Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade - lightnovelgate.com
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On the 29th, signal was made to weigh, when the whole got under way, and started in fine style; our now gallant fleet covering the ocean for many miles. We kept along on the south side of Cuba, and on the 3d December made Cape St Antonio, the westernmost point of that large island. From hence we now stood to the northward, crossing right athwart the Gulf of Mexico. During our stay at Barbadoes, we had purchased a live sheep and a pig, as we feared our stock might run out before we landed. The sheep was productive of great amusement to our messmates, at the expense of the poor caterer. In all hot climates, I believe, the wool of the sheep becomes in course of time more like the hair of a goat than what it really is. This was the case in the present instance, most of our people declaring they would not eat of such an animal, which was, as they conjectured, a sort of mule bred between a sheep and a goat; while the poor caterer was like to have the sheep thrown on his hand. This produced many a bickering, even after it was known that such was the case in warm climates; for they kept up the fun as long as possible, always trying to keep the unfortunate caterer in hot water about it. The sheep was killed, and produced excellent mutton--not fat indeed, but eatable. We were not so fortunate, however, with our pig; it appears it must have been diseased--what, I believe, is usually termed measly. It was dressed without this being known, and eaten; and the consequence was, all the twenty-four of our mess, except myself and another were literally poisoned. In the middle of the night, when it began to take effect, the most distressing scene took place imaginable, and the medical men were kept busily employed for a considerable time afterwards preparing and administering emetics, which providentially had the desired effect on all, for in a short time the whole recovered; but had medical assistance not been promptly administered, the chances are some of them would have suffered. Its effects were something like cholera morbus, working both up and down in the most violent manner.
On the 10th December we made the American coast off Mobile, where we fell in with a vessel, on board of which was Colonel Nichols of the marines, with three or four Indian chiefs of the Creek nation, to which people he had been for some time previously attached, they being then at war with the Americans, and consequently our allies. They came on board our ship, and were shown every thing curious; but their reason for visiting us was, that they might see our rifles, for they considered themselves good shots, and wished to examine our arms, with which they did not express themselves over-satisfied, as they had been accustomed to see no other description of rifles than those used by the Americans, which are both much longer and heavier, but carry a much smaller ball.
Indeed they had never seen any military rifles, but only such as the above, and which are constructed solely for the purpose of killing deer and other game. The gallant colonel endeavoured to amuse us a little on this occasion with the wonderful feats of his proteges. He told us, that they being generally very short of balls, were always very careful how they expended them in hunting; and that their rule was never to fire at a deer, until it was in the act of passing between them and a tree, that, should the ball go through its body, as it sometimes did, it might lodge in the tree on the other side, and they would then go and pick it out, and recast it. We thought he ought to have told that story to his own corps the marines; for I believe he did not get many of us to give implicit credit to so wonderful a tale. They were most grotesque-looking figures; most of them were dressed in some old red coats, which they had got hold of by some means, with cocked hats of the old fashion. These I believe had been given them by some of our people, for they were English manufacture. But they had tremendous large rings, &c. hung in their ears, the laps of which were stretched nearly to their shoulders; some of them also wore rings in their noses; and some of them were without any sort of lower garments, having nothing but a sort of cloth tied round their waist, which passed through between their legs and fastened before. These people it was intended should bring their warriors to join us near New Orleans; but, owing to some cause with which I am not acquainted, none but these three or four chiefs ever came near us.
On the 11th we anchored near the Chandeleur Islands, at the entrance into Lake Ponchartrain. But it was discovered that the Americans had some gun-vessels, which, on account of their drawing only little water, had been stationed in this lake for its protection, and on our appearance had retired nearer to New Orleans. It was necessary that these should be previously disposed of in some manner, before the disembarkation of the troops could with safety be effected. None of our ships could follow them on account of the shoalness of the lake. An order was therefore issued for all the men-of-war to prepare their boats for an attack on these vessels, the chief command of which was given to Captain Lockyer of the Sophia gun-brig. On the morning of the ----, they therefore assembled for this purpose, and pushed up the lake in search of the gun-vessels, which were discovered moored near some islands called by the natives, "Les Isles Malheureuse," or the "Unfortunate Islands," and which form the entrance from Lake Ponchartrain into Lake Borgne, or Blind Lake. No time was lost in attacking this formidable flotilla, consisting of vessels carrying from five to six guns each, and commanded by a lieutenant of the American navy, named by them Commodore Jones. A most determined and gallant resistance was made by the Americans; but superior numbers, with equal, if not superior courage and seamanship, prevailed, and in a short space of time the whole were captured. Both the commandants were severely wounded, with a great number of officers and men killed and wounded. Nothing could exceed the gallant intrepidity, I understand, with which our boats advanced to the attack; for, from experience I am well convinced, the fire from those gun-vessels must have been most destructive; for better shots, either with artillery or small arms, do not exist than the Americans. Orders were now issued for the army to prepare to land; but the distance, from where we had been obliged from shoal water to stop to the town, being so great, it was determined to form a sort of depot on a small island, near the mouth of the Pearl River, called Pine Island; and farther to facilitate the transport of the troops, small brigs, &c. were sent as far up the lake as possible, into which the troops were put successively from the larger vessels, and from which they generally took their departure for the above island.
On the 15th our people left the Fox, and were moved up the lake into one of the brigs before noticed, where we were packed in as tight as herrings, there being near 400 men on board a little thing scarcely calculated to contain the fourth of that number, and where there was not literally room to lie down. But, on the 19th, we were relieved from this rather close confinement; and being put on board of long boats, we pushed off for the island, which lay at a considerable distance, notwithstanding the measures that had been adopted to shorten our voyage. The weather proved extremely rough and unpleasant, which rendered our trip neither over-safe nor comfortable; and to mend the matter, the seamen on board our boat were rather in the wind, and did not manage her so well as was desirable; for, poor fellows, they had been engaged in this fatiguing service for several days, (a considerable number of the troops having been previously landed,) and were consequently the more easily prevailed upon to indulge when grog came in their way. Our middy too was quite worn out with fatigue, and slept nearly all the time we were on board. Our boat was several times on the point of being swamped, for the water came in quite plentifully on occasions of her being laid down by sudden squalls. Another boat, which accompanied us, had her mast carried away.
We landed on the island before mentioned in the evening, and of course looked out for the best shelter we could find. But it was a complete desert; nothing but reeds grew on it, except a few stunted and scrubby bushes at the lower end of it. It came on a most severe frost during the night, which I understand caused the death of several of the sailors, who had indulged perhaps a little too freely, and had lain down without any covering. Some of the poor blacks also, I understand, suffered in consequence of the severe cold, a thing with which they were totally unacquainted, and against which they were ill provided, having nothing but their light and thin West India dress to keep it out. It was laughable the next morning to see them examining so intently the ice which had been formed on the pools near our bivouack. They could not conjecture what it was; some of them asserting it was salt; while the greater part were totally at a loss respecting it. I had by great good luck got into a sort of hut belonging to some of the officers who had previously landed; but I do not remember in all my campaigning to have suffered more from cold than I did this night, and was extremely glad when daylight appeared, that I might be able to move about.
Proceed to attack the Enemy, and capture one of their picquets--Advance in search of a Bivouack--Alarmed by shots in front--Fired on by an American schooner--Captain Hallen severely attacked--Manoeuvres on both sides--Ruse of the Enemy--Fighting continues--Enemy repulsed at all points--Courage of the British--A British Battery brought into play--Activity of the Enemy.
By the 21st, the whole army had been landed on this island, when they were told off into brigades, and inspected by the General. During our stay here, about five or six French Americans, (the natives of New Orleans, or neighbourhood,) arrived as friends, and told us that there were scarcely any troops in the district; so that we had nothing to do but to land on the opposite side, and march right on to the town, and that the inhabitants would welcome us most cordially, and that no resistance might be expected. I did not, I confess, put much confidence in their information, and believed at the time, that they came more as spies than with any view of befriending, as they pretended, our cause.
More correct information was obtained from Spanish fishermen, who had been following their occupation at the mouth of a creek on the New Orleans side of the lake, and who had come across, I believe, at the suggestion of Major Peddie, our assistant Quartermaster-general, who had been despatched to find out a suitable landing-place for the army.
From one of them, I learned afterwards that there were troops in the town, commanded by General Jackson, and that a battery of two guns had been erected on the road, by which we must advance. What they told the General, I do not know, but fancy he saw no reason to alter his plans, from the information of either party. Every thing being ready by the morning of the 22d, the advance guard, commanded by Colonel Thornton, and consisting of the 85th and 95th regiments, with two light three-pounders, some artillery and some rocketeers, accompanied by a few artificers to repair bridges, &c. embarked on board the boats, that had been assembled for the purpose--two companies of the 93d followed us; these troops occupying the whole of the boats that could be mustered in the fleet, consequently the remainder of the army had to remain where they were till the return of the boats. The distance was not less, I should think, than from thirty to forty miles. We pushed off about two o'clock P.M., the wind being favourable for a considerable part of the way, but it failing, the men were obliged to commence with the oars. We were completely wedged in, so that there was no moving, let the call be ever so urgent. I suffered much from a severe pain in my side, from being obliged to remain so long in the same position; but we endeavoured to divert the tedium in the best manner we could by amusing stories, &c.
My luck placed me on board the Bang-Up, a fine cutter belonging to the admiral, and commanded by a countryman of mine, a Lieutenant Foster of that ship. We did not reach the mouth of the creek, or bayou, as it is called by the natives, till a long time after dark. As we approached it, some light boats were sent forward with Captain Travers of ours and his company, to endeavour to surprise a regiment of the enemy, which we knew were stationed in some huts at the mouth of the creek, and which huts belonged to the Spanish fishermen before mentioned. From the information they gave, the best arrangements possible were made for effecting this; for Travers, moving silently on, and landing his men at the opposite ends of the hamlet, there remained no way of escape open for the troops in the houses. As soon as all was ready, they rushed forward and secured the whole picquet without a single shot being fired, with the exception of two men, who preferred venturing into the marsh, in rear of the huts, where it is not improbable they perished. The duty was conducted so quietly, and so expeditiously, that very few of the other troops knew any thing of the matter; but this alone secured us a landing without opposition, for had a firing been begun on either side, it must have alarmed the American army, who, no doubt, would have used their endeavours to oppose our landing.
We soon after began to enter the creek, but such was the darkness of the night, and the shoalness of the water, and such the uncertainty of the way by which we had to proceed, that very little progress was made during the remainder of the night; daylight, however, enabled us to move forward at a brisker pace, but from the obstacles that had presented themselves in the dark, the squadron of boats was sadly dispersed; and when we reached the head of the creek, only two or three of the light boats, with the staff and naval officers, had arrived, and considerable intervals of time elapsed between the arrival of the different boats with troops; so that had the enemy been aware of our intention, and had they had a force of a few hundred men hid in the high reeds which grow in this marsh, they might, I am persuaded, have cut us off in detail, for from the causes before mentioned, no two boats were sufficiently near to assist each other.
We got on shore about an hour after daylight; and right glad was I to be enabled to stretch my legs, which had been kept motionless for the last sixteen hours. As soon as the whole advance-guard had landed, and a few planks had been thrown over a deep rill which we had to cross, we moved forward towards the high ground, Captain Travers' company leading; and, in order to magnify the appearance of our force, should any concealed American be looking on, we extended our files to double the usual distance, and thus passed through a wood which skirted the swamp, and which it was necessary to traverse before we could reach the open country, which we did about six miles below New Orleans. As soon as our advance cleared this wood, they observed a good-looking farm onstead, towards which they moved in double quick time, and arrived just in time to seize and make prisoner a Monsieur Villerey, a major of the militia, just then setting off to join his people. We heard (but I will not vouch for the truth of the report) that a considerable body of the enemy had been assembled on the high-road, near to Monsieur Villerey's house, but on learning that we had landed, and were moving rapidly forward, they separated, one part retiring towards the town, while the other went down the river. Our advance now moved on with celerity, and dashing on to the different farm-houses in the neighbourhood, seized several groups of arms at each of them, which it seems had either been abandoned by the troops to whom they belonged, or had been collected there for some military purpose. They captured at some of these farm-houses to the amount of twelve or twenty stand; and in all not less than fifty.
Monsieur Villerey unfortunately contrived to make his escape, through the too great leniency of one of our lieutenants. I think the most probable opinion respecting the arms and the troops assembled near Monsieur Villerey's is, that it was the militia of the district just at that moment assembling, which will not only account for the arms being found in such numbers, (under the verandas of the houses,) but also for Monsieur Villerey himself being then on the point of setting out in his warlike costume, and the number of men which were observed near his house.
About twenty militiamen were also captured in and about these houses.
Except there, the whites had all abandoned their houses; but a considerable number of black slaves remained at each, whether of their own accord, or left to protect the property, and occasionally convey information to their masters, I know not. As soon as our advance had sufficiently reconnoitred the adjacent houses, &c. the whole of the troops moved on past the house of Monsieur Villerey, and turning to the right, followed the great road to New Orleans for about half a mile, till a suitable piece of ground presenting itself in the neighbourhood of some other farm-houses, the whole turned in to a green field a short distance from the road, and forming into close columns of battalions, commenced bivouacking for the night. The road ran partly on, and partly alongside of the river dike. Immediately between the troops and the river, this dike was perhaps about three feet high. On our right was a farm-house, and a little to the right and front another--the latter a pretty large one--all these, and indeed all the farm-houses in this neighbourhood, are surrounded at one end by the huts of the slaves, and generally on the other by barns and other out-buildings, and in the rear a garden or orchard. The ground in all this country, which is perfectly flat, apparently of alluvial formation, is divided into fields, &c. by wooden paling of the common description, very few hedges being to be seen.
The situation in which the troops were placed, was as follows, viz. The artillery and rocketeers in one line; immediately behind them, my battalion and the 85th, in close column; the 4th in rear of us, and the 93d two companies in rear of the 4th; the whole in close columns. The men, as soon as dismissed, instantly set about cooking, for they had had nothing from the morning before, and it was now considerably past mid-day. Captain Travers' company, which had formed the advance-guard, still remained in front as a picquet, and occupied a post on the great road, about a mile in front of the division.
About three o'clock P.M., we were all alarmed by some shots at the advanced picquet; and, on enquiry, found that an American staff-officer, escorted by about thirty cavalry, had come galloping down, no doubt for the purpose of reconnoitring us; when within distance, our people instantly fired, one of which shots wounded the staff-officer, and another killed a horse, but they contrived to get him off. This caused the whole of the troops to fall in till the cause of alarm was ascertained, after which they set about their cooking again with great glee. Considerable discussion now began to take place amongst the knowing ones, as to the merits and demerits of our situation, in point of security; and of course various opinions were given on the occasion.
One officer of ours, a particular friend of mine, did not hesitate roundly to assert, that we were in a most unprotected and dangerous situation. I do not remember exactly the reasons he assigned; but certainly, could he have foreseen what yet remained in the womb of time, he would have had much stronger reasons for his opinion. Another company of ours, (Captain Hallen's,) and one of the 85th, were ordered to prepare at dusk to relieve the picquet in advance; and as I messed with Captain Hallen's company, I accompanied it on this duty. I did not go with the main body of the company, there being no house at that post, but with one section, commanded by Lieutenant Forbes, and we occupied a small house to the right, and a little to the rear of Captain Hallen's party, which was stationed on the great road. The company of the 85th occupied the large farm-house before-mentioned, a little to the right and front of the column. I had purchased an excellent turkey on our arrival at Monsieur Villerey's house, which we had dressed at this little house, and made a most hearty meal indeed, after which we took each a tot or horn of grog to comfort us.
We had not long finished our comfortable meal, when we were astounded by the report of heavy ordnance, apparently close to the bivouack of the column, and which reports followed each other in quick succession. A cheer was also given, but by whom, or what the occasion of the firing was, we were totally at a loss to conjecture. I at first imagined it was some of our men-of-war that had been able to pass the forts down the river, and that they were firing a salute and cheering in consequence; and yet this seemed a strange conjecture; but we did not long remain in suspense, for we were soon after informed of the real state of the case, that it was a large American schooner, with at least fourteen guns, and which she had been enabled to bring to bear upon our unfortunate bivouack with the most deadly precision, great numbers having fallen at her first broadside. The troops of course dispersed in some measure, leaving their fires, which had too well served as a direction for the fire of this terrible schooner. But the time was not far distant when we should have other enemies to encounter; for by the time the schooner had fired a dozen broadsides, a noise was heard in our front; and just at this moment an American was brought in by a man from Captain Hallen's post, who had foolishly come right into the centre of his picquet, and asking if they could tell him which way the regulars had gone. This showed that he was a young soldier, who did not know our troops from his own; but it also showed that the regulars which he was seeking could not be far distant; consequently, every thing was got ready to give them the best reception possible; but as the people we had heard in front of the post where I then was appeared to be rather to our right, I feared lest they might get unawares upon the company of the 85th, which was stationed in the farm behind us. I consequently set off with all dispatch to give them timely warning, but when I arrived there, I could not find the officers, nor could I see where the picquet was posted; I therefore thought they must be on the alert at the bottom of the garden, which lay in the direction in which we heard the noise; and meeting here an officer and several of our men, who had moved in this direction, from the fire of the schooner, I told him I was certain that Hallen would be shortly most vigorously attacked, from the information I had learnt respecting the regulars, and advised him to collect all the men he could, and proceed forthwith to reinforce him at the advance. This he instantly did, and it was well, for by this time the firing had commenced in volleys at that post. I then returned to the picquet-house, where I had previously dined, and found the officer was going round his sentries; but as the firing was going briskly on at Hallen's post, I expected every moment to be attacked here, and began, in the absence of the officer, to post the men as advantageously as the nature of the ground would admit.
The house stood on a little path, or bye-road, running across the country, from the river towards the wood, and which, before he could get into, the enemy would have to clamber over a railing which lay on the side from which they were advancing. On the hither side of the road was a ditch, with a hedge, almost the only one to be met with, and a little copse of small trees. Into this copse I put the men, extending them along the inside of the hedge, which would not only keep them from the view of the enemy, but be some little protection from their fire, and would leave them the more at liberty to retreat when overpowered by numbers, as it was certain they must shortly be. But all my labour was in vain, for when Forbes came from visiting his sentries, he did not approve of my disposition, but took them all out, and formed them on the open road, without any cover, and with a hedge and ditch in their rear, both of which they would be compelled to pass the moment the enemy pressed upon him. I felt annoyed, not only at his want of courtesy to me, but that he would thus expose his men to almost certain destruction, without being able to effect any thing against the enemy, or at all check his advance. I accordingly left him in a huff, and went again to try to find the picquet of the 85th in the house behind us. I was determined to make a more close and thorough search than I had done before, and for this purpose went over the gates, &c. into the yard behind, when lo, I found myself within a yard or two of a strong body of the enemy, which had got into the garden at the lower end, and were just advancing to the house. I crouched down, and hid in the best manner I could, and luckily was enabled to creep off without their discovering who I was. Just as I reached the outer gate, I found a sergeant of ours there, to whom I said, we must set off with all possible speed; and accordingly we both took to our heels, and ran like heroes; the noise of which brought the fire of twenty or thirty rifles after us, but luckily without effect.
I now made the best of my way towards where I judged the main body of our people were, on the great road, in order to inform Colonel Thornton of what I had seen, of this column of the enemy having got possession of the house and garden I had just left, and by doing which they had nearly separated the advance picquet from the main body. He said he had sent two companies of ours, and two of the 85th, to the house immediately in the rear of this I speak of, and in a short time afterwards they and the Americans came into close contact, for they immediately commenced firing; and where as strange a description of fighting took place as is perhaps on record.
The enemy soon discovered from some men, whom they had unfortunately taken, what the regiments were that were opposed to them--and with all that cunning which the Yankees are famed for, instantly turned it to the best account--for in several places they advanced in bodies, crying out at the same time, "Come on, my brave 85th!" or "My brave 95th!" and thus induced several of our small detached parties to go over the rails to them, supposing they were some of our own people, when of course they were instantly made prisoners. This _ruse_ did not always succeed, however, for some of the parties turning restive on their hands, refused to surrender, and thus a fight hand to hand took place, and in which they generally had the worst of it.
On one occasion of this kind our people made a body of them prisoners.
The men and officers being requested to lay down their arms, the officer, after surrendering, when he saw there were not many of our people, drew a sort of dirk or knife, and made a stab at the officer of ours who had taken him. We instantly cried out to the men near him, one of whom took up his rifle and shot the villain through the body. They had before this time brought two of their regular battalions close in front of our advance, which did not consist of more than 100 men, and were pouring in dreadful volleys into that small but gallant detachment; but even in this they showed themselves young soldiers, for they formed up the two battalions in line at about forty or fifty yards in distance from the post, and gave the words "ready--present--fire," with all the precision of a field-day; but being so near, of course every word was heard by our people, who, at the critical moment, always took care to cleave as close to the ground as possible, by which they escaped most of their shot. They then up and at them, and, pouring in a desultory but most destructive fire, brought great numbers of them to the ground.
Their force, however, was too great to be opposed successfully by such a handful of men, and these brave fellows were at length compelled to yield a little ground; but it was not more than just to enable them to cover themselves, and form again in proper order; and from this time all the efforts of these two battalions were unable to remove them. Indeed, not long after, our people became the assailants, and, advancing again, retook their original position. Poor Hallen was severely wounded on this occasion, and lost about forty of his men.
Two or three naval captains came also to see the fight at Hallen's post, one of whom soon fell severely wounded. The other, the gallant captain of the Dover frigate, with whom part of our people went out, and with whom we all came home, behaved most nobly. Whenever the enemy had fired their volley, he cried, "Now, my lads, up and give them another broadside!" and thus contributed, by his animating conduct, to inspire all around him with confidence.
Poor Forbes just met the fate that I expected. He stood upon the road, and opened his fire upon the enemy as they approached; but they being perhaps more than twenty times his number, he was instantly compelled to give way, after being himself wounded, having his sergeant killed, and losing nearly the half of his men. The schooner all this time kept up a most galling and incessant fire. Some attempts were made with our light three-pounders, and with rockets, and even with small-arms, to compel her to sheer off, but they were all in vain. Her men, protected by her stout bulwarks which surrounded them, defied all our efforts, and continued to pour in both round and grape wherever they judged, from the direction of the fire, our people were stationed. Luckily the darkness of the night rendered her fire less destructive than it would otherwise have been.
A considerable body of the enemy had penetrated to the house immediately on the right of our original bivouack, where the firing was kept up between them and the parties opposed to them with great spirit for a long time; but the General, having detached the 4th regiment to form line a little to the rear and right of that house, completely secured that flank from being farther turned. Notwithstanding this, the skirmishers of both armies extended to the wood, some of whom we found lying the next morning almost touching each other. The firing now began to slacken, the enemy having been repulsed at all points, and, towards three o'clock in the morning, it had completely ceased, when they retired, leaving us in possession of the warmly-contested field.
My battalion had been extremely unfortunate in this action; for almost at the very outset, when the attack on Hallen's picquet commenced, Major Mitchell, our commandant, had taken a party of about twenty or thirty men, and advanced for the purpose of supporting that post.
Between the bivouack, however, and the point he intended to reach, he unexpectedly fell in with a large body of Americans, (for it was so dark he could not distinguish who they were,) when both himself, and all the men he had with him, were made prisoners. The loss of our five companies in this action was about 120 men; that of the 85th more, I believe; and in all, I think, it amounted to about 300 men. The loss of the enemy must have been considerably greater, if we are to judge from the number of dead they left on the field, and, which is a good criterion, the general average being about ten wounded for one killed.
Nothing could equal the bravery of the few troops we had in the field on this occasion. Their numbers certainly did not amount to 1800 men; while the enemy could not have had fewer than from 4000 to 5000. They had two regular regiments, the 7th and 44th; they had a large corps of irregular riflemen from Kentucky, and another stronger corps from Tennessee, with all the militia of New Orleans and its neighbourhood, every man who is able being compelled to bear arms in case of invasion. They had about 300 irregular horse, whether militia or not I cannot tell, but think it likely they were in all at least 4000 men--with the great and effectual assistance of the schooner, which did us more mischief than 1000 men could have done, probably not so much by the loss she occasioned us, as, by being able to fire on our flank, and even in our rear, she rendered the enemy the most essential service, besides the fire of the ship on our advanced picquet.
We were thus completely surrounded on three sides, and had not the troops behaved with the most determined courage and intrepidity, we must have been driven back, and eventually the greater part would have been taken prisoners; for the path to the water was quite narrow, and even should we reach the head of the creek where we landed, the boats had probably all left it by this time to return for the other troops.
Indeed it was reported afterwards, that the arrangements of General Jackson were such, that we were to have been attacked in the rear at the same time as in front, and by the schooner; but the troops for that purpose either not being in readiness, or being too distant to arrive in time, were too late to take part in the action, but arrived about three o'clock in the morning, when they met with a half-drunk artillery-driver of ours near Mons. Villerey's house, as he was returning from the field, and who, seeing a large body of men, which he took for some of our other regiments that had landed, cried out to them, "Come on, my lads, for the Yankees never got such a licking in their lives!" This, it is said, had the effect of frightening them back, without proceeding farther.
I will not vouch for this being fact, but such was the report the next morning; and indeed it is feasible, from the number of people (apparently going with orders, &c.) which we saw galloping down on the other side of the river in the afternoon; and it is certain that a considerable body of militia must have resided down the river, setting aside the report which I mentioned, of some troops having retired in that direction in the morning, when we first advanced; and nothing would have tended more to our complete overthrow than such an attack on our rear, could it have been accomplished.
I might here mention, that Captain Hallen saw the schooner as she passed his picquet, on her way down from New Orleans, on which he instantly despatched a man with the information; but she having the current in her favour, sailed much quicker than the man could run, consequently his information came too late.
I omitted to mention also, that a large ship of 20 guns came down the river at the same time with the schooner, but being less manageable than that vessel, she had anchored abreast of Hallen's picquet; and that he had to sustain her fire, as well as that of the troops in his front, during the whole of the attack of the 23d. She remained at that spot without moving.
I will here also notice another circumstance which took place at this post. An American rifleman fell into the hands of some of Captain Hallen's people, who, when he was brought in, were desired to take his arms from him. These he seemed reluctant to part with, and said to the officer, "Recollect I shall hold you responsible for that rifle, if you take it from me!"--on which the officer took hold of it by the muzzle, and flung it right into the river. I daresay the poor fellow thought they were a strange sort of people he had got amongst; and I doubt not he had set a great value upon his rifle.
Another officer and myself had a providential escape the next morning, for we had scarcely left a little wooden hut, behind which we had taken up our abode, and slept for a few hours after the fight, when bang comes an eighteen-pound shot right through the house, just at the very spot where we had a minute or two before been sitting. It seems the captain of the schooner, which still lay abreast of us at about 800 yards distance, and from which this shot had been fired, was determined we should not occupy any of the houses in the vicinity, for, beginning with our hut, which was nearest to him, he fired into every house within reach of his guns, although he saw as plainly as we did that most of them were filled with the wounded; nay, he carried his savage cruelty so far, that he actually fired on a party of the 85th as they were removing one of their wounded officers. It could not be pleaded that he did not know what it was, for, being only half-a-mile distant, and much elevated above our level, with a glass he could see as well as we could what they were doing, for they were carrying the poor fellow on a bier, on their shoulders. He continued this cruel work all the next day, the ship also giving us an occasional shot. One shot which he fired went through the front of a house in which some of our wounded men were lying, and, striking low, it carried the knapsack out from under the head of a man of ours named Rayour, which he had put for a pillow, without doing him the smallest injury. I could not credit the story till I went and actually saw the hole by which it entered, the knapsack and the shot lying near the fire-place. After this I went to view the house where I had fallen in with the column of the enemy the night before, and where the 85th were now stationed; but the fire of the schooner still continued, one shot from which we saw was directed towards us. It fell right in among the 85th, and, striking a corporal about the breach, as he was endeavouring to get out of its way, it passed out at his breast, on which he gave himself a sort of shake, and fell lifeless to the earth.
Nothing could exceed the great annoyance this mischievous schooner continued to be to us all that and the next day, for they not only saw every thing we did, but we could not move in any number without being saluted with an 18 lb. shot, and we had no means of retaliation. But during the 25th, efforts were made to get up some heavier guns from the fleet, and every thing having been settled as to the plan, &c., a battery was constructed as close to the water's edge as possible in the river dike, and a number of gun barrels having been collected from those broken, &c. during the late fight, a sort of furnace was erected for the purpose of heating shot, with which it was determined to give her a salute the next morning. Every thing succeeded admirably. The battery was constructed, embrasures cut, and shot heated, and all ready by daylight on the morning of the 26th; of course we were all looking out to witness the effect, and most noble it was, for when the guns opened out upon her, the people on board seemed quite thunderstruck, and although they attempted to return our fire, it was only like the blows of a man beat blind by his antagonist, for her shot fell in every other direction but that in which she should have thrown them. However, they could not stand to fire more than one round, as our hot shot rendered their situation very soon untenable, and taking to their boats, they made their escape to the opposite shore with all expedition.
The distance from the battery to the schooner had been so accurately measured by Major Blanchard, who superintended the construction of the work, that almost every shot and shell penetrated the hull of the vessel, and in a short time after her crew had left her, she broke out into a blaze of fire, which soon reaching the magazine, she blew up with a loud explosion, to the great comfort and joy of all our army. This of course deserved and obtained three as hearty cheers as I believe were ever given by Britons, and no doubt the Americans were greatly chagrined at the loss of their fine and exceedingly useful vessel. A shell or two were directed towards the ship, but she having seen the fate of the schooner, got out her boats, which, taking her in tow, she set off up the river in all haste. Could a battery have been constructed to fire upon her at the same time, it would have saved us some hard knocks afterwards. She, however, effected her escape, and we now remained in peace for a few days at least.
On the 25th, Sir Edward Packenham and General Gibbs had arrived; the former immediately assumed the command, and they both set off to the front to reconnoitre the enemy and the kind of country around us. Every night since our arrival the enemy had been incessant in their means to harass and annoy us, as in truth they had a right to do if they pleased, but it was exceedingly distressing to the troops, and therefore I mention it. They seldom let an hour pass during the night, that they were not firing at some of our out sentries, and on some occasions they brought the body of irregular cavalry, before mentioned, immediately in front of our outposts, and fired volleys, which, although it did not do much injury to our advanced picquets, had the effect of turning out the whole line, and that often repeated, with the annoyance from the schooner, certainly did not leave us much time for comfortable rest.
They frequently lay in ambush for the reliefs of our sentries also, and patrols, and fired upon them sometimes with effect. In short, they did all they could to annoy and weary us out, but of which we ought not to complain, as they were defending their own country, and allowances ought to be made in such a case that would not be tolerated in an army having no interest in the soil. I trust Englishmen will be equally zealous and bitter to their enemies should our country ever be invaded.
British Army told off into Brigades--Advance, and are hotly received--Heroism of a young Artillery Officer--We take up a fresh position--The Enemy work incessantly in raising an extensive breastwork--Two Batteries erected, from which our heavy Ship Artillery are brought to bear against it, but without effect--The Enemy also place their Ship Guns on Batteries--Colonel Lambert arrives with the 7th and 43d regiments--Preparations for a grand attack on the Enemy's lines, which entirely fails, and the British are repulsed with great loss.
The remainder of the army all arrived during the 24th, and were put in bivouack in an oblique direction, with their front to the late field of action, their right thrown back towards the wood, and their left towards Mons. Villerey's house. The 93d formed line in advance at an angle of the wood, as a sort of outpost, while the 85th and ours were stationed in and around the house, to which I have so often alluded, _i. e._ where I fell in with the column of the enemy. Our advanced picquets remained the same as before the action. If I might here be permitted to hazard an opinion, I should say that had we advanced upon New Orleans the morning after the fight, I think there is little doubt we should have been successful; for when an irregular and undisciplined body of troops once meet with a reverse, it is difficult to bring them into action again with that steadiness and determination which they often evince in their first essay.
I understood General Jackson had some trouble in keeping them together after their defeat on the night of the 23d, and the only mode in which he could get them to form was, in planting the first who retired in line near the road, and as each successive detachment arrived from the fight, they were made to form on their left, the whole line sitting or laying down for the remainder of the night. It is easy to perceive that they would have been quite unmanageable should they have been seriously attacked, while their spirits were depressed by their recent failure, and as the works which we afterwards encountered did not then exist, at least only in part, I think they would have retired after a very slight resistance indeed. I had the information as to the manner in which they formed, from some of those who were made prisoners, and who witnessed it. All this, however, is merely the opinion of a private individual, who judged from appearances only, and it is not in the nature of things probable that I should be able to form so correct a one as those who possessed more ample information.
After the arrival of the two general officers before mentioned, the army was told off into brigades as follows, viz. the 1st brigade, commanded by General Gibbs, consisted of the 4th, 21st, and 44th British, and 5th West India regiments; the 2d brigade, commanded by General Keane, consisted of the 85th, 93d, and 95th British, and 1st West India regiments, (observe, the West India regiments had by this time become exceedingly reduced in point of numbers from cold and hardship, which they seemed unable to bear, and very soon after almost ceased to be regiments, so many of them were sent away sick;) the artillery was commanded by Colonel Dickson, an excellent officer; the squadron of the 14th light dragoons not being able to get mounted, formed the guards at the hospitals, and at head-quarters, &c.
Every thing having been previously arranged on the morning of the 28th, we advanced in two columns, the right near the wood commanded by General Gibbs, and ours on the left by the great road near the river, commanded by General Keane. The enemy had all along kept possession of those farm-houses which lay at some distance in front of our picquets. They were consequently driven from these as we moved forward, which we did, I should imagine, to the distance of about three miles, their picquets retiring gradually before us. We here discovered that the enemy had thrown up a strong field-work, which extended from the river to the wood, and which consequently shut up every avenue to our farther advance, without fighting. We also found that their numbers had considerably increased, as we could perceive by the immense bodies of troops behind their works. As we pressed upon their picquets as they retired, we got a shot or two at them with our field-guns; but every thing remained quiet within their lines till we had arrived within about 400 yards of them, when they opened out on the head of our columns as destructive a fire of artillery as I ever witnessed. One shot struck in the column of the 85th, which knocked down two officers and about ten men. My battalion was leading, and being partly extended skirmishing, they did not offer so fair a mark for artillery as a solid body, and consequently escaped this.
The ship also, which was anchored a little in advance of their work, opened her broadside on the columns on the road at the same time. Our gun and howitzer, the only two pieces we had there, endeavoured to return the fire of the ship, but without doing her much injury. When the fire was found to be so galling, the troops were moved off the road into the fields on the right, and my battalion advancing about 100 paces farther, was ordered to lay down in a sort of ditch which was there, and to shelter themselves the best way they could. The 85th and 93d formed also more to the right, and secured themselves as well as the nature of the ground would admit. It was only intended as a reconnoissance, consequently the troops did not advance farther, as soon as the nature of their position was ascertained. It appeared to be a high dike of casks, formed as a breastwork, with a considerable quantity of artillery mounted on it, and with a sort of canal or wet ditch in front of it.