Providence, on which Te Deum was to be sung, every preparation was made to render the festival worthy the occasion. A temporary triumphal arch was erected in the middle of the grand square, opposite the principal entrance of the cathedral. The different uniform companies of Plauché’s battalion lined both sides of the way, from the entrance of the square towards the river, to the church. The balconies and windows of the city hall, the parsonage house, and all the adjacent buildings, were filled with spectators. The whole square, and the streets leading to it, were thronged with people. The triumphal arch was supported by six columns. Amongst those on the right was a young lady representing Justice, and on the left another representing Liberty. Under the arch were two young children, each on a pedestal, holding a crown of laurel. From the arch, in the middle of the square to the church, at proper intervals, were ranged young ladies, representing the different states and territories composing the American union, all dressed in white, covered with transparent veils, and wearing a silver star on their foreheads. Each of these young ladies held in her right hand a flag, inscribed with the name of the state she represented, and in her left a basket trimmed with blue ribands, and full of flowers. Behind each was a shield suspended on a lance stuck in the ground, inscribed with the name of a state or territory. The intervals had been so calculated, that the shields, linked together with verdant festoons, occupied the distance from the triumphal arch to the church.
General Jackson, accompanied by the officers of his staff, arrived at the entrance of the square, where he was requested to proceed to the church by the walk prepared for him. As he passed under the arch, he received the crowns of laurel from the two children, and was congratulated in an address spoken by miss Kerr, who represented the state of Louisiana. The general then proceeded to the church, amidst the salutations of the young ladies representingthe different states, who strewed his passage with flowers. At the entrance of the church he was received by the abbé Dubourg, who addressed him in a speech suitable to the occasion, and conducted him to a seat prepared for him near the altar. Te Deum was chaunted with impressive solemnity, and soon after a guard of honour attended the general to his quarters, and in the evening the town, with its suburbs, was splendidly illuminated. (See the abbe Dubourg’s speech, and the general’s reply, in the Appendix, No. 35.)
Thus, in the space of a little less than one month, was terminated a campaign, ever memorable in the annals of America. On the 23d of December the enemy succeeded so far as to take a position on the Mississippi, and on the 19th of January he had already disappeared, leaving behind him the dead bodies of some thousands of private soldiers, and of many officers of distinction, and carrying with him the shame of having miscarried in an undertaking so easy to accomplish, as he at first believed; but, as he was taught by thirty day’s experience, really too arduous to be attempted with any prospect of success.
The British troops found that, notwithstanding the appalling renown which they thought had preceded their expedition to Louisiana, and the striking effect they expected would be produced by the very title of heroes of Wellington, which several regiments had vauntingly assumed, they could make no impression, even with a great superiority of numbers, on undisciplined militia, not one-fourth of whom had ever before seen a camp, or had any idea of the art of war. The whole success, indeed, of this boasted expedition, was the occupation of a tongue of land, beyond which the British army never durst advance, and which it left drenched with its bravest blood.
During their stay on the banks of the Mississippi, the British made several excursions into the settlement of Terre-aux-Bœufs, and even as far as Mr. Benjamin Morgan’s plantation, two miles below the junction of the road on the Mississippi, with that of Terre-aux-Bœufs. They carried off the cattle of all the plantations, giving to the planters, in payment, one-half or two-thirds of their value, and that seldom in money, but generally in draughts on the commissary-general of their army. The youngest son of general Villeré, a youth about the age of fourteen, had been detained by them on his father’s plantation, from their first arrival. On the eve of their evacuation, which he did not perceive till pretty late naxt day, he received in payment of about eighty head of cattle consumed on the plantation, the sum of five hundred dollars in specie, which he returned, instead of three thousand dollars, which was their value at a low price. They also, as I have already observed, carried off all the negroes of the plantations they had occupied. There were doubtless some amongst these, who were very willing to follow them; but by far the greater part, particularly the women, were decoyed, or carried off by force.
It is an undeniable fact, that during the whole Campaign, the negroes were employed by the British in working for the army in general, or as servants to officers. I will not speak of the pillage of the different houses they occupied, that being an evil inseparable from the presence of an army in all countries; but here, as in Virginia, and on the shores of the Chesapeake, the conduct of the British with respect to negroes cannot be palliated. After having repeatedly declared their intention to restore them to their owners, on their coming to claim them; after having gained time by specious pretences, the result was that they carried almost all the negroes off with them. Yet those negroes were private property, and without them their masters could not cultivate their plantations. Thus, several planters are ruined by the loss of their slaves, taken from them by the British, and are obliged to let their lands lie-fallow.
During the night of the 25th of January, colonel Hinds with his troop of horse, general Humbert and the engineer Latrobe, went once more to reconnoitre the enemy’s position, which they found he had not changed. Colonel Hinds had one man killed and two wounded, by the cannon of the enemy; and finding it impossible to execute, for the present, the object he had in view, which was to erect a battery on bayou Bienvenu, in the place best calculated to oppose the enemy, should he be disposed to revisit the Mississippi, he returned with his detachment. General Jackson, aware that the enemy was still master of bayou Bienvenu, on which he had fortified himself, as also of lake Borgne, which enabled him still to attack many parts of the country, and it being impossible to discover against what quarter he might direct his forces, had several days before, ordered a redoubt to be constructed on Philippon’s canal, another on Regio’s, at Terre-aux-Bœufs, and a third on bayou Bœuf at the cut of lake Lery, the communication of which with the sea, by the river aux Chênes, though very long and difficult, might still admit of flat boats. Lieutenant Bosquez of the artillery, had likewise been ordered to continue the construction of the redoubt begun on the river of Chef-Menteur, at the confluence of bayou Sauvage; the number of troops encamped on Lafon’s plantation, had been augmented with colonel Nelson’s regiment of volunteers, from the Mississippi territory, four hundred and fifty men strong.
Major Reynolds occupied the post of the Temple, at Barataria, and a strong detachment was stationed down the river la Fourche, and another post establish, ed at Tigouyon. could give notice of the approach of the enemy in time to oppose his landing, which he could not attempt, until he had first penetrated into lake Pontchartrain, by forcing the passage of Chef-Menteur, or that of the Rigolets, defended by the fort of Petites Coquilles. The troops were distributed agreeably to these arrangements: those of generals Coffee and Carrol, had returned to their encampment on Avart’s plantation, four miles above New Orleans; the Kentuckians were encamped on Duprè’s line; Plauchés battalion, the 44th regiment, and major Daquin’s battalion of men of colour, had returned to town; that of major Lacoste furnished detachments for Chef-Menteur; Jackson’s lines were guarded by the 7th regiment; the 1st and 2nd of militia, a detachment of Kentuckians, and another of the militia of Red river, commanded by colonel Plauché, occupied Villeré’s plantation, and furnished a strong advanced-guard, posted in the place where the enemy had thrown up fortifications when he landed at the junction of bayou Mazant and Villeré’s canal.
The right bank was guarded by the drafted militia, general Hopkins’s brigade, and colonel Johnson’s regiment, which had arrived from Rapides on the 14th. The levy-en-masse of the militia had been arriving by companies every day from the 8th of the month. Every thing was in readiness vigorously to repulse the enemy, on whatever point he might make an attempt. All the damaged arms had been repaired, and a barge had arrived from Pittsburgh with muskets, cannon, and balls. Louisiana had been defended and saved with means much inferior to those of the enemy; and towards the end of January she was in condition to defy double the force that had at first attacked her.
About this time the remaining prisoners comprised in the cartel, agreed to on the 18th of January, who being on board the British fleet could not be sooner returned, were delivered up at Petites Coquilles, and arrived in town.
During the course of the campaign the mayor of New Orleans, Mr. Nicholas Girod, and all those employed under him, manifested the greatest zeal in assisting the troops to repel the invaders.
The ladies of New Orleans were constantly employed in making up clothes for the militia of Tennessee, whom so long an absence from their homes had reduced to extreme want in that particular, as most of them had served in the campaign against the Creek Indians, and in the expedition against Pensacola, in which they had made many long and difficult marches.
General Jackson, in a letter to the mayor, expressed his sense of the assistance he had received from that magistrate, and the citizens of New Orleans. The perusal of that letter cannot fail to interest the reader. (See Appendix, No. 36.)
By a resolution of the 2d of February the legislature voted thanks to the troops of Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Mississippi Territory; to their commanders, generals Carroll, Coffee, Thomas, and Adair, and also to colonel Hinds, for their services in the defence of the state. Those of general Jackson they thought proper to pass over in silence: but that silence produced a greater effect in his favour in the public mind than the most laboured panegyric would have done. It was in vain to attempt to throw into the shade services so eminent, and so fresh in the remembrance of a grateful people; they were present to every imagination, and, in the language of the Roman historian, shone with superior lustre for the very reason that they were not displayed.
Præfulgebant Cassius et Brutus, eo ipso quod effigies eorum non visebantur.
The governor, in compliance with the assembly’s resolution, wrote a letter to each of the officers mentioned in it, to which they severally replied. (See Appendix, No. 37.) General Coffee’s answer is particularly worthy of observation. At the same time that he expresses his grateful sense of the high value which the legislature are pleased to set on his services, he cannot forbear to hint what it would become them to have done in justice to the great man under whose guidance those laurels were earned, which they had distributed with such an unequal hand.
This act of flagrant injustice is attributed to the discontent of some of the leading members of the legislative body. History will search into their motives, and hold up to the animadversion of posterity those unworthy intrigues, which produced an instance of ingratitude unparalleled in the annals of mankind.
Let me not be understood as reflecting on all the members; several of them there are, who evinced, by their conduct, both in the camp and in the house, that they were proof against the machinations of party spirit, and far above being influenced by petty considerations of private interest. But ingratitude is supposed to be characteristic of republics. It is well known that the very individuals, who extolled with enthusiasm, the measures adopted by general Jackson, early in the campaign, while the enemy was hovering on our coast, became his malignant traducers, when the danger was over, and they could enjoy the fruits of his foresight and energy, to which the country owes its safety.
On the 4th of February, Col. Edward Livingston was sent by general Jackson with a flag of truce, for the purpose of negociating a cartel for the general exchange of prisoners (those of the navy not being yet exchanged) and of endeavouring at the same time to obtain the restitution of the negroes carried off by the British, at the time of their evacuation. To understand this matter, it is necessary to peruse the correspondence that took place on that subject, between general Lambert, admiral Cochrane, and general Jackson. (See Appendix, No. 38.)
The exchange of prisoners was agreed on and arranged to the satisfaction of both parties. As to the negroes, general Lambert and admiral Cochrane inflexibly adhered to the principle they had laid down, that they could not be restored, without their own consent. (See Appendix, No. 38.)
SECOND ATTACK OF FORT BOWYER.
THE British army having entirely abandoned the banks of the Mississippi, and those of the bayou Bienvenu, proceeded towards Mobile point. The officers who commanded the expedition had conceived hopes of taking fort Bowyer, situate at the extremity of that point, in an advantageous position, as I have already observed, for commanding the entrance of Mobile; but incapable, in its present condition, of defending the point, or preventing the enemy’s becoming master of the peninsula.
After having suffered such signal and unforeseen reverses, the honour of the British arms seemed to require that their troops should achieve some exploit that might compensate, at least, for what could not be retrieved, and afford some consolation to the wounded pride of Britain. Every disposition, therefore, was made that could tend to insure the success of an attack on fort Bowyer. The enemy had learned by experience, in his former attack, that that fort possessed on the sea-side means of defence, which rendered it formidable to ships; and though the naval force that could then be brought against it was sufficient for its speedy reduction, it was not improbable but the attempt would cost the enemy the loss of part of his squadron. He therefore prudently determined to attack the fort by land.
It has already appeared, from the account of the attack made on it on the 15th of September, that fort Bowyer was so weak on the land-side, as to be incapable of defence against any considerable force.
On the 6th of February the British fleet was descried off Dauphine island. On the 7th, at nine o’clock in the morning, it separated into several divisions. Twenty-five vessels anchored about five miles from the fort, in a circular position, extending from Dauphine island towards the peninsula of the Mobile. Thirteen ships of the line, or frigates, came to anchor about one mile from the land, in a line parallel with the coast, and at the distance of about two miles and a half from the back of the fort. In the afternoon several barges were perceived on the look out, near Dauphine island. They returned to their several ships towards sunset. A few boats however still continued, during that night, to keep up an incessant communication with the different ships of the fleet.
Early in the morning of the 8th the enemy landed his troops, to the number of five thousand men, opposite the anchoring ground. They encamped at nearly an equal distance from both shores of the peninsula, which in that part is only about half a mile in breadth. Their camp was covered, on the side adjoining the continent, by two batteries erected half a mile from the encampment. The battery on the north side (marked B on the Map, plate No. 9.) mounted two field pieces, and was protected by two hundred men; the pieces were mounted behind a simple parapet, in front of which was a ditch that communicated with a lagoon, extending over two thirds of the breadth of the isthmus. The remaining space, as far as the shore of the ocean, was cut by a trench, and covered with an epaulment, behind which were mounted four pieces of cannon, (marked A on the Map) and protected by a detachment of three hundred men. By the erection of these two batteries, fort Bowyer was completely cut off from receiving any succours by land; and even could they have been taken, it would still have been necessary to force the camp, in order to arrive at the fort. Four gun-boats, which the enemy had taken from us at Malheureux island, were at anchor close to the shore, and covered the two extremities of the camp on the side of the gulf. On the opposite shore, within the,bay, several barges and boats served to keep up a constant communication with Dauphine island. On the east point of that island, opposite the fort, was stationed general Kean’s division, for the purpose of re-enforcing the principal camp, or of acting on any other point, as occasion might require. Towards noon the enemycaused a number of riflemen, and some other detachments, to advance towards the fort to a considerable distance from his camp. A few discharges of cannon stopped their progress, and forced them to seek shelter behind sand hillocks, or in ditches. Our riflemen fired on several of the British sentinels, of whom one was killed. About nine in the evening a body of troops was seen advancing towards the fort, and was likewise forced to retire by a few discharges of our cannon.
On the 9th, at break of day, it was discovered that the enemy had begun to cut a trench parallel to the curtain on the north side; and shortly after a brisk fire of artillery was directed against his works, which he had already advanced to the length of one hundred and fifty yards. The extremity of the trench was perpendicular to the shore of the bay, and joined the downs, that skirted the whole compass of the peninsula, so that the enemy, in following the shore between the downs and the sea, had a communication from his camp to the trench, secure from all danger. He had stationed in the trench 750 riflemen, who, during the whole time of the siege, kept up, day and night, a fire of musketry, directed chiefly against our artillerymen, who could not show themselves at the embrasure without being immediately assailed with a shower of bullets. Notwithstanding the constant fire from our cannon, the enemy succeeded in erecting batteries on the sandy mound that commands the fort. At noon some shells were thrown into the trench, which partly dispersed the soldiers stationed there; after which our riflemen dislodged almost all the others. Two ships now anchored between Mobile point and Dauphine island, and several boats full of men were passing and repassing the whole day between Dauphine island and Navy cove, lying at the distance of three miles from the back of fort Bowyer, behind the British camp. About two in the afternoon the enemy was employed in cutting down and levelling the summit of the great mound; a few discharges from the battery of the right flank dispersed them, and in the course of the afternoon, the other parties at work were much incommoded by our bombs and shells. Two barges having approached the fort, were received with several discliarges of cannon, which obliged them to return towards Dauphine island. The fire of our artillery and musketry was incessant the whole day until sunset.
During the 10th, the enemy continued his works, notwithstanding the fire from the artillery of the fort. His riflemen were also engaged with ours, while his barges were employed in transporting troops from Dauphine island to Navy cove. Another trench had been commenced on the south shore, at the distance of three hundred yards, so as to be made, without much difficulty, to unite with that on the north side. Had the siege been protracted, these two trenches would have completely invested the fort. On the 11th, by break of day, it was discovered that during the night the enemy had advanced his works to within forty yards of the ditch of the fort, which was now completely hemmed in on its two sides behind. He had also completed the establishment of his batteries, erected at the distance of from three hundred yards to five hundred yards from the fort, whose rear batteries began to play. We hoped to have dislodged him from the advantageous position he had taken; but after having for some time kept up a very brisk fire, we found our expectations frustrated by the parapets of his batteries, which were from fifteen to eighteen feet thick. By this time he had mounted on his battery, eight howitzers, two mortars, four eighteen pounders, with other pieces of inferior calibre.
About 10 o’clock, a white flag was seen flying on the back of the trench; it was answered from the fort, and a suspension of hostilities took place. Lieutenantcolonel Lawrence then received from major-general Lambert, a summons to capitulate; On which he desired all the officers of the garrison to repair to his quarters, where he laid before them the articles of capitulation proposed, and for an answer to which only half an hour was allowed. That term was indeed prolonged until noon; but the enemy required the surrender of the fort that very evening; which article being rejected, it was finally agreed that the garrison should march out next day at noon. (For articles of capitulation, see Appendix, No. 39.)
Next day, 12th of February, the garrison evacuated the fort, agreeably to the capitulation, and the evacuation was completely effected by two o’clock in the afternoon. The troops were embarked on board three ships of the line, where the officers and soldiers were treated with all the civilities due to brave men, forced to comply with the resistless exigency of circumstances.
The loss sustained by the garrison during the siege, amounted only to one man killed, and ten wounded, among the latter was the brave commander. The besiegers had about forty men killed or wounded.
From this circumstantial account of the taking of fort Bowyer, the impartial reader will see that the brave garrison who defended it, being left to their own resources, deprived of all communication, and cut off from all hope of receiving relief, exerted all the means in their power to defend the fort intrusted to them; never failing to annoy the enemy, when he came within the range of their guns. What could they do more? What useful purpose could it have answered to expose themselves to a bombardment in a fort entirely constructed of timber, so combustible that a single shell falling within the parapet, would have sufficed to set the whole fort on fire? Attacked on the land side, what defence could they make against sixteen pieces of artillery, within so short a distance, behind strong intrenchments, that in less than half an hour would have battered down the parapets of the fort, on that side not more than three feet thick, above the platforms?
As no part of the fort was bomb proof, the ammunition was exposed, nor could even the wounded be sheltered; so that they with the whole garrison might have been destroyed by an explosion. The ground did not here present the advantages enjoyed by fort Plaquemine. A firm soil mixed with shells, that resisted the pressure of cannon without platforms, not yielding to the bombs, dreadful must have been the effects of their explosion; for all military men will agree that without casemates, no garrison can hold out against a regular bombardment. But it may be asked, why was no attempt made to dismount the enemy’s batteries, as soon as they were successively erected? It has already been seen, that nothing had been neglected to that effect by the garrison, but that all their efforts were vain. Besides, the enemy had worked chiefly by night, and it was also during the night that he had mounted his artillery. It has been seen that the parapets of his batteries were from fifteen to eighteen feet thick, of hard sand, as firm as any kind of earth; and the inside was formed of sacks laid on one another. Could the slightest doubt still remain on this subject, I think it would be sufficient to remove it, to know that the mortars were established as is usual, on the most solid ground. Seven pieces of cannon, of which three were nine-pounders, three twelves and one twenty-four, were all the garrison had to oppose to the enemy on the side where the attack was directed. It may be said that the garrison might, during the night, have made sorties, have carried the enemy’s cannon, and have destroyed his works. All this may indeed be effected with adequate forces; but this garrison’s effective force amounted to no more than three hundred and twenty men fit for service. It was surely impossible with so small a force to cross a trench which already commanded the gate of the fort, and was guarded by about one thousand men, through which our troops must have cut their way, before they could arrive at batteries well manned, with powerful succours ready to re-enforce them. Any attempt of that kind, by a garrison of three hundred and twenty men, against an army of five thousand, which would within a few hours receive a
re-enforcement of three thousand men, would certainly have been rather a culpable act of folly, than a laudable instance of valour. The brave garrison of fort Bowyer did, upon the whole, their duty, and all that could have been expected of them under such circumstances. Major-general Lambert testified to colonel Livingston, then on mission at his headquarters, his warm approbation of the conduct of colonel Lawrence, adding, that under similar circumstances, he should not think it derogatory to his honour to act as that officer had done.
On the arrival of colonel Lawrence at New Orleans, it was directed in general orders of March 25th, that a court of inquiry should be held for the purpose of examining into his conduct, during the defence, and in the surrender of fort Bowyer. The court having heard several witnesses, after mature deliberation, declared the conduct of colonel Lawrence, and that of the garrison under his command, no way reprehensible. (See Appendix, No. 40.)
I have been more minute in relating the particulars of this affair, and have the more freely given way to my own reflections on it, as in the whole course of this glorious campaign, the surrender of fort Bowyer, is the only instance in which the efforts of the enemy obtained any advantage. Whoever considers the disproportion of the forces, and the desperate situation of the garrison, left to itself, beyond the reach of succours; whoever asks himself the question, whether, under such circumstances, he should have acted differently, must acknowledge that the glory acquired in this instance, by the troops of his Britannic majesty, amounts to a very inconsiderable advantage.
The news of the success obtained over the enemy on the 8th of January, diffused the greatest joy throughout the union, particularly in Kentucky, the governor of which state transmitted a message to the legislature, recommending to them to vote a levy of ten thousand militia, to march to the assistance of Louisiana.
While colonel Livingston was on board the British fleet, the Brazen sloop of war, arrived with intelligence of the preliminaries of peace between the United States and Great Britain having been signed. On the 10th of February, that officer returned with the gladsome tidings, which was received with universal joy.
On this occasion, general Jackson published an address to the army and citizens, exhorting them not to let themselves be so far led away by the hopes of peace founded on vague rumours, as to relax in their duty; observing that, even were it certain that peace had been concluded, and the treaty signed in Europe, it could not be considered as putting an end to the war, until ratified by the president of the United States. (See the address in the Appendix, No. 41.)
After the affair of the 8th of January, some of our men found on the scene of action, an elegant sword, which was at first supposed merely to belong to some officer; but some prisoners chancing to see it, declared it to be the sword of general Packenham, the commander-in-chief. In this persuasion we were confirmed, by the silence of the British officers on that subject, when general Keane caused application to be made to general Jackson, requesting his sword found on the field, to be restored to him, as he set a fond value on it, being the present of a friend. General Jackson accordingly gave the sword in charge to colonel Livingston, who went with the flag of truce; and the colonel in person delivered it into the hands of general Keane, who in return wrote to general Jackson the letter of thanks inserted in the Appendix, No. 42.
In his letter of the 17th of February, to the secretary of war, general Jackson takes notice of this incident, with several others, as may be seen in the Appendix, No. 43.
Notwithstanding the assertion of general Keane, there are still some individuals inclined to think that that sword belonged to the general-in-chief, from this circumstance, amongst others, that the British officers who happened to be present at the delivery of it to general Keane, betrayed some surprise, and appeared not to have known that he had lost his sword; and hence they infer that the mystery in this affair, arose from a persuasion that, had it been known to us that the sword belonged to the commander-in-chief, it would have been retained as a trophy.
About this period, the exchange of prisoners, and the claiming of the negroes carried off by die British, gave rise to a very animated correspondence between general Jackson, admiral Cochrane, and general Lambert. (See these letters in the Appendix, No. 44.)
On the 24th of February, general Jackson announced to the secretary of war, the surrender of fort Bowyer. (See Appendix, No. 45.) The opinion which the general expresses in his letter, as to the conduct of the garrison, was founded on misinformation; and he afterwards rendered justice to those brave men, as soon as he was correctly informed of the circumstances which had obliged them to capitulate. It has already been seen, in the account of the second attack on fort Bowyer, that a court martial honourably acquitted colonel Laurence and the garrison he commanded, declaring their conduct irreproachable.
Four hundred prisoners had set out from New Orleans for the Balize, agreeably to the arrangements entered into by admiral Cochrane with colonel Livingston: the remaining prisoners, daily expected from Natchez, were to be sent immediately on their arrival. Of this, the general informed general Lambert, by a letter of the 26th. (See Appendix, No. 46.)
On the 6th of March, general Jackson informed general Lambert, that he had reason to believe that the treaty of peace had been ratified by the president and senate of the United States; but that, owing to some mistake committed in the postmaster-general’s office, the packet addressed to him on that subject, had not come to his hands.
The British commanders having promised to afford to the owners of the negroes who had followed them, every facility towards their prevailing on them to return, general Jackson made known to general Lambert, on the 7th of March, that he had given permission to a certain number of the owners of those negroes, to go to the British fleet with a flag of truce; and his letter concludes with a request to the British general, to restore the negroes. (See Appendix, No. 47.)
On the 8th of March, general orders were published, discharging the levy in mass, from all further service. (See Appendix, No. 48.)
At length general Jackson received the official confirmation of the ratification of the treaty of peace, and immediately communicated the intelligence to the commander of the British forces, by a letter of the 13th of March, which he transmitted by major Woodruff of the 3d regiment of infantry, who was appointed to receive the restitution of fort Bowyer, and such other posts and property of the United States, as might be in the possession of the British. (See that letter and major Woodruff’s instructions in the Appendix, No. 49.)
In general orders of the same day, the commander-in-chief announced to the army, the ratification of the treaty of peace, revoking the general orders relative to martial law, ordering a final cessation of hostilities against Great Britain, and proclaiming a general pardon for all military offences, and the enlargementof all persons confined for the same. (See Appendix, No. 50.)
By general orders of the following day, all the militia sent by the different states to the assistance of Louisiana, as also the militia of this latter state, were discharged. (See Appendix, No. 51.)
The treaty of peace concluded at Ghent, on the 14th of December, between the plenipotentiaries of the United States and those of Great Britain, is inserted at large in the Appendix, No. 52. Its construction having been a subject of discussion between general Jackson and the British commander-in-chief, I have thought that its insertion here would not be considered out of place.
I have likewise deemed proper to insert an address presented to general Jackson, by the different volunteer companies composing Plaudit’s battalion, with the general’s answer. The sentiments expressed in these documents do honour to those from whom they proceed. The address was presented to the general, immediately after a review which took place on the 16th of March on the lines. About to bid farewell to his brethren in arms, he wished once more to behold those brave men drawn up on the very ground that had so often been witness of their valour, and of the patience with which they endured extreme hardship. The time, the place, the crowd of spectators, all conspired to present an interesting spectacle, and to awaken affecting recollections. On that very ground where; two months before, those brave troops had given such signal proofs of courage and of love for their country, they were now assembled to bid farewell to one another, and seal with assurances of lasting attachment a friendship contracted in the midst of alarms. General Gaines, who was about to assume the immediate command of that part of the district, commanded the evolutions, which were executed by the 3d, the 7th, and the 44th regiments of infantry, and by majorPlauché’s battalion of volunteers. (See Appendix, No. 53.)
General Jackson wrote to the secretary of war, acknowledging the receipt of his letter of the 16th of the preceding month, by which he had announced to him the ratification of the preliminaries of peace, and informing the secretary that he had discharged all the militia. (See the general’s letter in the Appendix, No. 54.)
Major Woodruff having returned from the mission on which he had been sent to the commander of the British forces, made his report to general Jackson, which will be found in the Appendix, No. 55. It appears from that report, that, as to the long agitated question of slaves, the British constantly refused to consider them as personal property, and seemed inclined to leave them at their own disposal. Hence it follows, that they took upon themselves to give them their freedom. Surely such maxims can find no support in the law of nations. It is evident from the report, that general Lambert refused to execute that part of the treaty of peace entered into by the two nations, which extended to the restitution of slaves, under the general description of property. He pretended to construe it otherwise, but how could a British commander-in-chief take upon himself to ex plain away the plain and obvious meaning of a solemn treaty?
The truth is, that though a portion of the negroes carried off, enjoy amongst the British a condition nearly equivalent to freedom, yet it is well known that a great number of them were prevailed upon to enlist in their black regiments, and a still greater number were sent to the island of Trinidad and New Providence. Though the importation of foreign negroes into Jamaica is prohibited, yet it is notorious that they are imported thither clandestinely; and it has been asserted, not without some appearance of foundation, that numbers of the negroes, carried off from Georgia and Louisiana, found their way to that island through the means of fraudulent practices.
In his letter of the 18th general Lambert uses this pitiful subterfuge — that he considers the negroes either as deserters, having come over of their own accord, or as property taken and carried off in the course of the war.
He observes that he cannot abandon to the severity of their masters, slaves who had come over to the army during the existence of hostilities, and had thus become criminal in the eye of the law of the country. (See that letter in the Appendix, No. 56.)
This pretext is the more specious, as it appears to be founded on a humane and generous principle. But the reader must know that general Jackson had obtained from the masters of the slaves their word of honour, that they would grant them a full and entire pardon; and that the known honour of those planters leaving him no room to doubt of the strict performance of their promise, he had pledged himself to general Lambert that the slaves should suffer no manner of ill treatment on their return.
The importance of the services rendered to the union by the army under the command of major-general Jackson, in Louisiana, was duly appreciated by the whole people of the United States, and the successes obtained at New Orleans were celebrated with public rejoicings in every town. The spirit of the nation exulted in the glorious achievement of her defenders. The newspapers were, for some months, filled with addresses presented, and speeches delivered on the occasion. The legislatures of most of the states voted their thanks to general Jackson, and the army under his command, for the service they had rendered to the union. Those votes have appeared in so many of the public prints, that it is not necessary to annex them to this work. But I have thought proper to insert in the Appendix some resolutions of congress, relative to the campaign of Louisiana, as being the collective expression of the sentiments of the several states. (See Appendix, No. 57.)
In one of these resolutions, the congress tenders its thanks to the army and its general, and requests the president to cause a medal to be struck, ornamented with suitable devices, commemorative of the victories over the English, in Louisiana, and to present it to general Jackson.
If ever, at any important period, the representatives of the people were faithful interpreters of the public feeling, it was at this moment. The nation had already appreciated the services of its defenders, and had distinctly expressed its sentiments; the congress did nothing more than give them body and shape, and convey them to posterity in an authentic and permanent form.
These resolutions were communicated to the army, and received by the different corps with the most lively emotions of joy and gratitude. These brave men were about to return to their fire-sides and the objects of their affection. They bore with them a conviction highly flattering to freemen — that of having contributed to strengthen the independence of their country, to procure for it an honourable peace, and to establish its military glory on an imperishable basis: — they had surpassed the expectations of the nation, and thisday received its thanks through its representatives: — they could desire nothing more.
I have above remarked that immediately after the departure of the English troops from the shores of the Mississippi, abody of Kentucky militia was encamped on the plantation of Duprè, and the remainder on the right bank of the river. Those from Tennessee, under the orders of generals Carrol and Coffee, resumed their former encampment, on the plantation of Avart. The commanding general had thus wisely disposed them, that in case of need he might easily transfer thein to such points of the coast as the enemy should invade. The troops occupied those posts until the disbanding of the army, which took place, as we have seen above, when general Jackson received the ratification of the treaty of peace by our government: they then took up the line of march for their respective states. The loss they had sustained during the campaign was very inconsiderable; and we should thank providence thatour triumphs were achieved, at the expense of so small a portion of the usual afflictions of war: yet, these undaunted soldiers, who were able to overwhelm the enemy with so destructive a fire, and to bear the incessant fatigues of the campaign, were obliged to pay a severe tribute to the climate of Louisiana. The hardships they were obliged to undergo, in the duties of a camp, within Jackson’s lines, added to the unhealthiness of a constantly wet soil, caused them to contract pernicious fevers and dysenteries, which soon became epidemical. The effect of these disorders were speedily seen and terribly felt: — in the space of one month five hundred men perished in this way! Let us drop a tear to the memory jof these noble fellows! May their virtues ever live in our memory. They lived long enough to glory and their country, which, they freed from its enemies; but they did not live long enough to receive the recompense of their toils, to enjoy, in the midst of domestic enjoyments, that felicity, which they had secured to others, and had thus acquired a right to expect for themselves.
After the capitulation of fort Bowyer, the English army preserved its encampments on Dauphine island and at Mobile point. General Lambert and admiral Cochrane, waiting an official communication of the ratification of the treaty of peace, by the president of the United States, made the necessary preparations for the embarkation of their troops: — but, the exchange of prisoners, and the difficulty of procuring a sufficiency of water, for a long voyage, occupied much time, and rendered the embarkation tedious and painful. Want of provisions obliged the commissaries of the English army to purchase them at New Orleans, where they were obliged to put them in boats, which
carried them to the fleet, where they were distributed among the transports.
These dispositions occupied much time, during which the mortality among their troops, and especially the black regiments was very great. The number of sick and wounded in the fleet is estimated at two thousand; but it is impossible to ascertain correctly the number of the victims of disease, from the 19th of January until the end of March, the time of evacuation by die army. Judging from the number of graves around their camps, it certainly was considerable. We cannot but regret the lot of these unfortunate victims of the ambition of the British government. Those poor creatures, whose bodies are entombed on the shores of Louisiana, were but passive instruments which were broken in the hands of those who used them. They died in a foreign land, but they have, doubdess, left somewhere friends and relations to whom they were dear; and who will never have even the sad consolation of shedding a mournful tear on their graves.
During the stay of the English prisoners at New Orleans, a fact occurred, which I shall detail circumstantially, in order to counteract the effect of anystatement Uiat may be made, unfavourable to the American nation. General Jackson, presuming that, after their departure from the waters of the Mississippi, the English would attempt to carry Mobile, and establish themselves on the Dauphine and Ship islands, made the proper dispositions to repel them. Among other measures to this end, he authorized general Humbert to form a legion, and permitted him to enrol in it all the English deserters who were willing to enter the service. Prudence requiring that they should be carefully watched, it became necessary, for want of a proper place, to confine some of them among the prisoners of war. When the hero of Castlebar issued a proclamation, addressed principally to the Irish, inviting the deserters to enter his legion, some prisoners of that nation requested to be also admitted; and unfortunately, the officer charged with the recruiting service, from ignorance or mistake enlisted some of them. General Jackson, as soon as this circumstance was made known to him, ordered that the prisoners should be remitted to prison, with their companions, and when an exchange took place, they were, to their great regret, delivered up with the others. Fearing, however, lest these men, on their arrival, should be severely punished, general Jackson interceded in their behalf, with general Lambert, (see Appendix, No. 58,) who answered, that in respect to him, the conduct of those prisoners should not be noticed in any manner. (See his letter, dated February 27, Appendix, No. 44.)
The legislature of Louisiana passed a resolution expressive of their sense of the good conduct of certain individuals, as well as of the patriotic zeal displayed by the citizens of certain parts of the state, at the time of invasion by the enemy. (See Appendix, No. 59.) This article needs no comment. It is sufficient for me to recommend it to the attention of the reader, who will here have occasion to remark what I have, in the course of this work, had the pleasure of announcing — that, at this memorable crisis, all the inhabitants of Louisiana, without distinction of birth, colour, age, or sex, vied in zeal for the service of their country, and strained every nerve to repulse the enemy. I pass no encomium on the conduct of the people of this state, while the enemy occupied a portion of their territory. I am convinced that they attach to their actions no merit but that of doing their duty; and that the satisfaction they derived from this source was an ample reward; but these citizens have been calumniated; they were considered, for a long time, as suspicious members of the American family, and as persons who could not be relied on; disposed, in fact, to receive, if not with joy, at least with indifference, such other form of government as the fate of war, or the train of political events might subject them to. It was not by words, that those meritorious citizens vindicated their character; but by the best proofs of devotion to their country, by defending it faithfully, and by valiantly repelling the invading enemy. Their conduct throughout this campaign is the most emphatic refutation of the unjust charges d� their calumniators.
Mention is made, in this resolution, of the assistance received from the council of the city of Orleans, by those families, whose principals, being employed in the service of their country could not minister to their wants. I shall merely add, that more than thirty-four thousand rations of bread, and nearly thirteen thousand of meat, were distributed, to the most necessitous, in the space of about a month.
The artillery and engineering service received very important assistance from the officers of the mayoralty. I have frequently witnessed their zeal in availing themselves of immediate resources, and even creating new ones, to hasten the transportation of materials, munitions, and provisions.
I must be permitted to add to the enumeration of acts of zeal and devotion, noticed in this resolution, an example of patriotism, worthy to be compared with the most brilliant instances of the same kind recorded in ancient histories. Madame Devance Bienvenu, a respectable widow, and rich inhabitant of Atakapas, after sending her four sons to the defence of their country, in captain Dubuclay’s company of dragoons, wrote to governor Claiborne, that she sincerely regretted having no other sons to offer to her country, but that, if her own services, in the duty of taking care of the wounded, should be thought useful, notwithstanding her advanced age, and the great distance of her residence, she would hasten to New Orleans for that purpose.
General Jackson, in his correspondence with the secretary at war, did not fail to notice the conduct of the "corsairs of Barataria," who were, as we have already seen, employed in the artillery service. In the course of the campaign they proved, in an unequivocal manner, that they had been misjudged by the enemy, who, a short time previous to the invasion of Louisiana had hoped to enlist them in his cause. Many of them were killed or wounded in defence of the country. Their zeal, their courage, and their skill, were remarked by the-whole army, who could no longer consider such brave men as criminals, or avoid wishing their permanent return to duty and the favour of the government. These favourable sentiments were expressed by the legislature of the state, in a memorial to the president, and general Jackson added his and those of the army. The chief magistrate of our government yielded to these intercessions, and issued a proclamation, by which he granted a full and complete pardon to all those who, having formerly violated the laws of the United States, by smuggling at Barataria, had aided, during the campaign, in repulsing the enemy, and should produce a certificate, to this effect, from the governor of Louisiana. He likewise ordered a suspension of all proceedings against their persons and property, as well as the restitution of whatever might have been sequestrated. This proclamation, written in a noble and dignified style, is fraught with the true principles of philanthropy: a perusal of it cannot fail to afford pleasure. (It will be found in the Appendix, No. 60.)
On the 23d of December, 1814, when the enemy approached the banks of the Mississippi, near the plantation of major-general Villeré, after having taken prisoners the men who composed the detachment sent to the village of the Catalans, major Villeré, his son, of the third regiment of Louisiana militia, had the immediate command of the post, formed at his father’s plantation; and it was he who sent the detachment to the village, two days previous to the arrival of the enemy. Although it is to be regretted, that he had not placed some intermediate posts between this village and the Mississippi, which might have discovered the enemy, and given notice of hisapproach, by the discharge of small arms or rpckets, we must, in justice to major Villeré affirm, that he does not deserve the reproaches inserted by some malignant or inconsiderate persons, in the different gazettes of the union. In his correspondence widi the secretary at war, general Jackson has borne testimony to the good conduct of this officer, and the legislature, in the resolution, inserted in the Appendix, No. 59, notices the presence of mind, the address, and the courage, which he displayed in escaping the enemy, in a manner, almost miraculous, and returned to give intelligence of their approach. The decision of the court-martial held to examine the conduct of major Villeré, who produced, however, no testimony in his own favour, will be found in the Appendix, No. 61.
If it were not presumptuous to form a conjecture as to the unfortunate circumstance of the arrival of the enemy on the shores of the Mississippi, unperceived by us, I should be inclined to attribute it to the capture of our gun-boats, by which we were deprived of the means of following his movements, and observing the point to which his attack was directed. If, as I have before remarked, in the narration of this affair, the number of our vessels on the lakes had been proportioned to the extent of coast we had to defend, the commander of the station, commodore Patterson, possessing an accurate knowledge of local circumstances, could have so disposed them, as to give timely notice of the approach of the enemy.
The momentary success of the English, on the 8th of January, on the right bank of the river, required an examination of the conduct of many officers of the Louisiana and of the Kentucky militia under the command of colonel Davis. In my narrative of the events of that day, I have endeavoured to remove unfavourable impressions, as to these troops, as well as to free the Kentuckians from the charges advanced against them, I take the liberty of saying, with unjustifiable precipitation. If a shadow of doubt remain in the mind of the reader, on this subject, the decision of the court of inquiry, will, I think, remove it entirely. (See Appendix, No. 62.)
By order of commodore Patterson, a court of inquiry was convened at New Orleans, for the purpose of hearing several testimonies relative to the conduct of lieutenant Jones, commanding the division of gunboats, captured on the 14th December, by a flotilla of English barges. The report of this court, containing minute details of the conduct of the officers, and of the crews of the gun-boats, as well as an account of the manner in which the attack was made, cannot fail to interest the reader. (See Appendix, No. 63.)
So many various estimates have been made of the force of the British army which came to Louisiana, that it would be very difficult to ascertain which is the most correct; I have,* however, procured a very circumstantial one, including the names of the different corps with those of their commanders, and the amount of their respective force, which I have inserted in the Appendix, No. 64.
This document is supported by a letter from Dr. Morrell of the navy, who, having been detained several weeks on board the British fleet, had many opportunities to converse with British officers, on the subject of the force of their army. The circumstances related by Dr. Morrell cannot fail to be interesting to my readers.
Under the same number of the Appendix will also be found a list of the officers, composing the staff of the British army at the time of its landing.
Arrived at the close of my naiTation of the important events of the memorable campaign in Louisiana, I consider myself bound, as a faithful historian, to insert the official reports of the commanders of the British fleet and army relative to the operations of the forces confided to their charge. These will be found at length and in the order of their dates, in the Appendix, No. 66.
No. 1 of these documents is a despatch of admiral Cochrane, addressed to the board of admiralty, in England, dated on board the Armide, off the Isle au Chat, 16th December, 1814, and accompanied by a report of captain Lockyer, relative to the capture of our gun-boats, off Isle aux Malheureux, on the 14th of the same month. No. 2 is a report of majorgeneral Keane, addressed to the commanding general Packenham, dated 26th December, in which he mentions the disembarkation of his troops and their arrival on the banks of the Mississippi: it contains also an account of the affair of the 23d December at night. No. 3 is an extract of a journal kept by major Forrest, in the quarter-master-general’s department, giving a succinct account of all the transactions, from the arrival of general Packenham, on the banks of the Mississippi, on the 25th of December 1814, until the 31st of the same momh. No. 4 is a letter from major-general Lambert, addressed to lord Bathurst, secretary of state of his Britannic majesty, dated 10th January, 1815, giving an account of the operations of the English army up to this period, and particularly of the unfortunate result of their attack on our line on the 8th of January. No. 5 contains a report of colonel Thornton, commanding the expedition on the right bank of the river, dated January 8, and addressed to general Packenham (now dead) detailing the operations of the troops confided to his charge, on that side. No. 6 is a despatch of admiral Cochrane, dated 18 th January 1815, addressed to the admiralty office, relating principally to the service of the marines and sailors up to this date. No. 7 is a despatch of general Lambert, dated 28th January 1815, addressed to lord Bathurst, in which he sets forth the events posterior to the 10th January; and No. 8 is another despatch from the same officer to the same minister, dated head-quarters, Isle Dauphine, 14th February 1815, containing an account of the capture of fort Bowyer on Mobile point.
The same impartiality which induces me to insert these official reports demands some observations on the facts and circumstances comprised in them. I shall follow the order in which I have placed them.
In No. 1, admiral Cochrane, giving an account of the capture of the gun-boats, vaunts the valour and skill of his force, and augments, according to custom, the difficulties surmounted. To establish a fair scale of comparison between the attack and the defence. and to appreciate justly the respective merits of the conquerors and the conquered, it will be sufficient, in my opinion, to compare the disproportion of our forces with the strength of the enemy.
Five gun-boats, some of which were planted in the mud, and, of course, unable from this circumstance, in addition to that of a strong current, to change their position, defended by one hundred and eighty-two men, were attacked by forty-two barges and lanches, some of which were as large as our gun-boats, (one of those, which was sunk, carrying one hundred and eighty men,) and three gigs; — the whole having a complement of twelve hundred men! — Notwithstanding this monstrous disparity of force, the Americans defended themselves for an hour and a half, and did not strike their flag until they had destroyed more than a third of the force of the enemy, who now occupied the decks of these same vessels, where the victory had been disputed, blow for blow. Such is the plain fact, which the English admiral endeavours to involve in useless details, in order to divert the attention from the principal point. He says also that his barges advanced to the attack with the greatest resolution, in defiance of our vessels, which he calls formidable, having the advantage of a chosen position, &c. Unfortunately for sir Alexander, captain Lockyer, who commanded, and was wounded in this attack, and who, consequently, must have been better acquainted with all that passed, expresses himself thus, in his letter, above mentioned: “Fortunately, for the English flotilla, the windfailing (the American vessels, after a chase of thirty-six hours, they were obliged to come to off Isle St. Joseph.” In another part of the same letter he accords perfectly with the report of captain Jones, as to the velocity of the current.
The admiral acknowledges that the victory cost them dear; and when we consider the price, we readily pardon some little inaccuracies. He was doubtless, too much occupied with his preparations for the establishment, at Orleans, of his judges, customhouse officers, and others brought over for the purpose of extending the blessings of regular government to recolonized Louisiana; or in preparatory arrangements for the transportation of all the cotton and sugar which he expected in a few minutes to possess, to give to his despatch the attention one would suppose it required. I shall make but one more remark on this report. The American sloop represented as carrying one six-pounder and two twelve-pound carronades, and twenty men, had only one four-pounder and eight men; and it is a fact, that this boat, which we should suppose, according to the reports of these gentlemen, to be of a size capable of defending herself against an imposing force, was built five years previous, in the navy-yard, at New Orleans, to serve as a gig, for commodore Porter, then commanding on that station, who caused her to be transported, on a wagon, to bayou St. John, a distance of two miles, where she was used for short excursions on the lakes.
Captain Lockyer has also made a mistake in his account of the captured gun-boats. He estimates the men at two hundred and forty-five, whereas tbeir number was really but one hundred and eighty-two effective men — that is to say, the English force was to ours rather more than six to one.
No. 2 is the report of general Keane, after the affair of the 23d of December. It is worthy of remark, that this paper is dated the 26th, three days after battle. The general had then, at least, two whole days to collect positive facts, and consequently, time to prepare an accurate report. Let us see how far he has made his conformable to truth. He says,
“When the men, much fatigued by the iength of time they liad been in the boats, were asleep in their bivouac, a heavy flanking fire of round and grape-shot was opened upon them, by a large schooner and two gun-vessels, which had dropped down the river from the town, and anchored abreast our fires, &c.” As to the schooner, the general is literally correct. The fire was very lively, and well kept up. Commodore Patterson, who was on board, and captain Henley, who commanded the vessel, with his brave crew, knew too well what was due to such distinguished guests, to fail in paying them due honours; I hope they do not complain of this — if they do, they are certainly much to blame; for, before colonel Thornton had made those judicious dispositions, of which the report speaks, to place his brigade in safety behind the levée, more than one hundred of his men were killed or wounded by the fire of the Carolina. But what were those gun-vessels of which general Keane speaks? whence came they, and who saw them? There were, it is true, at that time on the waters of the Mississippi, a great many very large floating trees; its surface was sometimes covered with them, and I can find no other cause for this mistake of the general, than in some of those drifted logs, which, in the darkness of the night, he may have taken for vessels! This is not absolutely impossible; — but the gun-vessels that fired in company with the schooner! — it is indeed too much. The reader must be struck with the similarity that there is between this little affair and the celebrated battle of the kegs at Philadelphia during the revolutionary war! If general Ktane’s optic nerves were so affected on this memorable night of the attack of the schooner and two gun-boats, the reader may well expect to find his sense of hearing more acute, for it is said that nature always turns the loss of one sense to the profit of the others. It appears, however, from the report of the general, that he was, at this time, as unfortunate in his hearing, as we have just shown him to have been in his sight. He says, that, “the enemy, favoured by the darkness of the night, concealed themselves under a high fence, and calling to his men, under the pretence of being a part of their ownforce, offered to assist than in getting over,” &c. The general or some of his officers, certainly dreamt this; for I can affirm that no such thing occurred. The only circumstance which bore the least particle of resemblance to this romance, is that which I am about to relate. I leave the reader to trace the similitude, and draw his inference.
It has been seen, in the narration of the affair of the 23d December, that colonel Piatt, quarter-master-general, advanced at the head of a detachment of the 7th regiment, towards the enemy, for the purpose of reconnoitring and repulsing him. — On reaching the boundary lines of Laronde’s and Lacoste’s plantations, the detachment was saluted by a discharge of musketry, from an advanced-guard of the enemy, which had not yet been discovered, although at a very short distance; this was owing to the soldiers being placed behind the fence, along both sides of the road, with one knee on the ground, and in this position they fired. The colonel advanced towards them, at a full gallop, and called to them to turn out and fight like brave men, instead of firing crouched on the ground like cowardly Indians. This is the only occurrence which has any relation to a fence. If this be the origin of the story given us by the general, he deserves great credit, for his admirable talent in dressing up a report. — But let us proceed. The general places under the head of simple casualty, the loss which he sustained from the fire of the schooner, and which we know positively to have been more than one hundred men. After supposing that the 85th regiment advanced in consequence of a pretended ruse de guerre on our part, he found himself, says the report, “surrounded by a superior number of the enemy, who ordered him to surrender” — “the answer,” continues he, “was an instantaneous attack. A more extraordinary conflict has, perhaps, never occurred; absolutely hand to hand, both officers and men.” This "superior number of the enemy," was simply captain Beale’s company of volunteer riflemen, amounting in all to sixty-two; they penetrated, as I have before mentioned, into the midst of the enemy’s camp, without a bayonet, and nevertheless, disarmed and took prisoners a considerable number of his men. This took place within the enclosure of Lacoste’s plantation, near the houses. I also refer the reader to my narrative of this affair to correct the mistake, which makes half of the company fall into the hands of the enemy, and which the general would fain attribute to the bravery of his 85th regiment.
In another part of the same report, general Keane makes his 93d regiment advance to charge with the bayonet, keeping the 4th “as his reserve.” Here there is only one single mistake, that of taking an American for a British corps; it certainly was Plauché’s battalion, instead of his 93d regiment, of which the general meant to speak; for as soon as, throughout this part of our line, that is to say, from the left of our right division, which was directly in front of the centre, of which general Keane speaks, the general shout “a la bayonnette” was given, this famous centre, after making a single discharge of musketry, gave way precipitately. The general may have heard the word “bayonet” and supposed it proceeded from his own mouth! Let us pass over this mistake. I must, however, remark, that general Keane’s watch was probably regulated for another meridian than that of Louisiana, since it was only half past eight o’clock, when this took place, and the report says it happened at half past ten. But the general proceeds: “The enemy now determined to make a last effort, and collecting the whole of his force, formed an extensive line, and moved,” &c. “The line drove in all advanced posts,” &c.
Who would not suppose, from the preceding sentence, that our little band had made a desperate and general attack! The report certainly conveys this idea, but it is very wide from the truth. The enemy retired before our right, and the firing had ceased on both sides, when general Coffee, who commanded the left division, advanced and drove them before him. I refer the reader again to my narrative of this affair, and to the Atlas, (plate No. 6.) I would have too much to do if I were obliged to correct all the errors in point of fact, and all the perversions of circumstances, contained in general Keane’s report. I shall content myself with remarking, that he states our force at five thousand men, whereas it consisted of but nineteen hundred effective; and that the engagement terminated, not at half past twelve, as he pretends, but at half past nine. The remainder of the report consists of eulogies on the officers who distinguished themselves in this affair. I do not pretend to say that they have not merited this distinction, but I venture to affirm, that if the reports of general Keane are correctly made up from those handed him by the different commanders of corps, these gentlemen must have been under great agitation during the engagement, to commit such gross blunders. They had better have honestly confessed that they were unprepared for tlie scene, and that the firmness and promptitude of our attack astonished and disconcerted them. But it belongs only to superior minds to make such acknowledgments, and besides, an official report, composed of such materials, would not have the desired effect, and could not have been submitted to the inspection of the most thinking people of England, as one of their writers affects to call them.
No. 3 contains an extract from major Forrest’s journal, beforementioned. This extract dates the loss of the schooner Carolina on the 26th, whereas she blew up on the 27th: and again, the first attack on our line, said to have taken place on the 27th, was made on the 28th. The report of this last day is given in a very succinct form. I request the reader to compare it with my account. That of the 1st January, 1815, is equally concise, and makes no mention of the effect of our artillery upon the enemy’s batteries, nor of the number of men destroyed by our fire. As to the rest, this journal breathes a tone of moderation honourable to its author; if it does not contain the whole truth, it at least contains no direct assertions in opposition to it.
No. 4 contains a despatch of major-general Lambert, on whom devolved the command of the British army, after the death of general Packenham, as being the next,in rank, generals Gibbs and Keane having been carried off the field of battle, severely wounded, on the 8th of January. General Lambert assumed the command at a critical moment, and under very unfavourable auspices, and I doubt not, under circumstances very painful to his feelings. He had a melancholy duty to perform, in announcing the result of the attack of the 8th January. His was the painful task to render an account of a complete defeat, to a minister of his government, to a member of the same cabinet who, with the sang froid of politicians, had prepared this formidable armament, whose success had not even been questioned and who, instead of the recital of a brilliant victory, announced in anticipation, in their gazettes, as a certain event, to express a doubt of which would have been an insult to the English nation, and of which, they baid they awaited only the particulars — this general was obliged to detail a disaster the most complete, and a reverse the most poignant that the British arms had ever sustained in the new hemisphere. This task, it must be confessed, was hard to perform, especially as to the recital of an attack which had miscarried so entirely, though made by numerous and experienced troops, this officer must necessarily subjoin the enormous loss of his nation, in officers and men. It is well known that general Lambert felt and understood all that was disagreeable and embarrassing in his situation, much better than he expressed it; but upon the whole, he gives a correct account of the localities and the respective positions of the troops.
Our triumph was so distinguished, that I cannot, in honour, indulge in any reflections on this report. If general Lambert does not give all the details of an affair so disastrous to his army, if he passes slightly over many circumstances of this memorable day, the body of facts that he does present, is nevertheless generally correct. I shall take the liberty, however, of rectifying two mistakes in his report. The first is, where he mentions the death of the commander-in-chief, general Packenham. It was not this officer, but brigade-major Wilkinson who fell, in the glacis of our line. The former was killed by grape-shot, from the twelve pounder in battery No. 8, while in the act of encouraging the troops, at the point marked in the plan of the affair of the 8th January. (See Atlas, plate 7.)
The second and more important error, is in the passage, where general Lambert says. — “As they (the British troops,) advanced, a continued and most galling fire was opened from every part of the line” &c. In my plan of this affair, I have distinguished, by lines, and I venture to say, with the greatest exactness, both the extent and the direction of our fire. The battalions of Plauché, Daquin, Lacoste, with three-fourths of the 44th regiment, that is to say, our whole centre, did not fire a single shot! Two companies of this last corps had fired two or three rounds, when the officers, observing that their shot did not reach the enemy, ordered them to cease firing. The majority of the troops under general Coffee did not fire at all, so that but one-half of our line was engaged. This is a fact for the truth of which I appeal to the individual testimony of every man in our army, and even to all those of the enemy who have candour enough to acknowledge an unpleasant truth.
In my account of the affair of the 8th January, which I beg the reader to compare with the report of general Lambert, I have forgotten to mention a circumstance that reflects the highest honour on our troops. I shall insert it here; and it cannot fail to afford pleasure to the feeling mind.
At the time of the preceding attacks, those of the 28th of December, and first of January, after our artillery had silenced that of the enemy, and forced his troops to retire, repeated huzzas from the whole of our line rent the air; the most lively demonstrations of joy-were everywhere exhibited by our soldiers, a presage of the fate of the enemy, in a general attack. On the 8th of January, on the contrary, no sooner was the battle over than the roar of artillery and musketry gave place to the most profound silence. Flushed with victory, having just repulsed an enemy who had advanced to scatter death in their ranks, our soldiers saw, in the. numerous corpses that strewed the plain, only the unfortunate victims of war; in the wounded and prisoners, whom they hastened to attend, only suffering and unhappy men, and in their vanquished enemies, brave men, worthy a better cause. Elated with their success, but overpowered by the feelings of a generous sympathy for those unfortunate victims of the ambition of their masters, they disdained to insult the unfortunate by an untimely exultation, and cautiously avoided any expression of joy, lest they should wound the feelings of those whom the chance of battle had placed in their hands. In the midst of the horrors of war, humanity dwells with delightful complacency, on the recital of such noble traits; they sooth the heart under the pressure of adversity, and divert the mind from the contemplation of ills which we can neither avoid nor entirely remedy.
I have said, that the English troops advanced on our line, with the greatest firmness, and I willingly seize the present opportunity of adding my feeble testimony of this fact to that of general Lambert. In the list of killed and wounded, which is subjoined to his report, it will be remarked that the proportion of officers is enormous. From this circumstance may be formed a correct idea of the vigour of the attack, on the part of the enemy, and of the valour with which it was sustained. Independently of three general officers who succumbed, on this day a great many of the most distinguished families of England have to deplore the loss of some of their relatives, who died like heroes on the bed of honour; with such men it is always glorious to be connected.
The report of general Lambert is written in the same liberal and dignified style which has always been remarked in his communications with general Jackson and his officers.
No. 5 is the report of colonel Thornton, commander of the English troops, in the attack on the right bank of the river, on the 8th of January. It is addressed to general Packenham, of whose death he was unadvised. The colonel in one part of this report says: “we met with no obstacle, until we reached a picket, posted behind a bridge,” &c. “and secured by a small work, apparently just thrown up.“ The bridge, of which he here speaks, is that over Mayhew’s mill-race, but as for the “small work” apparently just thrown up, I really cannot conceive what he means. There existed nothing of this nature, or which he could consider as such, but the embankment of the canal, raised several years ago, with the earth dug out of it. If colonel Thornton should ever travel along the banks of the Mississippi, especially below New Orleans, he will meet with many such fortifications.
In the 5th plate of the Atlas, will be found a correct view of that position, which, to colonel Thornton, seemed to be “a very formidable redoubt, on the bank of the river, with the right flank secured by an entrenchment, extending back to a thick wood, and its tine protected by an incessant fire of grape.” This pretended redoubt, with its
entrenched flank, extended but two hundred yards from the bank of the river, and not to a wood, as the colonel asserts. Beyond these two hundred yards, and in front of the troops under colonel Davis, there was only an extension of the old canal Raguet, two-thirds filled, and affording no sort of shelter. I refer the reader to what I have said, in this work, of the above line, and the disposition of the troops, &c.
According to this officer’s account, our tropps on the right bank of the river, amounted to fifteen hundred; while in fact the number of our effective men did not exceed eight hundred. He takes care not to say, that the greater part of our pieces of artillery were spiked — and their ammunition thrown into the river: it would seem, on the contrary, that he took a considerable quantity of it, which cannot be the case, as commodore Patterson had taken care to destroy them, and all that he got possession of were a few rounds for the pieces mounted on the line, and some musket cartridges.
I renew my invitation to the reader, to compare every document of the enemy, with my narrative, and to trace the movements on the map, as the only means to arrive at the truth.
No. 6 is a despatch of admiral Cochrane, to the secretary of the admiralty, which gives an account of the operations reported by his generals Keane and Lambert, with those mentioned by major Forrest, but in a more succinct manner. His letter is devoted principally to the operations of the marines and sailors landed from the fleet, to aid the land service; — and the mention of the marine officers who had distinguished themselves. Accompanying his letter is one of captain Thomas Trowbridge, who commanded the sailors that were disembarked, reporting favourably the names of some of his officers whose good conduct he had occasion to notice.
Admiral Cochrane also announces the bombardment of fort Plaquemine, which he fears, has not yet produced all the effect he no doubt had expected from it. More than one thousand bombs had been thrown at the fort — but in vain. It appears, that the admiral had not sufficiently studied the quality of the soil of Louisiana, when he despatched this little squadron into the Mississippi, to make, as he says, a diversion; but in fact, to force a passage; unfortunately, however, for his expectations, the bravery and vigilance of the garrison of fort St. Philip defeated his scheme.
No. 7 contains a long letter from general Lambert, addressed to lord Bathurst, detailing the movements of the British army, from the affair of the 8th of January until the 28th of the same month, the day after the total evacuation by their forces. In this letter, he says what is not altogether correct, viz. that the army was not at all harassed, in its retreat. I have given an account of the movements ordered by general Jackson, to annoy the enemy, who certainly feared being harassed, as is proved by his placing, in' the bayous, barges armed with artillery, to cover his retreat, and fire on the troops sent in pursuit, which' they did, as I have related in this Work, in its proper place. The enemy also raised breastworks, in several places, on the borders of the bayous. (See Atlas, plate No. 5.)
Effectually to annoy the enemy, in his retreat, we had need of boats, to descend the bavou Bienvenu, sufficiently large to carry artillery. These, as I have already said, we did not possess. General Jackson, with men and muskets could make soldiers} but he could not fabricate arms, nor supply the want of a naval force.
In support of what I have advanced, as to the intention of the British government, to carry on a War of pillage and devastation against the United States, I insert several letters which establish this fact, beyond all possibility of doubt. (See Appendix, No. 67.) Some of these letters were written by superior officers, to others of similar grade; all of whom would have cautiously avoided the expression of such sentiments, had they not been assured beforehand, that they corresponded with those of their government. I shall abstain from all reflection on these letters — they speak for themselves. Comment upon them might subject me to the charge of wishing to influence the opinion of my readers respecting documents which are alone sufficient to give a finish to the picture of the enemy with whom wff had to contend.
In the above review of the British official reports, I have been guided by that strict regard to truth and that severe impartiality, to which an historian is ever bound to adhere and should never lose sight of. The reader may compare for himself and form his own opinion. He will also observe, that these reports are written in a style of decorum and modesty, by no means usual with the enemy, previous to this period. It appears to have been reserved for the British officers, to be taught on the shores of the Mississippi, to know a nation, who, neither in the course nor at the commencement of this struggle, had ever any cause for self reproach, but who, on the contrary, had given many proofs of her patience in enduring the repeated and long-continued injustice of the English, and was, at length obliged to redress her grievances by the sword.
Far from me be the wish of recriminating further on the conduct of the British in the war which is now happily closed by a peace, honourable to both nations. I shall terminate this work, by offering up, in common with all good citizens, my prayer to heaven that it may long endure, and the effusions of my gratitude to divine Providence, for the protection, which has encouraged and supported us through the glorious struggle. The unexampled prosperity, to which America has attained, notwithstanding the obstacles inseparable from a state of warfare, is a new proof of the divine favour; and a sure pledge of our future safety. While the names of Bridgewater, Chippewa, fort Erie, Stonington, Plattsburg, Baltimore and New Orleans, will ever excite, in the hearts of Americans the most lively sensations of joy and of national pride, it is to be hoped they will teach the English this important lesson, that none can insult with impunity a nation, which is firmly determined to maintain itself in the enjoyment of
After what I have said in the text of this work, relative to the Barratarians, had been prepared for the press, other particulars came to my knowledge, which I have thought proper to insert here.
In the month of September, 1814, commodore Patterson had received instructions from the secretary of the navy, to disperse the Barratarian association, and the schooner Carolina had been ordered to New Orleans, for that purpose — he was accordingly making preparations, jointly with colonel Ross, of the 44th regiment, then military commandant at New Orleans, but previous to the completion of his arrangements, communications of considerable importance were received by the governor, from Barrataria, which rendered doubtful the course which prudence required to be taken. These communications furnished the particulars of an overture which had been made by certain British officers, then at Pensacola, to Mr. Lafitte, as the officer commanding at Barrataria, to join the British, in an attack on New Orleans. The letters and propositions of the English were sent by Mr. Lafitte, under cover to Mr. Blanque, a distinguished and influential member of the legislature. This gentleman deeming the disclosure by Mr. Lafitte, of great importance to the safety of the state, hastened to lay the same before the governor. Copies of these letters are inserted in the appendix.
The governor of Louisiana thought proper to invite, on the occasion, the opinions and counsel of some of the principal officers of the army, navy, and militia, then in New Orleans, and to whom, after communicating the letters of the English officers, the manner in which they had come to his hands, or his reasons for believing them genuine, he submitted two questions. — 1st, whether the letters were genuine, and 2d, whether it was proper that the governor should hold intercourse, or enter into any correspondence with Mr. Lafitte and his associates. To each of those questions, an answer in the negative was returned; major-general Viilere alone dissenting — this officer being, as well as the governor, who presiding in the council could not give his opinion, not only satisfied as to the.authenticity of the letters, but believing that the Barratarians might be employed at the present crisis, in such manner as greatly to contribute to the safety of the state and the annoyance of the enemy. The preparations for the expedition, under captain Patterson and colonel Ross, were continued, the former acting under the orders of the secretary of the navy, and the latter co-operating, as is understood, at the request of the governor of Louisiana. The result of the expedition was fully communicated in a letter from captain Patterson to the secretary of the navy, which has been published in several of the newspapers.
Many of the fugitives having reached New Orleans, and several being committed to jail, it was evident the Barratarian association was extensive, and many good citizens seemed to think, that in the perilous condition of Louisiana, it was good policy to avail themselves of the services of men, most of whom had been accustomed to war, and who, from the perfect knowledge of our coast, and the various points of approach to New Orleans, might be particularly useful to the enemy, by whom it was now well ascertained, they had so earnestly been entreated to repair to his standard. But as a preliminary and indispensable step, a pardon for all real or supposed offences was necessary, and this could be granted only by the president. The governor was one of those, who thought that the Barratarians might be advantageously employed against the enemy, and as early as the day of October 1418, in a letter to the attorney-general of the United States, he recommended them to the favour of the executive. "It is greatly to be regretted (says the governor) that the general or state government had not sooner put them down — the length of time they were permitted to continue their practices, added much to their strength, and led the people here to view their course as less vitious. Measures tending to the prevention of crimes, can alone relieve us from the distress of punishing them; had such measures in regard to the offences in question, been earlier taken, we should not now have to lament the frequency of their commission. Justice may require the punishment of some of the more culpable, but I see no good end to be attained by making the penalties of the law to fall extensively and heavily — the example is not the less imposing, by circumscribing the numbers of its vietims, and the mercy which should dictate it seldom fails to make a salutary and lasting impression." After the capture of our gunboats, the invasion of the state was inevitable, and the expediency of inviting the Barratarians to our standard was generally admitted. The governor conferred on the subject with major-general Jackson; and with his approbation issued, on the 17th of December, 1814, the following general orders:
"The governor of Louisiana, informed that many individuals, who may be or who are supposed to be, implicated in the offences heretofore committed against the United States at Barrataria, and who have for some time past concealed themselves on account of their inability to procure bail in case of arrest; at the present crisis express a willingness to enrol themselves and to march against the enemy. — He does hereby invite them to join the standard of the United States, and is authorized to say, should their conduct in the field meet the approbation of major-general Jackson, that that officer will unite with the governor in a request to the president of the United States to extend to each and every individual as aforesaid so marching and acting, a free and full pardorn."
William C. C. Claiborne.
Governor commanding the militia.
These orders were sent in every direction, and tended to bring to our standard many brave men and excellent artillerists, whose services contributed greatly to the safety of Louisiana, and received the highest approbation of the commanding general. The legislature of the state, previous to their adjournment, recommended the Barratarians as proper objects for the clemency of the president, who, by his proclamation upon the subject bearing date the 6th of February 1815, and transmitted officially to the governor, by the secretary of state of the United States, granted to them a full and entire pardon.
It has been asserted from the concurrent report of a great number of the British prisoners and deserters, that on the memorable 8th of February, the parole and countersign of the enemy’s army were beauty and booty. Although this report is generally believed in the United States, particularly as it never has been formally denied by those whom it most concerns, I have not thought it sufficiently authenticated to record it as an historical fact. It is indeed a most heinous charge, and if untrue, requires not only a clear and positive denial, but also the proof of the genuine parole and countersign, which may be easily obtained, as it is well known that it is consigned in the orderly books of every corps in the army. It has been said that the British government considers it below its dignity to condescend to refute a calumny which has been only circulated through the medium of newspapers and other periodical publications in the United States. But this will not do; the almost unanimous assertion of the deserters and prisoners on which this report is founded, is a fact too serious to be looked over, and it is but too much supported by the positive and repeated threats of admiral Cochrane in his letters of the 18th August and 19th September 1814, (See Appendix, No. 8,) by the letters of other officers intercepted on board the St. Lawrence, (see also Appendix No. 67) and the conduct of the British at Hampton, Alexandria, and other places. It cannot be considered derogatory to the dignity of any government to undeceive a great nation, among whom every individual exercises a portion of the sovereignty. The voice of that nation will be heard, and its historians, if the British government persists in its unjustifiable silence, will at last no longer be swayed by the motives of delicacy and respect to a vanquished enemy which have actuated the author of these memoirs. The fame of general Packenham and his officers, the moral character of the British military, strongly implicated by a charge of this nature, and the honour of the British government all imperiously demand that it be refuted, if capable of refutation, which may be easily done, if general Lambert, whose honourable conduct in the course of this campaign does not permit the least doubt to be entertained of his veracity, will only come forward and state the real state of the fact — otherwise, and if proof, such as this, cannot be obtained, the report must be considered as true, and, I leave to future historians the unpleasant task of animadverting upon a conduct so shocking to humanity.
- Blockaded. The, pretended right of blockade never appeared in so ridiculous a light as immediately after the departure of the emperor Napoleon from the island of Elba. It was then strongly surmised, and not without some probability, that the British government had connived at his escape, and to refute this charge, lord Liverpool was compelled to declare in the house of lords, on the 7th of April, 1815, (see the newspapers of the times) that the whole British navy would be insufficient to blockade the island of Elba; it is time, he added the qualifying sentence: so as to prevent the escape of an individual who chose to leave it. But when we consider the manner in which Napoleon sailed from that island, with several armed vessels, and a considerable body of troops, who will not laugh at the blockading pretensions of Great Britain, if it is true, as lord Liverpool clearly meant to intimate, that the whole British navy was insufficient to prevent such an escape from a small island?
Mathematical truth is not to be looked for in the speeches of British ministers; the blockade of the port of Rochefort by a single squadron, which afterwards so effectually prevented the same individual from escaping, even in an often boat, is au incontestable proof of lord Liverpool’s exaggeration; but it is not the less true, that his assertion, exaggerated as it is, will ever remain the most cutting satire against the absurd claims of his government on the subject of blockade. — Author’s note.
Nec poterit tempus, nec edax abolere vetustas.
And neither time nor age will be able to abolish. A
play on Ovid. Metamorphoses. xv. 233-236.
- Countrymen. Niles’s Historical Register, vol. vii. p. 389. Author’s note.
See admiral Cochrane’s letter in the Appendix, No. 1.
See plate No. 1, in the Atlas.
On a representation made by the governor on the 16th of December, the state legislature passed a law laying an embargo for three days, to facilitate to commodore Patterson the means of enlisting sailors.
The deplorable condition of a great number of militiamen of this and the adjacent states, who were in want of clothing, in an inclement season, and obliged by the nature of the service to be constantly exposed in the open air, excited the sensibility of the citizens. Mr. Louaillier, the elder, a member of the house of representatives, obtained from the legislature the sum of six thousand dollars, which was put at the disposition of a committee formed for their relief. Subscriptions were alse opened at New Orleans, for the same purpose, and another sum of six thousand dollars was soon subscribed; and it is to be observed that the Orleans volunteers and militia, not satisfied with discharging their duty to their country, by their presence in the camp, sent for a subscription list, and filled it with their signatures. The county of the German coast subscribed about three thousand six hundred and that of Attakapas remitted to the committee five hundred dollars. The whole sum thus obtained, including what was voted by the legislature, amounted to sixteen thousand one hundred dollars, and was laid out in purchasing blankets and woollens, which were distributed among the ladies of New Orleans, to be made into clothes. Within one week twelve hundred blanket cloaks, two hundred and seventy-five waistcoats, eleven hundred and twenty-seven pairs of pantaloons, eight hundred shirts, four hundred and ten pairs of shoes, and a great number of mattresses, were made up, or purchased ready made, and distributed among our brethren in arms, who stood in the greatest need of them. Though the gratitude of their fellow citizens, and the consciousness of their patriotic service, be, to Mr. Louaillier, and to Messrs. Dubuys and Soulie, who co-operated with him in his honourable exertions, a sufficient reward, yet I must be allowed to pay those gentlemen the tribute of applause so justly due to them.
In the course of the campaign several fathers, or men who were the support of families, among the volunteers and militia of the state, having been killed or wounded, those who depended on them for support were left in the greatest distress; wherefore the legislature, on the 6th of February, enacted that the pay of wounded men should be continued till the end of next session, and that the families of those slain in the service of the country, should receive pay for the deceased, until the same period. With pleasure I take this opportunity to do justice to the patriotic and highly praiseworthy conduct of the legislature, not only on this occasion, but during the whole session. The sole reproach that attaches to them, is their having, early in the session, spent, in unimportant discussions relative to elections, much more time than was consistent with a due regard to the exigencies of the critical circumstances in which we then were.
In the evening of the 8th of January, the wounded prisoners were conveyed to New Orleans, and lodged in the barracks. The hospitals of the city being occupied by our sick and the few wounded amongst us, accommodations had not been prepared for so great a number of those of the enemy. Captain Dubuys, commander of all the veteran corps and of the city at that period, represented to the citizens the wants of those unfortunate victims of British ambition, and immediately one hundred and forty matresses, a great number of pillows, with a large quantity of lint and old linen for dressing their wounds, were procured by contributions from all quarters, at a moment when such articles were extremely scarce in New Orleans, where not a truss of straw could be purchased.
Until the hospital directors could establish an hospital for those wounded men, whose number amounted to nearly four hundred, all kinds of refreshments and every attendance that their situation required, were liberally provided for them by a number of citizens. Several women of colour offered their services, and were employed in tending them, without any compensation but the pleasure of relieving suffering humanity.
I preserve in this narrative the form-and nearly the words of the journal communicated to me by Dr. Morrell.
The enemy refused to consider this parole as valid.
Præfulgebant Cassius et Brutus, eo ipso quod effigies eorum non visebantur.
Cassius and Brutus outshone them, by that very fact that their likenesses were not to be seen. Tacitus. Annals. 1. 3.
Text prepared by
- Cody Crump
- Bruce R. Magee
- Luke Murray
- Matt Parker
- Tyler Pfister
Latour, Major Arséne Lacarriére.
Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. With an Atlas. Trans. H. P. Nugent. Philadelphia: John Conrad & Co., 1816. Internet Archive. 29 Sept. 2010. Web. 9 July 2013. <http:// archive. org/ details/ historical memo00lato>.