H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

History of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: online

. (page 31 of 32)
Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 31 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with the dignity of their nation, recede from them ? If seriously
made, such proposals argued either a surprising ignorance of
the situation of the United States, or a disposition to insult our
government in the grossest manner.


Hartford Convention Removal of the Seat of Government agitated.

A subject which was brought before the legislature of Penn-
sylvania furnished a strong proof of tlie general disposition to
unite in the cause of the country. The leaders of the party in
the New England states opposed to the war, had grown every
day more and more intemperate, while the great mass of the
population of those districts, on the contrary, was becoming
better reconciled to it. Under a mistaken idea of the real sen-
timents of the people, it was suggested that a convention, to
consist of delegates from the diflerent states composing New
England, should meet at Hartford, in Connecticut. Its object,
according to rumour, was no less than a discussion of the pro-
priety of a dismemberment of the union. Whatever were the
views of its projectors, the proposal was not received with
much favour. Deputies from only three states, representing
scarcely a third of New England, convened ; and a short session
terminated in tlie adoption of a declamatory address on subjects
now nearly forgotten, and a remonstrance or memorial to the
congress of the United Slates, enumerating some objections to
the federal constitution. This extraordinary paper was sub-
mitted to the legislatures of the several states for their appro-
bation, and was rejected by them all. In t!ie legislature of
Pennsylvania, it was referred to a C(»mmittee ; and a noble and
eloquent report on the subject was drawn up by a member of
the opposition,* in which the causes of complaint set forth in
it were clearly refuted, the constitution of the union was ably
vindicated, and the conduct of the memorialists severely cen-
sured. JiCt it be the warm prayer of every American, tliat the
confederacy of the states, a fabric reared by the hands of sages
and cemented by the blood of patriots, may be eternal. How
much bloodshed has it not saved already, and how much will
it not save in future ? Let us place before our eyes the eternal
wars of the Grecian states ; and learn from them, that independ-
ent powers immediately adjacent to each other are natural ene-
mies. What strength does not this glorious union give to each
individual state! and what consequence does it confer on each
individual citizen, who is thereby made the member of a great
nation,' instead of being one of a petty tribe ! Let us hope that
no unhappy jealousies, no irreconcilable interests, may arise to
break in sunder the bonds by which we are united !

Another important matter was brought before congress
during the present session. The destruction of the public
buildings of Washington by the British aflbrded an opportunity
to the opponents of that place as the seat of government, to

* Mr Biddle, now President of the Bank of the United States.


Mr Dallas appointed Secretary of the Treasury Affairs to the Southward.

advocate the selection of another site ; and serious apprehen-
sions were entertained that their views would prevail. B«t
these fears, and the suhject which gave rise to them, were soon
put to rest. Veneration for the great father of our republic
exercised a successful influence ; and the city of Washington
is now destined lor ages, and it is hoped for ever, to be the
metropolis of the United States.

Our finances at this critical moment appeared to revive,
under the indefatigable industry and great abilities of Mr Dallas,
whom the President selected to fill the post of secretary of the
treasury. His plans were characterized by the greatest bold-
ness, but were unfolded in so luminous a manner as to carry
conviction to every mind. He may be said to have plucked
up the sinking credit of the nation by the locks. At the
same time, the duties of the secretary of war, in addition to
his other avocations, were discharged by Mr Monroe. In
undertaking this office, he exhibited no small courage ; for it
had become a forlorn hope of popularity : he was happily re-
warded by the most fortunate success in all his measures, and
by the applause of the whole country.

Meanwhile, the public attention was awakened by the alarm-
ing aspect of affairs to the southward.

General Jackson, after concluiiing the treaty recounted in a
former chapter with the main body of the Creeks, residing in
Alabama and Georgia, had transferred his head quarters to
Mobile. Here, he received certain information that three Brit-
ish ships of war had arrived at Pensacola, in West Florida, then
a possession belonging to the Spanish nation, with whom we
were at peace, and had landed three hundred soldiers, and a large
quantity of ammunition and guns for arming the Indians, with
the view of making an assault upon Fort Bowyer, a battery
situated on Mobile Point and commanding the entrance to
Mobile Bay. He also learnt that the fleet of admiral Cochrane
liad been reinforced at Bermuda, and that thirteen ships of the
line, with transports having ten thousand troops on board, for
the purpose of invading some of the southern states, were daily
expected. On the receipt of tliis intelligence, he immediately
wrote to the governor of Tennessee, calling for the whole
quota of militia from that state.

The three vessels at Pensacola, having been joined by an-
other vessel, and having taken the troops on board, sailed from
thence, and appeared, on the 15th of September, oflf Mobile
Point. The naval force, mounting in all ninety guns, was
commanded by captain Percy : the land troops, consisting of
one hundred and ten marines, two hundred Creeks headed by


Attack on Fort Bovvyer repulsed Inroad into Florida by General Jackson.

captain Woodbine, and twenty artillerists, with a battery of one
twelve-poiinder and a howitzer, were under the command of the
infamous colonel JNicholls. On the same day, at four o'clock
in the afternoon, the troops having been landed, the attack com-
menced by a bombardment from the vessels, and a cannonade
from the two pieces of artillery, which had been planted at a small
distance from, and in the rear of, the fort. Fort Bowyer mounted
twenty pieces of cannon, and was commanded by major
rence, of the Second regiment of infantry, with one hundred and
twenty men under him. Willi this disproportionate force, he
soon drove the enemy's troops from their position on shore, by
discharges of grape and canister ; and, after a cannonade of three
hours, compelled the vessels to retire, with great loss. Captain
Percy's ship, carrying twenty-two thirly-two-pounders, was
driven on shore within six hundred yards of the battery, where
she suffered so severely, that those on board were obliged to set
her on fire. Of her crew, originally one hundred and seventy,
only twenty effected their escape. 'J'he other ships, besides
being considerably injured, lost eighty-five men in killed and
wounded, and returned to Fensacola to repair their damage ;
while the troops retreated to the same place by land. They
were again welcomed by ihe governor, in direct violation of
the treaty between. Spain and the United Stales.

General Jacl^son, now a major-general in the army, and
commander- of tl»e southwestern military district, of the United
States, Viaving in vain remonstrated with the governor of Fensa-
<^l2i On his reprehensible conduct in harbouring and assisting
our enemies, determined to seek redress, williout waiting for
a^lhorily from the American government. Having received a
^■'einforcement of two thousand Tennessee militia and some
'Choctaw Indians, he advanced to Fensacola. On the 6th of
November, he reached the neighbourhood of that post, and im-
mediately sent major Fierre with a flag to the governor. This
officer, however, was fired upon from the fort, and obliged to
return, without communicating the object of his mission. Jack-
son then reconnoilered the fort, and finding it defended both by
British and S])aniards, made arrangements lor storming the town
the next day. The troops were put in motion at daylight, 'lliey
had encamped to the west of the town during the night; and in
order to induce the enemy to suppose that the attack would be
made from that quarter, the general caused part of the mounted
men to show themselves on the west, whilst with the great
body of the troops he passed undiscovered, in the rear of the
fort, to the east of the town. His whole force became visible
when a mile distant, and advanced firmly to the town, although



Jackson captures Pensacola Invasion of Louisiana meditated by the British.

there were seven British armed vessels en their left, a strong
fort ready to assail tliem on the right, and batteries of heavy-
cannon in front. On entering the town, a battery of two can-
nons, loaded with ball and grape, was opened on the central
column, composed of regulars, and a shower of musketry poured
from the houses and gardens. This battery was soon carried,
and the musketry were silenced. The governor now made
his appearance with a flag, and oflering to surrender the town
and fort unconditionally, begged for mercy. This was granted,
and protection given to the persons and property of the inhabi-
tants. The commandant of tlie fort, nevertheless, kept the
Americans out of possession until midnight ; and evacuated it
just as they w^ere preparing to make a furious assault. On the
8th, the British withdrew with their shipping; and Jackson,
having accomplished his purpose, set out, on the 9th, on his re-
turn to Mobile.

By the 1st of September it was reduced to a certainty, that,
notwithstanding the negotiations pending between the United
States and Great Britain at Ghent, formidable preparations were
making for an invasion of Louisiana. Governor Claiborne
therefore ordered the two divisions of the militia of that state,
the first nnder general Villere and the second under general
Thomas, to hold themselves in readmes? to march at a mo-
ment's warning. He also issued an animating' address, calling
on the inhabitants to turn out en masse, for the defence of their
families and homes. On the 16th of September, a member of
the citizens convened, in order, in co-operation with tha civil
authorities, to devise measures for the defence of the country.
Edward Livingston, Esq., lately deceased, was chosen pre.^i-
dentof the meeting ; and, after an eloquent speech, he proposefl
a spirited resolution, going to repel the calumnious insinuatiori
that the citizens of New Orleans were disaffected to the Ame-
rican government, and manifesting, as far as language could do,
their determination to oppose the enemy. This resolution was
adopted by the meeting unanimously, and, when made public,
was received with demonstrations of universal applause.

Thus far, the war had been felt in this portion of the union
only in its effects on commercial and agricultural property.
In consequence of the suppression of trade and the low price
of all kinds of produce, the people had suffered much. The
banks had stopped payment, and distresses of every kind had
begun to be felt. The great mass of the planters of Louisiana,
(at least those of French origin) of an amiable and gentle dis-
position, had paid but little attention to the war; and, outside
of the city of New Orleans, the militia could scarcely be said


Preparations for Resistance Confidence inspired by Jackson's Presence.

to be organized, much less disciplined or armed. Nothing
short of an actual invasion could rouse them. In the city the
case was different. From the commencement of the war, as
if sensible of the feeble help which they could expect from the
general government, the inhabitants had manifested the greatest
alacrity in qualifying themselves for taking the field against
an invader. Every man, capable of bearing arms, had become
a soldier, and perhaps in no other city of the country were
there such frequent and elegant displays of well disciplined
and well dressed volunteer companies. The aptitude of French-
men for the profession of arms was now shown to have been
inherited by their descendants ; and not a few of the natives
of France, men who had served in her armies, were inter-
mingled with them, 'i'he free people of colour, a numerous
class, were permiited, as a privilege, to form volunteer compa-
nies and wear uniform : some of these were natives, but the
greater part were refugees from tlie island of St Domingo.
The dissensions, hitherto of frequent occurrence, between what
were termed the American and French inhabitants, were heal-
ed by a union of dislike to the English and of hearty deter-
mination to frustrate their designs.

The chief dependence of the inhabitants of New Orleans for
safety, was in the nature of the surrounding country, and its
exceeding dilhculty of access to an enemy invading by sea.
In front is a shallow coast, and the principal entrance is a river,
which, after crossing the bar, is narrow, deep and rapid, and of
a course so winding that it was easy to fortify it. To the west
are impassable swamps, and on the east, the low marshy coasts
can be approached only through a shallow lake. The most natu-
ral defence of such a country, would be gun-boats, or vessels
drawing little water and capable of being easily transferred from
place to place. Great uneasiness, however, prevailed, on ac-
count of the inadequacy of the means for opposing the powerful
invading force wliich was expected. I.ouisiana, like other parts
of the union, had been left by the administration (which had
neither money nor men to send) to rely chiefly on itself. It
was certainly, as it respected men, arms and military works, in
a most defenceless condition. 'J'he legislature had been con-
vened, and was in session ; but instead of the active provision
of means of resistance, much of its time was spent in idle dis-

In times of general alarm and danger, nothing is of so much
importance, as a man at the head of affairs possessed of firm-
ness and decision of character. Happily, at this critical junc-


Bri tish Fleet arrives off the Coast Capture of the American Gun-Boats.

ture, there was found such an one in general Jackson. This
officer hastened his departure from Mobile, on liearing of the
danger of New Orleans, and arrived tliero on the 2d of De-
cember. His presence was instantly felt in the confidence
which it inspired, and the unanimity and alacrity with which
all seconded every disposition and measure which he directed.
He visited in person the points at which it was necessary to
erect works. All the inlets, or bayous, from the Atchafalaya
river to the Chef Menteur pass or channel, were ordered to
be obstructed. The banks of the Mississippi were fortified by
his direction, in such a manner as to prevent any of the enemy's
vessels from ascending; and a battery was erected on the Chef
Menteur, so as to oppose the passage of the enemy in that di-
rection. He then called on the legislature to furnish him the
means of expediting the different works which he had marked
out — requisitions which met with prompt compliance. About
one thousand regulars were stationed at New Orleans, which,
together with t!ie Tennessee militia under generals Coffee and
Carrol, were distributed at the most vulnerable points. In an-
ticipation of the approaching danger, military supplies had been
forwarded by the Ohio river ; and the governors of Tennessee
and Kentucky had been called upon for a considerable force,
to be sent with all possible expedition to Louisiana.

On the 9ih of December, certain intelligence was received
that the British fleet, consisting of at least sixty sail, was off
the coast to the east of the Mississippi. Commodore Patterson,
commander of the naval station, immediately despatched a flo-
tilla of five gun-boats, under the command of lieutenant Thomas
Ap Catesby Jones, to watch the motions of the enemy. They
were discovered in such force off Cat Island, at the entrance of
Lake Borgne, that the lieutenant determined to make sail for
the passes into Lake Pontchartrain, in order to oppose the en-
trance of the British. The Sea Horse, sailing-master Johnson,
after a gallant resistance, was captured in the Bay of St Louis.
On the 14th, the gun-boats, while becalmed, were attacked by
nearly forty barges, carrying twelve hundred men, and, after a
contest of an hour with so overwhelming a force, they surren-
dered. The loss of the Americans was forty killed and wound-
ed : among the latter lieutenant Spidden, who lost an arm ; and
lieutenants Jones and M'Keever. The loss of the enemy was
estimated at three hundred men.

The destruction of the gun-boats now placed it in the power
of the enemy to choose his point of attack, and, at the same
time, in a great measure deprived the Americans of the means
of watching his motions. The commander-in-chief ordered the


Martial Law declared by General Jackson.

battalion of men of colour, under major Lacoste, together with
the Feliciana dragoons, to take post on the Chef Menteur, in
order to cover the Gentilly road, which leads from thence to the
city, and also to defend the passage from Lake Borgne into
Lake Pontchartrain ; while captain Newman, of tlie artillery,
who commanded the fort at the Rigolets, the second and only
other channel between these two lakes, was ordered to defend
that place to the last extremity. Other measures were rapidly
adopted. Colonel Fortier, one of the principal merchants of the
city, who had the superintendence of the volunteers composed
of the men of colour, formed a second battalion, which was
placed under the command of major Daquin. By means of
bounties, a number of persons were induced to serve on board
the schooner Caroline and the brig Louisiana ; and thus the
places of the sailors captured by the British were supplied.
On the 18th, the commander-in-chief reviewed the city regi-
ments, and was particularly gratified with the appearance of
the uniform companies commanded by major Plauche. The
battalion of the latter, with a company of light artillery under
lieutenant Wagner, was ordered to Fort St Jolui, for the protec-
tion of the bayou of that name, through which access could be
gained from Lake Pontchartrain into the upper part of the city
of New Orleans, or across to the Mississippi. An embargo for
three days was decreed by the legislature ; a number of persons
confined in the prisons were liberated on condition of serving
in the ranks ; and at length the commander-in-chief conceived
it indispensable, for the safety of the country, to proclaim mar-
tial law, a measure which perhaps was justifiable in the cir-
cumstances. About this time Lafilte and his Baratarians — a
horde of smugglers and pirates, who had carried on their illegal
operations from an almost inaccessible island in the lake of that
name — availed themselves of the amnesty and pardon ofi'ered
them by governor Claiborne on condition that they would come
forward and aid in the defence of the country ; and joined the
American forces.

All the principal bayous which communicate with Lake
Pontchartrain, and intersect the narrow strip of land between
the Mississippi and the swamps, had been obstructed. There
was, however, a channel connected with Lake Borgne, called
the Bayou Bienvenu, and having its head near the plantation
of general Villere, seven miles below the city. Although it
was not believed that this pass, which was known to few ex-
cept fishermen, atforded much facility for the approach of an
invading army, general Jackson gave orders that it should be
obstructed and guarded. A small force was accordingly station-


Landing of the British Army Battle of the 23d of December.

ed near its enlrance into the lake, at tlie cabins of some fish-
ermen who, as afterwards appeared, were in the employment
of the British ; but its obstruction was neglected or forgotten.
On the 22d, guided by these fishermen, a division of tbe ene-
my under general Keane, which had been transported thither
in boats, came suddenly upon the American guard, and took
them prisoners. By four o'clock in the morning of the 23d,
they reached the commencement of Villere's canal, near the
head of the bayou. There they disembarked and rested some
hours ; after which, again proceeding, by two o'clock, P. M.
they reached the bank of the Mississippi. General Villere's
house was immediately surrounded, as was also that of his
neighbour, colonel La Ronde ; but this officer, as well as major
Villere, was so fortunate as to efTect his escape^ and hastened
to head quarters, to communicate intelligence of the approach
of the enemy.

The coinmander-in-chief, on receiving this information,
instantly resolved on the only course to be pursued, which
was, without the loss of a moment's time, to attack the enemy.
In one hour's time, Coffee's riflemen, stationed above the city,
were at the place of rendezvous, the battalion of major Plauche
had arrived from the bayou, and the regulars and city volunteers
were ready to march. By six o'clock in the evening, the dif-
ferent corps were united on Rodrigue's canal, six miles below
the city. The schooner Caroline, captain Henley, bearing
the broad pendant of commodore Patterson, at the same time
dropped down the river ; and orders were given to lieutenant-
commandant Thompson to follow with the Louisiana. General
CofTee's command, together with captain Beale's riflemen, was
placed on the extreme left, towards the woods ; the city volun-
teers and the men of colour, under Plauche and Daquin, both
commanded by colonel Ross, were stationed in the centre ; and
to the right, the two regiments of regulars, the Seventh and
Fourty-fourth ; while the artillery and marines, under colonel
M'Rea, occupied the road. The whole force scarcely exceed-
ed two thousand men. The British troops, which amounted
to three thousand men, on their arrival at the Mississippi, in-
stead of pushing directly towards the city, had bivouacked, with
their right resting on a wood and their left on the river, in the
full conviction that the most difficult part of the enter{)rise was
already achieved. Coffee was ordered to turn their right and
attack them in the rear; while general Jackson in person, with
the main body of the troops, assailed them in front and on their
left: a fire from the Caroline was to be the signal of attack. At
half past seven o'clock, night having already set in, the action


Results of the Battle Jackson encamps, and fortifies himself.

commenced by a raking broadside from the schooner, which
was directed by t!ie light of the enemy's fires, and afforded the
first intimation of the approach of the Americans. C'offee's
men, wiih tlieir usual impetuosity, now rushed to tiie attack, and
entered the British camp; while the troops in front and on the
right, under the immediate command of general Jackson, ad-
vanced with equal ardour.

The enemy were taken by surprise, and although they soon
extinguished their fires and formed, yet order was not restored
before several hundreds of them had been killed or wounded.
A thick fog, which arose shortly afterward, and a misunder-
standing of instructions by one of the principal officers, produc-
ing some confusion in tiie American ranks, Jackson called off his
troops, and lay on the field that night. At four of the following
morning, he fell back to a position about two miles nearer the
city, where the swamp and the Mississippi approached nearest
to each other, and where, tlierefore, his line of defence would
be the shortest and most tenable. In his front was a mill-race
which was supplied with water from the river. The American
loss in this battle was twenty-four killed, among whom was
colonel Lauderdale of Tennessee, a brave soldier, who fell much
lamented ; one hundred anil fifteen wounded ; and seventy-four
prisoners, of whom were many of the principal inhabitants of the
city. 'I'hatof the British was estimated at four hundred in killed,
wounded and missing. If it was the object of the American
general to teacli his adversaries caution, and thus retard their
advance, he fully succeeded; for during four days, they kept
witliin tlieir intrenchments, contenting themselves with active
preparatory occupations. 'i'hey were probably inlluenced
somewhat to suspend the immediate execution of their intended

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 31 of 32)