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safety, we could not have found one better calculated for that purpose than the present; because it afforded every means of concealment to one part of our force, until the others should be able to come up.
Here General Keane should have halted till the other brigades could have joined him; but deceived, as it is said, by deserters, he incautiously advanced into the open country. By the culpable negligence of an officer a prisoner was suffered to escape, and by the imprudence of the General, the troops were permitted to light fires; the consequence was a surprise.
In this manner the day passed without any farther alarm; and darkness having set in, the fires were made to blaze with increased splendour, our evening meal was eat, and we prepared to sleep. But about half-past seven o'clock, the attention of several individuals was drawn to a large vessel, which seemed to be stealing up the river till she came opposite to our camp; when her anchor was dropped, and her sails leisurely furled. At first we were doubtful whether she might not be one of our own cruisers which had passed the port unobserved, and had arrived to render her assistance in our future operations. To satisfy this doubt, she was repeatedly hailed, but returned no answer; when an alarm spreading through the bivouac, all thought of sleep was laid aside. Several musket shots were now fired at her with the design of exacting a reply, of which no notice was taken; till at length having fastened all her sails, and swung her broad-side towards us, we could distinctly hear some one cry out in a commanding voice, "Give them this for the honour of America." The words were instantly followed by the flashes of her guns, and a deadly shower of grape swept down numbers in the camp.
Against this dreadful fire we had nothing whatever to oppose. The artillery which we had landed was too light to bring into competition with an adversary so powerful; and as she had anchored within a short distance of the opposite bank, no musketry coeld reach her with any precision or effect. A few rockets were discharged, which made a beautiful appearance in the air; but the rocket is an uncertain weapon, and these deviated too far from their object to produce even terror among those against whom they were directed. Under these circumstances, as nothing could be done offensively, our sole object was to shelter the men as much as possible from this iron hail. With this view, they were commanded to leave the fires, and to hasten under the dyke. Thither all, accordingly, repaired, without much regard to order and regularity, and laying ourselves along wherever we could find room, we listened in painful silence to the scattering of grape shot among our huts, and to the shrieks and groans of those who lay wounded beside them.
The night was now as dark as pitch, the moon being but young, and totally obscured with clouds. Our fires deserted by us, and beat about by the enemy's shot, began to burn red and dull; and, except when the flashes of those guns which played upon us cast a momentary glare, not an object could be distinguished at the distance of a yard. In this state we lay for nearly an hour, unable to move from our ground, or offer any opposition to those who kept us there; when a straggling fire of musketry called our attention towards the piquets, and warned us to prepare for a closer and more desperate strife. As yet, however, it was uncertain from what cause this dropping fire arose. It might proceed from the sentinels, who, alarmed by the cannonade from the river, mistook every tree for an American; and till this should be more fully ascertained, it would be improper to expose the troops, by moving any of them from the shelter which the bank afforded. But these doubts were not permitted to continue long in existence. The dropping fire having paused for a few moments, was succeeded by a fearful yell; and the heavens were illuminated on all sides by a semi-circular blaze of musketry. It was now clear that we were surrounded, and that by a very superior force; and, therefore, no alternative remaining, but, either to surrender at discretion, or to beat back the assailants.
"A body of from twelve to fifteen hundred men had gained the rear, and would have cut off all communication with the boyau, when "most fortunately Colonel Paterson arrived with about two hundred "of the 21st. As they debouched, the enemy took them for the "head of a column, threw down their arms—some surrendered, others "fled; but they soon discovered their mistake, and finding the force
to which they had yielded themselves prisoners so small, they en
"deavoured to resume their arms. My poor
friend Couran collared
an officer in the act, and was stabbed by him to the heart with a "scalping knife, a weapon which the Kentucky men wear in imitation "of their less savage neighbours. The fellow had not an instant to
enjoy his triumph; in a moment a dozen bayonets were buried to "the hilt in his body; his corpse was the most dreadful sight I ever
saw it appeared to have stiffened in the last convulsion, and was "most strangely distorted; but horrid as it was, we viewed it with something like satisfaction, (no officer in the regiment was so uni"versally beloved as poor Couran,) and for two or three days no man "was found who would give it burial. Paterson did not get "the credit he deserved on this occasion: he was a good soldier, but "too retired to make his own way where men of less merit were "pushing forward their pretensions."Rough Notes, MSS.
The whole detail of this action is given in our author's best manner. The loss sustained in it amounted to about 500 men, most of whom might have been saved, if General Keane had not moved from his position in the wood until his force would have enabled him to advance at once against the town: but this was not the end of the evil; punished most severely for his rashness, the general fell into the contrary extreme; nothing was done on the 24th, the greater part of the troops laying inactive, under cover of the dyke or levè, as the Americans call it; for it must be observed, that the land of the isthmus was considerably lower than the surface of the river, a circumstance which greatly increased the peril of the position, as was soon evinced by an attempt of the enemy to cut the bank and inundate the country. It is evident, however, that the dyke, which was high enough to shelter the halt of our troops, might have protected their advance; but Sir John Keane remained spell-bound; the Rattlesnake schooner had fascinated him to the spot, and the enemy were allowed time to erect the works which ultimately foiled every effort to force them. On the 25th, Sir Edward Pakenham and General Gibbs joined the army; it would have been fortunate if they had arrived sooner. On the morning of the 26th our batteries opened on the schooner; but here a capital error was committed, which was the more remarkable, as several naval officers were serving ashore, who should have corrected the error. A large ship had dropped down the river and anchored in front of the position, about a mile above the schooner; had the batteries been, in the first instance, erected against her, her consort would have been obliged, either to pass our batteries in order to get up to the town, which against the stream of the Mississippi would have been no easy task, or she must have dropped down the river, in which case no future annoyance could have been anticipated from her. The schooner was blown up the ship escaped; and though it does not appear that any actual mischief was done by her, yet her subsequent position, flanking the enemy's lines, added materially to their apparent strength, intimidating our troops, and giving courage to the adversary.
On the 27th the whole army advanced towards the town; but after a slight skirmish again retired.
We remained inactive during the 28th, 29th, and 30th; but not so the enemy. Day and night we could observe numerous parties employed in strengthening his lines; while from the increased number of tents, which almost every hour might be discerned,
it was evident that strong reinforcements were continually pouring into his camp. Nor did he leave us totally unmolested. By giving to his guns a great degree of elevation, he contrived at last to reach our bivouac; and thus were we constantly under a cannonade which, though it did little execution, proved nevertheless extremely annoying. Besides this, he now began to erect batteries on the opposite bank of the river; from which a flanking fire could be thrown across the entire front of his position. In short, he adopted every precaution which prudence could suggest, and for the reception of which, the nature of his post was so admirably adapted.
Under these circumstances, it was evident that the longer an attack was delayed, the less likely was it to succeed; that something must be done immediately every one perceived, but how to proceed was the difficulty. If we attempted to storm the American lines, we should expose ourselves to almost certain destruction from their artillery; to turn them, seemed to be impossible; and to draw their troops by any manœuvring from behind their entrenchments, was a thing altogether out of the question. There seemed, therefore, to be but one practicable mode of assault; which was, to treat these field-works as one would treat a regular fortification; by erecting breaching batteries against them, and silencing, if it were possible, at least some of their guns. To this plan, therefore, did our leader resort; and, in consequence, the whole of these three days were employed in landing heavy cannon, bringing up ammunition, and making such preparations as might have sufficed for a siege.
Batteries of their own sugar hogsheads! were therefore erected against the enemy, (the subaltern values this costly material at many thousand pounds;) but they had their revenge: our engineers had yet to learn that sugar and sand possessed very different powers of resistance. The shot passed through our works and killed many of the artillery. On the enemy's side, however, little impression was made, and from a cause as singular; for it is said that the cotton bags, the capture of which had provoked the attack, contributed to the defence of New Orleans. Certain it is, that the idea of regular approaches and breaching batteries was immediately abandoned.
All our plans had as yet proved abortive; even this, upon which so much reliance had been placed, was found to be of no avail; and it must be confessed, that something like murmuring began to be heard through the camp. And, in truth, if ever an army might be permitted to murmur, it was this. In landing, they had borne great hardships, not only without repining, but with cheerfulness; their hopes had been excited by false reports, as to the practicability of the attempt in which they were embarked; and now they found themselves entangled amidst difficulties from which there appeared to be no escape, except by victory. In their attempts upon the enemy's line, however, they had been twice foiled; in artillery they perceived themselves so greatly overmatched, that their own could hardly assist them; their provisions being derived wholly from the fleet, were both scanty and coarse; and their rest was continually broken. For not only did the cannon and mortars from the main of the enemy's position play unremittingly upon thom both day and night; but they were likewise exposed to a deadly fire from the opposite bank of the river, where no less than eighteen pieces of artillery were now mounted, and swept the entire line of our encampment. Besides all this, to undertake the duty of a piquet, was as dangerous as to go into action. Parties of American sharp-shooters harassed and disturbed those appointed to that service, from the time they took possession of their post, till they were relieved; while to light fires at night was impossible, because they served but as certain marks for the enemy's gunners. I repeat, therefore, that a little murmuring could not be wondered at. Be it observed, however, that these were not the murmurs of men anxious to escape from a disagreeable situation by any means. On the contrary, they resembled rather the growling of a chained dog, when he sees his adversary, and cannot reach him; for in all their complaints, no man ever hinted at a retreat, while all were eager to bring matters to the issue of a battle, at any sacrifice of lives.
Nor was our gallant leader less anxious to fight than his followers. To fight upon something like equal terms, however, was his wish; and for this purpose, a new scheme was invented, worthy, for its boldness, of the school in which Sir Edward had studied his profession. It was determined to divide the army, to send part across the river, who should seize the enemy's guns, and turn them on themselves; while the remainder should at the same time make a general assault along the whole entrench
ment. But before this plan could be put into execution, it would be necessary to cut a canal across the entire neck of land from the Bayo de Catiline to the river, of sufficient width and depth to admit of boats being brought up from the lake.
Against the uscless labour of making this canal, the author of the Rough Notes very vehemently protests, and we think with reason. Boats certainly are of easier transport than ships' guns; and as the latter had been landed, and brought into battery without the aid of artificial water carriage, there appears to have been no reason why the former should not have been dragged to the river on rollers; had that been done, the falling of the canal banks would not have frustrated the enterprize.
The canal, as I have stated, being finished on the 6th, it was resolved to lose no time in making use of it. Boats were accordingly ordered up for the transportation of 1400 men; and Colonel Thornton with the 85th regiment, the marines, and a party of sailors, was appointed to cross the river. But a number of untoward accidents occurred, to spoil a plan of operations as accurately laid down as any in the course of the war. The soil through which the canal was dug, being soft, parts of the bank gave way, and choking up the channel, prevented the heaviest of the boats from getting forward. These again blocked up the passage, so that none of those which were behind, could proceed; and thus, instead of a flotilla for the accommodation of 1400 men, only a number of boats sufficient to contain 350 was enabled to reach their destination. Even these did not arrive at the time appointed, According to the preconcerted plan, Colonel Thornton's detachment was to cross the river immediately after dark. They were to push forward, so as to carry all the batteries, and point the guns before day-light; when, on the throwing up of a rocket, they were to commence firing upon the enemy's line, which at the same moment was to be attacked by the main of our army.
In this manner was one part of the force to act, while the rest were thus appointed. Dividing his troops into three columns, Sir Edward directed, that General Keane, at the head of the 95th, the light companies of the 21st, 4th, and 44th, together with the two black corps, should make a demonstration, or sham attack upon the right; that General Gibbs with the 4th, 21st, 44th, and 93d, should force the enemy's left, while General Lambert with the 7th and 43d remained in reserve, ready to act as circumstances might require. But in storming an entrenched position, something more than bare courage is required. Scaling ladders and fascines had, therefore, been prepared, with which to fill up the ditch and mount the wall; and since to carry these was a service of danger, requiring a corps well worthy of dependence, the 44th was for that purpose selected, as a regiment of sufficient numerical strength, and already accustomed to American warfare. Thus were all things arranged on the night of the 7th, for the 8th was fixed upon as the day decisive of the fate of New Orleans.
While the rest of the army, therefore, lay down to sleep till they should be roused up to fight, Colonel Thornton with the 85th, and a corps of marines and seamen, amounting in all to 1400 men, moved down to the brink of the river. As yet, however, no boats had arrived; hour after hour elapsed before they came; and when they did come, the misfortunes which I have stated above were discovered, for out of all that had been ordered up, only a few made their appearance. Still it was absolutely necessary that this part of the plan should be carried into execution. Dismissing, therefore, the rest of his followers, the Colonel put himself at the head of his own regiment, about fifty seamen, and as many marines, and with this small force, consisting of no more than 340 men, pushed off. But, unfortunately, the loss of tinie nothing could repair. Instead of reaching the opposite bank, at latest by midnight, dawn was beginning to appear before the boats quitted the canal. It was in vain that they rowed on in perfect silence, and with oars muffled, gaining the point of debarkation without being perceived. It was in vain that they made good their landing and formed upon the beach, without opposition or alarm; day had already broke, and the signal rocket was seen in the air, while they were yet four miles from the batteries, which ought hours ago to have been taken.
In the mean time, the main body armed and moved forward some way in front of the piquets. There they stood waiting for day-light, and listening with the greatest anxiety for the firing which ought now to be heard on the opposite bank. But this attention was exerted in vain, and day dawned upon them long before they desired
its appearance. Nor was Sir Edward Pakenham disappointed in this part of his plan alone. Instead of perceiving every thing in readiness for the assault, he saw his troops in battle array, indeed, but not a ladder or fascine upon the field. The 44th, which was appointed to carry them, had either misunderstood or neglected their orders; and now headed the column of attack, without any means being provided for crossing the enemy's ditch, or scaling his rampart.
The indignation of poor Pakenham on this occasion may be imagined, but cannot be described. Galloping towards Colonel Mullens, who led the 44th, he commanded him instantly to return with his regiment for the ladders; but the opportunity of planting them was lost, and though they were brought up, it was only to be scattered over the field by the frightened bearers. For our troops were by this time visible to the enemy. A dreadful fire was accordingly opened upon them, and they were mowed down by hundreds, while they stood waiting for orders.
Seeing that all his well laid plans were frustrated, Pakenham gave the word to advance, and the other regiments, leaving the 44th with the ladders and fascines behind them, rushed on to the assault. On the left a detachment of the 95th, 21st, and 4th, stormed a three gun battery and took it. Here they remained for some time in the expectation of support; but none arriving, and a strong column of the enemy forming for its recovery, they determined to anticipate the attack, and pushed on. The battery which they had taken was in advance of the body of the works, being cut off from it by a ditch, across which only a single plank was thrown. Along this plank did these brave men attempt to pass; but being opposed by overpowering numbers, they were repulsed; and the Americans, in turn, forcing their way into the battery, at length succeeded in recapturing it with immense slaughter. On the right, again, the 21st and 4th being almost cut to pieces, and thrown into some confusion by the enemy's fire, the 93d pushed on and took the lead. Hastening forward, our troops soon reached the ditch; but to scale the parapet without ladders was impossible. Some few, indeed, by mounting one upon another's shoulders, succeeded in entering the works, but these were instantly overpowered, most of them killed, and the rest taken; while as many as stood without were exposed to a sweeping fire, which cut them down by whole companies. It was in vain that the most obstinate courage was displayed. They fell by the hands of men whom they absolutely did not see; for the Americans, without so much as lifting their faces above the rampart, swung their firelocks by one arm over the wall, and discharged them directly upon their heads.
When the subaltern relates incidents which he himself witnessed, we cannot doubt his authority; but as he was engaged on the opposite side of the river with Colonel Thornton, we should rather follow the notes of his comrade as to the main attack. After detailing, as our author has done, the misconduct of Colonel Mullens, (whom however he vindicates from the imputation of personal cowardice,) he states that at day-break Gibbs gave the word to advance from the ground, where, within musket shot of the lines, the troops had halted for the fascines and ladders.
"We advanced at double quick time, but we had scarcely proceeded a hundred yards when the most dreadful fire of grape and musketry was opened upon us at one moment a regular lane was cut from "front to rear of the column. (I afterwards found it was from the "discharge of a thirty-two pounder, loaded to the muzzle with bags "of musket-balls.) I will not deny that the regiment was thrown "into confusion; but there was no sign of fear, at least I saw none,
except, indeed, that the men in front commenced firing. I en"deavoured to stop it; but before I knew where I was, I found my"self in the enemies' ditch, immediately under the fatal battery-this "was in some respects a good position; and, if the reserve had come up, might have been turned to account; why this was not done, or "how it could have happened, that the rear did not know of our situation, I never was able to understand. We gained the ditch