Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Well in 1814 we took a little trip,
Along with Colonel Jackson
Down the Mighty Mississip...

A little reminder via the Library of Congress' American Memory collection that today marks the anniversary of the end of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812:
On January 8, 1815, Major General Andrew Jackson led a small, poorly-equipped army to victory against eight thousand British troops at the Battle of New Orleans. The victory made Jackson a national hero. The anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was widely celebrated with parties and dances during the nineteenth century, especially in the South. [...]
The War of 1812 is one part of American military history I haven't studied a lot about, aside from knowing that my great-great-great-great-great-(great?) grandfather Sabert was enlisted in the South Carolina militia during that time. At around age 72! (He also fought during the Revolution when he was around 40 or so. We have a long history of being grouchy old men and not being able to get along with anybody.)

Anyway, again, my knowledge of the Battle of New Orleans is as limited as what I know of the rest of the war, and is generally limited to the details found in Johnny Horton's song. It sounds like a pretty good rout, but I was suprised to learn that the tide could very easily have turned--the British had managed to land across the river from Jackson's postion and the Kentuckians assigned to hold the area broke and ran. Jackson gave them all a very stern upbraiding for their conduct in this address to his troops, giving them the benefit of the doubt about their bravery and laying the blame for their conduct on lack of discipline and order. Jackson more fully describes what occurred in this letter to the Secretary of War James Monroe:
[...] We have taken about 500 prisoners, upwards of 300 of whom are wounded, and a great part of them mortally. My loss has not exceeded, and I believe has not amounted to ten killed and as many wounded. The entire destruction of the enemy's army was now inevitable, had it not been for an unfortunate occurrence, which at this moment took place on the other side of the river. Simultaneously with his advance upon my lines, he had thrown over in his boats a considerable force to the other side of the river. These having landed, were hardy enough to advance against the works of general Morgan; and, what is strange and difficult to account for, at the very moment when their entire discomfiture was looked for with a confidence approaching to certainty, the Kentucky reinforcements, in whom so much reliance had been placed, ingloriously fled, drawing after them, by their example, the remainder of the forces; and thus yielding to the enemy that most fortunate position. The batteries which had rendered me, for many days, the most important service, though bravely defended, were of course now abandoned; not, however, until the guns had been spiked.

This unfortunate route had totally changed the aspect of affairs. The enemy now occupied a position from which they might annoy us without hazard, and by means of which they might have been enabled to defeat, in a great measure, the effects of our success on this side of the river. It became, therefore, an object of the first consequence to dislodge him as soon as possible. For this object all the means in my power, which I could, with any safety, use were immediately put in preparation. Perhaps, however, it was owing somewhat to another cause that I succeeded, even beyond my expectations. In negotiating the terms of a temporary suspension of hostilities to enable the enemy to bury their dead and provide for their wounded, I had required certain propositions to be accorded to; we were to cease sending reinforcements on this side the river until 12 o'clock of this day, yet it was not to be understood that they should cease on the other side; but that no reinforcements should be sent across by either army until the expiration of that day. His excellency Maj. Gen. Lambert begged time to consider of those propositions until 10 o'clock of today, and in the meantime re-crossed his troops. I need not tell you with how much eagerness I immediately regained possession of the position he had thus hastily quitted. [...]
The fog of war. Had the British stayed, they might have been able to flank Jackson and bring about a much different outcome.

The source for both of these letters is the Hillsdale (Michigan)College History Department's collection of military documents. Very good resource--it also includes this anonymous account of the battle, which proves that sometimes it's better not to taunt your enemy:
(Describing the scene after a British assault upon their works) [...] Among those that were on the ground however, there were some that were neither dead nor wounded. A great many had thrown themselves down behind piles of slain, for protection. As the firing ceased, these men were every now and then jumping up and either running off or coming in and giving themselves up.

Among those that were running off, we observed one stout looking fellow, in a red coat, who would every now and then stop and display some gestures toward us, that were rather the opposite of complimentary. Perhaps fifty guns were fired at him, but he was a good way off, without effect. "Hurra, Paleface! load quick and give him a shot. The infernal rascal is patting his butt at us!" Sure enough, Paleface rammed home his bullet, and taking a long sight, he let fire. The fellow, by this time was from two to three hundred yards off, and somewhat to the left of Pakenham's horse, Paleface said, as he drew sight on him and then run it along up his back until the sight was lost over his head, to allow for the sinking of the ball in so great a distance, and then let go. As soon as the gun cracked, the fellow was seen to stagger. He ran forward a few steps, and then pitched down on his head, and moved no more. [...]
Don't patt your butt as you run away from armed men.

Paleface is introduced a couple of paragraphs previous--
[...] The white flag, before mentioned, was raised about ten or twelve feet from where I stood, close to the breastwork and a little to the right. It was a white handkerchief, or something of the kind, on a sword or stick. It was waved several times, and as soon as it was perceived, we ceased firing. Just then the wind got up a little and blew the smoke off, so that we could see the field. It then appeared that the flag had been raised by a British Officer wearing epaulets. I was told he was a Major. He stepped over the breastwork and came into our lines. Among the Tennesseans who had got mixed up with us during the fight, there was a little fellow whose name I do not know; but he was a cadaverous looking chap and went by the name of Paleface. As the British Officer came in, Paleface demanded his sword. He hesitated about giving it to him, probably thinking it was derogatory to his dignity, to surrender to a private all over begrimed with dust and powder, and that some Officer should show him the courtesy to receive it. Just at that moment, Col. Smiley came up and cried, with a harsh oath, "Give it up - give it up to him in a minute!" The British Officer quickly handed his weapon to Paleface, holding it in both hands and making a very polite bow. [...]
So there you go.

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