At all hazards the western bank must be regained. All is lost if it be not.
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
The American army, to their credit be it repeated, were appalled and silenced at the scene before them. The writhings of the wounded, their shrieks and groans, their convulsive and sudden tossing of limbs, were horrible to see and hear. Seven hundred killed, fourteen hundred wounded, ﬁve hundred prisoners, were the dread result of that twenty-ﬁve minutes’ work. Jackson’s loss, as all the world knows, was eight killed and thirteen wounded.
“The ﬁeld,” says Mr. Walker, “was so thickly strewn with the dead that from the American ditch you could have walked a quarter of a mile to the front on the bodies of the killed and disabled. The space in front of Carroll’s position, for an extent of two hundred yards, was literally covered with the slain. The course of the column could be distinctly traced in the broad red line of the victims of the terrible batteries and unerring guns of the Americans. They fell in their tracks: in some places, whole platoons lay together, as if killed by the same discharge. Dressed in their gay uniforms, cleanly shaved and attired for the promised victory and triumphal entry into the city, these stalwart men lay on the gory ﬁeld, frightful examples of the horrors of war. Strangely, indeed, did they contrast with those ragged, unshorn, begrimed and untidy, strange-looking, long-haired men who, crowding the American parapet, surveyed and commented upon the terrible destruction they had caused.
There was not a private among the slain whose aspect did not present more of the pomp and circumstance of war than any of the commanders of the victors. In the ditch there were no less than forty dead and at least a hundred who were wounded or who had thrown themselves into it for shelter. On the edge of the woods there were many who, being slightly wounded or unable to reach the rear, had concealed themselves under the brush and in the trees. It was pitiable, indeed, to see the writhings of the disabled and mutilated, and to hear their terrible cries for help and water, which arose from every quarter of the plain. As this scene of death, desolation, bloodshed, and suffering came into full view of the American lines, a profound and melancholy silence pervaded the victorious army.
No sounds of exultation or rejoicing were now heard. Pity and sympathy had succeeded to the boisterous and savage feelings which a few minutes before had possessed their souls. They saw no longer the presumptuous, daring, and insolent invader, who had come four thousand miles to lay waste a peaceful country; they forgot their own suffering and losses, and the barbarian threats of the enemy, and now only perceived humanity, fellow creatures in their own form, reduced to the most helpless, miserable, and pitiable of all conditions of suffering, desolation, and distress. Prompted by this motive, many of the Americans stole without leave from their positions, and with their canteens proceeded to assuage the thirst and render other assistance to the wounded. The latter, and those who were captured in the ditch, were led into the lines, where the wounded received prompt attention from Jackson’s medical staff. Many of the Americans carried their disabled enemies into the camp on their backs, as the pious Aeneas bore his feeble parent from burning Troy.”
General Jackson had no sooner ﬁnished his round of congratulations, and beheld the completeness of his victory on the eastern bank, then he began to cast anxious glances across the river, wondering at the silence of Morgan’s lines and Patterson’s guns. They ﬂashed and spoke, at length. Jackson and Adair, mounting the breastwork, saw Thornton’s column advancing to the attack, and saw Morgan’s men open ﬁre upon them vigorously. All is well, thought Jackson.
“Take off your hats and give them three cheers!” shouted the General, though Morgan’s division was a mile and a half distant. The order was obeyed, and the whole army watched the action with intense interest, not doubting that the gallant Kentuckians and Louisianians, on that side of the river, would soon drive back the British column, as they themselves had just driven back those of Gibbs and Rennie. These men had become used to seeing British columns recoil and vanish before their ﬁre. Not a thought of disaster on the western bank crossed their minds.
Yet Thornton carried the day on the western bank. Even while the men were in the act of cheering, General Jackson saw, with mortiﬁcation and disgust, never forgotten by him while he drew breath, the division under General Morgan abandon their position and run in headlong ﬂight toward the city. Clouds of smoke soon obscured the scene. But the ﬂashes of the musketry advanced up the river, disclosing the humiliating fact that their comrades had not rallied, but were still in swift retreat before the foe. In a moment the elation of General Jackson’s troops was changed to anger and apprehension.
Fearing the worst consequences, and fearing them with reason, the General leaped down from the breastwork, and made instant preparations for sending over a powerful reinforcement. At all hazards the western bank must be regained. All is lost if it be not. Let but the enemy have free course up the western bank, with a mortar and a twelve-pounder, and New Orleans will be at their mercy in two hours! Nay, let Commodore Patterson but leave one of his guns unspiked, and Jackson’s lines, raked by it from river to swamp, are untenable! All this, which was immediately apparent to the mind of General Jackson, was under stood also by all of his army.
The story of the mishap is soon told. At half past four in the morning Colonel Thornton stepped ashore on the western bank at a point about four miles below General Morgan’s lines. By the time all his men were ashore and formed the day had dawned, and the ﬂashing of guns on the eastern bank announced that General Pakenham had begun his attack. At double-quick step Thornton began his march along the levee, supported by three small gunboats in the river, that kept abreast of his column. He came up ﬁrst with a strong outpost consisting of a hundred twenty Louisianians, under Major Arnaud, who had thrown up a small breastwork in the night and then fallen asleep, leaving one sentinel on guard. A shower of grape-shot from one of the gunboats roused Arnaud’s company from their ill-timed slumber. These men, taken by surprise, made no resistance, but awoke only to ﬂy toward the main body. And this was right. There was nothing else for them to do.
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