The Battle Of New Orleans





The heavy fog of morning

Still hid the plain from sight,

When came a thread of scarlet

Marked faintly in the white.

We fired a single cannon,

And as its thunders rolled,

The mist before us lifted

In many a heavy fold.

The mist before us lifted,

And in their bravery fine

Came rushing to their ruin

The fearless British line.

--Thomas Dunn English.





When, in 1814, Napoleon was overthrown and forced to retire to Elba, the

British troops that had followed Wellington into southern France

were left free for use against the Americans. A great expedition was

organized to attack and capture New Orleans, and at its head was placed

General Pakenham, the brilliant commander of the column that delivered

the fatal blow at Salamanca. In December a fleet of British war-ships

and transports, carrying thousands of victorious veterans from the

Peninsula, and manned by sailors who had grown old in a quarter of a

century's triumphant ocean warfare, anchored off the broad lagoons of

the Mississippi delta. The few American gunboats were carried after a

desperate hand-to-hand struggle, the troops were landed, and on December

23 the advance-guard of two thousand men reached the banks of the

Mississippi, but ten miles below New Orleans, and there camped for the

night. It seemed as if nothing could save the Creole City from foes who

had shown, in the storming of many a Spanish walled town, that they were

as ruthless in victory as they were terrible in battle. There were

no forts to protect the place, and the militia were ill armed and ill

trained. But the hour found the man. On the afternoon of the very day

when the British reached the banks of the river the vanguard of Andrew

Jackson's Tennesseeans marched into New Orleans. Clad in hunting-shirts

of buckskin or homespun, wearing wolfskin and coonskin caps, and

carrying their long rifles on their shoulders, the wild soldiery of the

backwoods tramped into the little French town. They were tall men, with

sinewy frames and piercing eyes. Under "Old Hickory's" lead they had

won the bloody battle of the Horseshoe Bend against the Creeks; they

had driven the Spaniards from Pensacola; and now they were eager to pit

themselves against the most renowned troops of all Europe.



Jackson acted with his usual fiery, hasty decision. It was absolutely

necessary to get time in which to throw up some kind of breastworks or

defenses for the city, and he at once resolved on a night attack against

the British. As for the British, they had no thought of being molested.

They did not dream of an assault from inferior numbers of undisciplined

and ill-armed militia, who did not possess so much as bayonets to their

guns. They kindled fires along the levees, ate their supper, and then,

as the evening fell, noticed a big schooner drop down the river in

ghostly silence and bring up opposite to them. The soldiers flocked to

the shore, challenging the stranger, and finally fired one or two shots

at her. Then suddenly a rough voice was heard, "Now give it to them,

for the honor of America!" and a shower of shell and grape fell on

the British, driving them off the levee. The stranger was an American

man-of-war schooner. The British brought up artillery to drive her off,

but before they succeeded Jackson's land troops burst upon them, and

a fierce, indecisive struggle followed. In the night all order was

speedily lost, and the two sides fought singly or in groups in the

utmost confusion. Finally a fog came up and the combatants separated.

Jackson drew off four or five miles and camped.



The British had been so roughly handled that they were unable to advance

for three or four days, until the entire army came up. When they did

advance, it was only to find that Jackson had made good use of the time

he had gained by his daring assault. He had thrown up breastworks of

mud and logs from the swamp to the river. At first the British tried to

batter down these breastworks with their cannon, for they had many more

guns than the Americans. A terrible artillery duel followed. For an

hour or two the result seemed in doubt; but the American gunners showed

themselves to be far more skilful than their antagonists, and gradually

getting the upper hand, they finally silenced every piece of British

artillery. The Americans had used cotton bales in the embrasures, and

the British hogsheads of sugar; but neither worked well, for the cotton

caught fire and the sugar hogsheads were ripped and splintered by the

roundshot, so that both were abandoned. By the use of red-hot shot the

British succeeded in setting on fire the American schooner which had

caused them such annoyance on the evening of the night attack; but she

had served her purpose, and her destruction caused little anxiety to

Jackson.



Having failed in his effort to batter down the American breastworks,

and the British artillery having been fairly worsted by the American,

Pakenham decided to try open assault. He had ten thousand regular

troops, while Jackson had under him but little over five thousand men,

who were trained only as he had himself trained them in his Indian

campaigns. Not a fourth of them carried bayonets. Both Pakenham and the

troops under him were fresh from victories won over the most renowned

marshals of Napoleon, andover soldiers that had proved themselves on a

hundred stricken fields the masters of all others in Continental Europe.

At Toulouse they had driven Marshal Soult from a position infinitely

stronger than that held by Jackson, and yet Soult had under him a

veteran army. At Badajoz, Ciudad Rodrigo, and San Sebastian they

had carried by open assault fortified towns whose strength made

the intrenchments of the Americans seem like the mud walls built by

children, though these towns were held by the best soldiers of France.

With such troops to follow him, and with such victories behind him in

the past, it did not seem possible to Pakenham that the assault of the

terrible British infantry could be successfully met by rough backwoods

riflemen fighting under a general as wild and untrained as themselves.



He decreed that the assault should take place on the morning of the

eighth. Throughout the previous night the American officers were on

the alert, for they could hear the rumbling of artillery in the British

camp, the muffled tread of the battalions as they were marched to their

points in the line, and all the smothered din of the preparation for

assault. Long before dawn the riflemen were awake and drawn up behind

the mud walls, where they lolled at ease, or, leaning on their long

rifles, peered out through the fog toward the camp of their foes. At

last the sun rose and the fog lifted, showing the scarlet array of the

splendid British infantry. As soon as the air was clear Pakenham gave

the word, and the heavy columns of redcoated grenadiers and kilted

Highlanders moved steadily forward. From the American breastworks

the great guns opened, but not a rifle cracked. Three fourths of the

distance were covered, and the eager soldiers broke into a run; then

sheets of flame burst from the breastworks in their front as the wild

riflemen of the backwoods rose and fired, line upon line. Under the

sweeping hail the head of the British advance was shattered, and the

whole column stopped. Then it surged forward again, almost to the foot

of the breastworks; but not a man lived to reach them, and in a moment

more the troops broke and ran back. Mad with shame and rage, Pakenham

rode among them to rally and lead them forward, and the officers sprang

around him, smiting the fugitives with their swords and cheering on the

men who stood. For a moment the troops halted, and again came forward

to the charge; but again they were met by a hail of bullets from the

backwoods rifles. One shot struck Pakenham himself. He reeled and fell

from the saddle, and was carried off the field. The second and third

in command fell also, and then all attempts at further advance were

abandoned, and the British troops ran back to their lines. Another

assault had meanwhile been made by a column close to the river, the

charging soldiers rushing to the top of the breastworks; but they were

all killed or driven back. A body of troops had also been sent across

the river, where they routed a small detachment of Kentucky militia; but

they were, of course, recalled when the main assault failed.



At last the men who had conquered the conquerors of Europe had

themselves met defeat. Andrew Jackson and his rough riflemen had

worsted, in fair fight, a far larger force of the best of Wellington's

veterans, and had accomplished what no French marshal and no French

troops had been able to accomplish throughout the long war in the

Spanish peninsula. For a week the sullen British lay in their lines;

then, abandoning their heavy artillery, they marched back to the ships

and sailed for Europe.





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