Jean Lafitte
Historic Resource Study (Chalmette Unit)
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With his placement of troops behind Rodriguez Canal, coupled with the cutting of the levees to his front, General Jackson practically and philosophically embraced centuries-old tenets of defensive warfare, the realm of siegecraft and fortifications theory. The operation of "inundation"—"the art of letting water into a country, so that it shall be overflowed to prevent the approach of an enemy"—had been precisely adopted from the theoretical manuals. [1] Inundation constituted an elementary facet in the practice of "field fortification," the art of throwing up temporary defensive works as security against a foe. Field fortification differed from "permanent fortification," which comprised the erection of elaborate permanent works complete with broad moat and extensive rampart such as was used in masonry coastal fortifications in the United States and in major city defenses in Europe. [2]

Field fortification technique took advantage of natural qualities of the terrain. "Marshes, water courses, wet ditches, precipices, &c., should... be regarded as natural obstacles," wrote one theorist, noting that they were "not solely to be relied on." [3] The ground before Jackson possessed several of these qualities, and notably several wet, or drainage, ditches traced across the tract immediately to his front. Theorists argued that such ditches should be filled in or otherwise guarded to make certain an enemy could not ensconce himself there. At Chalmette Jackson had neither the opportunity, with the plain flooded, nor the time to take that precaution. Furthermore, an effort to fill in the ditches using the watery mud at hand would have been fatuous, although the abundance of cane stubble in the vicinity might have been so employed with success. Theorists also recommended that "all trees, underwood, hedges, enclosures, and houses" be levelled to insure a clear field of fire for the artillery. In some respects this was to be accomplished at Chalmette. [4]

Rodriguez Canal, by its situation, offered Jackson the best means of constructing viable defenses in the shortest amount of time. The position was ideal in that it could be commanded neither from its flank nor from the rear. The canal itself provided a natural ditch beside which an intrenchment might quickly be raised. Moreover, the position could be made difficult of access and still offer security in case a retreat was warranted. [5] An intrenchment was the fundamental component of field fortification, comprising "an continued Obstacle, from behind which Men may Defend themselves with comparative safety." [6] Jackson's finished defenses along Rodriguez Canal might accurately be regarded as an artificial intrenchment formed utilizing natural, or existing, features, in this case the canal. [7]

The intrenchment consisted of several elements, principally the parapet, banquette, berm, ditch, and glacis. The parapet was basically a refined mass of earth, built of a height and thickness to protect the men behind it. Recommended height for a parapet was normally six to seven and one-half feet. Thickness varied according to the type of ordnance an enemy was expected to employ against it. If muskets were to comprise the principal opposition, a parapet 3 or 4 feet thick would suffice; if it were to withstand an assault by heavy artillery, a thickness of 18 to 24 feet would be required. Much, too, depended on the quality of soil into which the enemy s projectiles were to bury themselves. If sandy and light or clayey and thick, parapet thickness must be correspondingly adjusted. As the parapet was raised, the earth was rammed to compress it. Since Jackson's line was to withstand an onslaught from British artillery calibred as large as 24-pounders, his workmen might be expected to raise a parapet between 18 and 20 feet thick at the top and between 20 and 24 feet at the bottom along the inner edge of the canal. Interior height of the parapet was estimated at 4-1/2 feet. Plunging surfaces were calculated to be 1 foot for each 6 feet of thickness. The interior slope was to equal 1/3 of the parapet's height, while the exterior slope, facing the ditch, was to equal 1/2 to 2/3 of that height. [8] At the inside foot of the parapet, running throughout the length of the work, a banquette was raised. Ideally the banquette measured 4-1/2 feet wide and stood 2 feet high, its talus sloping to the interior grade. On the outside of the parapet where it joined the ditch a berm some 3 feet wide was usually constructed to prevent heavy soil of the work from sliding away. Often the berm was made with a downward slant to prevent an assaulting foe from gaining a foothold. [9] "In firm soils, the berm may be only eighteen inches to two feet wide; in other cases, as in marshy soils, it may require a width of six feet." [10] Normally, the parapet was raised from earth excavated from the ditch. The ditch for field works was calculated to be at least 9 feet wide, or wider, and 6 to 7-1/2 feet deep. Some theorists urged a width no less than 12 feet. The scarp and counterscarp (inner and outer facing sides of the ditch) sloped inward toward the bottom, the angle of the slope again largely dependent on the type and weight of soil involved and whether the ditch was to contain water. Sometimes the ditch was filled with brambles or trees with sharpened limbs placed forward, termed abatis. [11] Beyond the ditch was the glacis, usually raised slightly at the edge of the ditch then gradually sloping back to the surrounding grade. The sloping edge of the glacis was arranged to conform with the slight downward angle of the top, or superior talus, of the parapet, so that marksmen might be certain of unobstructed lines of fire into the ranks of an onward rushing enemy. "Want of time," observed one theorist, "often prevents the construction of such glacis." [12]

Ideal field works such as those described were generally erected with precision and dispatch. The works were traced on the ground by engineers using pickets at the necessary distances. Workmen placed at intervals along either side of the area designated for the parapet would then begin to dig, tossing the excavated earth from the ditch and interior area into the staked zone. If manpower permitted, often two lines on each side might expedite matters and the entire labor might be executed quickly. Normally, men were placed at four-foot intervals and the number of workmen required to raise an intrenchment was determined by dividing its projected length by four. Other workmen were employed spreading and ramming the earth, building and revetting slopes, and laying gun platforms. Tools employed by the laborers consisted of spades, shovels, earth-rammers, mallets, pickaxes, saws, hatchets, and bill hooks. With such implements the earthworks were raised, trees cut down, fences re-worked, and abatis and other obstructions manufactured. [13]

When artillery was to be employed along the line or parallel, the intrenchments were modified to accomodate it through the erection of batteries, enclosed fortifications designed to facilitate the operation, as well as the protection, of the guns by sheltering their positions from the enemy. Batteries could be built either as detached units in advance of the main intrenchment or they might be built directly into the line, although such incorporation was viewed by certain theoreticians as harmful and disruptive to the functioning of the line. Further, the most effective artillery was considered to be that which was most elevated and ordnance placed in a defense constructed primary for infantry use would accordingly have to be raised with much extra labor. Despite that, wrote Louis de Tousard, "the inconvenience which the trenches may suffer from the batteries which are placed there, is not an insuperable obstacle when there is a possibility of doing better." Tousard concluded:

"[Batteries] are constructed sooner there [in the line] than elsewhere, because they may be begun as soon as the parallel be drawn, whereas it would be necessary to wait till the next night to place them without, and would require much more labour." [14]

Different types of batteries were determined by the nature of their anticipated use. Field batteries, for example, contained light weapons to be employed against troops and which could be moved about to meet varying circumstances. Cross batteries were meant to join one another in directing their fire against a particular target, such as an enemy battery, while direct batteries housed guns that frontally played against an opposing target, striking it at almost a right angle. Breach batteries were designed to concentrate the fire of their pieces against a point of the enemy's rampart to batter its face so that an infantry assault might storm the breach. [15]

Battery construction was somewhat similar to that for the ditch and parapet. Location of the structures was especially significant and could contribute greatly to the outcome of the contest.

The best position... for artillery is on the flanks and salients of a work: because from these points the salients are best protected, and the approaches best swept; and the guns should be collected at these points in batteries of several pieces; for experience has likewise shown, that it is only by opening a heavy, well-sustained fire, on the enemy's columns, that an efficient check can be given to them. If only a few files are taken off, or the shot passes over the men, it rather inspires the enemy with confidence in his safety, and with contempt for the defences. [16]

To determine where to place the batteries artillery officers prepared prolongations of the enemy positions, a task accomplished through careful observation and calculation. Engineers then traced the structure on the ground allowing twenty feet length per anticipated gun and an inside battery width of twenty feet. Once the outline was traced and marked by pickets or tied bundles of sticks called fascines, the fatigue parties began excavating the ditch before the intended structure, tossing the earth into the spot designated for the epaulement. At each end of the battery, traverses, or flanking epaulments, were likewise traced if they were needed to protect the ordnance from an enemy's enfilading fire. Dimensions of the traverse as well as of the epaulement were the same as for the parapet elsewhere on the line. The operation generally occurred at night with workmen placed three or four feet apart shovelling from the ditch while others rammed the earth and revetted the slopes. [17] Besides the floor of the battery's interior, which must be firm and level to support a platform, the structure's primary difference in construction from that of a simple parapet lay in the cutting of embrasures, the openings through which the heavy ordnance was pointed and fired. So-called barbette batteries were designed without embrasures, the artillery pieces being raised sufficiently high to level their barrels across the superior talus of the parapet. Ideally, in embrasured batteries the bottom of the aperture was approximately 3 or 4 feet above the ground, depending on the calibre of the gun to be employed. The bottom sloped outward so that the barrel could be declined if necessary. The interior of the embrasure measured between 18 and 24 inches, again depending on the size of the weapon. The sides, or cheeks, widened toward the exterior to a distance of 7 feet to allow the gun to shift its fire to different targets as necessary. Generally the cheeks of the embrasures, along with the entire inner face of the battery, were revetted with sod, fascines, or gabions—wicker basket-like contrivances designed to hold earth—all of which helped keep the soil of the epaulement in place. [18] According to one early nineteenth century manualist, "the advantages of embrasures are, that the men and guns are less exposed than in a barbette battery. Their principal defects are, that they have a very limited field of fire; they weaken the parapet; and present openings through which the enemy may penetrate in an assault." [19] The earthen parapet areas between embrasures in batteries fitted for two or more pieces were called merlons. Embrasured batteries could be erected either sunken, when the object of the attack was situated at a lower plain; level, when the terrain was level; or raised cavalier fashion when the object of attack was on higher ground. If situated properly, guns in batteries built at a moderate elevation above the surrounding country should be capable of delivering projectiles with certain accuracy. [20]

To ready the battery for the placement of its component ordnance it was mandatory that the floor be firm enough to receive platforms. Much depended upon the nature of the terrain, and in marshy ground solidity was difficult to achieve without making special provisions. Tousard urged that in such instances layers of fascines and hurdles be staked into the turf to provide rigidity. [21] Although he does not specify such, it would seem that an excavation to receive the fascines would be in order. Once the floor was firmly prepared the furniture consisting of platforms for holding the guns was introduced. Platforms made of wooden planks and timbers allowed the artillery to be directed and fired with steadiness and prevented the wheels of the carriages from sinking or wearing ruts in the ground. "It has been attempted to make platforms without sleepers," wrote Tousard, "but those who have done so, always have had to repent of it, from the derangement of them." [22] Sometimes made in a trapezoidal or fan-like shape to facilitate a wider field of fire, platforms usually took a more common rectangular shape. For field artillery such as that employed on Jackson's line platforms measured 9 feet wide by 15 feet long and consisted of

three sleepers of six-inch scantling,... fifteen feet long, which are laid perpendicular to the direction of the epaulement, and are covered with two-inch plank, twelve inches wide, and cut into lengths of nine... feet. Between the ends of the sleepers and the foot of the genouillere [epaulement], a piece of eight-inch scantling nine feet long, termed a heurter is laid; it should project about six inches above the platform.... The object of the heurter is to prevent the wheels from being run against the revetment, and also to give the gun its proper direction... [23]

The purpose of the three sleepers was to absorb the weight of the ordnance by placing one under each wheel and one under the trail of the carriage. Sleepers were secured flush in the ground by excavating shallow trenches for them, fastening them together with cross pieces, and then picketing the whole in place. Planks were fastened crosswise to the sleepers using nails or wooden pegs, the latter to preclude the chance of causing sparks. "If the platform is for direct firing, with full charges, the tail may be made six inches higher than the front to break the recoil; in all other cases it should be horizontal." [24]

Once the batteries had been fully prepared the cannon were brought forward and mounted, usually at night, to be opened against the enemy at daybreak. Cannon tubes, or barrels, were conveyed in traveling carriages usually made from oak, walnut, or chestnut. The large wheels were made from elm, beech, or hickory, and the piece was transported into battery pulled by horses. A limber was affixed to the trail, or rear extension, of the carriage, which in turn was harnessed to several of the animals. The sides of the heavy cheeks of carriages contained an assortment of hooks for carrying gunners' equipment, and the whole unit was strengthened by the addition of strip iron reinforcements at stress points. Sometimes the pieces were brought to the batteries before the platforms were finished, in which case they were shielded behind the epaulement until ready for mounting. Construction of the battery proper, aside from the earlier raising of the epaulement, required at least twenty workmen for each gun to be emplaced, not counting gunners and their assistants who would arrive with the pieces. [25] At some distance back from the batteries powder magazines were established, usually at intervals along the line so that one magazine might serve serveral batteries. Often barrels of powder were dispersed in small magazines placed at intervals of 40 or 50 yards on the line so that the contents of a central magazine would not risk destruction by a single bomb. These small line magazines were always situated 12 to 15 yards from the parapet and never opposite an embrasure. They were constructed of gabions or earth-filled bags. [26] Larger field magazines were ideally established 30 or 40 feet behind the parapet. These consisted of holes dug in the ground some 8 or 9 feet square and capable of housing up to two tons of powder. A parapet was thrown up around the magazine and a roof formed of fascines or planks topped with a thickness of earth covered the whole. "If the ground be wet, a wooden floor must be laid for the barrels to stand on." [27]

Operation of the gun batteries was the task of the gunners and their assistants. Each piece was commanded by an artillery officer who supervised a gun crew differing in number with the size of the gun to be serviced. In field batteries fourteen or fifteen men accomplished specific functions, from controlling drag ropes and handspikes to cleaning the barrel between shots to loading and finally firing the gun. These tasks were accomplished in a precise, regimented manner. Heavier siege cannon above 24-pounder calibre required fewer men for servicing, since the pieces were generally too weighty to be moved easily. Thus, a 24- or 32-pounder siege cannon required only eight men—two gunners and six assistants to work the piece effectively. [28] In fulfilling its duties a gun crew responded to the following orders of the battery commander:

Gunners and Matrosses [Assistants]! To your posts—march.
Front - face.
Prepare - battery!
To - handspikes!
Enter - handspikes!
From - battery!
To the knob - To the wedge! [depending on whether a metal quoin or an elevating screw was used on the cannon]
Lay down - handspikes!
To - spunge! Stop - vent! To - cartridge!
Spunge - gun!
Return - spunge! To - rammer!
Cartridge - gun!
Ram - cartridge!
Shot - gun!
Ram - shot!
Return - rammer!
To - handspikes!
Enter - handspikes!
To - battery!
Point - gun!
Lay down - handspikes!
Clear - vent! Prime!
To - lintstock! To - wedge!
Front - face!
Lintstock - march!
Make - ready!
Fire! [29]

Handspikes were six-foot wooden crowbars set in iron sheaths used for moving the carriage and for raising the cannon's breech during elevation. Other artillery implements regularly utilized in batteries were the sponge, a brush or a wooden cylinder covered with lambskin and mounted on a long handle for cleaning and cooling the inside of the barrel; rammer, a wooden cylinder used for seating cartridges and shot, often attached to the opposite end of the handle containing the sponge; lintstock, a yard-long forked stick for holding slow match, the smoldering cotton rope used to ignite the charge; portfire, a paper case containing flammable materials often used during the late eighteenth century in place of slow match; portfire stock, used to ignite the priming powder, made of sheet metal about 11 inches long; drag ropes, used for maneuvering the ordnance back into position after recoil; and worm, a long-handled cleaning device consisting of a double corkscrew for removing residue from the bore of the piece after discharge. Besides these items there were a host of tools, including hammers, pliers, and gimlets. A number of large nails were kept on hand with which to spike the vents of the ordnance in case it must be abandoned. [30]

The American and British cannon in 1814 encompassed a small variety of calibres based upon the weight of their solid-shot projectiles. These were 4-, 8-, 18-, 24-, and 32-pounders. Dimensions of the shot correspondingly differed, with 12-pounder shot measuring 4.4 inches in diameter; 18-pounder 5.04 inches; 24-pounder 5.55 inches; and 32-pounder 6.1 inches. The American cannon also fired grapeshot and canister, both consisting of clusters of iron balls arranged in unit fashion, and even scrap iron in a round called a "landidage." Such missiles made a cannon function in scattergun fashion and proved an effective anti-personnel weapon, especially against massed frontal infantry assaults. (The British at New Orleans fired wide-ranging Congreve rockets at Jackson's men from special tube-launching devices. The rockets were innovative though somewhat inaccurate and were supposed to be psychologically intimidating. Flying through the air, they left a noisy incendiary trail and exploded on impact. Two sizes were used, 12- and 30-pounders.) Artillery also included howitzers, mortars, and carronades. The first was a kind of large-bored truncated cannon that could deliver bombs—hollow cylinders filled with powder and calibrated to explode on reaching the enemy's defenses—at fairly low trajectories. Howitzers were extremely versatile lightweight weapons whose maneuverability made them popular among artillerists. They were useful in richocheting their missiles over the ground and into enemy positions. They could be used to fire grape and canister shot in addition to bombs. Howitzers were manufactured in two principal sizes, 6-inch and 8-inch, determined by the width of the bore. Mortars sent their bombs in high trajectories to fall with murderous explosion behind enemy lines. Mortars used no carriages, rather were mounted on heavy wooden beds strengthened to absorb their vertical recoil on firing. Calibres varied, but generally mortars measured either 8-, 10-, or 12-inches across the mouth. [31]

Effective range of artillery was subject to various conditions, such as precision in aiming, elevation, and powder charge. Guns fired pointblank at a target lacked the distance obtained in elevating them. For instance, a 4-pounder could send its shot 741 feet pointblank, but its greatest range when elevated 45° was 7,419 feet. Similarly, a 24-pounder could discharge shot pointblank a distance of from 1,051 to 1,978 feet, but when elevated 45° the distance increased from 12,550 to 14,837 feet. Mortar and howitzer range could likewise be regulated by elevating the tube. [32] (Besides artillery, most of Jackson's men were armed with the Model 1795 musket, a .69 calibre piece that fired a ball measuring .64 inch in diameter. Ammunition for the musket consisted of paper cartridges containing powder and solid ball. Buck-and-ball cartridges each contained one large ball plus three smaller balls of .30 calibre and on discharge from the gun would spread in shotgun fashion. The British infantrymen employed an India pattern musket of .75 calibre, although the balls fired actually were .69 calibre.) [33]

There exists a relative dearth of information about how faithfully Jackson's officers and soldiers adhered to the tenets of field fortification when they began working on defenses along Rodriguez Canal the morning of December 24, 1814. Certainly there was military discipline and adherence to fundamental fortification procedures, but Jackson lacked a well-defined engineer corps beyond a few capable officers on his staff and perhaps among his artillery complement. Furthermore, the principal component of his army were militia, largely untrained and whose officers probably knew next to nothing of fortification technique. Nonetheless, an examination of accounts, coupled with certain educated conjecture, provides some overview about how the intrenchments and batteries were raised and how they fared and functioned through the duration of the confrontation with the British. By contrast, the role of the British artillery is quite well documented.

Contemporary descriptions by persons who were on the scene offer clues about Jackson's works. When Jackson withdrew to Rodriguez Canal he positioned his army behind it in the following manner: the artillery occupied the road, supported by the contingent of marines; to their left were arranged, in respective order, the Seventh U. S. Infantry, Plauche's Battalion of New Orleans volunteers, Lacoste's command, Daquin's Battalion of Free Men of Color, the Forty-Fourth U.S. Infantry, and Carroll's division of Tennesseans. To Carroll's left and running into the swamp along the canal were Coffee's men, 600 of whom were directed to reconnoiter the British right flank on horseback and attempt to bring back the horses lost the night before. Intending to improve his situation on the canal, Jackson sent an urgent requisition for intrenching tools to the mayor of New Orleans who delivered "Fifty spades and some mattocks." Other implements were forthcoming from residents and planters in the surrounding country, including wheelbarrows and carts. Jackson finished surveying the canal before finally deciding to fortify it. Shortly after 1 p. m. the works were commenced. [34]

The position was described variously by parties present. Advantageously situated for defensive purposes straddling a narrow defile between swamp and river, Rodriguez Canal was seen as "an old mill canal," "a ditch," or more properly "a mill race." The mill race was essentially a water chute down which the overflow of a rising Mississippi would be carried to operate a saw mill near the swamp. "The canal on which Jackson's lines were formed, had long been abandoned, having no longer any mill to turn, so that its banks had fallen in and raised its bottom, which was covered with grass, presenting rather the appearance of an old draining ditch than of a canal." [35] Viewed from the perspective of its fortification value, the position "offered both a natural and accidental advantage; a ditch already dug for a considerable distance in front, the earth of which was easily convertible into a glacis and counterscarp; and also a river on the right, to fill it with water." [36] The lack of any planned outworks signified that Jackson reasoned to take advantage of his militia troops and depend on their musketry precision over artillery. Commented Abraham Ellery:

It will be recollected that in Europe their lines are principally defended by artillery; hence the necessity of flanking, at certain intervals, their principal line of defence in order to multiply the angles of the artillery fire. But here our lines were almost totally manned by militia, ignorant in a great measure, of the use of great guns and depending entirely upon their skill in shooting a musket or rifle. The artillery defence was therefore rendered subordinate to that of musketry, hence no flanking angles were formed nor auxiliary works erected, lest they should weaken the line for musketry defence, by covering the enemy in his approach and intercepting the direct fire of the troops. [37]

The canal ran back from the river at almost a right angle some 600 yards to the edge of the swamp. When Jackson gave orders to begin improvement each unit took responsibility for that segment of the line before it, each soldier working to raise a parapet from the sluggish, wet clayey soil. [38] Some sources indicate that a row of pickets was driven some distance from the edge of the canal and that the soldiers shoveled earth into the area between. "A certain situation was assigned each corps, a skreen [sic] of pickets was thrown up on the edge of a ditch... [and] earth was thrown up and the breast-works commenced...." [39] A British observer noticed that the parapet was made "of earth scraped up from the rear, and... revetted with planks supported by stakes." [40] Latour described the construction in some detail:

Earth was fetched from the rear of the line and thrown carelessly on the left bank, where the earth had been thrown when the canal was originally dug. All the pales of the fences in the vicinity were taken to line [the inside of] the parapet, and prevent the earth from falling into the canal. All this was done at various intervals, and by different corps, owing to the frequent mutations in the disposition of the troops. This circumstance, added to the cold and to incessant rain, rendered it impossible to observe any regularity as to the thickness and height of the parapet, which in some places was as much as twenty feet thick at the top, though hardly five feet high; whilst in other places the enemy's balls went through it at the base. [41]

Apparently, to raise an effective parapet the canal ditch in places had to be widened and deepened, its earth thrown up along the west edge or on the east edge where it might have formed a kind of muddy glacis. The best evidence suggests that the canal contained water, especially at first after Latour and his associates cut the levee and let the river rush in. Governor Claiborne reported such, as did others. A British officer's statement and cross-section view of the American line account for water in the ditch. Statements that the ditch was dry perhaps reflect that as the Mississippi lowered during ensuing days the water in the ditch also subsided, especially in the area of the line along the right near the river. The natural declivity of the land (and canal) toward the cypress swamp would have kept water in the ditch at that end of the line. [42] The work of deepening the ditch went on without intermission, one soldier recalling that "we were not suffered to remain one moment idle, all digging and levelling ditches, raising breastworks, fortifying and intrenching in the water 2 or 3 days together, sleeping on the wet ground without anything to cover us from the rain...." [43] British sources questioned months later recollected that the American ditch measured 10 to 12 feet wide and only 3 to 4 feet deep. The parapet, when finished, they reckoned from their perspective in front of the line, at 8 to 10 feet in height. [44] Given the presence of a banquette, such an estimate conformed relatively well to the theoretical model for a parapet raised 6 to 7-1/2 feet high above the grade. American sources generally agreed with the British estimates of the dimensions of the ditch—8 to 10 feet wide and 4 to 6 feet deep. One soldier reported that it contained "about a foot or eighteen inches of water, and... a quantity of thornbush had been cut and thrown into it." The bottom of the ditch was not palisaded, so that the presence of such abatis in places does not seem unusual. [45] A British engineer stated that "the whole length of the ditch was filled with large brambles." [46]

Despite the lack of engineers to closely guide the construction which, coupled with the emergency of the moment, said one observer, would "excuse any irregularity in the construction of our lines," [47] it appears that an effort was made to have them conform to the model as much as circumstances would permit. Major Howell Tatum, Jackson's topographical engineer, stated that "proper banquets was errected [sic] to every part of this line... and batteries constructed at such places... as were deemed proper." [48] One major problem appears to have been the shallowness of the soil before encountering water. This made it necessary to pare earth from the surrounding countryside to help raise the parapet, in which case wagons would seemingly have been employed. [49]

At the left flank of Jackson's line approximately 150 yards from the swamp the straight intrenchment was interrupted by an inverted redan, a battery-like structure whose 40-foot faces jutted back to form a rentrant angle behind the canal. Little explanation was given for the existence of this anomaly in the otherwise direct line, but it appears on all contemporary maps. While so far as is known no artillery was ever emplaced there, quite possibly the redan was intended to constitute protection on Jackson's left before it was decided to extend the fortifications for a considerable distance into the swamp. There field guns were to be established; those mounted on the right face could rake the swamp, while those on the left face could sweep the field before the right of the line. [50] Only this indentation for the redan disrupted the line, so straight in fact that it drew criticism from persons present. "The mode of fortifying this position has... been condemned," wrote Ellery. "An extended straight line..., undeflected by any salient angles, and unflanked by any auxiliary work, being pronounced a solecism in field fortification." [51]

The inverted redan therefore offered but a modicum of relief on the line. From there Coffee's troops extended into the woods and swamp, so it was only natural that their position be refined with the extension of the intrenchment to support their position. Jean Laffite seems to have recommended such to Jackson's aide, Edward Livingston, either on December 24 or 25, who in turn urged that the canal also be lengthened "as they may otherwise turn our left.... Lafite [sic] says the wood may easily be marched thro all the Distance to the cypress swamp which is nearly impracticable and affords as good a point of support on the left as the river on the right." [52] Thus, over the next several days the parapet was run another 500 yards back into the swamp. For a way the earthworks continued, but grew less thick approaching the lowlands. One soldier described them as being "a little over brest [sic] high, and five or six feet wide on the top." [53] Because of the abundance of water, the parapet then became a simple barricade formed of felled trees arranged horizontally in layers along the canal with loopholes between. To maintain a clear field of fire, the woods before the log breastwork were cleared for a distance of 50 yards. Then, again guarding the flank, the breastwork turned sharply west, running somewhere between 100 and 320 yards and forming a slight salient before ending in a grove of trees deep in the swamp. Total length of Jackson's line along Rodriguez Canal from the river to the swamp was approximately 1,700 yards. Total length of the works, to include the westward running segment on the extreme left, was about 1,900 yards. [54] Behind the center of the line—to the left of the inverted redan, probably in the area of the last battery—stood a tall pole from which flew the United States flag. [55] Facing the works, Jackson's command was apportioned approximately thusly to the left of the levee road held by the marines and artillery: Regulars and Louisiana militia, comprising 1,327 men, 575 yards; Tennessee militia under Carroll, 1,414 troops, 350 yards; and Coffee's command of 2,692 Tennesseans, 613 yards. [56] The soldiers under Coffee, stationed in the woods and swamp, had to sustain the worst conditions, often in mud knee-deep, since the ground sloped downward from the river, rendering "the position of the troops stationed in that quarter, wet and uncomfortable." "Excepting on the right of the line," stated Ellery, "little preference of position could be boasted of, as after a rain, from the center to the left, there was presented to the eye, but one continuous sheet of water." [57] Jackson's line was weakest on the left, and probably would have been vulnerable at that point before a well-directed British attack. Once his batteries were established, however, they gave such a new dimension that a British breakthrough on the left might not have been successful.

Little information is available regarding the erection of Jackson's artillery batteries. These units, incorporated into the line, were of such potential significance that their locations were undoubtedly plotted quite early, perhaps even before Jackson's men started digging. [58] Presumably, too, these structures received more attention from the engineer officers than the rest of the intrenchments because of their special requirements. Yet details of battery construction remain obscure, even though Latour discussed various structures on the line using terminology that indicates adherence to some of the precepts of fortification. Nevertheless, using conjecture supported by knowledge of period fortification theory and the few known facts about Jackson's batteries, some idea of their appearance may be reached.

Battery No. 1, containing two 12-pounders and a howitzer, straddled the levee road, probably the firmest ground in the vicinity. The embrasured position was situated as part of the intrenchment raised behind the canal as were all of Jackson's line batteries. Allowing the specified 20 feet per field piece, the interior of the battery measured around 60 feet long by approximately 20 feet wide. The epaulement, around 7-1/2 feet high, was probably 18 to 20 feet thick at the top, sloping to a base measuring 20 to 24 feet thick. Three embrasures cut into the epaulement reached down to approximately 4 feet from the interior floor. Their width at the inside ran 18 inches and increased gradually toward the outside where they measured about 7 feet. The cheeks of the embrasures were reportedly lined with cotton bales held in place by unknown means, although Nolte stated that iron rings of an undetermined size were used.

The floor of Battery No. 1 should have been leveled and compacted to receive its platforms and ordnance. Platforms likely measured 9 feet by 15 feet and consisted of heavy planks nailed or pegged to three heavy sleepers laid into the soil. Perhaps the rear of the platform was raised to slow the recoil of a discharging gun. Along the inside of the epaulement, about 2 feet above the surface and on either side of the embrasures, was a banquette some 4 feet wide to permit the occupants to see over the top of the work. It is unknown whether Battery No. 1 contained traverses on either side of the guns. Such devices could have helped protect the ordnance from flanking fire, which in this case might well have been appropriate on the extreme right of Jackson's line and seemingly subjected to diagonally placed British batteries on January 1. Probably the inside of Battery No. 1 was revetted with plank or fence paling, perhaps even with fascines made from sugar cane rubble.

Situated behind the parapet approximately midway between Battery No. 1 and Battery No. 2, about 73 yards from the river, was a powder magazine, the only one delineated on historical maps for the entire length of Jackson's line. This probably signified the existence of smaller (service) magazines consisting of barrels of powder that were distributed at intervals along the line. The magazine between Batteries Nos. 1 and 2 was doubtless located near the road for ready accessibility to arriving powder supplies. Specifics of construction for the magazine remain unknown. It likely was built over an area 8 or 9 feet square surrounded with a thick earthen parapet and a roof made of fascines or planks covered with earth. Likely, too, the floor of the magazine was covered with wood to help keep the powder dry.

Battery No. 2, built about 113 yards from the 1814-15 riverbank, contained a 24-pounder. Construction of this battery was undoubtedly similar to that of No. 1 except that it possessed but a single embrasure. Of three maps depicting the line, only Latour's indicated that the structure had two embrasures, even though Latour stated in his text that the unit housed but one weapon. Latour also noted that Battery No. 2 was "the most elevated above the soil," probably meaning that its platform was raised higher above the surrounding terrain than those in other batteries. The purpose for this difference was not clearly defined, although it seems possible it was elevated so that its fire could clear the levee at the right front. In fortification terminology such elevated units were called cavalier batteries. If the construction of Battery No. 2 followed the prescribed methodology, the work measured 20 feet long by 20 feet wide at the interior. The epaulement stood around 7-1/2 feet high in front and was 18 to 20 feet thick at the top and 20 to 24 feet thick at the base (meaning, of course, that the interior of the battery stood at least 20 feet back from the edge of Rodriguez Canal). The embrasure was cut about 3 feet above the floor, measured 2 feet wide at the inside and 7 feet wide at the outside of the epaulement. Probably the cheeks of the embrasure were lined with cotton bales. The floor of the battery, perhaps inclined slightly to the rear, would have been trenched to receive three sleepers each 6 inches by 6 inches by 15 feet long. Atop the sleepers heavy 2-inch-thick planks were fastened, each measuring 9 feet long. At the front of the platform a heurter, measuring 8 inches by 8 inches by 9 feet was emplaced for the gun carriage wheels to rest against. Because of the raised floor in Battery No. 2, a banquette was perhaps not required. If a banquette existed, it would likely have been no more than 1 foot high and 4 feet wide. Because of the presumably moist earth that Battery No. 2 was raised from it seems likely that the structure was revetted with fascines or fence pales obtained locally.

Battery No. 3 and Battery No. 4 together as of January 8, 1815, contained two 24-pounders. While several sources, including Latour, indicate that only one structure was located at this point 163 yards from the river, a list prepared by Jackson's chief artillery officer, Major William MacRea, specifically accounts for two distinct units commanded, respectively, by Captains Dominique Youx and Renato Beluche. [59]

It seems probable that these two batteries were separated by a traverse, thereby affording the appearance of a single unit. Batteries Nos. 3 and 4, like those preceding, each measured 20 feet by 20 feet at the interior and possessed epaulements 7-1/2 feet high, 18 to 20 feet thick at the top, and 20 to 24 feet thick at the bottom. The embrasure in each was 3 feet above the inside floor and measured 2 feet across at the inside, 7 feet at the outside. Benjamin Latrobe specifically stated that the embrasures of this work were lined with cotton bales. The floor in each unit, like in those discussed previously, contained a platform 9 feet wide by 15 feet long arranged on sleepers, and a huerter was laid at the front of each platform. Both batteries were lined with banquettes constructed of earth along the inside of the epaulement and measuring 3-1/2 to 3 feet 9 inches high and 4 feet wide. Like other batteries on the line, Batteries No. 3 and 4 would have been revetted on the inside with planks, palings, and/or fascines. The traverse separating the interiors of the batteries from each other likely measured 18 or 20 feet thick. The remaining five batteries erected on Jackson's line by January 8 would likely have been constructed in a manner almost identical to those discussed here. As in these cases, firsthand evidence concerning the erection and operation of the batteries has not been located and conclusions necessarily must rest heavily on speculation.

Between the cypress swamp and the river the land that swept out before Jackson's men toward the British was generally level, the distant landscape dotted by plantation homes and slave quarters interspersed by orchards and broad tracts of sugar cane rubble left from harvest. Eight hundred yards from the right of the line and 150 yards from the levee stood the Chalmette mansion, behind which were located a complex of outbuildings and slave homes, the nearest structures to Jackson's front. The buildings effectively concealed the right of the line from the British. Major Hinds quartered his horsemen there. The cane field was tediously flat, broken only by an occasional bush in the intervening distance. Sedge grass, a marshy bladed plant associated with low, wet areas, grew in abundance, especially along the several drainage ditches that knifed across the terrain. One of these ditches stretched about 1000 yards from the levee road 520 yards in front of Jackson's right to a point 400 yards from where his left entered the woods. There the ditch intersected a larger double ditch running in a slight southeastward course perpendicular to the intrenchments. Another ditch ran from the levee 170 yards beyond the first, joining the same double ditch 150 yards farther from Jackson's left. The double ditch was fenced with posts and rails, apparently along its southern side. Where the second drainage ditch connected, the fence diverged from the double ditch and ran at almost a right angle to the swamp. Because of the thick growth of sedge grass, the second ditch was nearly obscured to troops on the line except for the few bushes that grew along it. [60] A plantation road, called Center Road, traversed the field from east to west, apparently reaching Jackson's position at Rodriguez Canal approximately 150 yards south of the inverted redan and some 700 yards from the river. [61]

The land immediately adjacent on the upriver side of Rodriguez Canal was owned by Juan (Jean) Rodriguez. Situated approximately 30 yards west of the canal and 170 yards from the river was Rodriguez's house, along with several outbuildings located behind. The Rodriguez house was possibly erected by a previous landowner named Nicholas Roche between 1803 and 1805, when Roche sold the property. By the time of the Battle of New Orleans the canal bordering the tract behind which Jackson erected his defense had been conveyed to subsequent parties, ultimately forming part of the Chalmette tract. Although the designation "Rodriguez Canal" has been historically applied to it ever since, it is in fact a misnomer. [62]

Rodriguez, a New Orleans attorney, purchased the tract adjoining the canal on September 29, 1808. By 1814 he was operating a farm complete with milk cows, horses, chickens, and gardens. Seven slaves provided labor. Rodriguez's house was a typical structure of the period, a raised plantation house of rectangular shape with two or three rooms inside. There were two entrances at each end, and the roof was hipped and dormered. A two-level gallery was apparently built of piers and colonettes. Archeological examination has disclosed that the house measured 58 feet in length by 22 feet wide, excluding the gallery. The house stood on a brick basement about one-half story high that was likely used for storage. Plaster-covered square brick piers with molded bases and capitals probably supported the lower gallery. A finished attic, evidently used for living purposes, gave the building an additional half-story. The upper part of the house, that above the basement, was covered with boards arranged horizontally. Contemporary illustrations and descriptions suggest that the house utilized numerous features representative of Louisiana colonial plantation architecture: French doors, colonettes, arched fanlites, a gallery stairway, a double-pitched roof, and storm doors with strap hinges.

Adjoining the main house on the east, or downriver, side about 6 yards distant was an older structure described as a creole cottage. This building, large enough to serve a family, could variously have served as a guest house, an office, and an overseer's house. Measuring about 40 feet by 40 feet, it had a gabled roof and, like the master house, a gallery in front. It was likely built entirely of brick. [63] Some of the outbuildings of the Rodriguez Plantation were destroyed in the ensuing battles, and claims for the damage specified that Rodriguez lost a stable and coachhouse, four slave cabins, a kitchen, and a hen house. In addition, the master house sustained $300 damage and the cottage $150 damage, while a large quantity of fence was lost, [64] presumably taken to bolster Jackson's earthworks. Furthermore, it is apparent that during the occupation of the line the two Rodriguez houses served as an observation post and tactical center for Jackson's command. While the nearby Macarty residence served as the principal American headquarters, the Rodriguez structures became an important auxiliary headquarters close to the ramparts where unit movements and placement were carefully monitored. Rodriguez later described the occupation of his property:

During the war, my house became the national house, a military post, the headquarters [of the American command] from the moment of the arrival of the English until their retreat, and for many days thereafter, it was in possession of our army, it was the camp Jackson, the headquarters established at the line. Two very well furnished houses and a well filled wine cellar were seized and put to the use of the army.... [65]

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Last Updated: 05-Sep-2004