The Battle of New Orleans, Wintry rains
The following data is extracted from The Creoles of Louisiana.
Wintry rains had retarded everything in the British camp, but at length Lanibert's division carne up, Packenham took command, and plans were perfected for the final attack. A narrow continuation of the canal by which the English had come up through the swamp to its head at the rear of Villere's plantation was dug, so that their boats could be floated up to the river front close under the back of the levee, and then dragged over its top and launched into the river. The squalid negresses that fish for crawfish along its rank, flowery banks still call it, "Cannal Packin'am." All night of the 7th of January there came to the alert ears of the Americans across the intervening plain a noise of getting boats through this narrow passage. It was evident that the decisive battle was impending. Packenham's intention was to throw a considerable part of his force across the river to attack the effective marine battery abreast of the American line, erected there by Commodore Paterson, while he, on the hither shore, unembarrassed by its fire on his flank, should fall furiously upon Jackson's main line, in three perpendicular columns.
But the river had fallen. Colonel Thornton, who was to lead the movement on the farther bank, was long getting his boats across the levee. The current, too, was far swifter than it had seemed. Eight priceless hours slipped away and only a third of the intended force crossed.
A little before daybreak of the 8th, the British main force moved out of camp and spread across the plain, six thousand strong, the Americans in front, the river on their left, and the swamp-forest on their right. They had planned to begin at one signal the three attacks on the nearer and the one on the farther shore. The air was chilly and obscure. A mist was slowly clearing off from the wet and slippery; round. A dead silence reigned; but in that mist and silence their enemy was waiting for them. Presently day broke and rapidly brightened, the mist lifted a little and the red lines of the British were fitfully descried from the American works. Outside the levee the wide river and farther shore were quite hidden by the fog, which now and then floated hitherward over the land.
Packenham was listening for the attack of Colonel Thornton on the opposite bank, that was to relieve his main assault from the cross-fire of Paterson's marine battery. The sun rose; but he heard nothing. He waited till half-past seven; still there was no sound.
Meanwhile the Americans lay in their long trench, peering over their sorry breastworks, and wondering at the inaction. But at length Packenham could wait no longer. A British rocket went up near the swamp. It was the signal for attack. A single cannon-shot answered from the Americans, and the artillery on both sides opened with a frightful roar. On Jackson's extreme left, some black troops of the British force made a feint against the line in the swamp and were easily repulsed. On his right, near the river, the enemy charged in solid column, impetuously, upon a redoubt just in advance of the line. Twice only the redoubt could reply, and the British were over and inside and pressing on to scale the breastwork behind. Their brave and much-loved Colonel Rennie was leading them. But on the top of the works he fell dead with the hurrah on his lips, and they were driven back and out of the redoubt in confusion.
Meantime the main attack was being made in the open plain near the edge of the swamp. Some four hundred yards in front of the American works lay a ditch. Here the English formed in close column of about sixty men front. They should have laid off their heavy knapsacks, for they were loaded besides with big fascines of ripe sugar-cane for filling up the American ditch, and with scaling ladders. But with muskets, knapsacks and all, they gave three cheers and advanced. Before them went a shower of Congreve rockets. For a time they were partly covered by an arm of the forest and by the fog, but soon they emerged from both and moved steadily forward in perfect order, literally led to the slaughter in the brave old British way.
"Where are you going? " asked one English officer of another.
“I'll be hanged if I know.”
"Then," said the first, "you have got into what I call a good thing; a far-famed American battery is in front of you at a short range, and on the left of this spot is flanked, at eight hundred yards, by their batteries on the opposite side of the river."
"The first objects we saw, enclosed as it were in this little world of mist," says this eye-witness, "were the cannon-balls tearing up the ground and crossing one another, and bounding along like so many cricket-balls through the air, coming on our left flank from the American batteries on the right bank of the river, and also from their lines in front."
Source: The Creoles of Louisiana