James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

January 8

The Battle of New Orleans

By Thomas Dunn English (1819–1902)

  • The last battle of the war of 1812, which was fought Jan. 8, 1815, and which after all need not have been fought as a treaty of peace had already been signed. The battle was fought between the British (about 12,000) under Pakenham, who was killed in action, and the Americans (6,000) under Andrew Jackson. Owing to the Americans being sheltered by breastworks their loss consisted of 8 killed and 13 wounded, while the loss of the British was over 2,000.

  • HERE, in my rude log cabin,

    Few poorer men there be

    Among the mountain ranges

    Of Eastern Tennessee.

    My limbs are weak and shrunken,

    White hairs upon my brow,

    My dog—lie still old fellow!—

    My sole companion now.

    Yet I, when young and lusty,

    Have gone through stirring scenes,

    For I went down with Carroll

    To fight at New Orleans.

    You say you’d like to hear me

    The stirring story tell,

    Of those who stood the battle

    And those who fighting fell.

    Short work to count our losses—

    We stood and dropped the foe

    An easily as by firelight

    Men shoot the buck or doe.

    And while they fell by hundreds

    Upon the bloody plain,

    Of us, fourteen were wounded

    And only eight were slain.

    The eighth of January,

    Before the break of day,

    Our raw and hasty levies

    Were brought into array.

    No cotton-bales before us—

    Some fool that falsehood told;

    Before us was an earthwork

    Built from the swampy mould.

    And there we stood in silence,

    And waited with a frown,

    To greet with bloody welcome

    The bull-dogs of the Crown.

    The heavy fog of morning

    Still hid the plain from sight,

    When came a thread of scarlet

    Marked faintly in the white.

    We fired a single cannon,

    And as its thunders rolled,

    The mist before us lifted

    In many a heavy fold—

    The mist before us lifted

    And in their bravery fine

    Came rushing to their ruin

    The fearless British line.

    Then from our waiting cannon

    Leaped forth the deadly flame,

    To meet the advancing columns

    That swift and steady came.

    The thirty-twos of Crowley

    And Bluchi’s twenty-four

    To Spotts’s eighteen-pounders

    Responded with their roar,

    Sending the grape-shot deadly

    That marked its pathway plain,

    And paved the road it travelled

    With corpses of the slain.

    Our rifles firmly grasping,

    And heedless of the din,

    We stood in silence waiting

    For orders to begin.

    Our fingers on the triggers,

    Our hearts, with anger stirred,

    Grew still more fierce and eager

    As Jackson’s voice was heard:

    “Stand steady! Waste no powder!

    Wait till your shots will tell!

    To-day the work you finish—

    See that you do it well!”

    Their columns drawing nearer,

    We felt our patience tire,

    When came the voice of Carroll,

    Distinct and measured, “Fire!”

    Oh! then you should have marked us

    Our volleys on them pour—

    Have heard our joyous rifles

    Ring sharply through the roar,

    And seen their foremost columns

    Melt hastily away

    As snow in mountain gorges

    Before the floods of May.

    They soon re-formed their columns,

    And, mid the fatal rain

    We never ceased to hurtle,

    Came to their work again.

    The Forty-fourth is with them,

    That first its laurels won

    With stout old Abercrombie

    Beneath an eastern sun.

    It rushes to the battle,

    And, though within the rear

    Its leader is a laggard,

    It shows no signs of fear.

    It did not need its colonel,

    For soon there came instead

    An eagle-eyed commander,

    And on its march he led.

    ’Twas Pakenham in person,

    The leader of the field;

    I knew it by the cheering

    That loudly round him pealed;

    And by his quick, sharp movement

    We felt his heart was stirred,

    As when at Salamanca

    He led the fighting Third.

    I raised my rifle quickly,

    I sighted at his breast,

    God save the gallant leader

    And take him to his rest!

    I did not draw the trigger,

    I could not for my life.

    So calm he sat his charger

    Amid the deadly strife,

    That in my fiercest moment

    A prayer arose from me—

    God save that gallant leader,

    Our foeman though he be!

    Sir Edward’s charger staggers;

    He leaps at once to ground.

    And ere the beast falls bleeding

    Another horse is found.

    His right arm falls—’tis wounded;

    He waves on high his left;

    In vain he leads the movement,

    The ranks in twain are cleft.

    The men in scarlet waver

    Before the men in brown,

    And fly in utter panic—

    The soldiers of the Crown!

    I thought the work was over,

    But nearer shouts were heard,

    And came, with Gibbs to head it,

    The gallant Ninety-third.

    Then Pakenham, exulting,

    With proud and joyous glance,

    Cried, “Children of the tartan—

    Bold Highlanders—advance!

    Advance to scale the breastworks,

    And drive them from their hold,

    And show the stainless courage

    That marked your sires of old!”

    His voice as yet was ringing,

    When, quick as light, there came

    The roaring of a cannon,

    And earth seemed all aflame.

    Who causes thus the thunder

    The doom of men to speak?

    It is the Baratarian,

    The fearless Dominique.

    Down through the marshalled Scotsmen

    The step of death is heard,

    And by the fierce tornado

    Falls half the Ninety-third.

    The smoke passed slowly upward,

    And, as it soared on high,

    I saw the brave commander

    In dying anguish lie.

    They bear him from the battle

    Who never fled the foe;

    Unmoved by death around them

    His bearers softly go.

    In vain their care, so gentle,

    Fades earth and all its scenes;

    The man of Salamanca

    Lies dead at New Orleans.

    But where were his lieutenants?

    Had they in terror fled?

    No! Keane was sorely wounded

    And Gibbs as good as dead.

    Brave Wilkinson commanding,

    A major of brigade,

    The shattered force to rally

    A final effort made.

    He led it up our ramparts,

    Small glory did he gain—

    Our captives some; some slaughtered,

    And he himself was slain.

    The stormers had retreated,

    The bloody work was o’er;

    The feet of the invaders

    Were soon to leave our shore.

    We rested on our rifles

    And talked about the fight,

    When came a sudden murmur

    Like fire from left to right;

    We turned and saw our chieftain,

    And then, good friend of mine,

    You should have heard the cheering

    That rang along the line.

    For well our men remembered

    How little, when they came,

    Had they but native courage,

    And trust in Jackson’s name;

    How through the day he labored,

    How kept the vigils still,

    Till discipline controlled us—

    A stronger power than will;

    And how he hurled us at them

    Within the evening hour,

    That red night in December

    And made us feel our power.

    In answer to our shouting

    Fire lit his eye of grey;

    Erect, but thin and pallid,

    He passed upon his bay.

    Weak from the baffled fever,

    And shrunken in each limb,

    The swamps of Alabama

    Had done their work on him;

    But spite of that and fasting,

    And hours of sleepless care,

    The soul of Andrew Jackson

    Shone forth in glory there.