Of the Battle of New Orleans Left Unpublished
by Rev. William Calhoun Love, Who Died
in Fredonia in 1872.
Part 1 of 2
Through the courtesy of Rev. Dr. Thomas Shelby Love, a retired clergyman of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, the Sunday Post-Dispatch is enable to publish, for the first time, an account of the battle of New Orleans, together with a narrative of the experiences of the soldiers before and after the battle, written by a private soldier who fought in the ranks.
This soldier, then a boy, was Rev. William Calhoun Love, who died at his home in Fredonia, Ky., in 1872. He was a cousin of John C. Calhoun and a relative of Davy Crockett.
When he was 16 years old he ran away from his home in Caldwell county, Ky., and engaged as a substitute for a man who had been drafted into the army for the war of 1812. This was late in 1814, and the boy became one of the noted “Kentucky Riflemen,” who aided Gen. Andrew Jackson in whipping the British at New Orleans a little later.
Just before the civil war began, this veteran of the war of 1812, who had become a clergyman of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, wrote his autobiography, for the use of his descendants.
It is from the original manuscript of this autobiography, never published, that Dr. Love, of St. Louis, a son of the soldier, permits the Post-Dispatch to copy the interesting narrative.
As a matter of history, giving details and incidents which have been overlooked by the regular historians, the narrative is of value.
It was the first great battle in the territory of the Louisiana Purchase. It was perhaps the only great battle in all history which was fought when no war was in progress.
The battle of New Orleans was fought Jan. 8, 1815, 15 days after the treaty of Ghent, by which great Britain and the United States ended the conflict known as the War of 1812.
Had Marconi's wireless telegraph been in use, or even the ordinary telegraph cable, the battle would not have been fought and thousands of British soldiers would not have lost their lives.
Even if the present fast steamships had been crossing the ocean, the battle would not have been fought; but in those days a vessel required a month of more to cross the sea, and it was only by means of ships that the news of peace could be brought to America.
As a consequence, the commanders on both sides of the conflict, Gen. Andrew Jackson for the American forces and Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham for the British army, believing that the was was still in progress, placed their commands in a position to clash at New Orleans, the Briton on the aggressive and the American on the defensive.
The Americans built breastworks of cotton bales, and the British assaulted this stronghold with great vigor and gallantry. Thrice they charged the breastworks and thrice they were repulsed, with heavy losses.
The British loss is estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000 killed, wounded and taken prisoners.
The American loss in killed was only seven men, and the same number were wounded.
In the battle the “Kentucky riflemen” played a conspicuous part. Most of these soldiers were raw recruits or untrained militia. They knew how to use squirrel rifles, but they had not been accustomed to shooting at men—at any rate, men in large bodies.
On the other hand, the British soldiers who assailed them were seasoned veterans. Many of them had fought in the Peninsular campaigns under the Iron Duke, and later in the same year some of the survivors participated in the great battle of Waterloo.
These well trained and hardened soldiers, who had gained their experience in conflicts with Napoleon and other European commanders, marched against Old Hickory's Kentucky riflemen and few regular soldiers, expecting to win an easy victory.
History records their mistake. The story published for the first time, written by a boy who fought behind the cotton breastworks, supplements history in giving an account of one soldier's feelings and experiences under fire, and also a narrative of the experience of the recruits in their trip down the river to engage the enemy, their camp life in the Louisiana swamps, and the final breaking up of the victorious army and the home-coming of the soldiers.
The reader learns in this narrative by the late Rev. Calhoun Love, of Kentucky, whose son now resides in St. Louis, how the Kentucky recruits floated down the Ohio and the Mississippi in flatboats, and what they did for amusement on the long and tedious voyage.
Mr. Love wrote this nearly fifty years after the battle, and with an old man's memory for boyhood events he gave details of many incidents which met his view during the five months' campaign in which he participated.
The boy soldier, in his old age, admits without reserve that at certain periods of the battle he was badly scared. He tells later, without any boastfulness, how his courage came back to him.
In this he may be likened to the hero in “The Red Badge of Courage” by the late Stephen Crane—a hero who was frightened at the first fire, but became a madman in courage when the fighting grew hot. There is this difference, however—Mr. Crane's hero ran away to the rear; the Kentuckian stood his ground, though much worried because he lost his bayonet and was fearful lest the British should get over the breastworks.
The narrative, copied from the old manuscript is now in the possession of Rev. Dr. T. S. Love, of St. Louis, follows:
BY THE LATE REV. W. C. LOVE.
In the fall of 1814 there had been a draft for men to go to New Orleans and meet the British, for war had been going on between England and the United States since 1812.
As some of my companions were drafted, and Capt. John E. Dodds, a near neighbor, was going, I took the notion to go also. But all my pleading with my mother for permission to enlist proved fruitless. Finally the troops rendezvoused at Smithland, Ky.
I got mother's consent to take a trip boating, but no sooner was I out of her sight than I turned my pet colt, which I was riding, down to Smithland. There I substituted for John Crider, taking his place for $100, and the first news my mother heard from me was written on a ticket sewed in my colt's mane. The colt was turned loose and went back home.
My age at this time was 16 years and 8 months.
We had a boisterous trip down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, some forty or more flatboats running against one another. My boat was called “The Barn”—a very large old salt boat covered with slabs like a house and steered by an oar inside. In wind she went whither she listed. She often would jamb up other boats, and they were all afraid of her.
We had a merry time. There were three regiments, more than 2,000 men, in the boats—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth, what was called the Kentucky detachment of militia, commanded by Gen. Thomas.
I belonged to the Fourteenth regiment, commanded by Col. Parker, an old granny. Harris was our major, and John C. Dodds my captain—a brave and valiant officer.
We had many mock battles on our way down, where we would land at night, in the popping of large cane on the banks of the river. I recollect one morning in particular; we had landed opposite to what is now Cairo, Ill.
Many of the soldiers, myself among them, built fires and we spread blankets and slept in the canebrake. In the morning, when the signal was given by trumpet to make ready for starting, we all cut loads of big cane, and at the second trumpet we threw them on the fires and ran to our boats. Just as we loosed cable they began to pop, and the soldiers began to yell—like the Rebels in the late war.
Many of the boats that were above, came opposite the fires just as the cane got into a good way of popping. We gained a splendid victory without the loss of one man.
We landed frequently, and when I first got among the French and heard them talk, I thought I had gotten out of the world. We went ashore one night, near a rail pen full of corn, and before a guard could be detailed a fourth of the corn was carried off. I got my share, and had hominy and parched corn for several days.
After a tedious trip, on Jan. 4, 1815, we landed four miles below the city of New Orleans. As we passed the city, the cannon were booming below, and smoke was arising in black curls until the heavens seemed to be darkened.
So intent was I looking at the smoke and listening to the belching of the big guns, and supposing that a battle was raging, that all I could recollect seeing of the city as we passed was the shipping, close by which we ran. The fact is, I was not conscious that I looked at the city at all.
We had no sooner landed than our camp was laid off in a four square, the river making one side, our regiment formed a parallel with the river. Six or seven feet of space was allowed for each mess, with two feet between.
Our old boat was soon knocked to pieces and distributed, and carried to our camps. By this time it was night.
Shortly after dark their came a courier from headquarters, two miles below, calling for volunteers to drive the British from a mud breastworks which they had been throwing up the night before New Year's, and from which they were annoying our army.
Our officers buckled on their swords, paraded their men by companies and requested all who would go to step two paces in front. A goodly number from my company stepped out, myself among them. There were several, however, who did not. These I recollected a long time, but now I have forgotten their names.
We marched onto the levee beside the river, and, as there were not volunteers enough for all the captains to get commands, our captain, Dodds, was cut out, on account, I suppose, of his seniority. He went back, and many of his men with him; but I concluded as I had started, that I would go on and attach myself to Capt. Allene McCain's company. He was a lawyer and much of a gentleman. Afterward he represented this district in Congress.
We lay there until midnight, and when we drew our arms we were marched down two miles to the breastworks(where the battle was fought on the 8th), and there stood guard until 10 o'clock in the morning.
The next night we were all ordered down to stand guard and in the morning I was so tired and sleepy and hungry that I did sincerely wish to see the British coming. This was the only time that I felt like I could fight. I had strong fears for myself.
On the 7th, in the evening, we moved and pitched our camps—as yet we had no tents—200 yards in the rear of the Tennesseans at the breastworks and while we were measuring off our ground, I raised my head to look and saw for the first time one of the enemy's Congreve skyrockets (Congreve invented it) sailing over my head and alighting in the swamp.
We were then paraded—and here comes one about head-high, in a blaze. It broke our lines and tremendously scared our artillery horses. It struck the ground and skated along for a distance then arose and turned a different course.
It was now dark. We were all ordered to the breastworks and there stood guard until everything seemed to be quiet, when we were sent back to our camps, but we were frequently paraded during the night.
Every three guns fired on picket guard meant an alarm. Finally, just as the light was appearing on the morning of the 8th, some twenty or thirty guns were heard on the front—the enemy trying to drive in our pickets.
These shots were real fighting. All the others during the night had been shams, ordered by our own commander for the wise purpose of inuring us to danger.
Now all felt assured that the hour had come. The long roll of the enemy was beaten—”Parade, Parade!” The reveille had been beaten two hours before, at which time, the British prisoners said afterward, the enemy started.
We were all marched to the breastworks, which were about four and a half feet high, and formed in the rear of the Tennesseans. They were two deep.
I was in the front rank of the Kentuckians, and third man from the breastworks. We were but four deep at this point, some half-mile from the river—our right and near the edge of the swamp.
We had hardly formed a line when our front guard came running in, crying out, “Success,” our watchword.
There was a crossing place to the ditch in front of our breastworks nearby. The pickets said the British were coming.
I must confess that right here I was scared. The hair on my head seemed to stand up. But this feeling all subsided as soon as the battle commenced.
One of the soldiers in front of me said to the guard:
“I don't see them.”
The guard replied:
“Look low down.”
I bowed to level with the breastworks, and looked under the fog that was rising, and just as I beheld them, their white pants, read coats and black gaiters, like a cloud arising, they blew the charge.
They had a speaking trumpet made of tin that wound around like a ram's horn, and perhaps if straightened would measure ten feet. With this they could give any signal—go forward, stand still or retreat.
They blew and it seemed to me that no man could speak more plainly:
“Charge! Charge! Charge!”
I heard it very distinctly, three times, when the sound was drowned by the awfullest yells that I ever heard or ever want to hear again.
Imagine to yourself 10,000 men, at the top of their voices, all at one time, shouting and yelling, and here they come, while everything was still on our lines, not a whisper, only the word of command from the right:
“Don't shoot, pass it on.”
This and its counter word “cease firing” were the only word of command given.
But, hark! Listen to the big-mouthed cannon from both sides opening. The enemy had charged in two divisions, and had left an open space in the center, where their reserves were drawn up and where their commander-in-chief, Pakenham, was, and where they had placed their artillery to play upon our center, supposing that all our reinforcements were at the center.
Deluded commander! If he had been told that all our men who could get arms were at the breastworks, and but four deep, and raw troops at that, what would have been his expectation!
Well, the battle commenced now in fury and in earnest. The small arms commenced, notwithstanding the command “don't fire” and in a few moments the breastworks were, or seemed to be, in a flame of fire as far as the eye could see.
My bayonet was loose on the muzzle of my gun, and it jumped off about the third shot. I was anxious to recover it for I looked every minute for the enemy to be on top of our breastworks. I stepped in between the soldiers in my front and looked and felt for it. I remember looking to my right and left, and the top of the breastworks seemed to be a sheet of fire.
I failed, however, in my recovering my bayonet until the battle was over; but by this time all the front rank of the enemy, those who had been detailed to carry the scaling ladders and facines (bunches of sugar cane) to fill the ditch, had been cut down. They staggered and fell back a short distance, but soon rallied again and halted within sixty yards of us, where they stood and fired, and so exact were their movements that one could see none of the fallen until they retreated, finally, which they did in less that an hour from the time they blew the charge.
(Continued Next Week.)
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