Theodore Roosevelt.

The naval war of 1812; or, The history of the United States navy during the last war with Great Britain, to which is appended an account of the battle of New Orleans; online

. (page 35 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

There was never a fairer field for the fiercest per-
sonal prowess, for in the darkness the firearms were



Naval War of 1812 227

of little service, and the fighting was hand to hand.
Many a sword, till then but a glittering toy, was
that night crusted with blood. The British sol-
diers and the American regulars made fierce play
with their bayonets, and the Tennesseeans, with
their long hunting-knives. Man to man, in grim-
mest hate, they fought and died, some by bullet
and some by bayonet-thrust or stroke of sword.
More than one in his death agony slew the foe at
whose hand he himself had received the mortal
wound; and their bodies stiffened as they lay,
locked in the death grip. Again the clouds came
over the moon; a thick fog crept up from the
river, wrapping from sight the ghastly havoc of
the battle-field; and long before midnight the
fighting stopped perforce, for the fog and the
smoke and the gloom were such that no one could
see a yard away. By degrees each side drew off.'
In sullen silence, Jackson marched his men up the
river, while the wearied British returned to their
camp. The former had lost over two hundred,^

' Keane writes: "The enemy thought it prudent to retire,
and did not again dare to advance. It was now 12 o'clock,
and the firing ceased on both sides"; and Jackson: "We
should have succeeded . . . in capturing the enemy, had
not a thick fog, which arose about (?) o'clock, occasioned
some confusion. ... I contented myself with lying on
the field that night." Jackson certainly failed to capture the
British; but equally certainly damaged them so as to arrest
their march till he was in condition to meet and check them.

^ 24 killed, 115 wounded, 74 missing.



2 28 Naval War of 1812

the latter nearly three hundred ' men ; for the
darkness and confusion that added to the horror
lessened the slaughter of the battle.

Jackson drew back about three miles, where he
halted and threw up a long line of breastworks,
reaching from the river to the morass; he left a
body of mounted riflemen to watch the British.
All the English troops reached the field on the day
after the fight; but the rough handling that the
foremost had received made them cautious about
advancing. Moreover, the left division was kept
behind the levee all day by the Carolina, which
opened upon them whenever they tried to get
away ; nor was it till dark that they made their es-
cape out of range of her cannon. Christmas day
opened drearily enough for the invaders. Al-
though they were well inland, the schooner, by
greatly elevating her guns, could sometimes reach
them, and she annoyed them all through the day ' ;
and as the Americans had cut the levee in their
front, it at one time seemed likely that they would
be drowned out. However, matters now took a
turn for the better. The river was so low that the

' 46 killed, 167 wounded, 64 missing. I take the official
return for each side as authority for the respective force and
loss.

2 "While sitting at table, a loud shriek was heard . . A
shot had taken effect on the body of an unfortunate sol-
dier . who was fairly cut in two at the lower portion
of the belly!" (Gleig, p. 306.)



Naval War of 1812 259

cutting of the levee instead of flooding the plain '
merely filled the shrunken bayous, and rendered it
easy for the British to bring up their heavy guns ;
and on the same day their trusted leader, Sir Ed-
ward Packenham, arrived to take command in
person, and his presence gave new life to the
whole army. A battery was thrown up during
the two succeeding nights on the brink of the
river opposite to where the Carolina lay; and at
dawn a heavy cannonade of red-hot shot and shell
was opened upon her from eleven guns and a
mortar/ She responded briskly, but very soon
caught fire and blew up, to the vengeful joy of the
troops whose bane she had been for the past few
days. Her destruction removed the last obstacle
to the immediate advance of the army ; but that
night her place was partly taken by the mounted
riflemen, who rode down to the British lines, shot
the sentries, engaged the outposts, and kept the
whole camp in a constant state of alarm. ^

In the morning Sir Edward Packenham put his
army in motion, and marched on New Orleans.
When he had gone nearly three miles he suddenly,
and to his great surprise, stumbled on the Amer-
ican army. Jackson's men had worked like beav-

' Latour, 113.

^ Gleig, 307. The Americans thought the battery con-
sisted of five 18- and 12-pounders; Gleig says nine field-pieces
(9- and 6-pounders) , two howitzers, and a mortar.

3 Gleig, 310.



2^,o Naval War of 1812



ers, and his breastworks were already defended by
over three thousand fighting men,' and by half a
dozen guns, and moreover were flanked by the
corvette Louisiana, anchored in the stream. No
sooner had the heads of the British columns ap-
peared than they were driven back by the fire of
the American batteries ; the field-pieces, mortars,
and rocket-guns were then brought up, and a sharp
artillery duel took place. The motley crew of the
Louisiana handled their long ship guns with par-
ticular effect; the British rockets proved of but
little service ' ; and, after a stiff fight, in which
they had two field-pieces and a light mortar
dismounted,^ the British artillerymen fell back
on the infantry. Then Packenhami drew off his
whole army out of cannon shot, and pitched his
camp facing the intrenched lines of the Americans.
For the ne.xt three days the British battalions lay
quietly in front of their foe, like wolves who have
brought to bay a gray boar, and crouch just out
of reach of his tusks, waiting a chance to close in.

' 32S2 men in all, according to the Adjutant-General's re-
turn for December 28. 1 8 14. ' Latour, 121.

3 Gleig, 314. The official returns show a loss of 18 Amer-
icans and 58 British, the latter suffering much less than Jack-
son supposed. Lossing, in his Field-Book of the War of 1812,
not only greatly overestimates the British loss, but speaks as
if this was a serious attack, which it was not. Packenham's
army, while marching, unexpectedly came upon the American
intrenchment, and recoiled at once, after seeing that his field-
pieces were unable to contend with the American artillery.



Naval War of 1 812 231

Packenham, having once tried the strength of
Jackson's position, made up his mind to breach
his works and silence his guns with a regular
battering train. Heavy cannon were brought up
from the ships, and a battery was established on
the bank to keep in check the Louisiana. Then,
on the night of the last day of the year, strong
parties of workmen were sent forward, who,
shielded by the darkness, speedily threw up stout
earthworks, and mounted therein fourteen heavy
guns,' to face the thirteen ^ mounted in Jackson's
lines, which were but three hundred yards distant.

New Year's day dawned very misty. As soon
as the haze cleared off, the British artillerymen
opened with a perfect hail of balls, accompanied
by a cloud of rockets and mortar-shells. The
Americans were taken by surprise, but promptly
returned the fire, with equal fury and greater skill.

' Ten long i8's and four 24-pound carronades (James, ii.,
368). Gleig says (p. 318), "6 batteries mounting 30 pieces of
heavy cannon." This must include the "brigade of field-
pieces" of which James speaks. Nine of these, 9- and 6-
pounders, and two howitzers, had been used in the attack on
the Carolina; and there were also two field-mortars and two
3-pounders present; and there must have been one other
field-piece with the army, to inake up the thirty of which
Gleig speaks.

^ Viz.: one long 32, three long 24's, i long 18, three long
12's. three long 6's, a 6-inch howitzer, and a small carronade
(Latour, p. 147); and on the same day Patterson had in his
water-battery one long 24 and two long 12's (see his letter of
January 2d), making a total of 16 American gtms.



232 Naval War of 1812

Their guns were admirably handled ; some by the
cool New England seamen lately forming the crew
of the Carolina, others by the fierce creole pri-
vateersmen of Lafitte, and still others by the
trained artillerymen of the regular army. They
were all old hands, who in their time had done their
fair share of fighting, and were not to be flurried
by any attack, however unexpected. The British
cannoneers plied their guns like fiends, and fast
and thick fell their shot ; more slowly, but with
surer aim, their opponents answered them.' The
cotton bales used in the American embrasures
caught fire, and blew up two powder caissons;
while the sugar-hogsheads of which the British
batteries were partly composed were speedily
shattered and splintered in all directions. Though
the British champions fought with unflagging

' The British historian, Alison, says (History of Europe, by-
Sir Archibald Alison, 9th edition, Edinburgh and London,
1852, vol. xii., p. 141) : "It was soon found that the enemy's
guns were so superior in weight and number, that nothing was
to be expected from that species of attack. ' ' As shown above ;
at this time Jackson had on both sides of the river i6 guns,
the British, according to both James and Gleig, between 20
and 30. Jackson's long guns were one 32, four 24's, one 18,
five 12's, and three 6's, throwing in all 224 pounds; Packen-
ham had ten long iS's, two long 3's, and from six to ten long
9's and 6's, thus throwing between 228 and 258 pounds of
shot; while Jackson had but one howitzer and one carronade
to oppose four carronades, two howitzers, two mortars, and a
dozen rocket-guns; so, in both number and weight of guns,
the British were greatly superior.



Naval War of 1 812 2^^



jj



courage and untiring energy, and though they had
long been versed in war, yet they seemed to lack
the judgment to see and correct their faults, and
most of their shot went too high.' On the other
hand, the old sea-dogs and trained regulars who
held the field against them, not only fought their
guns well and skilfully from the beginning, but all
through the action kept coolly correcting their
faults and making more sure their aim. Still, the
fight was stiff and well contested. Two of the
American guns were disabled and 34 of their men
were killed or wounded. But one by one the
British cannon were silenced or dismounted, and
by noon their gunners had all been driven away,
with the loss of 78 of their number.

The Louisiana herself took no part in this ac-
tion. Patterson had previously landed some of
her guns on the opposite bank of the river, placing
them in a small redoubt. To match these the
British also threw up some works and placed in

' In strong contrast to Alison, Admiral Codrington, an eye-
witness, states the true reason of the British failure {Memoir
of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, by Lady Bourchier, Lon-
don, 1873, vol. i., p. 334) : "On the ist we had our batteries
ready, by severe labor, in a situation from which the artillery
people were, as a matter of course, to destroy and silence the
opposing batteries, and give opportunity for a well-arranged
storm. But instead, not a gun of the enemy appeared to
suffer, and our own firing too high was not discovered till " too
late. "Such a failure in this boasted arm was not to be ex-
pected, and I think it a blot on the artillery escutcheon."



234 Naval War of 1812

them heavy guns, and all through New Year's day
a brisk cannonade was kept up across the river
between the two water-ba1?teries, but with very
little damage to either side.

For a week after this failure the army of the in-
vaders lay motionless, facing the Americans. In
the morning and evening the defiant, rolling
challenge of the English drums came throbbing
up through the gloomy cypress swamps to where
the grim riflemen of Tennessee were lying behind
their log breastworks, and both day and night the
stillness was at short intervals broken by the sullen
boom of the great guns which, under Jackson's
orders, kept up a never-ending fire on the leaguer-
ing camp of his foes.' Nor could the wearied
British even sleep undisturbed; all through the
hours of darkness the outposts were engaged in a
most harassing bush warfare by the backwoods-
men, who shot the sentries, drove in the pickets,
and allowed none of those who were on guard a
moment's safety or freedom from alarm. ^

But Packenham was all the while steadily pre-
paring for his last and greatest stroke. He had
determined to make an assault in force as soon as
the expected reinforcements came up ; nor, in the
light of his past experience in conflict with foes of
far greater military repute than those now before

I Gleig, 322. ^ Gleig, 323.



Naval War of 1812 235

him, was this a rash resolve. He had seen the
greatest of Napoleon's marshals, each in turn, de-
feated once and again, and driven in headlong
flight over the Pyrenees by the Duke of Welling-
ton; now he had under him the flower of the
troops who had won those victories ; was it to be
supposed for a moment that such soldiers ' who,
in a dozen battles, had conquered the armies and
captured the forts of the mighty French emperor,
would shrink at last from a mud wall guarded by
rough backwoodsmen? That there would be loss
of hfe in such an assault was certain ; but was loss
of life to daunt men who had seen the horrible
slaughter through which the stormers moved on
to victory at Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajos, and San
Sebastian ? At the battle of Toulouse an English
army, of which Packenham's troops then formed
part, had driven Soult from a stronger position
than was now to be assailed, though he held it with
a veteran infantry. Of a surety, the dashing gen-
eral who had delivered the decisive blow on the



' Speaking of Soult 's overthrow a few months previous to
this battle, Napier says (v., 209) : " He was opposed to one of
the greatest generals of the world, at the head of unconquer-
able troops. For what Alexander's Macedonians were at
Arbela, Hannibal's Africans at Cannae, Caesar's Romans at
Pharsalia, Napoleon's Guards at Austerlitz — such were Wel-
lington's British soldiers at this period. . . . Six years of
uninterrupted success had engrafted on their natural strength
and fierceness a confidence that made them invincible."



236 Naval War of 181 2

stricken field of Salamanca,' who had taken part
in the rout of the ablest generals and steadiest
soldiers of Continental Europe, was not the man
to flinch from a motley array of volunteers, militia,
and raw regulars, led by a grizzled old bush-
fighter, whose name had never been heard of out-
side of his own swamps, and there only as the
savage destroyer of some scarcely more savage
Indian tribes.

Moreover, Packenham was planning a flank at-
tack. Under his orders a canal was being dug
from the head of the bayou up which the British
had come, across the plain to the Mississippi. This
was to permit the passage of a number of ships'
boats, on which one division was to be ferried to

' " It was about 5 o'clock when Packenham fell upon Thom-
ieres. . . . From the chief to the lowest soldier, all [of
the French] felt that they were lost, and in an instant Packen-
ham, the most frank and gallant of men, commenced the bat-
tle. The British columns formed lines as they marched, and
the French gunners, standing up manfully for the honor of
their country, sent showers of grape into the advancing masses
while a crowd of light troops poured in a fire of musketry,
under cover of which the main body endeavored to display a
front. But, bearing onwards through the skirmishes with
the might of a giant, Packenham broke the half- formed lines
into fragments, and sent the whole in confusion upon the ad-
vancing supports. . . . Packenham, bearing onwards
with conquering violence, . . . formed one formidable line
two miles in advance of where Packenham had first attacked ;
and that impetuous officer, with unmitigated strength, still
pressed forward, spreading terror and disorder on the enemy's
left." (Napier, iv., 57, 58, 59.)



Naval War of 1 812 237

the opposite bank of the river, where it was to
move up, and, by capturing the breastworks and
water-battery on the west side, flank Jackson's
main position on the east side.' When this canal
was nearly finished the expected reinforcements,
two thousand strong, under General Lambert,
arrived, and by the evening of the 7th all was ready
for the attack, which was to be made at daybreak
on the following morning. Packenham had under
him nearly 10,000 ^ fighting men; 1500 of these,

' "A particular feature ia the assault was our cutting a
canal into the Mississippi. ... to convey a force to the
right bank, which . . . might surprise the enemy's
batteries on that side. I do not know how far this measure
was rehed on by the general, but, as he ordered and made his
assault at daylight, I imagine he did not place much depend-
ence upon it." (Codrington, i., 335.)

^ J ames (ii . , 3 7 3) says the B ritish ' ' rank and file " amounted
to 8153 men, including 1200 seamen and marines. The only
other place where he speaks of the latter is in recounting the
attack on the right bank, when he says "about 200" were
with Thornton, while both the admirals, Cochrane and Cod-
rington, make the number 300; so he probably underesti-
mates their number throughout, and at least 300 can be
added, making 1500 sailors and marines, and a total of 8453.
This number is corroborated by Major McDougal, the officer
who received Sir Edward's body in his arms when he was
killed ; he says (as quoted in the Memoirs of British Generals
Distinguished During the Peninsular War, by John William
Cole, London, 1856, vol. ii., p. 364) that after the battle and
the loss of 2036 men, "we had still an effective force of 6400,"
making a total before the attack of 8436 rank and file. Call-
ing it 8450, and adding 13,3 per cent, for the officers, ser-
geants, and trumpeters, we get about 9600 men.



23S Naval War of 181 2

under Colonel Thornton, were to cross the river
and make the attack on the west bank. Packen-
ham himself was to superintend the main assault,
on the east bank, which was to be made by the
British right under General Gibbs, while the left
moved forward under General Keane, and General
Lambert commanded the reserve.' Jackson's ^

" Letter of Major-General John Lambert to Earl Bathurst,
January lo, 1815.

2 4698 on the east bank, according to the official report of
Adjutant-General Robert Butler, for the morning of January
8th. The details are as follows:

At batteries 154

Command of Colonel Ross (671 regulars and

742 Louisiana militia) 1413

Command of General Carroll (Tennesseeans,

and somewhat under 500 Kentuckians) . . 1562
General Coffee's command (Tennesseeans,

and about 250 Louisiana militia) 813

Major Hind's dragoons 230

Colonel Slaughter's command 526

Total 4698

These figures tally almost exactly with those given by
Major Latour, except that he omits all reference to Colonel
Slaughter's command, thus reducing the number to about
4100. Nor can I anywhere find any allusion to Slaughter's
command as taking part in the battle; and it is possible that
these troops were the 500 Kentuckians ordered across the
river by Jackson; in which case his whole force but slightly
exceeded 5000 men.

On the west bank there were 546 Louisiana militia — 260 of
the First Regiment, 176 of the Second, and no of the Sixth.
Jackson had ordered 500 Kentucky troops to be sent to re-
inforce them; only 400 started, of whom but 180 had arms.
Seventy more received arms from the Naval Arsenal; and
thus a total of 250 armed men were added to the 546 already
on the west bank.



Naval War of 1 812 239

position was held by a total of 5500 men.' Hav-
ing kept a constant watch on the British, Jackson
had rightly concluded that they would make the
main attack on the east bank, and had, accord-
ingly, kept the bulk of his force on that side. His
works consisted simply of a mud breastwork, with
a ditch in front of it, which stretched in a straight
line from the river on his right across the plain,
and some distance into the morass that sheltered
his left. There was a small, unfinished redoubt in
front of the breastworks on the river bank. Thir-
teen pieces of artillery were mounted on the works. ^
On the right was posted the Seventh regular in-
fantry, 430 strong; then came 740 Louisiana
militia (both French Creoles and men of color, and
comprising 30 New Orleans riflemen, who were
Americans), and 240 regulars of the Forty-fourth

■ Two thousand Kentucky militia had arrived, but in
wretched pHght ; only 500 had arms, though pieces were found
for about 250 more; and thus Jackson's army received an
addition of 750 very badly disciplined soldiers.

"Hardly one third of the Kentucky troops, so long ex-
pected, are armed, and the arms they have are not fit for
use." (Letter of General Jackson to the Secretary of War,
January 3d.)

2 Almost all British writers underestimate their own force
and enormously magnify that of the Americans. Alison, for
example, quadruples Jackson's relative strength, writing:
"About 6000 combatants were on the British side; a slender
force to attack double their number, intrenched to the teeth in
works bristling with bayonets and loaded with heavy artillery."
Instead of double, he should have said half; the bayonets



240 Naval War of 1812

regiment ; while the rest of the line was formed by
nearly 500 Kentuckians and over 1600 Tennes-
seeans, under Carroll and Coffee, with 250 creole
militia in the morass on the extreme left, to guard
the head of a bayou. In the rear were 230
dragoons, chiefly from Mississippi, and some other
troops in reserve ; making in all 4700 men on the
east bank. The works on the west bank were
farther down stream, and were very much weaker.
Commodore Patterson had thrown up a water-
battery of nine guns, three long 24's and six long
12's, pointing across the river, and intended to
take in flank any foe attacking Jackson. This
battery was protected by some strong earthworks,
mounting three field-pieces, which were thrown up
just below it, and stretched from the river about
two hundred yards into the plain. The line of
defence was extended by a ditch for about a

only "bristled" metaphorically, as less than a quarter of the
Americans were armed with them; and the British breaching
batteries had a heavier " load " of artillery than did the Amer-
ican lines. Gleig says that, "to come nearer the truth," he
"will choose a middle course, and suppose their whole force to
be about 25,000 men " (p. 325) . Gleig, by the way, in speak-
ing of the battle itself, mentions one most startling evolution
of the Americans, namely, that "without so much as lifting
their faces above the ramparts, they swung their firelocks by
one arm over the wall and discharged them" at the British.
If any one will try to perform this feat, with a long, heavy
rifle held in one hand, and with his head hid behind a wall, so
as not to see the object aimed at, he will get a good idea of the
likelihood of any man in his senses attempting it.



Naval War of 1 812 241

quarter of a mile farther, when it ended, and from
there to the morass, half a mile distant, there were
no defensive works at all. General Morgan, a very
poor militia officer,' was in command, with a force
of 550 Louisiana militia, some of them poorly-
armed; and on the night before the engagement
he was reinforced by 250 Kentuckians, poorly
armed, undisciplined, and worn out with fatigue.^
All through the night of the 7th a strange mur-
murous clangor arose from the British camp, and
was borne on the moist air to the lines of their
slumbering foes. The blows of pickaxe and spade,
as the ground was thrown up into batteries by
gangs of workmen, the rumble of the artillery as it
was placed in position, the measured tread of the
battalions as they shifted their places or marched
off under Thornton, — all these and the thousand

' He committed every possible fault, except showing lack
of courage. He placed his works at a very broad instead of
at a narrow part of the plain, against the advice of Latour,
who had Jackson's approval (Latour, 167). He continued
his earthworks but a very short distance inland, making them
exceedingly strong in front, and absolutely defenceless on ac-
count of their flanks being unprotected. He did not mount
the lighter guns of the water-battery on his lines as he ought
to have done. Having a force of 800 men, too weak anyhow,
he promptly divided it; and, finally, in the fight itself, he
stationed a small number of absolutely raw troops in a thin