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

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line on the open, with their flank in air; while a much larger
number of older troops were kept to defend a much shorter
line, behind a strong breastwork, with their flanks covered.

2 Latour, 170.

vol.. II.— 16

242 Naval War of 1812

other sounds of warlike preparation were softened
and blended by the distance into one continuous
humming murmur, which struck on the ears of
the- American sentries with ominous foreboding
for the morrow. By midnight Jackson had risen
and was getting everything in readiness to hurl
back the blow that he rightly judged was soon to
fall on his front. Before the dawn broke his sol-
diery was all on the alert. The bronzed and
brawny seamen were grouped in clusters around
the great guns. The Creole soldiers came of a race
whose habit it has ever been to take all phases of
life joyously ; but that morning their gayety was
tempered by a dark undercurrent of fierce anxiety.
They had more at stake than any other men on
the field. They were fighting for their homes;
they were fighting for their wives and their
daughters. They well knew that the men they
were to face were very brave in battle and very
cruel in victory ' ; they well knew the fell destruc-
tion and nameless woe that awaited their city
should the EngHsh take it at the sword's point.

' To prove this, it is only needful to quote from the words
of the Duke of Wellington himself; referring, it must be re-
membered, to their conduct in a friendly, not a hostile,
country. " It is impossible to describe to you the irregu-
larities and outrages committed by the troops. They are
never out of sight of their officers, I might almost say, out of
sight of the commanding officers of the regiments, that out-
rages are not committed. . . . There is not an outrage
of any description which has not been committed on a people

Naval War of 1 812 243

They feared not for themselves ; but in the hearts
of the bravest and most careless there lurked a
dull terror of what that day might bring upon
those they loved.' The Tennesseeans were
troubled by no such misgivings. In saturnine,

who have uniformly received them as friends." "I really
believe that more plunder and outrages have been committed
by this army than by any other that ever was in the field."
"A detachment seldom marches . . . that a murder, or
a highway robbery, or some act of outrage is not committed
by the British soldiers composing it. They have killed eight
people since the army returned to Portugal." "They really
forget everything when plunder or wine is within reach."

' That these fears were just can be seen by the following
quotations, from the works of a British officer. General Na-
pier, who was an eye-witness of what he describes. It must
be remembered that Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajos, and San Se-
bastian were friendly towns, only the garrisons being hostile.
" Now commenced that wild and desperate wickedness which
tarnished the lustre of the soldiers' heroism. All, indeed,
were not alike, for hundreds risked and many lost their lives
in striving to stop the violence; but the madness generally
prevailed, and as the worst men were leaders here, all the
dreadful passions of human nature were displayed. Shame-
less rapacity, brutal intemperance, savage lust, cruelty and
murder, shrieks and piteous lamentations, groans, shouts,
imprecations, the hissing of fires bursting from the houses,
the crashing of doors and windows, the reports of muskets
used in violence, resounded for two days and nights in the
streets of Badajos. On the third, when the city was sacked,
when the soldiers were exhausted by their own excesses, the
tumult rather subsided than was quelled." (Vol. iii., 377.)
And agam: "This storm seemed to be a signal from hell for
the perpetration of villainy which would have shamed the
most ferocious barbarians of antiquity. At Rodrigo intoxica-
tion and plunder had been the principal object; at Badaios

244 Naval War of 1812

confident silence they lolled behind their mud
walls, or, leaning on their long rifles, peered out
into the gray fog with savage, reckless eyes. So,
hour after hour, the two armies stood facing each
other in the darkness, waiting for the light of day.

lust and murder were joined to rapine and drunkenness; but
at San Sebastian the direst, the most revolting cruelty was
added to the catalogue of crimes — one atrocity, of which a
girl of seventeen was the victim, staggers the mind by its
enormous, incredible, indescribable barbarity ... a Por-
tuguese adjutant, who endeavored to prevent some wicked-
ness, was put to death in the market-place, not with sudden
violence from a single ruffian, but deliberately, by a number
of English soldiers . . . and the disorder continued
until the flames, following the steps of the plunderer, put an
end to his ferocity by destroying the whole town." Packen-
ham himself would have certainly done all in his power to
prevent excesses, and has been foully slandered by many
early American writers. Alluding to these, Napier remarks,
somewhat caustically: "Pre-eminently distinguished for de-
testation of inhumanity and outrage, he has been, with as-
tounding falsehood, represented as instigating his troops to
the most infamous excesses; but from a people holding mil-
Hons of their fellow-beings in the most horrible slavery, while
they prate and vaunt of liberty until all men turn in loathing
from the sickening folly, what can be expected? (Vol. v., p.
31.) Napier possessed to a very eminent degree the virtue of
being plain-spoken. Elsewhere (iii., p. 450). after giving a
most admirably fair and just account of the origin of the
Anglo-American War, he alludes, with a good deal of justice,
to the Americans of 181 2, as "a people who (notwithstanding
the curse of black slavery which clings to them, adding the
most horrible ferocity to the peculiar baseness of their mer-
cantile spirit, and rendering their republican vanity ridiculous)
do, in their general government, uphold civil institutions
which have startled the crazy despotisms of Europe."

Naval War of 1812 245

At last the sun rose, and as its beams struggled
through the morning mist they glinted on the
sharp steel bayonets of the English, where their
scarlet ranks were drawn up in battle array, but
four hundred yards from the American breast-
works. There stood the matchless infantry of the
island king, in the pride of their strength and the
splendor of their martial glory ; and, as the haze
cleared away, they moved forward, in stern silence,
broken only by the angry, snarling notes of the
brazen bugles. At once the American artillery
leaped into furious life ; and, ready and quick, the
more numerous cannon of the invaders responded
from their hot, feverish lips. Unshaken amid the
tumult of that iron storm, the heavy red column
moved steadily on toward the left of the American
line, where the Tennesseeans were standing in mo-
tionless, grim expectancy. Three fourths of the
open space was crossed, and the eager soldiers
broke into a run. Then a fire of hell smote the
British column. From the breastwork in front of
them the white smoke curled thick into the air, as
rank after rank the wild marksmen of the back-
woods rose and fired, aiming low and sure. As
stubble is withered by flame, so withered the Brit-
ish column under that deadly fire ; and, aghast at
the slaughter, the reeling files staggered and gave
back. Packenham, fit captain for his valorous
host, rode to the front, and the troops, rallying

246 Naval War of 181 2

round him, sprang forward with ringing cheers.
But once again the peahng rifle-blast beat in their
faces ; and the hfe of their dauntless leader went
out before its scorching and fiery breath. With
him fell the other general who was with the column
and all of the men who were leading it on ; and, as
a last resource, Keane brought up his stalwart
Highlanders; but in vain the stubborn moun-
taineers rushed on, only to die as their comrades
had died before them, with unconquerable cour-
age, facing the foe to the last. Keane himself was
struck down; and the shattered wrecks of the
British column, quailing before certain destruction,
turned and sought refuge beyond reach of the
leaden death that had overwhelmed their com-
rades. Nor did it fare better with the weaker
force that was to assail the right of the x\merican
line. This was led by the dashing Colonel Rennie
who, when the confusion caused by the main at-
tack was at its height, rushed forward with im-
petuous bravery along the river bank. With such
headlong fury did he make the assault, that the
rush of his troops took the outlying redoubt,
whose defenders, regulars and artillerymen, fought
to the last with their bayonets and clubbed mus-
kets, and were butchered to a man. Without
delay, Rennie flung his men at the breastworks be-
hind, and, gallantly leading them, sword in hand,
he and all around him fell, riddled through and

Naval War of 1 812 247

through by the balls of the riflemen. Brave
though they were, the British soldiers could not
stand against the singing, leaden hail, for if they
stood it was but to die. So in rout and wild dis-
may they fled back along the river bank to the
main army. For some time afterward the British
artillery kept up its fire, but was gradually silenced,
and the repulse was entire and complete along the
whole line ; nor did the cheering news of success
brought from the west bank give any hope to the
British commanders, stunned by their crushing

Meanwhile, Colonel Thornton's attack on the op-
posite side had been successful, but had been de-

^ According to their official returns, the British loss was
2036 ; the American accounts, of course, make it much greater.
Latour is the only trustworthy American contemporary his-
torian of this war, and even he at times absurdly exaggerates
the British force and loss. Most of the other American "his-
tories" of that period were the most preposterously bom-
bastic works that ever saw print. But as regards this battle,
none of them are as bad as even such British historians as
Alison; the e.xact reverse being the case in many other bat-
tles, notably Lake Erie. The devices each author adopts to
lessen the seeming force of his side are generally of much the
same character. For instance, Latour says that 800 of Jack-
son's men were employed on works at the rear, on guard
duty, etc., and deducts them; James, for precisely similar
reasons, deducts 853 men: by such means, one reduces Jack-
son's total force to 4000, and the other gives Packenham but
7300. Only 2000 Americans were actually engaged on the
east banks.

248 Naval War of 181 2

layed beyond the originally intended hour. The
sides of the canal by which the boats were to be
brought through to the Mississippi caved in and
choked the passage,^ so that only enough got
through to take over a half of Thornton's force.
With these, seven hundred in number,^ he crossed,
but as he did not allow for the current, it carried
him down about two miles below the proper landing
place. Meanwhile, General Morgan, having under
him eight hundred militia,^ whom it was of the ut-
most importance to have kept together, promptly
divided them and sent three hundred of the rawest
and most poorly armed down to meet the enemy in
the open. The inevitable result was their imme-
diate rout and dispersion ; about one hundred got
back to Morgan's lines. He then had six hundred
men, all militia, to oppose to seven hundred regu-
lars. So he stationed the four hundred best dis-
ciphned men to defend the two hundred yards of
strong breastworks, mounting three guns, which
covered his left, while the two hundred worst dis-
ciplined were placed to guard six hundred yards
of open ground on his right, with their flank resting

' Codrington, i., 386.

2 James says 298 soldiers and about 200 sailors; but Ad-
miral Cochrane in his letter (January i8th) says 600 men,
half sailors; and Admiral Codrington also (p. 335) gives this
number, 300 being sailors. Adding 13I per cent, for the
officers, sergeants, and trumpeters, we get 680 men.

3 796. (Latour, 164-172.)

Naval War of 1 812 249

in air, and entirely unprotected.' This truly phe-
nomenal arrangement ensured beforehand the cer-
tain defeat of his troops, no matter how well they
fought ; but, as it turned out, they hardly fought
at all. Thornton, pushing up the river, first at-
tacked the breastwork in front, but was checked
by a hot fire ; deploying his men, he then sent a
strong force to march round and take Morgan on
his exposed right flank. ^ There, the already de-
moralized Kentucky militia, extended in thin order
across an open space, outnumbered, and taken in
flank by regular troops, were stampeded at once,
and after firing a single volley they took to their
heels. ^ This exposed the flank of the better dis-
ciplined Creoles, who were also put to flight, but
they kept some order and were soon rallied.'* In
bitter rage Patterson spiked the guns of his water-
battery and marched off with his sailors, un-

' Report of Court of Inquiry, Major-General William Carroll

2 Letter of Col. W. Thornton, January 8, 1815.

3 Letter of Commodore Patterson, January 13, 18 15.

4 Alison outdoes himself in recounting this feat. Having
reduced the British force to 340 men, he says they captured
the redoubt, "though defended by 22 guns and 1700 men."
Of course, it was physically impossible for the water-battery
to take part in the defence; so there were but three guns, and
by halving the force on one side and trebling it on the other,
he makes the relative strength of the Americans just sixfold
what it was, — and is faithfully followed by other British

2 50 Naval War of 1812

molested. The American loss had been slight,
and that of their opponents not heavy, though
among their dangerously wounded was Colonel

This success, though a brilliant one, and a dis-
grace to the American arms, had no effect on the
battle. Jackson at once sent over reinforcements
under the famous French general, Humbert, and
preparations were forthwith made to retake the
lost position. But it was already abandoned, and
the force that had captured it had been recalled
by Lambert, when he found that the place
could not be held without additional troops.'
The total British loss on both sides of the river
amounted to over two thousand men, the vast
majority of whom had fallen in the attack on the
Tennesseeans, and most of the remainder in the
attack made by Colonel Rennie. The Amer-
icans had lost but seventy men, of whom but
thirteen fell in the main attack. On the east
bank, neither the Creole militia nor the Forty-
fourth regiment had taken any part in the

The English had thrown for high stakes and
had lost everything, and they knew it. There

' The British Colonel Dickson, who had been sent over to
inspect, reported that 2000 men would be needed to hold the
battery; so Lambert ordered the British to retire. (Lam-
bert's letter, January loth.)

Naval War of 1 812 251

was nothing to hope for left. Nearly a fourth
of their fighting men had fallen ; and among the
officers the proportion was far larger. Of their
four generals, Packenham was dead, Gibbs dying,
Keane disabled, and only Lambert left. Their
leader, their ablest officers, and all the flower
of their bravest men were lying, stark and dead,
on the bloody plain before them; and their
bodies were doomed to crumble into mouldering
dust on the green fields where they had fought
and had fallen. It was useless to make another
trial. They had learned, to their bitter cost,
that no troops, however steady, could advance
over open ground against such a fire as came
from Jackson's lines. Their artillerymen had
three times tried conclusions with the Ameri-
can gunners, and each time they had been
forced to acknowledge themselves worsted. They
would never have another chance to repeat
their flank attack, for Jackson had greatly
strengthened and enlarged the works on the
west bank, and had seen that they were fully
manned and ably commanded. Moreover, no
sooner had the assault failed than the Americans
again began their old harassing warfare. The
heaviest cannon, both from the breastwork and
the water-battery, played on the British camp,
both night and day, giving the army no rest, and
the mounted riflemen kept up a trifling but in-

252 Naval War of 1 812

cessant and annoying skirmishing with their
pickets and outposts.

The British could not advance, and it was worse
than useless for them to stay where they were,
for though they, from time to time, were rein-
forced, yet Jackson's forces augmented faster
than theirs, and every day lessened the numerical
inequality between the two armies. There was
but one thing left to do, and that was to retreat.
They had no fear of being attacked in turn.
The British soldiers were made of too good stuff
to be in the least cowed or cast down even by
such a slaughtering defeat as that they had just
suffered, and nothing would have given them
keener pleasure than to have had a fair chance at
their adversaries in the open ; but this chance was
just what Jackson had no idea of giving them.
His own army, though in part as good as an army
could be, consisted also in part of untrained
militia, while not a quarter of his men had
bayonets ; and the wary old chief, for all his har-
dihood, had far too much wit to hazard such a
force in fight with a superior number of seasoned
veterans, thoroughly equipped, unless on his own
ground and in his own manner. So he contented
himself with keeping a sharp watch on Lambert ;
and, on the night of January i8th, the latter
deserted his position, and made a very skilful
and rapid retreat, leaving eighty wounded men

Naval War of 1 812 253

and fourteen pieces of cannon behind him.' A
few stragglers were captured on land, and, while
the troops were embarking, a number of barges,
with over a hundred prisoners, were cut out by-
some American seamen in row-boats; but the
bulk of the army reached the transports unmo-
lested. x\t the same time, a squadron of vessels,
which had been unsuccessfully bombarding Fort
Saint Phihp for a week or two, and had been
finally driven off when the fort got a mortar
large enough to reach them with, also returned;
and the whole fleet set sail for Mobile. The
object was to capture Fort Boyer, which con-
tained less than four hundred men, and, though
formidable on its sea-front,^ was incapable of de-

' Letter of General Jackson, January 19th, and of General
Lambert, January 28th.

^"Towards the sea its fortifications are respectable
enough; but on the land side it is little better than a block-
house. The ramparts being composed of sand not more than
three feet in thickness, and faced with plank, are barely
cannon-proof; while a sand hill, rising within pistol-shot of
the ditch, completely commands it. Within, again, it is as
much wanting in accommodation as it is in strength. There
are no bomb-proof barracks, nor any hole or arch under
which men might find protection from shells; indeed, so de-
ficient is it in common lodging- rooms, that great part of the
garrison sleep in tents. . . . With the reduction of this
trifling work all hostilities ended." (Gleig, 357.)

General Jackson impliedly censures the garrison for sur-
rendering so quickly; but in such a fort it was absolutely im-
possible to act otherwise, and not the slightest stain rests
upon the fort's defenders.

254 Naval War of 1812

fence when regularly attacked on its land side.
The British landed, February 8th, some 1500
men, broke ground, and made approaches; for
four days the work went on amid a continual
fire, which killed or wounded 1 1 Americans and
3 1 British ; by that time the battering-guns were
in position and the fort capitulated, February
12th, the garrison marching out with the honors
of war. Immediately afterward, the news of
peace arrived, and all hostilities terminated.

In spite of the last trifling success, the cam-
paign had been to the British both bloody and
disastrous. It did not affect the results of the
war, and the decisive battle itself was a per-
fectly useless shedding of blood, for peace had
been declared before it was fought. Nevertheless,
it was not only glorious but profitable to the
United States. Louisiana was saved from being
severely ravaged, and New Orleans from possible
destruction; and after our humiliating defeats
in trying to repel the invasion of Virginia and
Maryland, the signal victory of New Orleans was
really almost a necessity for the preservation of
the national honor. This campaign was the great
event of the war, and in it was fought the most
important battle as regards numbers that took
place during the entire struggle ; and the fact that
we were victorious not only saved our self-respect
at home, but also gave us a prestige abroad which

Naval War of 1 812 255

we should otherwise have totally lacked. It could
not be said to entirely balance the numerous de-
feats that we had elsewhere suffered on land, —
defeats which had so far only been offset by
Harrison's victory in 181 3 and the campaign in
Lower Canada in 1814, — but it at any rate went
a long way toward making the score even.

Jackson is certainly by all odds the most
prominent figure that appeared during this war,
and stands head and shoulders above any other
commander, American or British, that it pro-

It will be difficult, in all history, to show a
parallel to the feat that he performed. In three
weeks' fighting, with a force largely composed
of militia, he utterly defeated and drove away
an army twice the size of his own, composed of
veteran troops, and led by one of the ablest of
European generals. During the whole campaign
he only erred once, and that was in putting
General Morgan, a very incompetent officer, in
command of the forces on the west bank. He
suited his movements admirably to the various
exigencies that arose. The promptness and skill
with which he attacked, as soon as he knew
of the near approach of the British, undoubt-
edly saved the city; for their vanguard was so
roughly handled that, instead of being able to
advance at once, they were forced to delay three

25^ Naval War of 1812

days, during which time Jackson intrenched him-
self in a position from which he was never driven.
But after this first attack, the offensive would
have been not only hazardous, but useless, and
accordingly Jackson, adopting that mode of war-
fare which best suited the ground he was on and
the troops he had under him, forced the enemy
always to fight him where he was strongest, and
confined himself strictly to the pure defensive —
a system condemned by most European authori-
ties,' but which has at times succeeded to ad-
miration in America, as witness Fredericksburg,
Gettysburg, Kenesaw Mountain, and Franklin.
Moreover, it must be remembered that Jackson's
success was in nowise owing either to chance or
to the errors of his adversary.^ As far as for-
tune favored either side, it was that of the

' Thus Napier says (vol. v., p. 25) : "Soult fared as most
generals will who seek by extensive lines to supply the want
of numbers or of hardiness in the troops. Against rude com-
manders and undisciplined soldiers, lines may avail; seldom
against accomplished commanders, never when the assailants
are the better soldiers." And again (p. 150): "Offensive
operations must be the basis of a good defensive system."

^ The reverse has been stated again and again, with very
great injustice, not only by British, but even by American
writers (as, e. g., Prof. W. G. Sumner, in his Andrew Jackson
as a Public Man, Boston, 1882). The climax of absurdity is
reached by Major McDougal, who says (as quoted by Cole in
his Memoirs of British Generals, ii., p. 364): "Sir Edward
Packenham fell, not after an utter and disastrous defeat, but
at the very moment when the arms of victory were extended

Naval War of 1 8i 2 257

British ' ; and Packenham left nothing undone to
accomphsh his aim, and made no movements that
his experience in European war did not justify
his making. There is not the shghtest reason for
supposing that any other British general would
have accomplished more or have fared better than
he did."" Of course, Jackson owed much to the
nature of the ground on which he fought ; but the
opportiuiities it afforded would have been useless

towards him"; and by James, who says (ii., 388) : "The pre-
mature fall of a British general saved an American city."

Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThe 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 text (page 36 of 42)