Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Battle of New Orleans
By Charles Étienne Arthur Gayarré (18051895)
[From History of Louisiana. 1854.Enlarged Edition. 1866.]
GENERAL JACKSON was fully aware that on the 6th the enemy was preparing, as stated before, for a more serious attack than any he had yet made. But against what point was that attack to be directed? Was it against our lines on the left side of the river, or against General Morgan on the right side? All doubts vanished on the evening of the 7th, it having become evident that the enemy had made up his mind to storm our breastworks. With the aid of telescopes we discovered a number of soldiers making fascines and scaling-ladders; officers of the staff were riding about, and stopping at the different posts, as if they carried orders; the artillery was in motion; troops were marching to and fro; the pickets had been increased and stationed near each other; at sunset the enemys guards were reënforced, probably to cover his movements. When night came sounds were heard, the import of which it was not difficult to understand. Numbers of men were evidently at work in all the batteries; the strokes of the hammer were loud and distinct; and the reports of our outposts confirmed our conjectures. In our camp there was that composure which generally is the harbinger of victory, and which in our troops was the result of their confidence in their chief and in themselves. Officers and men were ready to spring to action at the first signal, and during the night, from time to time, fresh troops relieved those which had remained under arms. Our lines were defended by three thousand two hundred men, General Jackson having detached from the four thousand he had on hand eight hundred, to guard our camp, to protect the Piernas Canal, and for other purposes. In front of this small body of militia, and of a line of defence which would have elicited a smile of contempt from a European military man, were drawn up from twelve to fourteen thousand of the best troops of England, supported by a powerful artillery. There could hardly be a more unequal contest; but it was with no other feeling than a sort of stern cheerfulness that our troops surveyed this disproportion of forces.
A little before daybreak on the 8th the enemy began moving toward our lines, and our outposts came in without noise, reporting his advance. As soon as there was sufficient light for observation, his position was clearly ascertained, and he was seen to occupy about two-thirds of the space extending between the wood and the river. Immediately a Congreve rocket went up from the skirt of the wood. It was the signal for the attack. One of our batteries responded by a shot, and at the same moment the British, giving three cheers, formed into a close column of about sixty men in front, and advanced in splendid order, but with too slow and measured steps, chiefly upon the battery commanded by Garrigues Flaugeac, which consisted of a brass twelve-pounder, and was supported on its left by an insignificant battery with a small brass carronade, which could render but very little service on account of the ill condition of its carriage. These two batteries were the nearest to the wood, and against them the main attack was evidently directed. Flaugeacs battery opened upon the advancing column an incessant tire, indifferently supported by the small carronade on its left, and more powerfully on its right, by a long brass eighteen-pound culverine and a six-pounder, commanded by Lieutenants Spotts and Chauveau, and served by gunners of the United States artillery. A shower of rockets preceded the storming column, which was provided with fascines and ladders. That part of our intrenchments was defended by the Tennesseeans and Kentuckians, who shot at will with such rapidity that their whole line seemed to be but one sheet of fire. So effective were the incessant discharges of the artillery and musketry, which rolled like uninterrupted peals of thunder, that the British, before they had gained much ground, gave signs of confusion. The officers were seen animating their men, and urging them onward when they wavered. An oblique movement was made to avoid the terrible fire of the Flaugeac battery, from which every discharge seemed to tear open the column and sweep away whole files. But new men would, each time, rush to fill up those fearful gaps and the column still advanced steadily and heavily. A few platoons had even succeeded in reaching the edge of the ditch in front of our lines, when the main column of attack, staggering under the irresistible fire of our batteries, broke at last after an ineffectual struggle of twenty-five minutessome of the men dispersing, and running to take shelter among the bushes on their right, and the rest retiring to a ditch where they had been stationed when first perceived, at a distance of about four hundred yards from our lines. There the officers rallied their troops, ordered them to lay aside the heavy knapsack with which they were encumbered, and, being reënforced by troops which had been kept in reserve, led back their battalions to renew the attack. This time, having experienced the nature of the fire which expected them in front, the British advanced more rapidly, without pretending to observe the slow parade, precision, and regularity which had been already so fatal to them. They came very near our lines, irregularly, with some confusion, but with exemplary courage. They met, however, the same overwhelming hail-storm of grape and bullets from our artillery and musketry. Sir Edward Packenham, commander-in-chief, lost his life whilst gallantly leading his troops to the assault; soon after, Major-General Gibbs was carried away from the field, mortally wounded; then fell Major-General Keane, also severely wounded, with a great number of officers of rank, who had assumed the most dangerous positions to encourage their subordinates. The ground was literally strewed with the dead and wounded. Further to advance seemed to be courting destruction for every man. A feeling of consternation pervaded the ranks, which broke for the second time in the utmost confusion. In vain did the officers throw themselves in the way of the fugitives; vain were their appeals to the sense of honor and the love of country; vain were their threats and reproaches; vain were the blows which they were seen to give with the flat of their swords; the men were demoralized; and all that remained to be done was to lead them back to the ditch from which they had come in an evil hour, and which they could not be prevailed upon to leave for a third attack. In that safe cover they remained drawn up for the rest of the day.
Whilst this was occurring on the edge of the wood, a false attack had been made in the wood itself, chiefly by some black troops; but it was faint and languid, and easily repulsed by Coffees Brigade. On our right near the river there had also been another false attack, conducted with far more vigor by Colonel Rennie. This column had pushed on so precipitately, and had followed so closely our outposts, that they reached our unfinished redoubt before we could fire more than two discharges. To leap into the ditch, to get through the embrasures into the redoubt, to climb over the parapet, to overpower our men by superior numbers, was but the affair of an instant. Colonel Rennie, although severely wounded in the leg, attempted next, at the head of his men, to clear the breastwork of the intrenchments in the rear of the redoubt, but now he had to meet the intrepid Orleans Riflemen, under Captain Beale, who had so much distinguished themselves in the battle of the 23d. Colonel Rennie, however, had the honor to scale those breastworks with two other officers, and already waving his sword, he was shouting, Hurrah, boys, the day is ours, when he fell back a corpse into the ditch below with his two companions, who shared his noble fate; and soon after the redoubt was retaken from their disheartened followers. It is fortunate that the two other attacks, particularly the main one, had not been conducted with the same impetuosity.
During this attack two British batteries had kept up a warm engagement with some of our centre batteries, by which they were at last demolished. As on the 1st of January, the first discharges of the enemys artillery had been concentrated upon the house occupied as headquarters by General Jackson. But this time he was not in it, and the only mischief done, at a prodigious expense of balls and shells, was the knocking down of four or five pillars of the house, and the inflicting of a contusion on the shoulder of Major Chotard, Assistant Adjutant-General. Commodore Patterson, on the other side of the river, had, simultaneously with our lines, opened a heavy fire on the enemy from his marine battery, until he was stopped by the landing of the British troops which had been sent to dislodge General Morgan. His fire proved very destructive, as the British columns, in their advance and retreat, says the Commodore in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, afforded a most advantageous opportunity for the use of grape and canister. The battle did not last more than one hour. At half-past nine it was all over, although the cannonade between the batteries continued until two oclock. The loss of the enemy was enormous, amounting to near three thousand, which was about one-half of the number of his men supposed to be engaged. This loss will appear still more extraordinary when it is considered that the enemy had encountered only half of our troops, as he was out of the range of the musketry of our centre, which was not even threatened during the whole engagement. Our loss was incredibly small, not exceeding thirteen. After his retreat, the enemy, says Major Latour, appeared to apprehend that we should make a sortie and attack him in his camp. The soldiers were drawn up in the ditches in several parallel lines, and all those who had been slightly wounded, as soon as their wounds were dressed, were sent to join their corps, in order to make their number of effective men appear the greater, and show a firm countenance.