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sisting of five mounted riflemen, advance toward the British
camp to reconuoiter. They advance too far, and retire with
the loss of one horse killed and two men wounded. The first
blood of the land campaign is shed ; Thomas Scott, the
name of the first wounded man. Major Planche's battalion
of Creole volunteers are now beginning to arrive. Our friend
Kolte was serving in one of the companies. If Nolte were
only as reliable as he is interesting, he would be a valuable
aid to us at this moment. Of the march from the city to the
rendezvous he gives us this record : " Our major, Planchd,


was very much agitated. He turned round to me and said,
in almost piteous tones^

" 'Alas ! I scarcely feel that I have courage enough to
lead fathers of families to battle !'

"But our captain^ Koche^ who was 'made of sterner
Btuff/ and might be called a practical soldier, rejoined,

"'Don't talk in that way, major! Come now! that's
not the kind of tone to use at this time !'

"With these words, he wheeled about to us and shouted^

" ^Come, lads ! forward ! Do your duty like brave fel-
lows V

" The Viller^ plantation was about eight or nine miles
from the city. We hurried toward it with a zeal which, for
inexperienced militia, who had not yet smelt powder, might
have been called almost heroic, had not Jackson's own ex-
ample spurred us on, or had not many remained in careless
ignorance of what awaited them. With our silent band of
musicians in front, almost at a running pace, we reached Vil-
lere's plantation within about two hours, just as twilight was
drawing on, and in profound silence."

Five o'clock. — The General is with his little army, serene,
determined, confident. He believes he is about to capture or
destroy those red-coats in his front, and he communicates
some portion of his own assurance of faith to those around
him. First, Colonel Hayne, inspector-general of the army,
shall go forward with Colonel Hind's hundred horsemen, to
see what he can see of the enemy's position and numbers.
The hundred horsemen advance ; dash into the British pick-
ets ; halt while Colonel Hayne takes a survey of the scene
before him ; wheel, and gallop back. Colonel Hayne reports
the enemy's strength at two thousand. But what are these
printed bills stuck upon the plantation fences ?


Signed by General Keane and Admiral Cochrane. A
negro was overtaken by the returning reconnoiterers, with

J.OX^J T U Jli W 1 U ±1 T J3 A T T It HI . OO

printed copies of this proclamation upon his person^ in Span-
ish and French.'*-'

Twilight deepens into darkness. It is the shortest day of
the year but four. The moon rises hazy and dim, yet bright
enough for that night's work, if it will only last. The Ameri-
can host is very silent ; silentj because such is the order ;
silent, because they are in no mood to chatter. The more
provident and lucky of the men eat and drink what they have,
but most of them neither eat nor hunger. As the night drew
on the British watch-fires, numerous and brilliant, became
visible, disclosmg completely their position, and lighting the
Americans the way they were to go.

Six o'clock. — The General-in-Chief has completed his
scheme, and part of it is in course of execution. It was the
simple old backwoods plan of cornering the enemy ; the best
possible for the time and place. Coffee, with his own rifle-
men, with Beale's New Orleans sharpshooters, with Hinds'
dragoons, was to leave the river's side, march across the plain
to the cypress swamp, turn down toward the enemy, wheel
again, attack them in the flank, and crowd them to the river.
With General Coffee, as guide and aid, went Colonel De la
Ronde, the proprietor of one of the plantations embraced in
the circle of operations. A circuitous march of five miles
over moist, rough, obstructed ground, lay before General Cof-
fee, and he was already in motion. Jackson, with the main
fighting strength of the army, was to keep closer to the river,
and open an attack directly upon the enemy^s position ; the
artillery and marines upon the high road ; the two regiments
of regulars to the left of the road ; Blanche's battalion, Dac-
quin's colored freemen, Jugeant's Choctaws, still further to
the left, so as to complete the line of attack across the plain.
The Carolina was to anchor opposite the enemy's camp, close
in shore, and pour broadsides of grape and round shot into
their midst. From the Carolina was to come the signal of
attack. Not a shot to be fired, not a sound uttered, till the
schooner's guns were heard. Then — Coffee, Planch^, regu-

*Latour, 90.


lars, marines, Indians, negroes, artillery, Jackson, all advance
at once, and girdle the foe with fire !

Half-past sis.— The Carolina arrives opposite Greneral
Jackson's position. Edward Livingston goes on board of
her, explains the plan of attack, communicates the General's
orders to Commodore Patterson, and returns to his place at
the General's side. " It continuing calm," says the Com-
modore in his official dispatch, "got out sweeps, and, a few-
minutes after, having been freq[uently hailed by the enemy's
sentinels, anchored, veered out a long scope of cable, and
sheered close in shore abreast of their camp." The Com-
modore's " few minutes" was three quarters of an hour, at
least, according to the other accounts. He had more than
two miles to go before reaching the spot where he " veered
out the long reach of cable" — itself an operation not done in
a moment.

Seven o'clock. — The night has grown darker than was
hoped. Coffee has made his way across the plain. Behind
a ditch separating two plantations he is dismounting his men.
Cavalry could not be employed upon such ground in the
dark. Leaving the hoi'ses in charge of a hundred of his rifle-
men, he is about to march with the rest to find and charge
the enemy. He has still a long way to go, and wants a full
hour, at least, to come up with them. General Coffee, a man
of few words, and intent on the business of the hour, dehvers
an oration, in something like these words :

" Men, you have often said you could fight ; now is the
time to prove it. Don't waste powder. Be sui^e of your
mark before firing."

Jackson is nearly ready to advance. The susceptible Cre-
oles, of course, could not fall in on such a night for such a
purpose without enacting a scene or two. "At this mo-
ment," says Nolte, " Captain Eoche stepped in front, and
commanded —

" ' Sergeant Eoche !'

" This was his brother. The latter advanced, and was
met by the Captain, who said;



" ^Let US embrace^ brother ; it may be for the last time/

" The request was complied with. Then came a second
word of command :

" ^ Sergeant Eoche, to your post !' "

There is still a wide gap between General Jackson's divi-
sion and that under command of General Coffee. Colonel
E0SS5 who is acting to-night as brigadier-general (for Jack-
son had no brigadier), has been ordered, as soon as the fire
opens, to close that gap with the uniformed companies and
the colored freemen.

Half-past seven. — The first gun from the Carolina booms
over the plain, followed in quick succession by seven others —
the schooner's first broadside. It lays low upon the moist
delta a hundred British soldiers, as some compute or guess.*
Jackson hears it, and yet withholds the expected word of
command. Coffee hears it, too soon, but he makes haste to
respond. The English division then landing at the fisher-
man's village hear it, and huny tumultuously toward the
scene of action, and the boats go madly back to Pine Island with
the news. New Orleans hears it. A great crowd of women,
children, old men and slaves, assembled in the square before
the state-house, see the flash and listen to the roar of the
guns, with emotions that can be imagined, not described.

Other broadsides follow, as fast as men can load. And
yet, strange to say, the people on board the terrible schooner
knew nothing all that night of the effect their fire produced ;
knew not whether they had contributed anything or nothing
to the final issue of the strife. Commodore Patterson simply
says : " Commenced a heavy (and as I have since learned,
most destructive) fire from our starboard battery and small
arms, which was returned most spiritedly by the enemy with
congreve rockets and musketry from their whole force, when,
after about forty minutes of most incessant fire, the enemy

* G-eneral Keane, in his official report, (which is full of errors,) says that only
one man fell at the first fire, Captain Cooke, in his " Narrative," says, many
felL Mr. Walker thinks, one hundred. The Subaltern says, " it swept dovm
mmi^&rs,^' Pity a poor biographer, dear reader.


was silenced. The fire from our battery was continued tiD
nine o'clock upon the enemy's flank while engaged in the field
with our army, at which hour ceased firing, supposing, from
the distance of the enemy's fire (for it was too dark to see
anything on shore), that they had retreated beyond the range
of our guns. Weighed and swept across the river, in hopes
of a breeze the next morning, to enable me to renew the
attack upon the enemy, should they be returned to their en-

So much for the Carolina. What she did, we know.
But I defy any living being to say with positiveness, and in
detail, what occurred on shore. The contradictions between
the British and American accounts, and between the various
American narratives, are so flat and irreconcilable, that the
narrator who cares only for the truth pauses bewildered,
and knows not what to believe. But exactness of detail is
not important in describing this unique battle. A more suc-
cessful night attack, or one that more completely gained, not
the object proposed, but the objects most necessary to be
gained, was never made. That fact alone might suffice. Yet
let us peer into the thickening darkness, and see what we can
discern of the credible, the probable, and the certain, borrow-
ing other people's eyes when our own fail.

Jackson opened his attack with curious deliberation. He
Avaited patiently for the Carolina's guns. And when the
thunder of her broadside broke the silence of the night, he
still waited. For ten minutes, which seemed thirty, he let
the little schooner wage the combat alone, hoping to fix the
attention of the enemy exclusively upon her.

Then — ^Forwaed !

A mistake occurred at the very start. So, at least, avers
Major Eaton, whose work was written under Jackson's own
eye. The troops were ordered to march toward the enemy
in columns^ and those nearest the General's person did so.
But the larger number, instead of moving in columns and
starting oS to the left, so as to fill the gap betwen Jackson's
and Coffee's divisions, marched in line. For a few minutes


all went well, and the whole division was rapidly nearing the
enemy, full of courage and enthusiasm. But soon, by the
turn of the river, the ground was found to be too narrow for
the line, which first became compressed, then confused ; and,
finally, Planche's battalion was forced out of the line, and
compelled to form in the rear. Jackson saw nothing of this,
however ; no one saw it except those whom it immediately
concerned. Major Planch^ himself scarcely comprehended it
— so dark was the night, so broken the gi'ound.

Down the high road, close to the river, with the seventh
regiment, the artillery and the marines, Jackson advanced.
A Hght breeze from the river blew over the plain the smoke
of the Carolina's incessant fire, to which was added a fog
then beginning to rise from the river. Lighted only by the
flash of the guns and the answering musketry and rockets,
the General pushed on, and had approached within less than
a mile of the British headquarters, when the company in ad-
vance, under Lieutenant McLelland, received a brisk fire
from a British outpost lying in a ditch behind a fence near
the road. Colonel Piatt, quartermaster-general, who was
with this company, ran to the front, and seeing the red-
coats, by the flash of their own guns, cried out —
" Come out, and fight like men on open ground."
Without giving them time to comply with this invita-
tion, he poured a volley into their midst, and kept up an ac-
tive fire for four or five minutes. The British picket -gave
way, and over the fence leaped Piatt's company, and occu-
pied the post they had abandoned. This was the first suc-
cess of the battle, but it was very short. In a few minutes,
a large party of British, two hundred, it is said, came up to
regain their lost position, and opened a fire upon the victorious
company. Its gaUant commander. Lieutenant McLelland,
fell dead; Colonel Piatt was wounded; a sergeant was killed;
several of the men were wounded ; and it was going hardly
with the little band. In the nick of time, however, the two
pieces of cannon were placed in position on the road, and began a
most vigorous fire, relieving the advanced company, and com-


pelling the enemy to keep his distance. A second tme t
Americans were successful, for a moment. Soon a formidal
force of British came up the road, and opened a tremendo
fire upon the artillerymen and marines, evidently designi:
to take the guns. The marines recoiled before the lead
tempest. The horses attached to the cannon, wounded '
the fire, reared, plunged, became unmanageable, and one >
the pieces was overturned into the ditch by the side of t
road. It was a moment of frightful and nearly fatal conf
sion. Jackson dashed into the fire, accompanied by two i
his aids, and roared out with that startling voice of his —

" Save the guns, my boys, at every sacrifice."

The electric presence of the General restored and raUi
the marines as another company of the seventh came up, ai
the guns were "protected," says Major Eaton, which prot
bly means drawn out of danger. All this was the work of
very few minutes.

The other companies of the seventh, and the whole of t
forty-fourth, were meanwhile engaged in that miscellaneot
desultory, indescribable manner, of which the Subalten
narrative will in a moment give us some idea.

Major Planch^ was not long in the rear. He marched 1
battallion to the left to find an opening for attack. Unfc
tunately he did not march far enough to the left ; but a
vancing toward the enemy before he had gone beyond t
forty-fourth, one of his companies mistook that regiment i
one of the enemy's, and opened fire upon it, wounding seve:
men. Planche gallantly atoned for the deplorable error, 1
his battalion against the enemy, and gave them several effi
tive volleys. Our acquaintance, Nolte, now catches his fi
glimpse of the red coats. He desires us to understand tl
he surveyed the scene with the composure of a veteran. ^'
was by the flash of the muskets/' he says, " that we, for 1
first time, got a sight of the red coats of the English, y\
were posted on a small acclivity in front of us, about a gi
shot distant. I noted this circumstance, and at the sa
moment observed the peculiar method of firing by theEngli


who still kept up the old custom of three deep ; one row of
men half kneelingj and two other ranks firing over their shoul-
ders. This style of firing, along with the darkness of the
evening, explained to me the reason why the enemy's balls,
which we heard whistling by, mostly flew over our heads, and
only seven men were wounded, five of them belonging to our
own company. After the lapse of about twenty minutes, the
word was passed to cease firing. On the English side only a
few retreating discharges were dropped in from time to time.
We saw about sixty English captured by the Tennessee rifle-
men, and led off towards the road, and at the same time
learned that about one half of our sharpshooters from the
city had fallen into the hands of the English."

Before these simultaneous attacks the English gradually
gave way. Not at every point, however. But, upon the
whole, the Americans gained upon them, and got nearer and
nearer the British headquarters.

General Coffee, though the signal came a little too early
for him, was in the thick of the fight sooner than he had ex-
pected. Having reached the Villere plantation, he wheeled
toward the river, and marched in a widely extended line, each
man to fight, in the Indian fashion, on his own account. He
expected to come up with the enemy near the river's bank,
and would have done so if the Carolina had begun her fire
half an hour later. The enemy, however, had then had time
to recover from their confusion, to abandon the river, and to
form in various positions across the plain. General Coffee
had not advanced a hundred yards from the swamp before he
was astonished to find himself in the presence of the British
eighty-fifth. "A war of duels and detachments" ensued,
witll varying fortune. But the deadly and unerring fire of
Coffee's cool riflemen, accustomed from of old to night war-
fare with Indians, acquainted with all the arts of covert and
approach, was too much for the British infantry. '■'• From

* " The short rifle of the English service -was not equal to the long and deadly
instrument of the western hunter and Indian fighter. For many years after the
huts of Lacoste bore striking proofs of the accuracy of the aim of the Tennes-


orange grove, from behind negro huts, the eighty-fifth slowly
retired toward the river, until, at length, they took post be-
hind an old levee, near the high road. Bayonets alone could
dislodge them thence, and the Tennesseans had no bayonets.
Coffee, too, retired to cover, and sent to the General for

Captain J. N. Cooke, a British officer, who wrote a nar-
rative of this unexampled campaign, gives a lively picture of
the battle at the time when Coffee was fighting his way across
the plain: ^^ Lumps and crowds of American militia, who
were armed with rifles and long hunting knives for close
quarters, now crossed the country ; and by degrees getting
nearer to the headquarters of the British, they were met by
some companies of the rifle corps and the eighty-fifth light
infantry ; and here again such confusion took place as seldom
occurs in war — the bayonet of the British and the knife of
the American were in active opposition at close quarters
during this eventful night, and, as pronounced by the Ameri-
cans, it was ^ rough and tumble."

" The darkness was partially dispelled for a few moments
now and then by the flashes of fire-arms ; and whenever the
outlines of men were distinguishable, the Americans called
out, 'don't fire, we are your friends \" Prisoners were taken
and retaken. The Americans were litigating and wrangling,
and protesting that they were not taken fairly, and were hug-
ging their fire-arms, and bewailing their separation from a
favorite rifle that they wished to retain as their lawful prop-

seans, and of the severity of the combat iu this part of the field. Concealing
themselves behind the huts, the British waited until the Tennesseans got into
the midst of them. Then they rushed forward and engaged with them hand to
hand. Keither party having bayonets, they were forced to club their guns, and
thus many fine rifles were ruined. But the more cautious of the Tennesseana
preferred their long knives and tomahawks to thus endangering that arm which
is their chief reliance in war, their inseparable companion in peace and war.
Mfiny a British soldier who was found dead^on the field, with heavy gashes on
his forehead, or deep stabs in his bosom, was buried under the conviction that
ho came to his death by that military and chivalric weapon, the sword."—
JacJcaon cmd Mw Orlea/ns.


" The British soldiers, likewise, hearing their mother
tongue spoken, were captured by this deception ; when such
mistakes being detected, the nearest American received a
knock-down blow ; and in this manner prisoners on both
sides, having escaped, again joined in the fray, calling out
lustily for their respective friends. Here was fighting, and
straggling flashes of fire darting through the gloom, like the
tails of so many comets.

"At this most remarkable night-encounter the British
were fighting on two sides of a ragged triangle, their left face
pounded by the fire from the sloop, and their right face en-
gaged with the American land forces. Hallenwas still fight-
ing in front at the apes.

"At onetime the Americans pushed round Hallen's right,
and got possession of the high road behind him; where they
took Major Mitchell and thirty riflemen going to his assist-
ance. But Hallen was inexorable, and at no time had more
than one hundred men at his disposal ; the riflemen coming
up from the rear by twos and threes to his assistance, when
he had lost nearly half his picket in killed and wounded.
And behind him was such confusion that an English artillery
officer declared that the flying illumination encircling him was
so unaccountably strange that had he not pointed his brass
cannon to the front at the beginning of the fight he could not
have told which was the proper front of battle (as the English
soldiers were often firing one upon the other, as well as the
Americans), except by looking towards the muzzle of his
three pounder, which he dared not fire, from the fear of bring-
ing down friends, and foes by the same discharge ; seeing, as
he did, the darkness suddenly illuminated across the country
by the flashing of muskets at every point of the compass."

The incidents attending the capture of Major Mitchell
are amusingly related by the author of " Jackson and New
Orleans." " As the 93d Highlanders,'' says this diligent
writer, "were expected every moment to reach the camp,
Major Mitchell was strongly impressed with the belief that
Coffee's men, who wore hunting-shirts, which, in the dark,


were not nnlike the Highland frock, were the men of the 93(1^
and greatly needing their aid, he eagerly advanced, calling
out, 'Are those the 93d?' 'Of course,' shouted the Ten-
nesseans, who had no particular number. Mitchell thereupon
pushed boldly forward within a few feet of the men, when Cap-
tain Donaldson stepped in front, and slapping the astounded
Briton on the shoulder, called out, ' You are my prisoner,'
and requested the Major's sword. This request was enforced
by half a dozen long rifles, which covered his body at every
assailable point. With infinite mortification the gallant
Major surrendered, and with several other prisoners was
borne off by the Tennesseans. Though at the moment of
his capture, and subsequently. Major Mitchell was treated
with the kindness and generosity due to a gallant foe, he
never recovered his good humor, and embraced every oppor-
tunity of exhibiting his spleen and disgust. The oblique
movement of Coffee's brigade to the right produced some dis-
asters which were sorely lamented by the Americans."

The Subaltern's narrative of this fearful and glorious
night is singularly interesting. He says truly that no man
could know much of what passed except the events that oc-
curred in his immediate presence, and therefore he confines
his narrative to what he himself did' and saw :

" My friend Grey and myself had been supplied by onr soldiers -witili a
couple of fowls taken from a neighboring hen-roost, and a few bottles of
excellent claretj borrowed from the cellar of one of the houses near. "We
had built ourselves a sort of hut, by piling together in a conical form a num-
ber of large stakes and broad rails torn up from one of the fences; and a
bright wooden fire was blazing at the door of it. In the wantonness of
triumph, too, we had lighted some six or eight wax-candles, a vast quan-
tity of which had been found in the store-rooms of the chateaux hard by;
and having done ample justice to our luxurious supper, we were sitting in
great splendor, and in high spirits, at the entrance of our hut, when the
alarm of the approaching schooner was communicated to us. "With the
sagacity of a veteran, Grey instantly guessed how matters stood: he was
the first to hail the suspicious stranger, and, on receiving no answer to hia
challenge, he was the first to fire a musket in the dh-ection of her anchor-
age. But he had scarcely done so when she opened her broadside, causing

Online LibraryJames PartonLife of Andrew Jackson → online text (page 8 of 63)