There was no re-forming under such a ﬁre. Once checked, the column could not but break and retreat in confusion.
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
Lieutenant Spotts, of Battery Number Six, was the ﬁrst man in the American lines who descried through the fog the dim red line of General Gibbs’s advancing column, far away down the plain, close to the forest. The thunder of his great gun broke the dread stillness. Then there was silence again; for the shifting fog or the altered position of the enemy concealed him from view once more. The fog lifted again, and soon revealed both divisions, which, with their detached companies, seemed to cover two-thirds of the plain, and gave the Americans a splendid military spectacle. Three cheers from Carroll’s men. Three cheers from the Kentuckians behind them. Cheers continued from the advancing column, not heard yet in the American lines.
Steadily and fast the column of General Gibbs marched toward batteries numbered Six, Seven, and Eight, which played upon it, at ﬁrst with but occasional effect, often missing, sometimes throwing a ball right into its midst and causing it to reel and pause for a moment. Promptly were the gaps ﬁlled up; bravely the column came on. As they neared the lines the well-aimed shot made more dreadful havoc, “cutting great lanes in the column from front to rear,” and tossing men and parts of men aloft, or hurling them far on one side. At length, still steady and unbroken, they came within range of the small arms, the riﬂes of Carroll’s Tennesseans, the muskets of Adair’s Kentuckians, four lines of sharpshooters, one behind the other. General Carroll, coolly waiting for the right moment, held his ﬁre till the enemy were within two hundred yards, and then gave the word “Fire!”
At ﬁrst with a certain deliberation, afterward in hottest haste, always with deadly effect, the riﬂemen plied their terrible weapon. The summit of the embankment was a line of spouting ﬁre, except where the great guns showed their liquid, belching ﬂash. The noise was peculiar and altogether indescribable; a rolling, bursting, echoing noise, never to be forgotten by a man that heard it. Along the whole line it blazed and rolled; the British batteries showering rockets over the scene; Patterson’s The column of General Gibbs, mowed by the ﬁre of the riﬂe men, still advanced, Gibbs at its head.
As they caught sight of the ditch some of the officers cried out: “Where is the Forty-Fourth? If we get to the ditch, we have no means of crossing and scaling the lines!”
“Here come the Forty-Fourth! Here come the Forty-Fourth!” shouted the General, adding, in an undertone, for his own private solace, that if he lived till tomorrow he would hang Mullens on the highest tree in the cypress wood. Reassured, these heroic men again pressed on, in the face of that murderous, slaughtering ﬁre. But this could not last. With half its number fallen, and all its commanding officers disabled except the General, its pathway strewed with dead and wounded, and the men falling ever faster and faster, the column wavered and reeled — so the American riﬂemen thought — like a red ship on a tempestuous sea. At about a hundred yards from the lines the front ranks halted, and so threw the column into disorder, Gibbs shouting in the madness of vexation for them to re-form and advance. There was no re-forming under such a ﬁre. Once checked, the column could not but break and retreat in confusion.
Just as the troops began to falter, General Pakenham rode up from his post in the rear toward the head of the column. Meeting parties of the Forty-fourth running about distracted, some carrying fascines, other ﬁring, others in headlong ﬂight, their leader nowhere to be seen, Pakenham strove to restore them to order and to urge them on the way they were to go.
“For shame,” he cried bitterly; “recollect that you are British soldiers. This is the road you ought to take!” pointing to the ﬂashing and roaring hell in front. Riding on, he was soon met by General Gibbs, who said, “I am sorry to have to report to you that the troops will not obey me. They will not follow me.”
Taking off his hat, General Pakenham spurred his horse to the very front of the wavering column, amid a torrent of riﬂe balls, cheering on the troops by voice, by gesture, by example. At that moment a ball shattered his right arm, and it fell powerless to his side. The next, his horse fell dead upon the ﬁeld. His aid, Captain McDougal, dismounted from his black creole pony; and Pakenham, apparently unconscious of his dangling arm, mounted again, and followed the retreating column, still calling upon them to halt and re-form. A few gallant spirits ran in toward the lines, threw themselves into the ditch, plunged across it, and fell scrambling up the sides of the soft and slippery breast work.
Once out of the reach of those terrible riﬂes, the column halted and regained its self-possession. Laying aside their heavy knapsacks, the men prepared for a second and more resolute advance. They were encouraged, too, by seeing the superb Highlanders marching up in solid phalanx to their support with a front of a hundred men, their bayonets glittering in the sun, which had then begun to pierce the morning mist. Now for an irresistible onset! At a quicker step, with General Gibbs on its right, General Pakenham on the left, the Highlanders in clear and imposing view, the column again advanced into the ﬁre. Oh, the slaughter that then ensued! There was one moment when that thirty-two pounder, loaded to the muzzle with musket-balls, poured its charge directly, at point-blank range, right into the head of the column, literally levelling it with the plain; laying low, as was afterward computed, two hundred men. The American line, as one of the British officers remarked, looked like a row of ﬁery furnaces!
The heroic Pakenham had not far to go to meet his doom. He was three hundred yards from the lines when the real nature of his enterprise seemed to ﬂash upon him; and he turned to Sir John Tylden and said, “Order up the reserve.” Then, seeing the, Highlanders advancing to the support of General Gibbs, he, still waving his hat, but waving it now with his left hand, cried out, “Hurrah! brave Highlanders!”
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