Jean Lafitte
Historic Resource Study (Chalmette Unit)
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On Christmas Day Jackson's troops noticed that the enemy had begun erecting their own battery along the road to deal with Carolina, which since the night of the 23rd had continued to plague the British position. Two days later the British opened a number of field pieces on the sloop 800 yards away using hotshot, and in a short time the vessel was set ablaze, the crew abandoning her before the magazine exploded an hour later. The British next turned their shore battery against another craft, Louisiana, but the vessel was promptly towed out of range of the guns and anchored along the right bank. [1] The British battery that had inflicted the damage contained two 9-pounders, four 6-pounders, two 5-1/2-inch howitzers, and a small mortar. [2]

Jackson always kept one-half of his command under arms while construction of the defenses proceeded. Workmen were drawn from his reserves. During the night of December 24 the soldiers had completed the first battery, apparently on the right of the line and scheduled to house two 6-pounder cannon under Lieutenant Samuel Spotts. Two 24-pounders also reached Jackson from New Orleans but there was no battery finished to accommodate them. [3] On the 26th a two-gun battery was established by Lieutenant Henry Latrobe a short distance to the left of the road. Jackson moved Spotts's guns to the center of the line on December 27, replacing them on the right with a 12-pounder and a howitzer commanded by Captain Enoch Humphreys of the artillery. Later that day a 24-pounder was added to the line. More batteries were finished, notably what was referred to as Battery No. 2 and Battery No. 3, approximately 100 yards and 150 yards, respectively, from the levee. Guns were mounted in most of the completed positions during the evening of December 27, after platforms of "stocks and boards" had been constructed for the pieces. Jackson's artillerists were aided by the crewmen of the destroyed Carolina, who availed themselves to serve the newly positioned ordnance. In addition, the Baratarians at Fort St. John were ordered forward to help operate the batteries. [4]

At dawn on the 28th Major General Pakenham, who had arrived on Christmas, conducted an advance, properly a reconnoissance in force, against the Americans. Jackson's pickets withdrew from the Chalmette buildings, after which the structures were destroyed by the American artillery, along with some on the Bienvenue property. The pickets took up a line extending from the levee to the swamp, between the intrenchments and the first drainage ditch. [5] A British officer reported that the American defenses held nine or ten guns, nearly half of which were located on the road to counter British field pieces. [6] Actually the emplaced guns numbered five—Battery No. 1 contained a 12-pounder and a howitzer; Battery No. 2 held a 6- or 12-pounder howitzer; Battery No. 3 contained two 24-pounders. [7] By now the works were being completed by blacks acquired from plantations around New Orleans, thereby freeing the soldiers for battle. [8] Most of the men who were armed carried flintlock muskets; each had two flints and twenty-five rounds of buck-and-ball cartridges in their pouches. [9] The British approached Jackson's right in columns marching some distance along the levee road accompanied by field guns ultimately directed against Louisiana and her subordinate vessels. But Louisiana's rounds proved more accurate and the British road battery, brought up in front of the burning Chalmette house, was soon silenced, a loss also attributed to the guns on the American works and principally a newly mounted 24-pounder. Jackson's artillery further damaged the British battery constructed near the levee. In the advance, Major General Keane led troops of the Eighty-fifth, Ninety-third, Ninety-fifth, and First West India regiments along the river while Major General Samuel Gibbs commanded troops of the Fourth, Twenty-first, Forty-fourth, and Fifth West India regiments moving farther toward the right on a road leading generally from the de la Ronde house. Some 700-800 yards away from the American intrenchments Gibbs unleashed a fierce rocket attack. Jackson responded with his few guns, but they executed well with grapeshot on the enemy column. Gibbs's soldiers approached the jutting swamp while the Ninety-fifth spread out in skirmish order across the plain from Keane's position. Some of the British led by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rennie of the Twenty-first (Fusiliers) succeeded in penetrating the swamp on the American left, where they reportedly exchanged fire with Coffee's men until they were recalled. Keane's column, meantime, was forced to seek cover during the artillery exchange with Louisiana. Soon Pakenham recalled all his troops, desirous now of deliberating over the American position before launching an attack. [10]

During the advance the British had taken cover from the American artillery in the field to the right of the levee road. Dickson stated that they hid in "ditches, Standing Cane trash, etc." [11] The main protection must have been the second major drainage ditch away from Jackson's line, just west of the Chalmette buildings. One soldier reported that "they were hurried into a wet ditch, of sufficient depth to cover the knees, where, leaning forward, they concealed themselves behind some high rushes which grew upon its brink." [12] Some men took refuge behind the burning structures, behind hedges, and in collateral ditches in the vicinity. Later, British sailors joined the artillerymen in manually retrieving the damaged and abandoned 6-pounder guns from the road and pulling them several hundred yards to the rear, a task accomplished under exposure to Jackson's ordnance. Pakenham's army withdrew by degrees to a location approximately 2200 yards from the American works. The General directed that work begin on several forward batteries to support his next approach. [13]

Pakenham's hesitancy to commit his army further testified to the opposition mounted by the Americans. Indeed, since commencing their works Jackson's men had labored incessantly and in recent days the left, weakest part of the line, had been strengthened enough to resist musket fire. Moreover, the artillery complement was sufficiently strong to do damage to the British. In this duty the Baratarians, particularly those under Captain Dominique Youx stationed in Battery No. 3, had excelled. These "veteran gunners," wrote Latour, "served their [24-pounder] piece with the steadiness and precision of men practised in the management of cannon, and inured to warfare...." [14] Lieutenant Charles E. Crawley, late of the schooner Caroline, occupied one battery to advantage with his crewmen. [15] Jackson's line received reinforcements in the form of two regiments of the Louisiana Militia. The first regiment arrived on the evening of December 27 and assumed a position on the right, while the second arrived the following morning in time for the British advance and drew up on the left supporting Coffee. [16] These troops experienced a good deal of action, for the British rockets were directed mainly there and the redcoated soldiers approached closest in that quarter. Those of Gibbs's soldiers in column on the north near the swamp advanced along the lower side of the double ditch, partly covered by the post and rail fence, to a point about 100 yards behind the second drainage ditch and nearest the Americans. British troops toward the center of the field advanced to occupy the second ditch. Hoping to cut off part of the former body, a sortie of 200 riflemen of Carroll's division commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Henderson pressed ahead through the outskirts of the swamp.

As reconstructed from available evidence, it appears that Henderson was to advance to his front through the woods north of the double ditch. When he reached the place where the fence approached the swamp (about 550 yards away) the colonel would pass around it and attack the right flank of the British column moving along the double ditch. Instead, through some apparent confusion in interpreting his orders, Henderson marched forward at a right oblique, passed the fence and crossed the double ditch near its junction with Rodriguez Canal, and continued in that manner until reaching the first drainage ditch. The movement put him opposite another column of Gibbs's soldiers that had meantime occupied the second ditch, thereby exposing his command to British fire from two directions, that from the group immediately in his front and that from the group he had originally intended to attack. Furthermore, Henderson's presence on that part of the field forced the American artillery to withhold its discharges against the British advance at that point.

Major Tatum described the expedition thusly:

Whether the Colonel properly conceived the order given (verbally) or not, cannot now be ascertained. Certain it is that, instead of advancing under cover, he obliqued to his right and formed his party near the first Ditch and fronting the enemy in the second at least 100 paces to the right of the column he was to have attacked, and immediately in the range of the [supporting] fire intended from the batteries. In this position, he was attacked both in front & flank. This attack was repelled with great bravery but, as may be presumed, with little effect, as his fire was altogether directed against the party covered by the Ditch. The skirmish was short, the Colonel being killed after a few rounds and three of his men cut down nearly at the same time. A retreat was instantly commenced and effected without further loss. One of the men who had fallen in this conflict was discovered to be alive, shortly after the retreat was effected. He arose three times and attempted his escape, on the third attempt he kept on his legs and made towards the lines under a heavy discharge of musketry from the enemy. Major Simpson & Capt. Collins, of the division, discovering this attempt of the wounded man, leaped over the works, crossed the Ditch and ran to his assistance, accompanied by one or two privates. They reached the wounded man and conveyed him to the lines in safety under a most Tremendous discharge from the enemy's line and the column on the flank. It was as great an act of bravery as was witnessed on the lines during the siege. [17]

Most of the Tennesseans, accompanied by Choctaw Indians, managed to extricate themselves from the encounter, which seems to have occurred almost simultaneously with Coffee's engagement with the British at the far left in which he successfully repelled the assault. [18] American casualties in the December 28 affair totaled 7 killed and 10 wounded. [19] British losses are unknown though most estimates put the figure at 200 in killed, wounded, and missing. [20]

In the aftermath of the encounter of the 28th both the Americans and British consolidated their positions, strove to make improvements in their defenses, and planned their further defensive or offensive strategies. Jackson sent his inspector general to check the left end of the line where the British had pressed his flank. A heavy picket guard was posted in the woods to prevent another surprise; many Tennesseans and Choctaws crept through the swampy terrain and took a toll of enemy pickets penetrating from the other side. On December 30 a party of British reconnoitring the woods encountered the American pickets and drew a volley forcing them to retire with casualties. [21] Meantime, Jackson made additions to his artillery, receiving on the 29th two 12-pounder guns from Louisiana which he directed to be placed in battery behind the levee on the right bank of the river opposite his position. A 24-pounder was later added to this marine battery which was wholly manned by sailors. This unit was capable of harrassing the British left and enfilading their columns should another advance be attempted.

Following the reconnaissance of the 28th Pakenham withdrew his force one and one-half miles (Dickson said 2200 yards) from Jackson's line, arranging it on the Bienvenue property so that the Fourth and Forty-fourth were near the wood on the right, the Twenty-first on their left, and the Eighty-fifth and Ninety-third on their left, but away from the riverbank and the destructive fire of the marine battery across the stream. The British threw up small epaulements on their left to protect their troops from these guns, which kept up a steady fire against them. They also constructed a battery made of earth-filled sugar hogsheads near the levee from which to direct fire against Louisiana, but such lightly built units were quickly penetrated by American shot. Another battery so constructed was ordered to be placed on the British left "on the high road" to be mounted with 9-pounders. A half mile ahead of the encampment to the right near the swamp, the British over several days erected two redoubts intended to protect their pickets. Other pickets ranged toward the river, often concealing themselves from view behind houses and in small ditches. These men fired on Jackson's cavalry when they sought to investigate the area between the lines on the evening of the 29th. [22] Latour later described in some detail the construction of the redoubts on the British right. As can be seen, the fortifications adhered well to theoretical concepts governing the erection of such works:

The redoubt which stood on Bienvenu's plantation towards the wood, was of a quadrilateral form, its interior dimensions being eighty, sixty-two, one hundred and eight, and seventy feet. Two embrasures were made on the small front opposite our lines, but forming an angle with them. Each of the lateral fronts had likewise an embrasure in the middle, and that on the back had an opening twelve feet wide, serving as an entrance, and covered by a traverse within the fort. Along the intervals between the embrasures above the ground, ran banquettes raised three feet, for the musketry. The parapet, which was fourteen feet thick at the base, and nine at the summit, had battlements for the musketry on three aspects; a fosse from twelve to fifteen feet wide and three deep surrounded the redoubt.... Some days after, the enemy established another redoubt in advance of this, towards our lines, on the ditch separating the plantations of Bienvenu and Chalmette. This latter redoubt was smaller in its dimensions, and had an embrasure in each of the angles towards our lines. [23]

By December 30 the British had begun to place their artillery to target on the American works. Pakenham and Admiral Cochrane saw the necessity for bringing forward heavy guns and ammunition from the ships to blast Jackson's line, breach his intrenchments, and follow with an infantry charge to carry them. [24] Up until that ordnance arrived the British complement consisted of two 9-pounders, four 6-pounders, four 3-pounders, two 5-1/2-inch howitzers, and three 5-1/2-inch mortars, besides the rocket detachment. Most of this artillery had been placed in the embrasured levee battery directed against Caroline. [25]

By the last day of December guns had been installed in the right redoubt facing Jackson's left and they opened briskly on American pickets in the area. The guns of Louisiana again responded, causing some of the enemy positioned nearer the river to take shelter in available buildings. Two naval 18-pounders were now mounted in the hogshead battery by the levee road. Other breaching batteries were under construction. The flimsy units were built of sugar casks filled with earth only one cask thick by one high, scarcely affording concealment of workers and gun crews. Moreover, some were largely open on the left, thereby exposed to American guns across the river. That night the British traced and constructed two large batteries within 700 yards of the intrenchments. One stood near the drainage ditch west of the Chalmette complex and about 350 yards from the Mississippi; the other stood approximately 300 yards farther to the right also on the ditch. Platforms were quickly built and by dawn two 9-pounders, three 6-pounders, and two howitzers stood in the former and six 18-pounders and four 24-pounders in the latter. The batteries, built hurriedly, lacked sufficient strength to make them impregnable. Furthermore, the platforms were unsteady. As the construction proceeded, and the heavy guns were hauled into place, nearly half of Pakenham's army was posted in front to guard the laborers. [26]

On the evening of December 31 Pakenham deliberated with Cochrane, Gibbs and Keane, then issued orders for an assault on the morrow:

When the Batteries have silenced the Enemys fire and opened his works, the position will be carried as follows.

The Advance of 400 Men divided into a firing party of 100 Men, in Line, and 50 paces in rear of them the remaining 300 three deep, their Arms slung to carry fascines, the fascines are to fill the Ditch opposite the Breach, and the Column will move at close files and throw them in one Spot the fascines being lodged the Men will extend along the ditch, the firing party taking ground also the flanks.

The 2d. Brigade to assault in Column of Battalions left in front 50 yards interval, not a Shot to be fired, and no obstruction should impede the head of this Column 'till Master of the Enemys Line, and such Troops as they may hold upon it should be charged by Corps on Entry as quickly as possible—the leading Regiments may attack by Wings, and the succeeding Ones by Battalions, when the Enemy are shaken a new formation will be made.

False attacks will be made on both flanks from the left of the 3d Brigade, and through the Wood on the right of the 2d Brigade. Major General Keanes Demonstration should not amount to a Committal unless an Evidently favourable opportunity presents itself, but every facility to overcome obstacles should be placed at Major General Keanes disposal.

Eighty British and 100 of the 5th. West India Regiment to enter the Wood in front of the redoubt on the right of the Line before day and endeavour by a small circuit to reach the left flank of the Enemys position; if they fall in with the Enemys outposts before the hour of assault, they should conceal themselves 'till the general attack, when every exertion should be made (at whatever distance) to be made (at whatever distance) to attract his attention by Firing, Bugling &c., and if circumstances actually permit, to penetrate his Rear.

Three Companies of the 4th Regiment to be formed in Column of half Companies close to the Wood in a Line with the several Columns to prevent the Enemy sortieing from his left at the time of assault, and this will seem a reserve to the flankers detached thro' the Wood. [27]

British ordnance disposed for the attack was as follows:

No. 1. Lieutenant Speer. Levee battery, two 18-pounders with facility for hot shot. To direct fire against American shipping as required.

No. 2. Captain Lempriere. Battery on levee road, two 18-pounders. To concentrate fire against batteries on Jackson's right and against the Macarty house headquarters.

No. 3. Captain Lawrence. At right of Chalmette slave quarters, approximately 350 yards from the river. Three 5-1/2-inch mortars. To direct shells into the right side of Jackson's intrenchments, including Batteries Nos. 3 and 4.

No. 4. Captain Lane. Slightly ahead of foregoing unit, rocket battery.

No. 5. Major Mitchell and Captain Carmichael. At right of No. 3, and approximately 400 yards from the river. Breach battery of two 9-pounders, three 6-pounders, and two 5-1/2-inch howitzers. To direct fire against the center of the American line; also against the Macarty house and Battery No. 5.

No. 6. Captain Crawford and Captain Money. Two units, one on either side of the center road roughly 800 yards from the river and about 550 yards from the American line. Six 18-pounders in one, four 24-pounder carronades in the other. To concentrate fire against Jackson's artillery in general, then direct fire against the line left of center.

No. 7. Lieutenant Crawley. To the right of No. 7 rocket battery. [28]

Battery construction and armament was supervised by Colonel Alexander Dickson, Pakenham's chief of artillery, and Lieutenant Colonel John F. Bourgoyne, supervisor of fortifications of the royal engineers. The laborious undertaking lasted until 2 a. m., with emplacement of the pieces comprising a wearisome, time consuming process for the sailors from Cochrane's fleet who worked alongside Pakenham's soldiers. [29]

Meanwhile, the American troops had made improvements on their line, too. Jackson had planned to establish five or six redoubts along the intrenchments but the nature of the soil and the difficulty experienced just raising batteries militated against such an enterprise. There has existed certain confusion over the number of the various batteries on the line, with most sources citing eight structures and at least one, nine. Latour, moreover, presents several discrepancies between the batteries shown on his map, "Plan of the Attack and Defense of the American Lines," and those enumerated in his text. [30] Maps drawn contemporaneously with the battles of New Orleans are essentially in agreement with Latour in regard to Batteries Nos. 1-4, although in the case of Batteries Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8, there exist several variances in types of guns employed and names of battery commanders. [31]

The MacRea document cited above may come closest to presenting the state of the American artillery on January 1 and 8, 1815. This document accounts for nine regular batteries on Jackson's line and contains not only the names of occupants in individual structures but the casualties suffered in each during the encounters of December 28, January 1, and January 8, suggesting that few personnel shifts occurred among the batteries throughout this period. [32]

Coupled with data drawn from the other aforementioned sources, this document, signed by Jackson's artillery commander, provides data about the configuration of the American artillery as of January 1, 1815. Thus, the batteries consisted of the following:

No. 1. Captain Enoch Humphreys and thirty men. Two brass 12-pounders, one howitzer. Approximately 20 yards from the river.

No. 2. Lieutenant Otho Norris and seventeen men. One iron 24-pounder. Approximately 75 yards from Battery No. 1.

No. 3. Captain Dominique Youx and twelve men. One iron 24-pounder. Approximately 40 yards from Battery No. 2.

No. 4. Captain Renato Beluche and fourteen men. One iron 24-pounder. Apparently adjoining Battery No. 3.

No. 5. (No. 4 in other accounts) Lieutenant Charles E. Crawley and sixteen men. One iron 32-pounder.

Approximately 220 yards from Battery No. 4.

No. 6. (No. 5 in other accounts) Lieutenant Colonel William D. Perry and twenty-one men. One brass 12-pounder and one brass 6-pounder. (The Joyes map indicates that this battery held one 12-pounder; Latour s map indicates that it held two 6-pounders.) Approximately 180 yards from Battery No. 5 (4).

No. 7. (No. 6 in other accounts) Brigadier General Garrigues Flaujeac and ten men. One brass 18-pounder and one brass 6-pounder. Apparently adjacent to Battery No. 6 (5).

No. 8. (No. 7 in other accounts) Lieutenant Samuel Spotts and sixteen men. One 18-pounder and one 6-pounder. Approximately 200 yards from Battery No. 7 (6).

No. 9. (No. 8 in other accounts) Lieutenant Harrison and ten men. One small howitzer. Approximately 45 yards from Battery No. 8 (7).

In addition, the MacRea list accounts for a 13-inch mortar in the charge of Lieutenants Gilbert and Jules Lefebvre with three men, although this piece apparently did not fire until January 9 after the main battle was over and then with but scant effect. [33] No guns were emplaced to the left of Battery No. 8 as the terrain there turned rapidly to quagmire incapable of supporting any type of platform. [34] Across the river Commander Patterson had mounted one 24-pounder and two 12-pounders. [35]

New Year's Day, 1815, broke over the fog-enshrouded plain. Part of Jackson's command was parading for inspection behind the works when about 9 o'clock, the fog having lifted, Pakenham's artillery opened the battle, sending salvo after salvo of rockets, shot, and grape into the American lines. But Jackson's men were not caught entirely unaware, and within a few minutes his artillerists responded with a strong barrage from both sides of the river, their rounds quickly taking effect among the British. Although Pakenham's guns, positioned on a lower plane, easily targeted on the American artillery, within two hours the advantage shifted as the flimsy British batteries of earth-filled sugar casks were knocked apart by well-aimed rounds from Jackson's line. The seven-gun breach battery under Major Mitchell and Captain Carmichael was abandoned after American shot perforated its epaulement and damaged a howitzer and several carriages. Further damage was inflicted on other batteries; reportedly, five 18-pounder British guns were dismounted and had to be abandoned, while eight other guns could not be pointed because their carriages had been hit. The levee battery exchanged fire with Patterson's guns across the Mississippi, damaging the American water battery, but doing no harm to its occupants. The Louisiana hugged the shoreline out of range of the British weapons and took no part in the battle. After nearly four hours the British ran low of ammunition and the firing slackened; supplies were sent ahead from the water battery but by the time they arrived Pakenham had ordered all firing to cease.

Jackson's command suffered negligibly during the artillery exchange, most of the British rounds flying high over the line and falling harmlessly in the rear. Some reserve troops posted behind the line received injuries, and a keelboat some 200 yards beyond along the riverbank laden with military supplies was hit by British shot. The Macarty house, Jackson's headquarters behind the line, was struck repeatedly by high-flying rounds from the British river battery and the structure was severely damaged. Its galleries collapsed, forcing officers inside, including Jackson, to seek refuge in the garden. Those rounds striking the American parapet sank harmlessly into the mud, in effect strengthening the works. The British 24-pounders, moreover, were incapable of maintaining a steady fire because every recoil rolled the heavy naval carriages back off their short platforms. Yet some American guns were damaged; the 32-pounder in Battery No. 4 was struck and silenced, also the 12-pounder in Battery No. 5. The 24-pounder in Battery No. 3 sustained injury to its carriage. Further, the caissons on the right loaded with black powder were struck by rockets and exploded.

Meantime, Pakenham's infantrymen lay in ditches to the front and rear of their own batteries, prepared to assault in formation once the intrenchments were breached. Fascines and ladders had been placed in the picket redoubt on the right ready for the soldiers to claim in their advance. With the failure of the British guns, however, the opportunity for advancing never came and the infantry troops evacuated the ditches. The American artillery fire kept them stationary and removed from combat for the duration of the bombardment, although many were hit by artillery rounds and grape shot during the dueling. [36]

On Jackson's left a British sortie of 200 men penetrated the woods and swamp as on the 28th, but Coffee's militia and the Choctaws, supported by the Louisiana militia, easily repelled it. [37] Throughout the battle Major Hinds posted his Mississippi dragoons to the right rear of the line near the levee. By 1 p.m. most of the British guns had stopped firing; two hours later the attack ended altogether and the rising smoke revealed to the Americans the extensive injury their guns had caused Pakenham. That evening Jackson ordered half a gill of whiskey for each of his men to toast their success. [38]

Casualties for the Americans in the January 1 engagement consisted of 11 men killed and 23 wounded; the British lost 31 killed and 39 wounded. [39] Following the cessation of the bombardment the British infantrymen stayed in position near the batteries to cover the removal of the guns. Louisiana, which had remained silent through the day, now opened a fire on the British troops near the river and on the battery that straddled the levee road. During the night the weather turned to rain and the ground became so muddy the soldiers and seamen had a difficult time pulling the heavy ordnance back and some cannon had to be abandoned. [40] Some officers blamed the day's setback squarely on the artillery. "Such a failure in this boasted arm was not to be expected," wrote Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, "and I think it a blot on the artillery escutcheon." [41] In truth, the British guns failed because of poorly built batteries and a dearth of ammunition, together with the fact that the American guns were heavier and better trained against the enemy. [42] Pakenham decided to await the arrival of two new regiments, the Seventh and Forty-third infantries, before advancing again. [43]

One feature of the January 1 battle deserves more than passing notice since it affected to some degree the performance of Jackson's artillery as well as the construction of his batteries. This was the frequently stated use of cotton bales, an element that since 1815 has assumed inordinate proportion in the folklore surrounding the Battle of New Orleans. That cotton bales were used to a certain extent in Jackson's line has been well established by both American and British contemporary sources. In just what manner they were employed is not uniformly agreed upon, however. Latour, who had an immediate and personal interest in the construction of the batteries, reported the following: "The cheeks of the embrasures of our batteries were formed of bales of cotton, which the enemy's balls [on January 1] struck and made fly in all directions." [44] The use of cotton bales in the construction of embrasures is confirmed by the British artillerist Alexander Dickson, who noted that Jackson's batteries had "the advantage of good embrasures substantially constructed of Cotton bags." [45] These two sources are significant in that they were written by participants close to the event and that each mentions the use of bales only in conjunction with the embrasures. Jackson biographer Augustus C. Buell described the bales as being used in place of gabions in constructing embrasures and traverses in the batteries, and such disposition makes sense, although Buell seemingly concocted conversation between Jackson and Latour concerning the matter. [46]

The first known mention of cotton bales being used extensively in the battery construction appears in the diary of the artist and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, whose son had served on the line. During a visit to the battlefield in 1819 accompanied by the merchant Vincent Nolte, Latrobe commented on Battery No. 2 which Lieutenant Henry Latrobe had helped build more than four years earlier:

The battery... was strengthened and indeed built, by laying down a mass of Bales of Cotton, covering them with earth, piling others upon them, and thus producing perhaps a much better work than harder materials could have supplied. When the campaign was at an end, the bales were taken up, and in the place of the battery is now a pond and a gap in the line. [47]

Latrobe noted that the other batteries were similarly constructed using 200 cotton bales confiscated from merchant Vincent Nolte. [48] In 1814-15 bales were not shaped squarely as they were later in the nineteenth century. Rather they consisted of large round bags of compressed cotton measuring about 9 feet in length and 2 feet in diameter and weighing about 300 pounds each. [49] It is altogether possible that some of the batteries, especially those on the right of the line near the river and thus readily accessible to supplies of cotton, used the bales as described by Latrobe, probably as an expedient during the race to fortify and bring artillery forward around December 25-26. Most likely such use of cotton was experimental; the bales could have been interspersed in an elongated manner with layers of earth to form the epaulement as well as to revet the embrasure cheeks of the batteries. [50] It is indeed possible that after being battered for days by British artillery and exposed to lengthy periods of rain while laden down with the mud of the rampart, the bales could be profitably extricated for commercial purposes.

So far as the use of bales in the embrasure construction was concerned, their value proved something less than anticipated, for according to Alexander Walker, who based his narrative largely on the testimony of participants, the bales were not only subject to being knocked out of the embrasures by enemy shot, but they caught fire and, when flying about, posed a danger to the ammunition. "Some of Plauche's battalion volunteered to extinguish the burning cotton, and, slipping over the breastwork, succeeded in doing so.... After this no cotton bales were ever used in the breastwork." [51] Jean Laffite, writing years after the event, also remarked that the bales caught fire and threatened the American stores of gunpowder. [52] Perhaps meaningfully, Laffite's reference was directed to the large magazine midway between Batteries Nos. 1 and 2. The combustible nature of the bales, together with their smouldering tendencies that caused blinding smoke, was probably the reason why Jackson ordered all bales removed from the line after the January 1 engagement. [53]

Forty years after the Battle of New Orleans the story of use of cotton bales on Jackson's line received a new slant. Vincent Nolte reported in his memoirs that Jackson had accepted a French engineer's (Latour?) suggestion for "filling up the hollowed redoubts with cotton-bales, laid to the depth of three or four, one above the other: the wooden platforms... were to be placed upon the cotton-bales, and there secured...." Nolte repeated the concept of the use of bales for lining embrasures, adding that the procedure involved "six or eight bales fastened to the main-body of the redoubt [sic] by iron rings, and covered with adhesive earth." [54] It is not known what size the rings were or how they fastened the bale revetment to the epaulement; presumably the rings were sufficiently large to encircle a bale (bag) of cotton. Most likely the bales were laid horizontally atop each other along the embrasure walls. Nolte specifically stated that bales were employed in Battery No. 3. [55]

It is indeed unlikely that Jackson used cotton bales beneath his artillery platforms. That such a recommendation was made by a French engineer is equally improbable, for cannon thus mounted would have been unsteady and difficult to manage as the contents of the cotton bags shifted under the great weight of the pieces. Nonetheless, the myth continues and as recently as 1981 that aspect of the cotton bale story was perpetuated. [56] Evidently bales were used only to line embrasures and possibly to raise the epaulement in the batteries. Those employed in the former manner were seemingly discarded following the battle on January 1. One participant reported that the bales were "taken off the works and thrown in the rear, where the men broke them open and used the layers of which they were composed for mattresses." [57] Nevertheless, the account of their widespread use continues to flourish in near apochryphal proportion perhaps because of the appeal of its uniquely Southern quality.

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Last Updated: 05-Sep-2004