Jean Lafitte
Historic Resource Study (Chalmette Unit)
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While joyous in his success following the January 1 engagement, Jackson did not allow his men to enjoy a false sense of security. The British gave no sign of retiring to their ships and Jackson realized their renewal of the attack would be only a matter of time. After the January 1 battle he received reinforcement of some 500 men of the second division of Louisiana militia from the northern part of the state. But these troops were unarmed and Jackson sent them to help raise a new line of fortifications one and one-half miles to his rear. More troops were expected momentarily. On the 2nd Jackson sent out mounted and foot patrols to ascertain enemy activities in his front. [1] He also continued the strengthening of his works, particularly those on the left where Coffee's men still maintained vigilance. When some soldiers threatened mutiny over toiling on the intrenchments beside several hundred slaves, Jackson managed to impress their officers with the value of the work and no revolt took place. [2]

The American artillery meantime kept up its play on the British position. Guns mounted on the right bank fired hotshot across the river at the Bienvenue structure while black laborers on that side worked to open a line of intrenchments from the river back into the woods similar to those at Jackson's position. [3] The major innovation to Jackson's line after the battle of January 1 occurred on the extreme right front where on the 6th a small detached flanking redoubt was begun. Tatum referred to this structure as a demi-bastion situated across Rodriguez Canal from the intrenchment. "Two Embrasures were constructed in its base to rake the Canal and plane in front of the line, and two others in its face for the purpose of raking the Levee and road." A dry ditch encircled the structure from canal ready to receive water should the river rise. Two 6-pounder guns, one on a naval carriage, the other on a field carriage, occupied the redoubt and were capable of being shifted from front to flank as exigency dictated. The interior of the work was protected by some of Captain Thomas Beale's New Orleans riflemen posted behind the main line. Access was from the rear via a plank laid across Rodriguez Canal. [4]

Constructed on the advice of the engineers against Jackson's better judgment, the redoubt possessed several deficiencies, notably a very low parapet and no banquette. "It was intended to have raked the ditch, but... a discharge of grape or cannister [from the line] would both have alarmed and endangered the men placed behind it..." [5] Furthermore, the structure interposed itself between the British and the line, thereby blocking the shots of Jackson's marksmen. [6] The structure remained incomplete by the night of January 7, when it was manned by a company of the Seventh Infantry under Lieutenant Andrew Ross. Lieutenant Dauquemeny de Marant commanded its guns with a detachment of the Forty-fourth Infantry. [7]

Some confusion exists over this structure as represented in a sketch of the right of Jackson's line drawn a few years after the battle by Benjamin Latrobe. Latrobe shows a redoubt constructed in the rear of the line, indicating that "in order to build the redoubt, the corner of [Macarty's] garden was cut off...." However, the redoubt begun on the 6th was ahead of the canal, not behind it. While Latrobe does show some disturbance to the terrain fronting the line, it is clear that his perception was that the redoubt behind the line was the work on the right that played a major role in the action of January 8. It is believed, however, that the structure described by Latrobe was actually a battery erected after January 8 on the road and below the levee, as shown on Abraham Ellery's and Thomas Joyes's maps. The configuration of this battery/redoubt aligns well with Latrobe's sketch, and it is likely it was this structure that concerned Latrobe. [8]

During the week of comparative inaction that followed January 1 the Americans also took care of routine military matters behind the intrenchments. Jackson had earlier made reassignments of troops, for example, in late December sending 200 Tennesseans plus the Fourth Louisiana Militia and a unit of Choctaws to man the Chef Menteur defenses where the British had reportedly made a feint. He also brought Lacoste's battalion from that place to assume a position between Plauche's and Daquin's men on Rodriguez Canal near the First and Second regiments. [9] The position was called by Jackson "Camp Rodriguez," but by the troops it was known as "Camp Jackson." Some distance (about 200 yards) behind the line the reserve troops, and particularly officers, occupied what few tents were available and shanties that could be constructed of materials at hand, each one reportedly sporting "any small apology for a flag or ensign that Creole fancy or American ingenuity could hastily devise." [10] Food was in abundance, for Jackson had summarily seized what subsistence stores he needed, as well as transport vehicles, by virtue of his martial law edict. [11] Behind the rows of tents and shelters a line of sentinels was posted to keep the soldiers from leaving the area without permission. [12] Some idea of the routine and appearance of the area immediately behind the intrenchments was given by a participant from Tennessee:

The army [was]... employed without intermission in strengthening their works, and their time was so taken up with watching and labouring as not to admit them to recruit their bodies which were worn with excessive toil and waking; half of the troops were acting centinels [sic] one part of the night, and the other half the other part; indeed their sleep short and interrupted as it was, could hardly have been procured at a less price than all the privations which they daily and nightly endured; for their situation was so low that their beds of earth were inundated, and sometimes entirely overflowed by the rains which fell; and part of the field the works where General Carroll's left was posted, was one continual mire, those spots alone on which the tents were pitched and some small narrow tracks excepted which intersected the mire, and that served as pathways to the breastwork. [13]

The fact that some tents were set up close behind the intrenchments as mentioned above is borne out by Laclotte's depiction of the field of battle. Tents were placed in a line between the levee and the Rodriguez House. Beyond that structure more shelter tents were interspersed along the line all the way to the approximate position of the inverted redan. These tents likely afforded sheltered respite for soldiers stationed at the defenses. More specific data is thus far lacking about activities associated with the area directly behind the line, although reasoned conjecture would indicate that the muddy zone was used for the distribution of powder, rations, and other supplies; the movement of artillery and ordnance materiel by horse and by wagon into battery positions; activities involved with service of the pieces; conferences among officers; the resting of soldiers serving in the intrenchments; and the parading of relief troops into the line. Latrine pits would have been spaced intermittently along the line, perhaps 20 or more yards beyond the tents.

In front of the intrenchments nearly 500 yards away Jackson kept mounted pickets stationed to watch the British movements and to alert his command in case of another attack. Hinds's dragoons also assisted in the daily reconnaissance of the enemy when major fighting was not occurring. Occasionally they exchanged fire with the British pickets. During the principal engagements the dragoons sought a secure position away from the cannonade almost one-half mile behind the intrenchments. [14] On December 26 some American cavalry approached along the edge of the swamp then rode out on the plain approximately 450 yards away from the British position, igniting the cane rubble before withdrawing, an action that, observed Dickson, "will be to our advantage, as it clears the ground for advancing." [15] On another occasion Hinds paraded his horsemen within 200 yards of the British, an action that resulted in several soldiers and horses being wounded. [16] Seeming to be ever the one to challenge danger, Hinds on December 30 led his men in a bold charge on British troops concealed in a broad ditch some distance before the American line. The cavalrymen bounded their horses over the incredulous soldiers, then wheeled in front of the British line and jumped back across the ditch, largely escaping a volley from its amazed occupants. [17]

One American, James H. Bradford, described the function of picket duty as well as his personal role in the opening of the episode of January 1:

In the morning while the fog was yet, Brunson, James Shaw, Brashear,... Th. Carvey and myself, commanded by Corpl Ch. Johnson, were placed on the extreme left of the advance picket guard. Brunson [was] next [to] the swamp, next Shaw, Brashear, Carvey, and then my humble self, having a distance of about 50 yards each to ride back and forward. In a short time I discovered the enemy watching us, and in about 12 or 15 minutes he commenced... firing at about 120 yards distance. The first ball passed so near me as for me to feel the commotion of the air in my face. Mr. Carvey's situation became unpleasant, as all were most positively fired at him. Brashear retired to my right, so did Shaw, and I requested Mr. Carvey to do the same, as I know his mare was very slow of foot. Brunson, who is firm as a block of marble was above on my left. He stood undismayed. By this time the fog had so far cleared away that we could see the enemy's battery erected the proceeding [sic] night, about 200 yards in our front ... On our left we could perceive about 2000 of the enemy in motion, as we supposed, to turn our left, which was posted in the swamp, and this idea was confirmed, as we could now perceive another strong battery on the levee [road?]. About this moment our pickets on the left commenced firing, and Brunson's horse became so restive that he had to retire on my right. Keeping my eye on the enemy, I did not perceive that our pickets were retiring, until the enemy's battery opened directly over my head. I then turned to the right, when I found Brunson calling on us to retreat. Before I got out, the round shot, shells and rockets, were falling about me as thick as hail and yet strange as it may appear, I escaped unhurt, except what arose from my fears. [18]

On January 2 Jackson learned that the long-awaited Kentucky militia under Major General John Thomas was fast approaching on the river. The news was heartening for it gave the American commander more flexibility in the disposition of his soldiers. Already he feared the British might somehow ascend the bayous and canals to his rear and gain an advantage and he sent troops back to determine the likelihood of that scenario occurring. More British troops, it was learned, had in fact joined Pakenham's command in front of the Americans and apprehensions rose that another assault was imminent. Some of Carroll's men on January 2 went forward to reconnoiter the empty enemy batteries on the center road and became involved in a skirmish with British pickets. On January 3 a few hundred Attakapas troops reached Camp Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Jackson's artillery kept up a brisk delivery from both sides of the Mississippi, inflicting additional casualties among Pakenham's command. [19]

The Kentucky troops, more than 2,250 of them, began to reach camp January 4. These men were poorly armed, the majority being altogether without muskets. A third of them under Brigadier General John Adair took up a position supporting Carroll's Tennesseans, while the balance, all unarmed, were sent to the reserve line upstream at the Dupré Plantation. The Kentuckians at once began breaking up their flatboats, making shelters with the planks to protect them from the harsh, wet environment. [20] With the addition of the Kentucky troops, Jackson on January 5 ordered the Second Louisiana Regiment across the Mississippi to support General Morgan. Still concerned lest the British attack his rear, he also posted a company of dragoons under Captain Peter V. Ogden at the confluence of Bayou Bienvenue with Piernas Canal which, like Villeré's, approached the river, only closer to the city. [21] Jackson's artillery continued an occasional bombardment on the British posts before the line, but the enemy did not respond. Wrote a Kentucky soldier on first observing the American intrenchments: "It is impossible for me to tell how many troops there is in all, but the levee and away out to the swamps is crowded with troops." [22]

Since shortly after assuming his position on Rodriguez Canal, Jackson had taken measures to guard against surprises to his rear. One and three-quarters miles back toward the city he established a similar line of defense along Dupré's Canal which ran across Dupré's Plantation to the Mississippi. This parapet was seemingly constructed much like that at Rodriguez Canal, although presumably the works, raised largely by hundreds of slaves and civilian laborers, were less crudely built. Like the forward position, that at Dupré's transected the land between the cypress swamp and the river. Construction on the line appears to have begun on December 28, with work directed by the engineer, Lieutenant Henry Latrobe. Tatum described the operation:

This line... progressed with great rapidity and strength. A Demi Bastion on the right (at the Levey [sic]) raked the Canal in front of the Breast Works and played obliquely across the plane [sic], from the Embrazures in its base; and on the levey and obliquely over the plane from those in its face. Another battery was erected at the commencement of the swamp, at the distance of about 600 paces, which formed a cross fire with that on the Levy. A strong Bridge was thrown over the canal a few paces below the Demi Bastion by which it was protected, as also by another Battery errected [sic] on the lower works of the Mill, about 40 paces below the Bridge. The waters on this canal were from 5 to 6 feet deep, with a strong line of defense on its upper side. General Villery's [First Division, Louisiana Militia, soon after] occupied this line, and furnished the necessary Guards in, and along, the swamp for its security and protection. [23]

A British inspector later recorded that Line Dupré had "heavy artillery and a wet ditch... The construction of this line is good and has a banquette parapet revetted with planks." [24] The position was supported after January 1 by additional Louisiana troops. Finally, after January 4 the majority of Thomas's and Adair's unarmed Kentuckians were encamped some distance ahead of Line Dupré and behind Piernas Canal. A picket guard was established on a bayou approximately one-quarter mile to the Kentuckians' left; three other picket guards were stationed on the edge of the swamp in advance of the Kentucky troops and some distance to the left rear of Jackson's main line. Should the British succeed in breaching and carrying his works, the Americans would fall back to Line Dupré and regroup. [25]

About one and one-quarter miles behind Line Dupré stood yet a third line of intrenchments constructed between the swamp and the river. Line Montreuil was depicted thusly:

It is entirely different from the other two having a ditch of 12 feet broad and 6 feet cut expressly. It is well flanked. On the right is an inclined redoubt with its gorge palisaded. At 500 yards from the river is a flat bastion of brickwork for musketry only. The line continues from this to the wood. The redoubt on the right has a good command from being constructed upon the levee. The parapet on this line is in an unfinished state. [26]

Construction of Line Montreuil seems to have started after the January 1 battle; one source indicates that Jackson ordered its erection as early as December 26. [27] The line was never completed. [28] If it were needed, Line Montreuil would have constituted the final defensive bulwark against the British. Beyond that position New Orleans was guarded only by derelict Fort St. Charles and a new work raised across the Mississippi by Major Latour. The latter structure, also called a redoubt, was built from an existing brick kiln around which was dug a ditch 25 feet wide. Earth from the ditch formed a parapet, while the interior perimeter of the structure was strongly palisaded. Two 24-pounders served by a magazine were placed inside to command the river and the levee road. [29]

Since the December 23 night battle Jackson had also endeavored to improve his position on the right, or west, bank of the Mississippi across from his position at Rodriguez Canal. On the 25th General Morgan with troops from English Turn first assumed a post there, establishing a line on Raguet's Canal several hundred yards ahead of Jackson's line on the opposite bank. On January 4 Morgan began intrenching along the canal for 200 yards, but the right of the remaining mile or so of intervening terrain between the river and swamp was undefended except for the canal ditch and Morgan's militia. Near the river the line was fortified with a redoubt, bastion and a redan a short distance away toward the swamp. These structures were raised to house the small artillery complement of two 6-pounders and one 12-pounder. To reinforce Morgan, Jackson sent the First and Second Louisiana regiments. As on the east bank, there was a backup position, too. Three miles below the city at Boisgervais's Canal, between December 29 and January 4, a parapet and glacis was erected by slaves under Latour's direction for the entire length of the ditch. Line Boisgervais was about one-half mile below Line Dupré on the opposite bank and included redoubts on the levee, at the center, and, apparently, near the swamp. On the 29th Commander Patterson had erected his levee battery for two of Louisiana's 12-pounders and the next night added a 24-pounder. Two additional 24-pounders and a hotshot furnace were mounted behind the levee beginning December 31 but were never fired against the British. Yet more 12- and 24-pounders were added to the battery before January 6. Patterson's battery stood opposite Jackson's position on Rodriguez Canal and a short distance below. Manned by seamen and some of Morgan's militiamen, the guns in the levee works were successful in enfilading the British position on the east bank and hindered the soldiers in their own attempts to raise batteries. They also successfully destroyed with hotshot several more structures on the Bienvenue property during the evening of January 4. [30]

Morgan's line at Raguet Canal was eventually, on January 7, bolstered by about 200 Kentuckians who spread out between the end of the intrenchments and the swamp on the right. His inadequate protection of his right flank, together with Jackson's condoning of such a breach of common sense, suggests that Jackson hardly considered a British approach by that avenue until it was almost too late. Under this reasoning, the erection of batteries on that side was not to protect that route, but to guard against an enemy advance on the Rodriguez Canal position. [31]

By January 7 Jackson's position at Rodriguez Canal had been strengthened as much as two weeks of concentrated labor would permit. If the fortifications presented an element of sophistication through adherence to the tenets governing such construction, it probably occurred in the artillery batteries which had been laid out and supervised by engineer and artillery officers. The balance of the intrenchments were likely somewhat less than refined in the theoretical sense, giving credence to their historical image. Because of the great success of the defenses, wrote a battle participant, "this departure from the prescribed rules of field fortification in the construction of our lines may be excused...." [32]

Jackson's artillery, with the exception of the advanced redoubt on the right of the line, was situated basically the same as it had been on January 1. Battery No. 1 under Captain Humphreys still contained two 12-pounders and one howitzer; U. S. artillerymen served the guns while the howitzer was manned by members of Captain Henri de St. Geme's Company of Orleans Volunteers. No. 2 contained one 24-pounder mounted on a high platform and commanded by Lieutenant Norris; this unit was served by crew members of Carolina. Battery No. 3 held two 24-pounders, one manned by Baratarians under Captain Youx and the other likewise served by Baratarians under Captain Beluche. Battery No. 4 under Lieutenant Crawley contained the 32-pounder manned by Carolina crew members. No. 5 held either a 12-pounder and a 6-pounder, two 6-pounders, or a single 12-pounder under Captain Perry; regular U. S. artillery soldiers handled the pieces. Battery No. 6 was commanded by Brigadier General Garrigue Flaujeauc and consisted of one 18-pounder and one 6-pounder served by Captain Jean Hudry's company of Orleans Volunteers. Battery No. 7, under Lieutenant Spotts contained one piece, possibly a 24-pounder, while Battery No. 8 held a 9-1/2-inch howitzer and was commanded by Lieutenant Harrison of the artillery. Behind the right of Jackson's line was the 13-inch mortar under Captain Lefebvre, although it is not likely this weapon was used until after the battle of the 8th. [33] Including the two guns mounted in the advance redoubt on the right, the artillery complement presented to the British numbered fifteen or sixteen pieces. This armament was targeted in three groups, one on the levee road, one on the plain in front, and one on the edge of the swamp. [34]

Ammunition for the variety of weapons posed a problem for the Americans. For example, there was no round shot available for the 32-pounder, so that grape and scrap metal—"landidage"—had to be fired from it. Round shot for the 18- and 24-pounders was also scarce and the guns had to use grape. Canister was also used with a more distant effect than grape which tended to scatter more quickly on leaving the muzzle of the piece. [35]

Besides the artillery, hundreds of musket-armed troops also graced Jackson's line interspersed between the battery positions. At the extreme right were nearly 40 members of Beale's New Orleans volunteer company of riflemen. Between Batteries Nos. 1 and 3 stood about 440 members of the Seventh Infantry. From there to Battery No. 4 was Major Plauche's battalion of New Orleans uniform companies, 315 men strong, and Lacoste's battalion of Free Men of Color, 282 strong. Between Battery No. 4 and Battery No. 5 stood 180 men of Major Daquin's battalion of St. Domingo colored troops. Between Battery No. 5 and Battery No. 6 were 350 troops of the Forty-fourth Infantry under Captain Isaac L. Baker. All of the above forces comprised a division commanded by Colonel George T. Ross. From Battery No. 6 to the left side of the inverted redan stood Carroll's 800 Tennesseans supported by almost 700 Kentuckians under General Adair. Fifty-eight marines occupied the line near Battery No. 7. The balance of the intrenchment on the left and into the swamp was manned by about 550 of Coffee's militia plus 62 Choctaw Indians. Carroll was placed in overall command of the left two-thirds of the line. Some distance behind the line and the Macarty house were groups of cavalrymen of Ogden's and the Attakapas unit, as well as 250 Louisiana militia stationed at intervals back to Piernas Canal. Hinds's dragoons were posted on Delery's Plantation far to the rear, while a company of 52 regular dragoons supported the line. A line of sentinels guarded the rear approaches 400 yards behind the intrenchments, while, as before, a strong line of pickets remained 500 yards out in front. The total number of troops on Jackson's line, including 36 Baratarians and 78 regular light artillerymen in the batteries, amounted to about 3, 900 men. Those supporting the line in the rear numbered approximately 800. [36] The breakdown of Jackson's available strength on both sides of the Mississippi was as follows: [37]

In the Main Lines of Chalmette.
Regular Light Artillery78
Seventh U.S. Infantry436
Forty-fourth U. S. Infantry352
United States Marines58
Troop, First U. S. Dragoons52
Total Regulars
Louisiana Militia (Plauche 's Battalion)315
Louisiana Militia (Lacoste's Battalion)282
Beale's City Rifles36
Daquin's battalion of free negroes180
Total Louisiana Militia
Carroll's Tennessee Riflemen (11 co's.)806
Coffee's Tennessee Riflemen (9 co's.)546
Adair's Kentucky Riflemen (10 co's.)680
Total Riflemen
Baratarians (Artillery)36
Jugeat's Choctaws62

Grand total, front line

Hinds's Mississippi Mounted Rifles150
Ogden's Troop, First U.S. Dragoons50
Harrison's Battalion, Kentucky Militia306
Total in close reserve

On the right bank of the river.
Naval Battalion, Com. Patterson (Sailors from Louisiana and gun-boats)106
Kentucky Militia, Lieutenant Colonel John Davis320
Louisiana Militia, Major Paul Arnaud250
Detachments sent under General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert from left bank300
Total right bank






During the watch from the line half the troops usually stood by the parapet while the other half rested in the rear. On the evening of January 7, however, Jackson ordered all his men forward and they arranged themselves in ranks four deep, the first two ready to fire while the last two loaded muskets. [38] The soldiers were enjoined by their officers not to fire at the British until they could see the whites of their eyes. [39]

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Last Updated: 05-Sep-2004