Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade - novelonlinefull.com
You’re reading novel Twenty-Five Years In The Rifle Brigade Part 15 online at NovelOnlineFull.com. Please use the follow button to get notification about the latest chapter next time when you visit NovelOnlineFull.com. Use F11 button to read novel in full-screen(PC only). Drop by anytime you want to read free – fast – latest novel. It’s great if you could leave a comment, share your opinion about the new chapters, new novel with others on the internet. We’ll do our best to bring you the finest, latest novel everyday. Enjoy
Of course, all this took some time to ascertain, during which they kept up an incessant cannonade, both from their works and from the ship. The latter poured in an immense quant.i.ty of large grape, which rendered the situation of those exposed to it extremely unpleasant. Our two fieldpieces were very soon silenced by the superior fire of the enemy, and in an hour after our arrival at this point, there was not a man left with them but the officer, who was quite a youth, but yet stood as steady as if he had been on a common parade, although all his men were knocked down about him. I never witnessed more devoted heroism than this fine young man displayed. One shot, nearly towards the last, struck off his sergeant's head, and sent his cap spinning over a ditch, where another officer and I had taken up our post. Some rockets were also tried from this point, both against the ship and the enemy's works, but those directed against the vessel flew quite wide of the mark, and totally failed. Some of those fired into the works, we saw pa.s.s over the heads of the men posted in them, but whether they produced any effect we could not see.
The enemy either had set fire to the houses near us before they retired from them, or they had fired heated shot with a view of producing that effect; but we had not been long here ere the whole of the houses in the neighbourhood were in one grand and terrific blaze of fire. I do not exactly know what was done on the right, for we could not see distinctly for some trees which grew in the garden of the farm in that direction, but imagine they encountered something similar to ourselves, as the play of artillery from the enemy's line in front of them was equally unceasing with that in our front. Not a man showed himself out of the enemy's works.
When every thing was ascertained that could be, the troops began gradually to draw off, but this was obliged to be conducted in a very cautious manner, or the loss from their fire would have been severe. The 93d retired first, by separate wings, afterwards the 85th, but ours did not leave their ground till after dark, when, I believe, some of the Yankees began to advance in a rather triumphant and bullying manner, but were taught to keep at a respectful distance by a few shots well laid in among them. A party of sailors had been sent forward to bring off the two fieldpieces, there being no artillerymen left to do it, and we had no horses. They undertook and accomplished this task most cheerfully and effectually, without a man hurt I believe.
The loss of my battalion on this occasion was not great. The army now took up a fresh position in which to bivouack, at about a mile and a half distance from the enemy's line, but which they could easily reach with the shot and sh.e.l.ls of their larger pieces. The head-quarters were removed from Monsieur Villerey's house to a large farm or chateau behind our new lines, and which were formed in the following manner, viz.:--the 4th and 44th composed one line, with their right near the wood. The 21st formed on their left, but with an intervening s.p.a.ce between them. The 85th and 93d formed one line on the left of the 21st, with an interval between their line and that regiment. This latter line was rather in an oblique direction, with its front towards a farm-house in advance and to the left, and where my battalion was ordered to take its station. This latter post was more exposed to the enemy's shot than any of the others; it being a good deal advanced, and being close to the river, the guns from the opposite sh.o.r.e ceased not firing on it, generally with hot shot. The men were put into a sugar house belonging to this chateau, the floor of which being sunk a little below the surface of the adjoining earth, protected them wonderfully; but on occasions they had their very cooking utensils knocked off the fire by the enemy's shot, in consequence of the exposed situation of this house. The acting quartermaster and myself being deemed civilians, and having no inclination to be deprived of our natural rest at night, as long as we could be allowed to obtain it, took up our abode in one of the outhouses at head-quarters, which we found unoccupied, and where our respective duties could be carried on with as much facility as if we were in the same house with the battalion, the distance between them being only about half a mile.
Here, also, the sick and wounded were brought, where they could enjoy more comfort than in the sugar-house, till an opportunity offered of sending them down to the shipping. To secure our front a little more, and to protect the troops against the shot from the opposite sh.o.r.e, a redoubt was thrown up about half a mile in front of the right, and pretty near the wood; while batteries and breastworks were constructed on the road, to fire on any vessels of the enemy which might come down the river. These latter were princ.i.p.ally constructed of hogsheads of sugar, which were found in the sugar-houses of the different plantations in the neighbourhood. But nothing could have answered worse than they did for this purpose, the enemy's shot going quite through them, without being at all deadened almost by the resistance they offered. In front of the left also, inside the road, a breastwork was thrown up, which secured the persons of a corps of marines and sailors, who occupied that part of the line. This body was, soon after the 28th, landed from the fleet; and the latter, having brought small arms on sh.o.r.e with them, acted as a small battalion.
It is evident the enemy must have worked incessantly, from our first landing, to complete the work they occupied; for, from the information I before mentioned, as given me by one of the Spanish fishermen, it is clear they had only two guns, mounted on something like a battery, on the great road. But now that work extended even into the wood, a distance of at least three quarters of a mile, and at this time there could not be less than ten or twelve pieces of heavy ordnance mounted on it. We were told by the slaves who had remained in the houses, that the ditch behind which they had constructed this work was a sort of small ca.n.a.l, which the gentleman who owned the property used for the purpose of transporting the produce of his farm from thence into the river. From this time we could plainly perceive great numbers of men continually at work upon it, mostly blacks, of which they would, of course, have abundance; but their white people also (the army, we conclude) were constantly employed upon it. We could see distinctly that they were widening and deepening the ca.n.a.l in front of the work, and raising the parapet to a considerable height.
It was now determined to try what our heavy ship-artillery would do against this work. Accordingly, the greater part of the army were employed in bringing up these unwieldy machines, and to effect which required no slight power and perseverance, as we had no means of transport but the sheer strength of a number of men combined, to drag them successively through the deep soil. A sufficient number of them having been brought up by the 31st, strong working parties were employed all night in erecting two batteries, as near to the enemy's works as they could with safety venture, and getting the guns, carriages, and ammunition, &c., into them. These were formed princ.i.p.ally of casks, &c., filled with earth; and I am not sure that some sugar hogsheads were not used on the occasion. However, at daylight on the morning of the 1st Jan. 1815, the whole of the troops were ordered under arms, and moved forward to nearly the same points they occupied on the 28th ult.
This morning there was an extremely thick fog, which greatly favoured our movements, the Americans being, I believe, totally ignorant that any alteration had taken place in the situation of our army. As soon as the fog cleared away, our artillery opened out a tremendous and thundering cannonade upon the enemy's line, which so completely astonished them, that there was not a shot returned for twenty minutes at least, so little did they expect heavy artillery there. Nay, we heard afterwards that a great number of the irregular troops were so alarmed, that they actually quitted the lines without orders, and were posting off to New Orleans, and were with great difficulty brought back again. As soon as they perceived, however, that nothing more than a cannonade was intended, and that our troops did not advance to the attack, they commenced gradually with their artillery against ours, the fire of which increasing as their confidence increased, they were not long in silencing our guns, and in dismounting some of them. The fact is, our works had been thrown up in such haste, that they were not nearly so strong as they ought to have been made, had there been more time; the consequence was, their shot penetrated into every part of our works, and caused us not only considerable loss in artillerymen, (with one officer killed,) but, as I said before, actually dismounted a great many of our guns. This consequently entirely failed of having the desired effect; but with such a very favourable opportunity as this morning's fog presented, together with the alarm and terror with which the enemy were struck on opening our artillery upon them, there is not the most distant doubt that we should have at once got possession of their lines, had we but advanced to the attack. It is true, we were not prepared for pa.s.sing the ditch, having no fascines or other necessaries for that purpose; but the resistance, in my opinion, would have been so slight, that we might almost have chosen our own place to cross it; and it was not very deep at any place. The battalion of sailors were quite annoyed at being kept looking on, while so fair an opportunity, as they thought, offered, and were crying out one to another, "Why don't we go on? what is keeping us back?"
'Tis not to be doubted that the first effect of any new thing in warfare is always the most certain of producing success, particularly against inexperienced troops; but let them see and know the whole of the effects that such a thing is calculated to produce, and the alarm wears off, and confidence and courage return with wonderful rapidity. So it was here; the first fire of our guns struck them dumb with amazement and terror--But mark the contrast! Both the latter part of this day, and on the 8th, at the general attack, how little they seemed to care for all the artillery we could bring against them! Their gun, a 32-pounder, was a most bitter antagonist to our princ.i.p.al battery. This happened to be erected nearly in front of that part of the line where this gun was situated, and when it fired, its shot always struck the battery at the first bound, and then it ricocheted into the redoubt where I had taken up my post. General Keane, with a part of his brigade, was in this latter work, and some of them narrowly escaped the effects of the numerous b.a.l.l.s thrown from this gun. We were told the captain of the schooner, after having been deprived of his vessel, had been appointed to the charge and management of this gun, with some of his crew to work it; and indeed it seemed very like the bitter and determined manner of our former opponent, for any of the other guns seemed like children's play to the unceasing and destructive fire of this heavy piece of ordnance. I could distinctly see that they were sailors that worked it--one of whom, a large mulatto, with a red shirt, always spunging her out after firing.
In what I am going to relate, I know I shall incur the risk of being deemed a _traveller_ by some of my readers, but that shall not deter me from telling what I plainly and repeatedly saw with my own eyes, a.s.sisted by a gla.s.s. At the distance of three quarters of a mile, I could distinctly perceive the ball from this gun every time it was fired, it appearing like a small black spot in the midst of the column of white smoke, and which gradually grew larger in appearance as it approached us. In many instances I was providentially the cause of saving some of the men who were in the redoubt with us, because, seeing which way the ball was coming, I told them when to lie down; and on one occasion was the shave so close, that it actually carried away one of the men's packs as he lay on the ground. Another shot struck about three feet above our heads, and carried away part of a piece of timber which supported a shed just behind us.
I forgot to mention, that, after the 28th, the Americans, conceiving that the guns of the ship would be of more use if taken out and placed in batteries, this was accordingly done; the greater part of them being planted on the other side of the river, and being completely on our flank, were enabled to annoy our people considerably, who were posted near the great road.
About two or three o'clock in the afternoon of the 1st, the army began again to retire to its bivouack, leaving covering parties to protect the batteries; and after night, the whole having formed, working parties were sent to bring off as many of the heavy guns as possible. Some of these, however, they were obliged to bury in the earth, not being able to drag them away before daylight next morning. This work seemed more oppressive and fatiguing to the troops than the bringing of them up did, inasmuch as they were animated in the latter instance by the hope of their being able to effect something against the enemy through their toil and labour; but now disappointment added poignancy to their sufferings. However, although things began to a.s.sume not quite so favourable an aspect as formerly, yet every thing was borne with the greatest good-will, as they were still confident of all their laborious services being ultimately crowned with success. In all these fatiguing services, the sailors bore an ample share, and were of the very utmost benefit to the whole army, for they could readily contrive the means of moving those immense ma.s.ses of metal by purchases, &c., which to a soldier would be utterly impossible. Indeed, throughout the whole service, the gallant tars deserved the very highest praise, for they were equally brave as laborious and willing.
All hands, both soldiers and sailors, had been up the whole of the night of the 31st, and now up again all night of the 1st. This was very trying, no doubt. If any thing like dissatisfaction was evinced, this incessant toil and want of rest in encountering it, arose more from a desire to be led on to the attack, than from any wish to be rid of their labours, however painful these were. As this attempt had failed, no other scheme now appeared to present itself, but a vigorous and well sustained attack on their line; for several efforts had been made to penetrate through the wood, to endeavour to ascertain whether it was possible to turn their position at that point, but all these efforts had failed. The last that was attempted was conducted by Lieutenant Wright of the engineers, but both himself and nearly all his party perished; for it seems they fell in with a body of American riflemen, who, being much better accustomed to travelling in woods than our people were, fell on them, and, as said before, nearly cut off the whole party; yet it is evident it was not utterly impa.s.sable, or the two parties could not have met.
I do not recollect to what regiment the men belonged who accompanied Wright, but think it probable they were altogether unacquainted with that description of service, which led them into the fatal snare in which they fell. I am confident I saw blacks, who pa.s.sed and repa.s.sed by the wood, but it is certain that no attempt upon a large scale could be made in that direction to turn their position; and it was probably the better plan to abandon the idea altogether. A very excellent expedient was however devised, for the purpose of turning the right flank of the enemy; it was certainly a bold and vigorous idea, and one which, if successful, would no doubt have secured to us the victory and the possession of New Orleans. This was no less than cutting a ca.n.a.l, in order to unite the Mississippi with the lake by which we had arrived, and by getting boats out of the latter into the river, to transport a sufficient number of men to the opposite sh.o.r.e, for the purpose of making a diversion in aid of the princ.i.p.al attack on this side.
Nothing could exceed the grandness of the conception. Accordingly, all hands were set to work to widen and deepen the rill of water which flows into the creek at the landing-place, and, continuing it up past Monsieur Villerey's house, to let it enter the river a little above that point.
This, as may easily be conceived, was most laborious and dirty work; and, lest the health and spirits of the troops should suffer from such incessant fatigue, they were told off into four watches or spells, each of which followed the other in regular succession, so that the work never stood still. When it had reached near the house and high-road, screens were put up on the latter, to prevent the enemy on the opposite bank of the river from seeing what was carrying on; but as the blacks were pa.s.sing and repa.s.sing almost continually by the wood, as I before mentioned, no doubt the Americans were well acquainted with what we were doing.
On the ---- General Lambert arrived with the 7th and 43d regiments, to our great joy, two finer regiments not being in the service.
Consequently every eye now sparkled with hope, that our labours and privations would soon terminate, as every one confidently antic.i.p.ated a favourable result, and seemed still inclined to despise that enemy who had shown us that we could not do so with impunity. We were glad to meet many of our old Peninsular friends in these two fine corps, and of course welcomed them to the New World in the best manner we were capable of. They took up their ground a little in front of the ca.n.a.l which was cutting, there not being room sufficient for them in the line of our bivouack. We were now about 7000 effective troops, and all beginning to cheer up again, imagined nothing could withstand us.
By the 6th the ca.n.a.l was finished, and the boats brought up into it.
There was obliged to be a lock in it at the entrance from the river, for the strength of which Sir Edward, our Chief, I understand, expressed his apprehensions, but was a.s.sured by the engineer that there was not the slightest danger. I give this merely as report.
On the 7th the arrangements for the attack next morning having been completed, orders were issued to that effect. The arrangements were as follows, viz.--a corps consisting of the 85th regiment, with 200 sailors and 400 marines, and the 5th West India regiment, with four light fieldpieces, the whole under the command of Colonel Thornton, was to embark in boats by twelve o'clock, and to be all across the river by daylight next morning. This force would amount to about 1200 or 1300 men, and were destined to attack and carry the works on the opposite bank, getting possession of the guns without allowing them to be spiked if possible, when they were to be turned upon the right flank of the enemy's position, on this side the river, to favour our attack. It is clear, then, that this movement should precede that of the grand attack by a considerable s.p.a.ce of time. In the grand attack the troops were to be disposed as follows, viz.--The right column, under General Gibbs, was to consist of the 4th, 21st, 44th, and three companies of my battalion, which latter were to extend as close to the enemy's work as possible, previous to the advance of the column, and, by maintaining a constant fire, were to endeavour to keep the enemy down as much as possible. The 44th was to be divided; one-half of that corps was to carry fascines, &c., which they were to throw into the ditch on reaching it, in order that the remaining regiments of that column might be able to pa.s.s it.
These fascines were to be had in the redoubt I before mentioned. The other wing of the 44th was to lead that column, followed by the 21st, and then the 4th, regiments. This was to be the princ.i.p.al attack. The left column, commanded by General Keane, was to be composed as follows, viz.--one company of the 7th, one of the 21st, one of the 43d, and two of ours. The whole to be supported by the 93d regiment. These were to make a feint attack upon the half-moon work which the enemy had constructed near the river, and if opportunity offered, to turn it into a real attack, and penetrate the enemy's line, co-operating with the other column. Our two companies were to act here in the same manner as the other three with whom they were to form a junction, thus covering the whole front of the enemy's work. Some blacks of the 1st West India regiment were to enter the wood on the right of our right column, and to keep up as much noise as possible by firing and sounding bugles, &c. to induce a belief that a large body of troops was moving in that direction. The reserve, under General Lambert, was to consist of the 7th and 43d regiments, and was to be so stationed as to be able to render aid to either of the attacking columns. Strict orders were given that no obstacle was to be permitted to r.e.t.a.r.d the advance of the columns, but that they were to press forward and endeavour to overcome every hinderance that might present itself.
As far as I recollect, and from the information I have since gained, these were substantially the orders issued, and arrangements made, on this occasion. The commanding-officers and heads of departments were also a.s.sembled, and each told the part he had to perform; on which occasion, I understand, the commanding-officer of the 44th expressed himself in terms which I could scarcely conceive it possible could fall from the lips of a soldier, which were, that "it was a forlorn hope with the 44th." In all my campaigning I never yet heard a commanding-officer who did not look upon the post of danger as the post of honour, and who did not rejoice, as if a favour was conferred on him, when appointed to an arduous or hazardous duty. Had the commanding-officer of the 44th served in the Peninsula under our ill.u.s.trious leader there, he would, I am confident, have been animated by a quite different spirit. After dark I went with my commanding-officer and adjutant to view the ground over which our battalion was to march next morning, and to find out the wooden bridges, &c. over some ditches which lay in the way, that no delay might take place when they were to be called upon to act.
I was sadly disappointed at our not meeting with any other commanding-officers engaged in this most necessary duty, and at the time I expressed my apprehensions as to the result. I pointed out to him the different manner in which the business had been conducted previous to the a.s.sault of Badajos, and previous to the attack on the enemy's position on the Nivelle, where every commanding-officer, or others, who had any particular duty a.s.signed to them in the next day's operations, were brought to ground from which it was clearly pointed out to them how they were to move and act; but here all seemed apathy and fatal security, arising from our too much despising our enemy. This latter, I believe, was the princ.i.p.al cause of our not taking the necessary precautions, and consequently of our failure; particularly the commanding-officer of the 44th ought to have been brought and shown where the fascines were lodged, that no excuse of ignorance on that score might be pleaded. A rocket thrown up was to be the signal for the troops to advance to the attack, after they had been properly posted under the cover of night for that purpose. I own I did not at all feel satisfied with what I had seen and heard, and retired to rest with a considerable degree of despondency on my mind; and as I knew I could render little aid to the service in a case like the present, I determined I should not take any part in it, for I almost felt confident of its failure.
The whole of the troops were at their post by the time appointed; but, unfortunately, as the sailors, &c. were getting the boats out of the ca.n.a.l into the river, the lock gave way after only a very few had pa.s.sed it. Thus the whole business seemed at one blow to be totally ruined.
Every effort was made to remedy the evil, but it was irremediable. They toiled, however, to get more boats into the river, but the delay had been so great that it began to draw towards dawn before they had effected any thing worth mentioning. Poor Sir Edward seemed like one bereft of his reason, for this failure had blasted all his most sanguine hopes; and as the troops were now close under the enemy's works, and could not be withdrawn before daybreak, nor without being perceived by the enemy, he thought it as dangerous to turn back as to go forward with the operation, consequently he ordered the rocket to be fired, although it was considerably past the time for the attack to take place, and no troops on the opposite sh.o.r.e. As soon as this was done, he galloped to the front. But the enemy had been quite prepared, and opened such a heavy fire upon the different columns, and upon our line of skirmishers, (which had been formed for some time within about 100 or 150 yards of the enemy's work,) as it is not easy to conceive. I was not in it as I said before, but I was so posted as to see it plainly. But the 44th, with the fascines, were not to be found. Their commanding-officer had taken them considerably past the redoubt where the fascines were placed, and when he bethought him of what he had to do, he and his men were obliged to turn back to seek them; and thus, when he ought to have been in front to throw them into the ditch to allow the other troops to pa.s.s over, he was nearly half a mile in rear seeking for them. But I believe it would not have availed much had they been there in time, for the right column never reached the point to which it was directed; but from the dreadful fire of every kind poured into it, some of the battalions began to waver, to halt and fire, and at last one of them completely broke, and became disorganized. Sir Edward seeing this rushed forward with his hat in his hand, and endeavouring to animate them by his presence, he cheered them on to advance again; but at this moment he fell, after receiving two wounds, the last of which was mortal. General Gibbs also fell nearly at the same time mortally wounded, and was borne off the field. Thus was the right and princ.i.p.al column deprived of both its leaders; and although one regiment gave ground, and could not be brought again to the attack, the other continued to keep in a body, although any attempt now must be hopeless, and they were losing such numbers of men that they must shortly be annihilated. They accordingly retired without effecting any thing.
The left column succeeded somewhat better; but, as things turned out, it was only to enhance their own loss. They forced their way into the circular work before mentioned, in which they made all the men who defended it prisoners. But the ca.n.a.l still lay between them and the main work, which was pa.s.sed only by a plank; and being so few in numbers, it would have been madness in them to attempt to go beyond where they had at present stationed themselves. Indeed, they were in a most critical situation; for, being within a few yards of the enemy's main body, they could not move without being shot through the head by their riflemen; and it was not till they had threatened to shoot the prisoners they had taken, that they induced the Americans to desist from attacking them; for by this time General Keane also had fallen severely wounded, and the 93d had been nearly cut to pieces; and General Lambert, with the reserve, had been obliged to advance and cover the retreat of the other columns. Colonel Dale, who commanded the 93d, fell early in the action, and the command devolved on Colonel Creagh; this officer, being unwilling to retire his regiment without effecting the object aimed at, although the men were literally mown down by the murderous fire of the enemy, and the other column had given way, still endeavoured to advance, but was at length reluctantly compelled to retrograde, taking care to keep his men together. This showed a fine and n.o.ble feeling in him, and is equally honourable to his gallant regiment; but unfortunately it tended only to swell the list of killed and wounded on this lamentable occasion.
My people were thus left to shift for themselves, and to get away in the best manner they could. But being extended, and not being so good an object for the artillery to fire at as the columns, they escaped with much less loss than could well be supposed. Some few of them reached the ditch when they saw the columns advancing, and which they say could have been pa.s.sed with ease; but the columns never advanced so far, which had they done, and that rapidly, their loss would not have been half so great; for the enemy's troops in front of the right column were evidently intimidated, and ceased firing for some seconds as the column approached; and there is little doubt, had they pushed on to the ditch with celerity, the Americans would have abandoned their line; at least, such is my humble opinion. But the poor fellows on the left, who had gained the only work which fell into our hands on this bank of the river, were still detained there, unable either to advance or retreat; and not one durst show his head above the parapet, or he was instantly shot dead.
Such was their confined and critical situation at this period, that an officer of the 7th, whose name I forget, being himself rather tall, and wearing at this time the high narrow-topped cap, could not squeeze in sufficiently close to cover himself completely by the parapet, the top of the high cap he wore sticking above the top of the work. This part of the cap, which was visible to the Americans within the line, had no less than four or five rifle-shots put through it while he lay there, but without touching his head. All this information respecting these three companies I had from Lieutenant Steele of the 43d, one of the officers who was in the work.
They were obliged at last to adopt a very singular but politic expedient, which was, to make one of the American prisoners embrace a man of the 43d, and thus to stand up together to see what was going forward; for hitherto they were totally ignorant, from the causes above a.s.signed. The enemy durst not fire in such a case, for fear of killing their own man. The news they now learned was most disheartening indeed, which was, that the whole of the British had retired, and that the Americans were coming out of their lines, and were moving in the direction of that work. Nothing now remained but to surrender, or to make an attempt to retreat, at the risk of being every man knocked down. The latter, however, they preferred; on which Colonel Rennie, of the 21st, who commanded these three companies, was the first to make the experiment, and in doing which, the moment after he left the fort, he fell to rise no more. They thought it better for them all to go at once, and instantly the whole party made a rush out of the work. The greater part of them providentially succeeded in effecting their escape, although many a brave fellow fell in the attempt.
Bravery and Success of Colonel Thornton--Negotiation for leave to transport the Wounded across the River--Insult offered to the British--They retreat--Our Army embark, and determine to make an Attack upon Mobile--Proceed in the direction of Mobile Bay--A Brigade detached to reduce Fort Boyer--The Fort surrenders, the Garrison becoming Prisoners of War--Intelligence of a Treaty of Peace being concluded at Ghent--Cessation of Hostilities.
It now remains to detail the operations of Colonel Thornton's party. It will be seen, that, although his people were all ready at the appointed hour, they could not get a sufficient number of boats to transport them to the opposite sh.o.r.e. In fact, they did not get on board till it was near daylight, and then only about one-half of the appointed number.
But, although at the risk of sacrificing himself and the few men he took with him, he hesitated not to make the attempt of fulfilling his orders.
The signal for the general attack, however, was made before he could reach the opposite bank, and he had then to land, and after making his disposition with the few troops he had, to advance and attack a corps of 2000 men, mostly covered by works, some of which were extremely strong.
He dashed on, however, the advance of the enemy giving way before him, till coming to their princ.i.p.al battery, he was obliged to detach a part of his force through the wood on his left to turn their flank, while he with the remainder attacked in front. This was conducted in such a soldierlike manner, that, after a short conflict, the enemy gave way on all sides, and retiring with precipitation, abandoned to the victors batteries and works containing sixteen guns of various calibre.
But, alas! all this success came too late; for the princ.i.p.al attack had by this time ended in a total failure, attended with the loss of three out of four generals, and with nearly 2000 officers and men killed, wounded, and made prisoners. Had Providence prospered the work of the ca.n.a.l, and the troops could have been got across at the appointed hour, and in sufficient numbers, there is every reason to believe that the effect produced on the main body by such a powerful diversion, would have tended to the complete overthrow of the whole force before us; for so insecure did General Jackson feel himself to be after our establishment on the other bank of the river, and so alarmed at its consequences, that, in the evening of the fatal day, he would not consent to a cessation of hostilities, to enable us to bring off our numerous wounded, till General Lambert (who had now succeeded to the command) agreed as a preliminary to withdraw the force under Colonel Thornton from that bank; and this, although with great reluctance, the General was compelled from motives of humanity and other causes to consent to.
Before, however, a final answer was returned to General Jackson, I believe it was suggested to our General, that, with the possession of the other bank of the river, and with the 7th and 43d nearly yet entire, and with the remainders of the other regiments, our chances of success had not yet entirely departed, particularly as Jackson evinced such eagerness for our withdrawing from that bank. General Lambert in consequence used means to ascertain the feelings of the troops on this proposition, but without their knowledge of his having done so; but I regret to state, they seemed utterly hopeless of ever being able to overcome such formidable difficulties as had presented themselves, particularly now that their means of overcoming them had been so lamentably diminished. The idea was consequently abandoned.
In this negotiation between the Generals, which continued for some hours, Lieutenant-colonel Smith, our a.s.sistant adjutant-general, had repeatedly to pa.s.s from army to army with flags of truce, before the matter could be finally arranged. This officer was most indefatigable in his exertions on this unfortunate expedition, and to him the army is greatly indebted for his zeal, ability, and gallantry, on this and every other occasion where they could be of service to his country, and by those in authority no doubt they are duly appreciated.
Thus terminated the fatal attack on the lines of New Orleans--a termination probably as disastrous in its consequences as any of modern date--not even excepting that of Buenos Ayres; for that, discreditable as it was to our arms, did not cost the lives of such a number of fine soldiers; and I fear we have not yet experienced the full consequences of this failure, for it is certain that the Americans are greatly elevated by it in their own estimation, and it is not improbable they may be thence induced to maintain a higher tone in all their future negotiations with this country.
One instance may be to the point, as showing the feeling of individuals of that country on this subject. A fellow in the shape of an officer asked Colonel Smith, (I think it was,) "Well, what do you think of we Yankees? Don't you think we could lick any of the troops of the continent easily?"--"I don't know that," says our officer.--"Why, I'll prove to you," says Jonathan, "that we have shown ourselves the best troops in the world. Didn't the French beat the troops of every other continental nation? Didn't you beat the French in the Peninsula? and haven't we beat you just now?" This of course was conclusive, and no farther argument on that subject could be advanced.
The remainder of the troops retired in the evening to their sorrowful bivouack, worn out and sadly dispirited. All that night was of course devoted to bringing off the unfortunate wounded; but several of those who fell far in advance had been taken into the American lines, and, I have every reason to believe, were treated with the greatest humanity.
Every effort was used, during the continuance of the truce, to bring away the great numbers who lay wounded in the different parts of the field; and on this as on all other occasions, the sailors with their officers, evinced the utmost solicitude to render a.s.sistance to the army; a great number of them were employed all night on this distressing duty. During the whole of that afternoon, both while the negotiations were pending, and at other times, the American officers were unceasing in their endeavours to induce our soldiers to desert and join their army. Too many, I regret to say, listened to their offers, and accepted them. To some they promised promotion, to others money or grants of land; in short, they were more like recruiting sergeants, I understand, than the officers of a hostile army. My battalion did not quit the field till after dark, and it is from some of them I have this information. A group of two sergeants and a private of ours were accosted by an American officer of artillery with a request that they would enter the service of the United States; that the sergeants should be promoted if they wished to serve, or that they should have grants of land if they preferred a civil life; but that, if they chose to enter the army, he would ensure them the rank of officers. Our people listened to this harangue for some time, and then began, I regret to say, to give him some bad language; telling him, at the same time, that they would rather be privates in the British army, than officers among such a set of raggam.u.f.fins as the Americans, and told him to sheer off or they would fire upon him. This so exasperated the cowardly villain, that he went off instantly into the line, they watching him all the while, and pointing the gun, of which, it seems, he had charge, it was fired, and knocked down the private, who was only wounded, however, by the shot.
Innumerable attempts of this nature were made both now and all the time we remained before their lines subsequently, but which attempts, I am proud to say, as far as I have been able to learn, failed in every instance in the men of my battalion.
Much about the same time, an American soldier came within about 150 yards of our line, and began to plunder such of the killed or wounded men as he thought possessed of any thing valuable. He at length commenced upon a poor wounded man belonging to my battalion, which being perceived by a Corporal Scott of ours, he asked permission from his captain to take a shot at him. This being granted, (although a sort of truce had been established while the negotiations were going on,) he took up his rifle, and taking a steady aim, he fired, and tumbled the plundering villain right over the body of the poor wounded man.
The loss of our five companies in this attack amounted to seven officers and about ---- men killed and wounded. Some of the other regiments, the 93d in particular, had suffered dreadfully, having lost more than half their numbers. The sad ceremony of burying such of the officers whose bodies had been recovered, together with attention to the wounded, occupied several days from this period, and sending the wounded, who were able to bear removal, to the shipping, kept great numbers of the remaining men continually employed; and the attention of all was now turned towards drawing off from this scene of our late disastrous attempt.
The General entered into a negotiation with Jackson about being permitted to send a portion of our wounded down the river in boats; for which permission some equivalent, which I forget, was to be granted on our part, and which, after considerable discussion, was eventually agreed to. The sick, the wounded, the stores of every description, were now despatched as fast as circ.u.mstances would allow; but the effecting of this occupied not less than nine days, during the whole of which time the enemy was incessant in his attempts to hara.s.s and annoy us. All their heavy ordnance was brought to bear on our bivouack; the sugar-house our people occupied, and even the head-quarters, did not escape; night and day they kept up a fire of shot and sh.e.l.ls upon these points; but the distance being considerable, no very great mischief resulted from it, further than the continual state of uneasiness and alarm in which it kept the troops. On one occasion, however, a sh.e.l.l was thrown into the lines of the 43d, who had since the attack occupied a part of the general bivouack, and which, falling into a hut occupied by Lieutenant Darcy of that regiment, while he lay asleep, carried off both his legs as it fell. Poor fellow! he would thus be awakened in a rough manner indeed. I have since seen him in Dublin, the government having kindly compensated him by giving him a company, and I believe two pensions.
Several sh.e.l.ls were thrown into the head-quarters premises, but providentially without injuring any one. One fell in the yard while a party of troops was halted there for a short while, and which falling on one of the men's knapsacks, which he had put off, it carried it, with itself, not less than six feet deep into the earth. It did not explode.
Some fell on the roof, which penetrated through all the stories to the very ground. Every night also the picquets were kept in a state of agitation and alarm by the continual attacks of small parties of our skulking enemy, and my battalion, as did the others also, lost considerable numbers by this petty warfare. In short, the men's lives began almost to be a burden to them.
There was another source of annoyance adopted on the part of the Americans on this occasion, but which, affecting only the mental, and not the bodily powers of our soldiers, was not so much heeded. Every day almost they a.s.sembled in large bodies on the parapet of their line, with flags of various descriptions, some with "sailors' rights" and numerous other devices, &c. painted on them, using the most insulting gesticulations towards those who were near enough to see them, a band playing Yankee Doodle, and other national airs, all the while, and sometimes ironically favouring us with Rule Britannia. Considerable numbers of our men deserted about this time. Every enc.u.mbrance being removed, however, by the 17th, orders were issued for the march of the army on the following evening soon after dark, leaving the picquets as a rearguard, which were not to march till a short while before daylight.
In retiring, some of the wounded, who were unable to bear removal, were necessarily left in the houses where they had been collected; but there were not many so left, and no doubt the enemy acted humanely by them.
There were seven men of my battalion left, out of which three rejoined us after the conclusion of peace; the other four, I believe, were very badly wounded, and died in consequence. It was also necessary to abandon such of the guns as remained in the advanced batteries, because, both from their weight and their being so near the enemy, they could not be brought off without exposing our intentions of retreating. Neither were these numerous, and most of them only iron ship-guns, which are of no great value.
The movement commenced according to the preconcerted plan, and being conducted with secrecy and regularity, every soldier was brought off, over a country almost impa.s.sable, and where, if followed and hara.s.sed by an enterprising enemy, great numbers must have either fallen into their hands or perished in the swamp. But I believe, had the Americans even been aware of our intention, they would have hesitated before they came into collision with our highly exasperated army, and would scarcely have dared to attack us in the open field: they had had enough of that work on the 23d, to give them a specimen of what British soldiers could do when met fairly, front to front.
The marsh, it may be necessary to mention, extended from the lower skirt of the wood to the fishermen's huts at the mouth of the creek. This creek we had sailed up on our advance, but this could not possibly be the case at present, both on account of our numbers being much too great for the number of boats, and of the danger to which it would have exposed the troops had they been attacked from the sh.o.r.e, but princ.i.p.ally on the former account; a sort of road had therefore been constructed by our artificers, by cutting down boughs from the wood, and laying them across such places as required something on the surface on which to tread. This road extended, as nigh as I can judge, about eight or ten miles, and in pa.s.sing which numerous slips were made into the sloughs on each side; but there being plenty of a.s.sistance generally at hand, they helped each other out: some men, I understand, were lost, however, in this night-march through the swamp.
Having arrived at the huts before-mentioned, the whole army set about forming such places of shelter as the desert swamp afforded. There were certainly reeds in abundance, but we wanted some sort of timbers for the support of the outward covering. We, however, did the best we could; and now every exertion was made by the navy to bring the army off from this most uncomfortable place of abode, and regiment after regiment were despatched as fast as the boats and other small craft could go and return, the distance from hence to the shipping being about seventy miles. While we remained here, we who were fond of shooting found plenty of wild-ducks on which to exercise our sporting abilities; but, alas! we wanted shot, and were therefore seldom able to bring home a couple for dinner.