The peace commissioners of Great Britain and the United States had hardly met at Ghent, in August, 1814, before the British Government began extensive preparations for the conquest of New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory, which they intended to take and hold even after the treaty of peace was agreed upon and ratified; and this upon the ground that Napoleon never had any right, under the law of nations, to sell Louisiana to the United States.
Previous to May, 1814, Great Britain had been so busily occupied in her wars with Napoleon that she had never been able to put forth anything like her full strength in her war with this country. Now, however, the case was different. Napoleon had abdicated in May, 1814, and had been exiled, practically a prisoner, to the island of Elba. This left Great Britain in a position to wage war upon this side of the ocean upon a scale of magnitude and activity Very much greater than anything she had hitherto attempted. She already had some ships and troops assembled in her island of Jamaica in the West Indies. Cochran's and Malcolm's fleets, with the soldiers of Ross army, who had harried the coasts of Delaware, Virginia and Maryland, captured Washington, and were repulsed at Baltimore, left the Chesapeake Bay in October, and sailed for Jamaica, where by November there was assembled a fleet of more than sixty ships and an army of more than fourteen thousand men. More than half of the ships were the most formidable vessels in the British navy, consisting of line of battle ships of sixty-four, seventy-four and eighty guns; frigates of forty to fifty guns; and sloops of twenty to thirty guns each; mounting in all at least a thousand pieces of artillery. The fourteen thousand troops, under Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Pakenham, commander in chief, and Major Generals Samuel Gibbs, John Lambert and John Keene, consisted mainly of veterans who had recently been operating in Spain in the campaigns against Napoleon; and nearly all of them had served, at one time or another, under the redoubtable Duke of Wellington, who was soon to extinguish forever, at Waterloo, the brilliant star of the great Napoleon himself – and with some of these very same troops who were marshaling in Jamaica for the invasion and conquest of Louisiana.
At that time Florida belonged to Spain, and Spain was openly in sympathy with Great Britain, and almost as openly antagonistic to the United States. As early as August, 1814, nine British ships of War, laden with troops under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Nichols, sailed from Jamaica and came to anchor in Pensacola harbor, where the troops landed, went into camp, and hoisted the British flag – and this upon the soil of a nation professedly neutral. Colonel Nichols, by his actions and his utterances, practically announced that his force was but the advance guard of a mighty fleet and army soon to follow him. He issued proclamations in which he addressed the most inflammatory appeals to the prejudices of the French inhabitants of Louisiana, who had then been citizens of the United States for only ten years, and endeavored to array them on his side, and against the American Government. He also addressed a proclamation especially to the people of Kentucky, having been led to believe that they had become discontented with their own government, by reason of its seeming neglect of themselves – a belief which scheming politicians had, indeed, attempted to engender in their minds by all the wily arts of which scheming and designing politicians are capable, but all to no avail.
Nichols' proclamation to the people of Kentucky was dated August 29, 1814, and was as follows:
"Inhabitants of Kentucky: You have too long borne with grievous impositions. The whole brunt of the war has fallen upon your brave sons. Be imposed upon no longer, but either range yourselves under the standard of your forefathers, or observe a strict neutrality. If you comply with either of these offers, whatever provisions you send down the river will be paid for in dollars, and the safety of the persons bringing it, as well as the free navigation of the Mississippi River, will be guaranteed to you. Men of Kentucky, let me call to your view, and I trust to your abhorrence, the conduct of those factions which hurried you into this cruel, unjust and unnatural war at a time when Great Britain was straining every nerve in defense of her own and the liberties of the world; when the bravest of her sons were fighting and bleeding in so sacred a cause, when she was spending millions of her treasure in endeavoring to pull down one of the most formidable and dangerous tyrants that ever disgraced the form of man.
* * * * *
After the experience of twenty-one years can you any longer support those brawlers for liberty, who call it freedom, and know not when themselves are free? Be no longer their dupes; accept my offer; everything I have promised in this paper I guarantee you upon the sacred honor of a British officer."
McAfee says: "The sacred honor of a British officer was a thing well understood in Kentucky. That any man of common sense and information should have addressed such nonsense to Kentuckians is truly astonishing. He had some grounds, however, for making his call upon the people of Louisiana, for there were British spies, partisans and traitors in New Orleans, who did not fail to communicate every possible information to the enemy, and to assure them that the people of Louisiana were dissatisfied with the government, and ready at a moment's warning to come under the British yoke. How much they were deceived in the great majority of the people, and how glorious for them the contrast between the Northeast and the Southwest, was visibly displayed in the sequel."
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Andrew Jackson, after having effectually subdued those vindictive allies of the British, the Creek Indians of Alabama, and put them permanently out of the war after a remarkable campaign, was, in April, 1814, made a Major General of the United States Army, and put in command of the Seventh Military District, with his headquarters at Mobile. To him was assigned the important duty of the defense and protection of the whole gulf coast along our Southern border. Andrew Jackson was one of the three greatest military geniuses that America has so far produced – one other of whom was also named Jackson. He was a self-educated man, so far as his education went, and even in a general way he knew very little of history or literature. But he was a born soldier, and knew everything about the science of war that a good soldier ought to know, and he knew it intuitively, and not from the books. Moreover, he was active, tireless, attentive always to every detail, great or small, of his duties; eternally vigilant, and always at the right place, rightly prepared, at the right time. Whatever deficiencies there may at any time have been in his preparations were not chargeable to him, but to the uncertain movements of a halting government and a laggard and vacillating Secretary of War.
In a very brief sketch like this on the subject of the battle of New Orleans, it is not feasible, nor, indeed, is it necessary, to go into any details concerning the military operations along the Gulf coast between the time of the British occupation of Pensacola in August and the beginning of the direct campaign against New Orleans in December, 1814.
The little island of Grand Terrie, in Barataria Bay, on the Gulf of Mexico, sixty miles from New Orleans, was the home and headquarters of a band of eight hundred privateers and smugglers under the command of Jean Lafitte, a native of Bordeaux, France, who had been a blacksmith in New Orleans before adopting the occupation of smuggling. He is celebrated in history, romance and song as "the Pirate of the Gulf;" and he was the original of Byron's poem, "The Corsair," which ends with the lines:
"He left a corsairs name to other times
Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes."
These lines, however, are erroneous, for Lafitte and his men were not corsairs, or pirates, but at the worst were merely smugglers; and they had been outlawed as such by the government. Lafitte himself once said: "I may have evaded the payment of duties at the customhouse, but I have never ceased to be a good citizen." His smuggled goods were bought at low rates by the most eminently respectable merchants of New Orleans and other cities, who visited his island camp for the purpose, and many of them built up large fortunes from the great profits they made on those cheap smuggled goods. After the War of 1812 began, Lafitte also became an unlicensed privateer, but confined his privateering to the capture of British merchant ships only; and this was what gave him the name of pirate. He maintained a fleet of numerous vessels.
As the United States had outlawed Lafitte as a smuggler, Colonel Nichols, the British commander at Pensacola, had reasonable grounds for believing that he would be a bitter enemy of the United States government, and would be glad to enter into an alliance with the British government. Accordingly, emissaries were sent to Lafitte to appeal to his spirit of revenge, his hopes, his fears, and his cupidity. These emissaries revealed to him the fact that an "invincible armada" would soon sail from Jamaica, and would certainly conquer New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory, and annex them to the British crown. Lafitte and his men were invited to enter the British service, he being assured that his men and vessels would be received into the British navy upon the most honorable terms. These terms and propositions were all set forth in writing. For the purpose of gaining time, Lafitte temporized with the British emissaries, on the plea of wishing to consider the matter thoroughly, and promised to give his answer later. What he actually did was to at once send the documents to Governor Claiborne, at New Orleans, who, without delay, dispatched them to General Jackson, at Mobile, to whom substantially the whole plan of the British campaign and invasion was thus revealed.
General Jackson left Mobile on November 21st, reached New Orleans on December 2nd, and took up his permanent headquarters there. The troops then available for the defense of the city consisted of only two small regiments and a weak battalion of militia; there were no effective naval forces in the adjacent waters, and money, credit, arms and munitions were all wanting. Jackson did not rest a moment. He sent urgent dispatches to Washington for the assistance that was so badly needed. He organized what military force he could in New Orleans, took measures for obstructing the large bayous which furnished communications near New Orleans for ships to pass from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River, and erected new fortifications guarding the approaches to the city, and strengthened the old ones. He had already appealed to the government for regular troops, and to the Governors of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi for militia. Two regiments of regular infantry (the Seventh and the Forty-fourth) were sent to his aid; Lafitte's "pirates" to the number of several hundred joined him, as did also a battalion of mounted riflemen from Mississippi, under Major Hinds. The Tennessee militia under Generals Carroll and Coffee did not reach New Orleans until December 22nd, and the Kentucky militia, owing to delays for which they were not accountable, did not get there until January 4th, 1815, just four days before the occurrence of the great battle in which they took so prominent a part.
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On October 20th, 1814, Governor Shelby issued a call for men for the New Orleans campaign, and under that call three regiments of Kentucky Detached Militia were brought into the field and organized for that campaign, namely:
1. Slaughters Regiment, organized November 10, 1814; commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Gabriel Slaughter, of Mercer County; Majors Lanty Armstrong, of Jefferson (?) County, and William Wakefield, of Nelson County. The regiment had ten companies, with a total strength of seven hundred and eighty-nine officers and enlisted men.
2. Gray's Regiment, organized November 10, 1814, and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Presley Gray, who resigned and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Davis. The Majors Were James Johnson, William Walker and Zeba Holt. The regiment had ten companies, with a total strength of seven hundred and twenty-one officers and enlisted men.
3. Mitchusson's Regiment, organized November 10, 1814, and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel William Mitchusson of Caldwell (?) County, who resigned and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Parker. The Majors were Reuben Harrison and Thomas Crenshaw. The regiment had ten companies, with a total strength of seven hundred and forty-six officers and enlisted men.
These troops were commanded by Major General John Thomas, with Brigadier General John Adair as his Adjutant General. The total strength of the Kentucky militia raised for the New Orleans campaign was two thousand two hundred and fifty-six. To these must be added the officers and men of the Seventh Regiment of United States Infantry (who were recruited in Kentucky), at that time four hundred and sixty-five strong, bringing the grand total of Kentucky troops up to two thousand seven hundred and twenty-one. Of these troops sixteen hundred and forty were on the firing line, and engaged in the battle of New Orleans. One thousand and eighty-one of the Kentucky militia did not take part in the battle because they could not be furnished with arms.
The Honorable Z. T. Smith, in his Battle of New Orleans, says: "When the militia of Kentucky was called for, Governor Shelby was assured that a United States quartermaster would furnish transportation for the troops to New Orleans; but no such officer presented himself and no relief came from Washington. The men had rendezvoused on the banks of the Ohio in waiting, and here the expedition must have ended had 14 Register of the Kentucky not Colonel Richard Taylor, of Frankfort, the quartermaster of the State militia, borrowed a sum sufficient to meet the immediate emergency. With this he purchased such boats as he could, some of which were unfit for the passage. Camp equipage could not be had in time, and about thirty pots and kettles were bought at Louisville – one to each company of eighty men. At the mouth of the Cumberland River they were detained eight days, with their axes and frows riving boards with which to patch up their old boats. From this point they started with a half supply of rations, to which they added as they could on their way down the Mississippi River. The men knew there was due them an advance of two months' pay when ordered out of the State. The United States quartermaster distributed this pay to the Tennessee troops who had preceded them, but withheld it from the Kentuckians. Believing that they would be furnished suitable clothing or pay, blankets, tents, arms and munitions, with reasonable promptness, they left home with little else than the one suit of clothing they wore, usually of homespun jeans. As a writer has said: 'Rarely, if ever, has it been known of such a body of men leaving their homes, unprovided as they were, and risking a difficult passage of fifteen hundred miles in the crudest of barges to meet an enemy. They could have been prompted alone by a love of country and defiance to its enemies.' This contribution of Kentucky for the defense of Louisiana was made State Historical Society just after she had furnished ten thousand volunteer troops in the campaigns of Harrison in the Northwest, who made up the largest part of the soldiers in that army for the two years previous, and who recently had won the great victory at the battle of the Thames. Governor Shelby tendered to the government ten thousand more Kentuckians for the Army of the Southwest, if they should be needed to repel the invaders."
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In the meantime, the "invincible armada," consisting of a fleet of sixty great ships, had, on November 26, 1814, set sail from Negril Bay, Jamaica, for the conquest of Louisiana. Captain Gleig, a British officer, who accompanied the expedition, has published in his history of that campaign the following list of the organizations, and their strength, that landed on the shores of Louisiana, to-wit:
Fourth Regiment, Kings Own 750
Seventh Regiment, Royal Fusileers 850
Fourteenth Regiment, Duchess of York's Own 350
Twenty-fourth Regiment, Royal North 900
Fortieth Regiment, Somersetshire 1,000
Forty-third Regiment, Monmouth Light 850
Forty-fourth Regiment, East Essex 750
Eighty-fifth Regiment, Bucks Volunteers, 650
Ninety-third Regiment, Highlanders 1,100
Ninety-fifth Regiment, Rifle Corps 500
First West India Regiment 700
Second West India Regiment 700
Sixty-second Regiment, Detachment of 350
Rocket Brigade, Artillery, Engineers, etc, 1,500
Royal Marines 1,500
Sailors Taken from the Fleet 2,000
Including sailors, marines, artillerists and others who did not land, the expedition consisted of at least eighteen thousand men. Never before in her history had Great Britain fitted out an expedition upon so grand a scale. It cost her two hundred millions of dollars, equivalent to five hundred millions at this time.
The regiments of British regulars named in the above list were the choicest troops then on earth; and in the wars against Napoleon most of them had won laurels at Martinique, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, the Pyrenees, and Toulouse. Others were but recently transported from the fiery ordeals of Corunna, Busaco, and Ciudad Rodrigo. And just five months later (June, 1815) at Waterloo, some of these same regiments assisted in destroying the Old Guard, who "died, but never surrendered," and quenched forever Napoleons star of destiny, which there fell to rise no more. England never sent forth from her borders a braver or better disciplined body of soldiers than those who landed in New Orleans.
The hostile fleet reached Ship Island, off the Bay of St. Louis, near New Orleans, on December 12, 1814; and from that time on there were a series of indecisive land and naval engagements, leading up to the climacteric and decisive battle of January 8, 1815. The British commanders were fully confident that their entire movement was a profound secret of their own, and utterly unknown to General Jackson; and that by taking him completely by surprise, as they confidently expected to do, New Orleans would prove an easy conquest. When they found "Old Hickory" entirely ready for them, with his soul in arms and eager for the fray they were themselves treated to a little surprise party. The British writers upon the subject in the early years succeeding the occurrence, all express a great wonder as to how the American commander had become so fully acquainted with the plans of the expedition. Apparently, none of them suspected that Lafitte, "the pirate," had turned their secrets over to the Governor of Louisiana.
The most important of the preliminary engagements was the battle of Villeres Plantation, in which Jackson attacked the enemy and took them by surprise on the night of December 23rd. The British were driven from their camp, and, although the Americans also subsequently fell back, the fruits of victory were theirs. The British loss was about one hundred killed, two hundred and thirty wounded, and seventy-four taken prisoners. The American loss was twenty-four killed, one hundred and fifteen wounded, and seventy-four missing. The Seventh United States Infantry, composed of Kentuckians, took a leading part in this battle.
On December 28th, the entire British force, led by General Pakenham in person, made a fierce and impetuous attack upon Jackson's lines; but they met so determined a resistance that after three hours of hot fighting they were compelled to retire in mortification to their camp, after a loss of one hundred and twenty killed and wounded. The American loss was only seven killed and eight wounded.
When Admiral Cochrane first approached New Orleans with his fleet he had boasted that he would eat his Christmas dinner in the city; but, as he was disappointed in this, it is probable that General Pakenham had made up his mind to spend the new years day there, for on the night of December 31st, under the cover of the night and a heavy fog, his troops advanced to within six hundred yards of our lines. There they erected three different batteries, consisting altogether of fifteen guns, from six to thirty-two pounders. As soon as the fog cleared away on the morning of January 1, 1815, they opened up with a heavy fire of shot, bombs and rockets; and they also essayed an assault upon the American lines with their infantry. These were soon put to flight, but the cannonading continued all day, or until nearly all their guns had been dismounted by the fire of Jackson's artillery. Under the cover of the night the enemy again retired to their camp, completely discomfitted. The American loss in this action was thirty-five killed and wounded. The British admitted a loss of seventy-five killed and wounded.
General Jackson had already sent about fourteen hundred and fifty Louisiana militia, under General D. B. Morgan, to the opposite, or right bank of the river. These were accompanied by Commodore Patterson, of the navy, with sixty-six marines. On January 4, 1815, Morgan began throwing up breastworks for the defense of his troops, and Patterson mounted a battery of several pieces of artillery, to be served by his marines. This movement was made to repel any attempt the enemy might make to advance upon New Orleans upon that side of the river, as a diversion, for Jackson was already convinced that the main assault would be on the left bank, as turned out to be the case.
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Also, on January 4, 1815, the long-delayed Kentucky militia reached New Orleans. They were commanded by Brigadier General John Adair, on account of the illness of Major General John Thomas. It was in the midst of an unusually severe winter, in a season of almost daily rainfalls, when the troops reached New Orleans. They went into camp, says a writer upon the subject, without tents or blankets, or bedding of straw, on the open and miry alluvial soil, with the temperature at times at the freezing point. The legislature of Louisiana, then in session, promptly voted six thousand dollars for relief, to which the generous citizens of Louisiana added by subscription ten thousand dollars more. With these funds materials were purchased. The noble women of New Orleans, almost without exception, devoted themselves day and night to making up these materials into suitable garments and bedding, and distributing them as they were most needed. In one week's time the destitute soldiers were supplied and made comfortable.
In speaking, in an official report, of the condition of the Kentucky militia upon their arrival at New Orleans, General Jackson said: "Not one man in ten was well armed, and only one man in three had any arms at all." It is the business of a government to arm its soldiers, but such arms as the Kentuckians took to New Orleans were their own private property. The Secretary of War had promised to send arms and munitions down the Mississippi River for the supply of the Kentucky militia, but through the incompetency of the quartermaster at Pittsburg, whence the arms were to be shipped, these supplies were much delayed in starting, and had gotten only as far on the way as the mouth of the Ohio River on the day when the Kentuckians reached New Orleans, and did not get to that city until many days after all need for them was past. However, the citizens of New Orleans contributed enough of their own private and personal guns and rifles to arm Slaughter's regiment, about seven hundred men fit for duty, and the three hundred and five men of Major Reuben Harrison's battalion of Mitchusson's regiment. These one thousand and five armed Kentuckians were marched at once to the firing line.
* * * * *
After the arrival of the Kentucky militia, Jackson's forces for the defense of New Orleans were as follows:
Seventh Regiment, United States Infantry 465
Forty-fourth Regiment, United States Infantry 331
Detachment of Artillery, regulars 22
Marines, United States Navy 68
Plauche's Battalion, New Orleans Militia 287
Beale's Orleans Rifle Company 62
Lafitte's Baratarians (Artillerists) Captains You and Beluche 300
D'Aquin's Battalion San Domingo Free Men of Color 210
Choctaw Indians, Captain Jugeant 18
Tennessee Volunteers and Militia 1,063
Kentucky Detached Militia 2,256
Hind's Mississippi Dragoons 107
Louisiana Militia (in addition to those noted above) 1,317
Of this little force all but the eight hundred and eighty-four regulars were raw militia. Opposed to them, altogether, stood about eighteen thousand men, nearly all of whom were regulars of the British army, or marines of the British navy – the best trained troops then on the globe.
On the night of January 7th, four hundred of the Kentuckians of Colonel John Davis regiment were ordered to cross the river as reinforcements to General Morgan; but only one hundred and seventy went across, as arms for no more than that number could be found, after ransacking the city of New Orleans. In the meantime, these troops were marched about from place to place in the city, and were not finally carried across the river until almost daylight on the morning of the 8th. The addition of these one hundred and seventy men raised Morgan's force on the right bank of the river to a total of about seventeen hundred men.
Jackson's main line of battle on the left bank of the river was drawn up on the plains of Chalmette, five miles below the river, and was eighteen hundred yards long, extending from the river, on the west, to an impenetrable swamp on the east. Batteries of artillery were scattered along the entrenchments from end to end, at proper intervals. The Seventh Infantry held the extreme right, next to the "river; D'Aquin's Free Men of Color were to the left of the Seventh, and the Forty-fourth Infantry were to the left of these. The remainder of the line – fully two-thirds of its length – was occupied by the Kentucky and Tennessee militia, a thousand and five Kentuckians, under General Adair, and five hundred Tennesseans, under General Carroll, being stationed to the left of the Forty-fourth Infantry, while General Coffee, with five hundred Tennesseans, held the extreme left of the line, next to the swamp. The entrenchments which protected the entire line were not composed of cotton bales, as is commonly supposed, but were earthworks, in which the embrasures for artillery were braced with bales of cotton. Another line of entrenchments had been thrown up a mile and a half in the rear of the first line, and a. third line of entrenchments had been constructed at the lower end of the city. "Old Hickory" was not taking any chances.
Pakenham's plan for the grand assault was plain and simple. Colonel Thornton was to cross the Mississippi on the night of the 7th with the Eighty-fifth and one West India regiment, some marines and sailors, and a corps of rocketeers, and fall upon General Morgan's forces before dawn. General Gibbs, with the Forty-fourth, Twenty-third and Fourth regiments, was to storm the American left, while General Keane, with the Ninety-third, Ninety-fifth and two light companies of the Seventh and Forty-third, with some West India troops, was to threaten the American right sufficiently to draw their fire, and then to rush upon them with the bayonet. Keane's advance corps were furnished with fascines to fill the ditches in front of the American entrenchments, and scaling ladders with which to mount the embankments.
Early on the morning of Sunday, January 8, 1815, when the mists began to clear away, the British line was seen stretching two-thirds of the way across the plains of Chalmette, drawn up in battle array. Rockets were fired from its extreme right and left, and at that signal the "thin red line" marched steadily forward upon the American works, the main assault being directed upon the left center, that part of the works defended by a thousand Kentuckians, under Adair, and five hundred Tennesseans under Carroll. The American batteries opened upon them, and whole platoons were prostrated, whose places were instantly filled by others, and the column of British veterans pressed steadily onward, without pause or recoil, toward the longer and weaker line covered by the Kentuckians and Tennesseans. Lossing, the greatest of the historians of the War of 1812, says: "By this time all the American batteries, including Patterson's on the right bank of the river, were in full play. Yet steadily on marched Wellington's veterans, stepping firmly over the dead bodies of their slain comrades, until they had reached a point within two hundred yards of the American line, behind which, concealed from the view of the invaders, lay the Tennesseans and Kentuckians, four ranks deep. Suddenly the clear voice of General Carroll rang out, 'Fire!' His Tennesseans rose from cover, and, each man taking sure aim, delivered a most destructive volley upon their foe, their bullets cutting down scores of the gallant British soldiery. The storm ceased not for a moment, for when the Tennesseans had fired they fell back, and the Kentuckians took their places, and so the four ranks, one after the other, participated in the conflict. At the same time, round, grape and chain shot went crashing through the ranks of the British, making awful gaps, and appalling the stoutest hearts."
Yet, in spite of all that devastation, those stout-hearted British veterans continued to advance. Another detachment came up with fascines and scaling ladders, and marched up to the very edge of the entrenchments. But no mortal men could long endure the terrible fire that was then poured at close range upon the devoted Britons by the Kentucky and Tennessean marksmen. They fell back to the swamp, reformed, and immediately charged again; but again were forced to retire. General Pakenham was killed, General Gibbs was mortally, and General Keane was seriously, wounded. The command was assumed by Major Wilkinson, the officer of the highest rank still left with the assaulting column. Undaunted, he reformed his broken lines, and made a third assault upon the works so gallantly defended by the Kentucky and Tennessee rifleman. They marched right up to the entrenchments and attempted to scale them. Again they were repulsed, and Wilkinson fell, mortally wounded, upon the very top of the parapet. His discomfited men fell back, and retreated in the wildest confusion, and the battle upon that part of the line was over. While these assaults were being made, Keane's division had made a spirited assault upon the right of the line, defended by the Seventh Infantry, and were disastrously repulsed.
McAfee, the Kentucky historian, who, it is believed, took part in the battle, gives the following account of the grand assault: "Their attack was received by our troops with the utmost firmness and bravery, and their fire was immediately returned by the artillery on our own works, under the direction of deliberate and skillful officers, who tore their columns, as they approached, with a frightful carnage. As soon as the heads of their columns had arrived within the range of our small arms they were assailed in a manner still more destructive by the steady, deliberate, well-aimed fire of our rifles and musketry. Though they advanced under this havoc with astonishing firmness and intrepidity, yet ere they could reach our works they were thrown into confusion, and repulsed; but the brave officers who led them soon rallied their flying troops, reformed their shattered columns, and led them the second time to the charge with renovated vigor and fury. In vain was their bravery – in vain the utmost exertion of their powers – they only renewed the charge to suffer a new repulse with redoubled carnage. Their principal column advancing against the center of our works was opposed by the strongest part of our lines, consisting of Kentucky and Tennessee marksmen, at least six men deep, who literally poured forth a sheet of fire which cut down the ranks of the enemy like grass by the scythe of a mower. Yet their heavy columns pressed on with such force and desperation that many of their men at last entered the ditch in front of our breastworks, where they were shot down in heaps at the very muzzle of our guns. Slaughtered, shattered and disordered, they were again forced to retire. Their leaders, however, apparently resolved upon victory or total destruction, again rallied and brought them up for the third time to the charge; but their principal officers being now slain or disabled and their strength greatly broken and spent, this last effort was less successful than the former, and they were soon forced to fall back in disorder on their column of reserve, with which they pursued a precipitate and disorderly retreat to their camp under a galling fire from our batteries, leaving the field literally covered with the dying and the dead."
This was one of the most remarkable battles known to history. In the brief space of twenty-five minutes the enemy lost seven hundred killed, fourteen hundred wounded and five hundred prisoners – a total loss of twenty-six hundred men; the American loss being only seven killed and six wounded. Of the nine hundred men of the Ninety-third Highlanders, who, with twenty-five officers went into the fight, only nine officers and one hundred and thirty men could be mustered at its close. The Twenty-first regiment lost five hundred men, and every company came out of the terrible conflict a mere skeleton in numbers.
The Kentuckians who bore so distinguished a part in this brilliant victory were Colonel Gabriel Slaughter's regiment of seven hundred men, and Major Reuben Harrison's battalion of three hundred and five men from Mitchusson's regiment, all under the command of Brigadier-General John Adair. These were all of the Kentuckians for whom arms could be found, except the small detachment that went across the river. In the rear entrenchments stood at least a thousand other Kentuckians who could not go into the battle because arms were not furnished for them.
"They also serve who only stand and wait."
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On the right bank of the river matters did not turn out so favorably. Morgan's forces there consisted of about seventeen hundred men, composed of fourteen hundred and fifty Louisiana militia, and sixty-six marines under Commodore Patterson; the remainder being one hundred and seventy poorly-armed raw Kentucky militiamen from Colonel John Davis' regiment, who had been hastily equipped the night before with such odds and ends of old guns as could still be collected from the citizens of New Orleans. These Kentuckians, after a sleepless night spent in marching fruitlessly here and there about the city, were sent across the river near the dawn of January 8th, and were placed in position about a mile in front of Morgan's fortified line, and were directed to hold a frontage of a mile in extent, for the defense of which a thousand well-armed men would have scarcely sufficed. Some distance in front of them were posted two hundred Louisiana militia, of Arnaud's battalion, under command of Major Tessier.
On the same morning Colonel Thornton, somewhat delayed, crossed the river with more than a thousand British regulars. After landing and forming, these advanced under cover of some field pieces and attacked Tessier's two hundred men, who fled without firing a, gun. These were the first troops who set the "example" of "ingloriously" flying in that fight.
Thornton next charged the one hundred and seventy Kentuckians, who stood their ground long enough to load and fire four volleys, and to lose thirty men in killed and wounded; and this, by the way, was about all the fighting that was done on that side of the river that day by Americans. Being outnumbered nearly six to one, flanked on the right, and unsupported by reinforcements – which might readily have been sent by General Morgan – they, too, were compelled to retreat, which they did in disorder. Tessier's two hundred having already "ingloriously fled," the other Louisiana militia and the marines, numbering altogether nearly fourteen hundred men, then retreated precipitately from their strong position behind entrenchments, and that, too, before the enemy could come up to attack them. Commodore Patterson, in command of the artillery, spiked his guns, and, together with his marines, joined in the disorderly rout before ever they had even seen the enemy.
General Jackson, in his official report to the Secretary of War on the battle of New Orleans, in referring to this part of it said: "The Kentucky reinforcements, of whom so much was expected, ingloriously fled, drawing after them, by their example, the remainder of the forces." Commodore Patterson, in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, stigmatized that handful of Kentuckians in still more offensive terms. This was in the face of the fact that Tessier's two hundred Louisianans had "ingloriously fled" long before Davis one hundred and seventy Kentuckians did; and that even then, after the Kentuckians had also fled, Morgan's fourteen hundred men, behind breastworks, with a strong battery of artillery, were still an amply sufficient force to defeat Thornton, if they had only held their ground. It is rather hard lines when fourteen hundred well-armed men behind entrenchments retreat before a thousand of the enemy merely because they see one hundred and seventy poorly-armed men out in the open field doing so. About all that General Jackson accomplished by the tone of his official report was to make the tall wag the dog.
McAfee says that Patterson and Morgan, conscious that they themselves had acted badly, and in order to screen themselves, induced General Jackson to make that report; but he must also have been moved to make it by still other and unworthier motives, for in that same report he does not say a single word about the gallant and distinguished part that the thousand Kentuckians under Adair took in the victory on the left bank of the river. That omission, plainly and necessarily intentional on Jackson's part, was utterly inexcusable; and it afforded clear proof that he held against. Kentuckians, for some reason, a deep-seated aversion. Professor N. S. Shaler, in his history of Kentucky, says: "The hostility of the American commander to the good name of Kentucky is easily explained. Jackson was by affiliation a Tennessean. Between that State and Kentucky there had always been a slight element of jealousy. Tennesseans of that time felt that they were in the position of poor relations in their intercourse with the somewhat arrogant people of Kentucky. The disgraceful flight of the Federal troops on the west bank gave Jackson's rough humor a chance to vent itself; and, although only one-eighth of this force was from Kentucky, he laid all the blame on them."
Colonel John Davis, the commander of the handful of Kentuckians who had been so unjustly stigmatized, demanded a court of inquiry, which was granted, and before which the facts were proven as set forth above. The court, however, merely pronounced the Kentuckians "excusable," and that did not satisfy General Adair, who again pressed the matter on General Jackson, and at length received a dry and reluctant admission from him that the retreat of the Kentuckians was "justifiable."
The matter did not end there. Adair was not satisfied with even that admission of Jacksons, and for two years after the close of the war there was a spirited correspondence between them on the subject, which finally grew so intensely bitter as to make the issue personal. It has come down to us by tradition that a challenge followed, and that Jackson and Adair actually met at an appointed spot on the line between Kentucky and Tennessee to settle the issue according to the so-called code of honor, but that an amicable arrangement was reached through the good offices of their mutual friends.
In an open letter published in the newspapers in 1828, General Jackson made a full retraction of his stigmatization of those one hundred and seventy Kentuckians on the west bank of the river, and gave all due credit to the one thousand Kentuckians on the east bank for their distinguished services in the battle of New Orleans.
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The defeat at New Orleans was the greatest shock that the pride of Great Britain has ever received. The true story of that disastrous and humiliating event was, as much as possible, suppressed in the English newspapers, in order to spare the pride of the people. The news of the defeat reached London on February 28, 1815, and on the same day came also the news that Napoleon had escaped from the Island of Elba, and had landed on the shores of France; and public attention was quickly diverted by this new sensation, and so the horrors of New Orleans were not fully felt.
William Cobbett, the famous English essayist and author, wrote of the event: "Bonaparte had landed from Elba, and the battle of Waterloo soon followed. Both the government and the people were glad to forget about that unmerciful beating in America. This battle of New Orleans broke the heart of European despotism. The man who won it did, in that one act, more for the good and the honor of the human race than was ever done by any other man."
A curious thing about that great battle is the fact that it was fought after the treaty of peace between the two countries had been signed by their commissioners at Ghent, and ratified by the Prince Regent of Great Britain. It was not ratified by the Senate of the United States, however, until February 17, 1815, nearly six weeks after the battle was fought.
General Jackson retained all his troops around New Orleans not only until the ratification of the treaty of peace by the Senate, but until the British had departed from our shores, their dream and purpose of establishing a mighty colonial empire in the Louisiana Territory shattered and destroyed for all time.
The Tennessee and Kentucky troops, says McAfee, commenced their return to their respective States on March 18, 1815. They had a long, painful and fatiguing journey to perform, and were almost destitute of transportation for their baggage and provisions; but of provisions, they had only a scant supply on many parts of their journey. The Kentucky troops reached home about the first of May, after having suffered incredible hardships from disease and fatigue. Their sufferings and losses from disease after the termination of the war were much greater than those they experienced from the toils and dangers of the tented field.
GENERAL JOHN ADAIR
General John Adair was born in South Carolina in the year 1757. As a mere lad he fought in the Revolutionary War, in which he was taken prisoner and cruelly treated by his captors. In 1786, he emigrated to Kentucky and settled in Mercer county. He served as a Major of Kentucky troops in the border wars with the Indians, which were waged with so much severity on the northwestern frontier.
In November, 1792, he was temporarily encamped with a body of Kentucky troops in the vicinity of Fort St. Clair, twenty-six miles from Greenville, near where Eaton, the county seat of Preble county, Ohio, now stands. Here he was suddenly and violently attacked by a large party of Indians under the famous chief, Little Turtle, who rushed upon the camp with great fury. A bloody fight followed, in which the Indians got the best of it. Adair was forced to retreat to his main camp, where he made a stand and defeated and drove away the Indians. Among the wounded in this engagement were Colonel Richard Taylor, father of the future President, Zachary Taylor, and Lieutenant George Madison, afterwards Governor of Kentucky. Nearly fifteen years later, when Little Turtle passed through Frankfort on his way to Washington City, General Adair, then Register of the Land Office, called on him; and in the conversation that ensued, some reference having been made to their battle in 1792, he attributed his defeat on that occasion to his having been taken by surprise. Little Turtle immediately replied, with great pleasantness, "A good general is never taken by surprise."
In 1807, General Adair was suspected of complicity in the plans of Aaron Burr to establish an empire in the Southwest, but there was never any proof to support the suspicions. In 1813, he participated in the Thames campaign as the aide of Governor Shelby, and was present in that capacity at the battle of the Thames. Governor Shelby afterwards conferred upon him the appointment of Adjutant General of the Kentucky troops, with the rank of Brigadier General by brevet, in which capacity he commanded the Kentucky troops in the battle of New Orleans, in lieu of Major General John Thomas, who was seriously ill. In 1820, he was elected Governor of Kentucky in opposition to Judge William Logan, General Joseph Desha, and Colonel Anthony Butler. He was often a member of the State Legislature, and on several occasions was the Speaker of that body. In 1825, he was elected to the Senate of the United States for the term of one year, to fill a vacancy. In 1831, he was elected to Congress and served until 1833. Adair county, Kentucky, formed in 1801, was named in his honor. He died on May 19, 1840, at the age of eighty-three years, and was buried in the State cemetery at Frankfort, where a monument erected at the expense of the State, properly inscribed, stands over his grave.
COLONEL GABRIEL SLAUGHTER
Colonel Gabriel Slaughter, of Mercer county, commanded a regiment in the battle of New Orleans – the only regiment of Kentucky militia that participated as a whole in that great victory. It was his regiment, with Major Harrison's battalion of Mitchusson's regiment and Carroll's Tennesseans, occupying the center and left center of the long American line, that stood the full brunt of the fierce and desperate attacks of the British, and won that incomparable victory.
Colonel Slaughter was a native of Culpepper county, Virginia, but emigrated early to Kentucky, and settled in Mercer county, about four miles from Harrodsburg, on the road leading to Lexington. Though a man of fine ability, highly esteemed by all, who might have had any office in the gift of his people, he seems to have preferred the retirement of private life to public distinction. Under the call of Governor Shelby, in November, 1814, he raised a regiment of troops in Mercer and the neighboring counties for the New Orleans campaign. No troops engaged on the American side did more fatal execution in the battle of New Orleans than did the men of his regiment.
In 1816, Colonel Slaughter was elected Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky on the ticket with Major George Madison, the hero of the River Raisin. Madison died shortly after being inaugurated, and Slaughter was duly installed as Governor. He served out his term with credit to himself and to the State, and then retired to his country home and resumed his occupation as a farmer, leading a quiet and useful life until 1830, when he died, being sixty-three years old.
"THE HUNTERS OF KENTUCKY"
When the victorious Kentuckians returned triumphantly to their homes, they were greeted everywhere with enthusiastic ovations. It was then that Samuel Woodworth, the author of "The Old Oaken Bucket," composed the once-famous song, "The Hunters of Kentucky," which for forty-five years was immensely popular all over the State. It was sung everywhere, and had a great vogue as a stage song, being sung by actors in the theaters of every city in the Union to wildly applauding audiences. It is said that in New Orleans it did not grow stale, and never failed to "bring down the house." It continued a favorite, especially in Kentucky, until the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861, and then passed into the limbo of forgotten things. The song is based upon the alleged fact that the British commander had promised his troops forty-eight hours of pillage and rapine when they had captured New Orleans. It was also said that "Booty and Beauty" was the watchword of the British army on the day of the battle. Like many other very popular songs, the verse hardly rises even to mediocrity, but the spirit of the song seems to have met a demand of the times when it was in vogue. Perhaps it may be well to put it once more into print for the benefit of the curious antiquarians of the future.