Soon after four, General Pakenham rode away from the bank of the river, saying to one of his aids, “I will wait my own plans no longer.”
Continuing The Battle of New Orleans,
our selection from Life of Andrew Jackson by James Parton published in 1860. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Battle of New Orleans.
Time: January 8, 1815
Place: A few miles south of New Orleans
First, and chieﬂy. On the borders of the cypress swamp, half a mile below that part of the lines where Carroll commanded and Adair was ready to support him, was a powerful column of nearly three thousand men, under the command of General Gibbs. This column was to storm the lines where they were supposed to be weakest, keeping close to the wood, and as far as possible from the enfilading ﬁre of Commodore Patterson’s batteries. This was the main column of attack. It consisted of three entire regiments, the Fourth, the Twenty-ﬁrst, and the Forty-fourth, with three companies of the Ninety-ﬁfth Riﬂes. The Forty fourth, an Irish regiment, which had seen much service in America, was ordered to head this column and carry the fascines and ladders, which, having been deposited in a redoubt near the swamp overnight, were to be taken up by the Forty-fourth as they passed to the front.
Secondly, and next in importance. A column of light troops, something less than a thousand in number, under the brave and energetic Colonel Rennie, stood upon the highroad that ran along the river. This column, at the concerted signal, was to spring forward and assail the strong river end of Jackson’s lines. That isolated redoubt, or horn-work, lay right in their path. We shall soon see what they did with it.
Third. About midway between these two columns of attack stood that magniﬁcent regiment of praying Highlanders, the Ninety-third, mustering that morning about nine hundred ﬁfty men, superbly appointed, and nobly led by Colonel Dale. Here General Keane, who commanded all the troops on the left, commanded in person. His plan was, or seems to have been, to hold back his Highlanders until circumstances should invite or compel their advance, and then to go to the aid of whichever column should appear most to need support.
Fourth. There was a corps of about two hundred men, consisting of some companies of the Ninety-ﬁfth Riﬂes and some of the Fusiliers, who had been employed at the battery all night, and were now wandering, lost, and leaderless in the fog. They were to support the Highlanders, but never found them.
Fifth. One of the “black regiments,” totally demoralized by cold and hardship, was posted in the wood on the very skirts of the swamp, for the purpose of “skirmishing,” says the British official paper; to amuse General Coffee, let us say. The other black corps was ordered to carry the ladders and fascines for General Keane’s division, and ﬁne work they made of it.
Sixth. On the open plain, eight hundred ﬁfty yards from Dominguez’s post in the American lines, was the English battery, mounting six eighteen-pounders, and containing an abundant supply of Congreve rockets.
Seventh. The reserve corps consisted of the greater part of the newly arrived regiments, the Seventh and the Forty-third, under the officer who accompanied them, General Lambert. This column was posted behind all, a mile from the lines.
The older soldiers augured ill of the coming attack. Colonel Mullens, of the Forty-fourth, openly expressed his dissatisfaction. “My regiment,” said he, “has been ordered to execution. Their dead bodies are to be used as a bridge for the rest of the army to march over.” And, what was worse, in the dense darkness of the morning he had gone by the redoubt where were deposited the fascines and ladders, and marched his men to the head of the column without one of them. Whether this neglect was owing to accident or design concerns us not. For that and other military sins Mullens was afterward cashiered.
Colonel Dale, too, of the Ninety-third Highlanders, a man of far different quality from Colonel Mullens, was grave and depressed. “What do you think of it?” asked the physician of the regiment, when word was brought of Thornton’s detention. Colonel Dale made no reply in words. Giving the doctor his watch and a letter, he simply said: “Give these to my wife; I shall die at the head of my regiment.”
Soon after four, General Pakenham rode away from the bank of the river, saying to one of his aids, “I will wait my own plans no longer.” He rode to the quarters of General Gibbs, who met him with another piece of ominous intelligence. “The Forty-Fourth,” Gibbs said, “had not taken the fascines and ladders to the head of the column,” but he had sent an officer to cause the error to be rectiﬁed, and he was then expecting every moment a report from that regiment. General Pakenham instantly dispatched Major Sir John Tylden to ascertain whether the regiment could be got into position in time. Tylden found the Fort- fourth just moving off from the redoubt, “in a most irregular and unsoldierlike manner, with the fascines and ladders. I then returned,” adds Tylden, in his evidence, “after some time, to Sir Edward Pakenham, and reported the circumstance to him; stating that by the time which had elapsed since I left them they must have arrived at their situation in column.”
This was not half an hour before dawn. Without waiting to obtain absolute certainty upon a point so important as the condition of the head of his main column of attack, the impetuous Pakenham commanded, to use the language of one of his own officers, “that the fatal, ever-fatal rocket should be discharged as a signal to begin the assault on the left.” A few minutes later a second rocket whizzed aloft — the signal of attack on the right.
If there was confusion in the column of General Gibbs, there was uncertainty in that of General Keane. But the suspense was soon over. Daylight struggled through the mist. About six o’clock both columns were advancing at the steady, solid British pace to the attack; the Forty-fourth nowhere, straggling in the rear with the fascines and ladders. The column soon came up with the American outposts, who at ﬁrst retreated slowly before it, but soon quickened their pace, and ran in, bearing their great news and putting every man in the works intensely on the alert, each commander anxious for the honor of ﬁrst getting a glimpse of the foe and opening ﬁre upon him.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history