Of the Battle of New Orleans Left Unpublished
by Rev. William Calhoun Love, Who Died
in Fredonia in 1872.
Part 2 of 2
After they retreated, it seemed to me that half of them were lying upon the ground. In some places the fallen lay thick. After our firing had ceased—and it did not cease until the retreating enemy was far beyond musket shot—many of them got up and came in unhurt, as deserters.
Some got up and commenced turning the dead and wounded about, and plundering, then ran off. There were two in front of where I was who were plundering and turning the dead about. We supposed they were looking for friends. We hallooed to them to come in. They would raise their heads and look at us and plunder on.
At last they raised up and started off on a run. I suppose there were 20 guns fired at them. At the crack of the guns they pitched over on their faces.
After things quieted a little, several of us ran over into the battleground and got guns, while the dirt and clover were flying all from many of the enemy back in the ditches, shooting at us with their little guns, about two feet long, with rising sights.
I got two muskets. I thought of nothing else, as we had many men inactive from want of guns. One of the guns I pulled from under a fallen Briton, and he exclaimed in language which I never understood until I was made a master Mason many years later.
I had no sooner gotten back to our lines than the battle commenced across the river. I stood and listened until the firing ceased, and a few minutes thereafter came an order from Old Hickory (Jackson) for the Kentucky troops to reinforce, for our men had given way.
I gave one of my captured guns to Jake Bird, who had burst his gun close by me during the battle. The other I kept.
I had set down the musket I drew for the engagement, when I crossed into the battleground and some villain stole her, and I never saw her, to know her, any more.
We all started, in double quick, six miles up into town to get boats to cross in. Most of the way up the shore was crowded with the citizens who had come out to the bank of the river, some being undressed, as they jumped up from bed when the battle commenced. Many of them had their arms full of bread and some had cartridges, and they were hallooing:
“Hurrah for Kentuck! Hurrah for Kentuck! Good! Never die!”
I got a couple of loaves of bread; for, mind you, we had eaten nothing since dinner yesterday.
I gave one of my loaves of bread to my captain and kept the other.
We were ordered to shoot off our guns. The Briton gun which I had was loaded when I got it, and the pan open; she had either flashed or the owner had forgotten to prime.
I handed her to a man, who shot her off. He put her up to his shoulder. The British brings his gun only to the hip, and levels her. My comrade put her to his shoulder and took sight and, when then fired, he was nearly whirled round.
Our company got an old keel boat with only two small oars and, knowing the swiftness of the stream, I fully expected that we would land below the enemy, who were coming up, as I thought—seeing many coming up—on the other side of the river.
We were ordered to load our guns and, seeing the chances, as I thought against us, I couldn't eat my bread. I offered it to several around me, but they all shook their heads.
I loaded my gun and stood in silence till we got over. We then marched down the levee, through the rain, and, when the rain ceased, we were ordered again to shoot off our guns. Mine failed to fire—did nothing but flash.
I borrowed a hatchet from a comrade and sat down in the mud to unbreech her, and while I was at this work the order came to march. I picked up the barrel in one hand and the stock in the other, and on I went, until we called a halt to see how many soldiers we could gather up that had run.
I got some help and in getting the breechpin out the load fell out. I could not tell for certain, but I have ever been of the opinion that I had loaded her with the cartridge wrong end down, which explained her failure to go off.
While waiting for reinforcements to cross (as we could not gather 100 that had been in the battle on the west side of the river, they having scattered into the swamps like so many wild turkeys). I started out amongst the orange groves and came across, hidden in a ditch, a considerable amount of household plunder.
I was interested in nothing but a nice new tin bucket, with a lid, that would hold about three quarts. I needed just such a bucket, and hooked it.
We lay all night in a ditch and, on Monday morning, we received a new reinforcement, and formed in three divisions and marched down, determined to retake our breastworks, but before the reinforcement crossed over, or rather on Sunday evening, a large sugar house was discovered by some of our boys, about half way between us and the enemy.
Several of our party went down and brought up loads of sugar. It was said at first that the British were run out of the sugar house.
All got what they could eat and their pockets full. Besides, I filled my little tin bucket and carried it back to our camps on the east side of the river.
One division marched down on the river, one in the center and one in the edge of the swamp. I was in the center division. All was as silent as death—not a word spoken except by an officer, and that was: “Keep dressed!”
The soldiers all looked, and not doubt felt, as solemn as death. I know that I did. The most of us supposed that we might want our handkerchiefs for bandages, and we poured out our sugar on the ground. You could see piles of it as we marched along.
Down the river some distance there was a mill run dug out from the river to the swamp and the dirt thrown out on the side some four feet high. This obscured our sight below.
I expected as soon as we crossed to hear the enemy's cannon open upon us, but to our great joy we there met our scouts, who informed us that the British had fled and recrossed the river.
No sooner did we get this information than the heavens were seemingly rent with shouts.
We were now marched back and recrossed the river and dismissed, and were told to occupy our old camps. I was so sore and stiff from the race the day before that it was with considerable difficulty that I reached the camp.
When we got there all our provisions had been stolen, and it was now night and nothing to eat. Next morning we drew provisions, but before we could cook any it commenced raining and poured in floods, until the ground was more than a foot deep in water running off toward the swamp like a mill race.
Just at night on Tuesday we got high ground enough to kindle a fire and cook some—the first we had eaten since dinner on Saturday.
I can't say that I suffered as many did. I suppose who had eaten the sugar and were feeling sick.
My messmates found an old cart in the swamp. We carried the body and turned it upside down, and there was room for three of us to sleep on it at at time.
The dead were all carried off and buried when we got back. The number of British soldiers killed, wounded and taken prisoners has been variously estimated. Perhaps 3,000, or less, would be near the number.
Our loss on both sides of the river was perhaps less than 100.
Gen. Gibbs commanded the right of the enemy, and fell nearly opposite to where I fought, at the head is his division, not more than 70 yards from our lines. His horse also was killed. It was a bay horse, and I thought it the finest I ever saw.
I merely mention this incident to show that a man can be brave and yet on the side of the aggressor—the wrong side—and if this be so, which we must all admit, how much more brave is he who is conscious that he is right, and how true the Shakespearean sentiment:
“Thrice armed is he that hath his quarrel just!”
Gen. Pakenham was killed at the head of his reserve, a quarter of a mile from our lines.
Both armies remained in sight of each other for some ten days, and kept up cannonading each other. I have stood and watched many an hour, and when I would see the flash at night and the round curling smoke in the day, I would fall down upon the ground until I heard the report, for the ball came quicker than the sound.
On the 18th of the month (January) an exchange of prisoners was effected. I watched this maneuver with great interest. It took place in the open field before us. There was first the sound of the trumpets, then a flag from each camp went out, with the respective officers behind each flag.
The flags struck down about a hundred yards apart. Then an officer from each side advanced on horseback, meeting each other and passing, and turning, each with his face toward his own flag, they met, bowed and shook hands, exchanged papers in an instant, put spurs to their horses and retired behind their flags to headquarters. This was performed a time or two, and the prisoners marched out and were taken in charge by their own officers and marched into their respective camps.
A few nights before the exchange I went to sleep on the same ground while on picket guard. I had been sent out that night under a captain of the regular army, and he refused to let his men sleep at the guard fire.
When mounted the third time I got so sleepy, a little before day, that it seemed impossible to keep my eyes open. I put tobacco juice in them and walked backward and forward on the line as far as I dared to walk.
I found myself going to sleep while walking, and thus staggering out of the line, where I was in danger of being shot by my own men. I went back to my post, hugged up my gun, with my blanket around me, and lay down, with my head on a bunch of sugar cane, which the enemy had tied up to use in filling our ditch. I was determined that no one could get my gun without awakening me. No sooner was I down than I was fast asleep.
But Providence interposed. I woke up a few moments before relief came.
On the 19th of the month volunteers were called for to go down to the lake to annoy the British, who had retreated the night before.
I volunteered, and was paraded early in the day, but things not being ready we were ordered to stack our arms on the parade ground and await further orders.
I drew the sugar that I had brought from over the river and made some sweetened water and, while I was eating, I took sick to my stomach. When the company started in the evening I felt too sick to go, and I got worse every hour. For three days and nights I thought I should die. I couldn't eat a bite of anything and wanted nothing but cold water. I sent for the doctor, old Mr. Pentacost. He came and threw back the tent door—for we had drawn our tents a few days before—and asked me what was the matter. I told him I didn't know, but I was very sick.
He brought out a big oath and swore that it was nothing but the measles. He said for me to drink nothing cold, but plentifully of warm drinks, and I would be well in a few days, and away he went.
I quit cold water and drank plentifully of warm drinks, and the next morning I was broken out in red pimples with the French measles from head to foot.
I was about the first man in camp to take the measles, and I had never heard of it until I had it.
After I got home I met the old doctor in Princeton, Ky., and when taking his cup he would call me up to him and tell the company how he saved my life without medicine.
The truth is, I felt much better after I learned what was the matter. I got one of my messmates to roast me some Irish potatoes, and I ate two—all the food I had eaten in five days. I refused to go to the hospital, where many went and died.
Now, as I have spoken of mess and messmates I will state some of their names. A mess was six men who drew their provisions together, cooked and ate together and slept in the same tent, and had one fire.
John Neely, Alex B. Davidson (William Garner's wife's father) and Jacob Bird were three of my messmates, and as I did not like the other two I shall not name them.
After I got well I made frequent trips up to town. I knew my brother was on the way down with a flatboat of produce, and I was almost dead for corn bread.
My ingenuity was often taxed to the full to get through the guard. We had removed our camp to within four miles of the city. Sometimes I could get a pass, but more frequently I would go without one, sometimes by wading the ditches and going five or six miles through the swamp.
I have slipped by the guard under the levee, between him and the river. One time I sauntered along and took the windward of the guard, while he was standing with his back to the wind—for I have felt as cold wind here there in Kentucky. When I got up close behind him I broke into a run. He hallooed for me to stop. I kept on. He swore he would load his gun for the next challenge.
To my great relief my brother never came until I had left. He got detained on the river.
The news of peace came, and all our thoughts were turned on home. I got a furlough and left on the morning of the 16th of March, in company with young Jim Wadlington, Alex. Dun and several others. I wished to stop at my sister's Polly Sherby's and then come home through the nation with the army. My comrades all turned off one by one to see their friends and I had to travel alone.
Soon, however, I fell in with other soldiers on furlough who lived in Mississippi, but I soon left them in consequence of their stealing a tin cup where we stayed all night.
I got to my sister's, near the Grindstone ford of the Bay Apier, and stayed there some ten day until the army came up. I there joined them again and came with them to Covert's Ferry on the Tennessee river.
There a good many of us took passage on the top of a flatboat and come down the Tennessee river and got out not far from where Birmingham now is.
Our company grew less every few miles by the men turning off to their homes, until I was left alone again. I made my way home by myself until in the neighborhood, where some of my old neighbors, who were glad to see me, fell in and accompanied me home, where I met my mother and all the family at the gate—and such joy I had never experienced before.
I think that was about the 24 of April. I had been gone about five months, and my age was now 17 years and 1 month.
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