By the Rev. George Hill.
[From Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 2nd Series, Vol. III, No. 4, July 1897]
IN vol. iii., page 167, of the Ulster Journal, a correspondent stated that William M'Kinley, in obtaining the Presidency of the United States, has achieved the highest distinction ever yet enjoyed there by any man of the Ulster race. Surely, however, there is at least one splendid exception in the case of General Jackson, who twice won the same position, and under exceptionally difficult circumstances. M'Kinley is an American born, and so also were his father and grandfather before him; but Jackson's birth occurred only a short time after his parents had crossed the Atlantic from Carrickfergus, and just when the colonies were beginning to heave under the throes of the mighty struggle for Independence. Although born and brought up in circumstances of pitiable poverty and obscurity, Jackson soon rose into distinction through the various stages of his stormy but brilliant career as judge, senator, general, and president. From his boyhood until the day of his death - from his first battle at Hanging Rock, where General Sumpter fought the British forces in 1780, until Jackson himself inflicted the final defeat at New Orleans in 1815 - he was always a leader amidst the very bravest of his soldiers, always prepared to defy the arrogant and defend the weak. "Among the patriots," says Bancroft, "who were present in this fight (Hanging Rock) was Andrew Jackson, an orphan boy of Scotch-Irish descent, whom hatred of oppression and love of country impelled to deeds beyond his years." The crowning victory of Jackson at New Orleans was assuredly one of the greatest military triumphs on record. The vast English armament that landed there with the avowed and most determined purpose of abolishing the Union, then just come to be known as the United States, included Wellington's veterans fresh from their triumphs in Spain and the South of France. They were commanded by Sir Edward Pakenham, one of the bravest and most trusted of British generals. He knew that the troops he was about to encounter were made up of comparatively raw and undisciplined levies drawn hastily from various districts in the States, and he could not conceive how such "an American horde" could fight his own men, who had never been beaten in any Continental battle, and more especially as that horde of American militia was commanded by a person whose name was unknown to the military circles of Europe.
But these sentiments were soon considerably modified in consequence of a memorable night attack made by the comparably small American forces from behind their earthworks. This night attack, led by Jackson, has been described by British authorities themselves as being about the boldest blow ever struck against an enemy under the circumstances. In the battle which quickly followed, Jackson's riflemen still farther and still more terribly dissipated the belief of the British soldiers as to their own unconquerable superiority. The battle of New Orleans, although so decisive and far-reaching in its results, did not last more than about half-an-hour. In this very brief period the immense and splendidly-equipped English army was put to flight, leaving 700 of its best men, including Sir Edward Pakenham and many of his bravest officers, dead on the field, 1,400 wounded, and 500 who contrived to get themselves captured by a subterfuge of their own devising. This subterfuge is explained by Jackson in the following curious reference to the scene, as it appeared to him:- "I never had so grand and awful an idea of the resurrection as on that day. After the smoke of the battle had cleared off somewhat, I saw in the distance more than 500 Britons emerging from the heaps of their dead comrades, rising up all over the plain, and still more distinctly visible as the field became clearer, coming forward and surrendering as prisoners of war to our soldiers. They had fallen at our first fire upon them, without having received so much as a scratch, and lay prostrate as if dead until the close of the action."
William Cobbett, who was himself a brave English soldier, speaks of Andrew Jackson as "the greatest and bravest man now (1834) living in this world, or who has ever lived in this world, as far as my knowledge extends."
General Sir Edward Pakenham.
Among the family relics treasured at Langford Lodge are the uniform and accoutrements worn by Sir Edward Pakenham at the time of his death. Sir Edward was born in the year 1779, and lived during much of his boyhood and youth "on Lough Neagh's banks." After entering the army, his name soon became honourably known for signal services on "the blood-red fields of Spain." Through all his dangerous career there he escaped comparatively unhurt, and was doomed at last to fall when gallantly endeavouring to urge his men against General Jackson's earthworks near New Orleans. He had been sent there as chief in command of British troops, destined, it was supposed in England, to do wondrous work in the New World. And, undoubtedly, the vast extent and enormous expense of the general outfit on that occasion were enough to justify these high hopes.
The fleet thus employed consisted of no fewer than forty-eight armed ships of war, together with many transports and vessels carrying bombs. Admiral Cochrane was chief in command of the fleet, and all the naval officers under him were seamen who had previously become renowned for their great bravery and experience. Among them was Sir Thomas Hardy, who had commanded the Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. This fleet was manned by ten thousand sailors and marines, and had on board ten thousand troops, principally selected from the best regiments in the British army, and all thoroughly disciplined soldiers. The programme of this great expedition's contemplated operations may be described in a few words. After the capture of New Orleans, it was to ascend the Mississippi, restoring the regions along both banks to British authority until it eventually met a co-operating British expedition sent from Canada, and the two armies, when thus united, were to hold the entire western portion of the country in subjection to the British Crown.
Among these twenty thousand trained warriors there was not perhaps one man who had any doubts as to the immediate and complete success of the expedition. The English Cabinet shared deeply in this hope of certain and great triumph over the Americans, and had even already appointed several favourites to fill civil offices throughout the magnificent province of Louisiana. But they were thus reckoning altogether without their host; and very soon after the rank and file had reached New Orleans, towards the close of November, 1814, they found, with great surprise and even dismay, that the enemy could use their cannon with as terrible precision as their rifles. When General Jackson heard of the actual arrival of the British army, he exclaimed, "By the Eternal, they must have no rest on our soil," and, by way of executing this threat, he ordered the terrific night attack which has often had historical mention; but the incidents connected therewith can never be accurately known, as the affair was fought in thick darkness. When General Pakenham afterwards arrived, on the 24 December, he found his men disheartened, but endeavouring to raise breastworks, although it was generally felt that the army had taken up an injudicious position, and many of its officers believed that the mistake could not be rectified. General Pakenham's first important move was made for the twofold purpose of exactly ascertaining the position of the Americans, and also, as he expressed it, of testing their fighting powers. Both these objects required the presence of a large British force, and accordingly he marched his army forward in two columns under all the pomp and circumstance of glorious war - in other words, with banners flying and drums discoursing their most thunderous military music. But the moment they came within range, the American artillery and rifles began the deadly work; and British officers have stated that scarcely one cannon ball was launched too high or too low, but struck into the midst of their ranks with terrible effect. They had expected to sleep in New Orleans that night - the 28 November - "but before noon," says one of the number, "all thought of attacking was for this day abandoned, and it now only remained to withdraw the troops from their present perilous position with as little loss as possible, the cannon balls knocking down the soldiers and tossing them into the air like old bags."
Sir Edward Pakenham thus quickly, but rather unpleasantly, acquired the knowledge he had so eagerly sought - in other words, he soon discovered that Jackson had taken up a strong position, and that his men, though not numerous, nor very showily dressed, were able to handle their various death-dealing weapons with great energy and skill. The English general then held a council of war, at which it was promptly arranged to attack Jackson's breastworks again without delay, and with large additions of men and cannon from the fleet. This second attack was made on Sunday, the first day of January, 1815, and turned out to be a more disastrous affair for the assailants than even their former very severe repulse. During this second assault, fifty pieces of artillery of large calibre rained a terrific fire on the British ranks, whilst the American rifles performed their part in the deadly work with terrible vigour and precision.
"About noon, when the smoke slowly rolled away from the plain, it was observed that, whilst no serious impression had been made upon the American fortifications, the six batteries of the British, which had presented such a formidable appearance in the morning, were almost level with the earth. The guns were all overthrown. The sailors who had manned them were seen running to the rear, and all over the plain the British soldiers had again taken refuge behind ditches, huts, and heaps of stubble."
The following week was spent on both sides in active preparations for the final conflict. Jackson was under the impression that Pakenham knew his work better than to march up a third time on the same track to certain defeat and destruction; but the latter had discovered one weak spot in the American fortifications, and, instead of making any flank movement, he determined by another great effort to beat the enemy from their breastworks. In the meantime, however, Jackson had also found out the weak place in his own works, and early on the morning of the battle General Adair, with one thousand Kentucky riflemen, took his stand just behind that portion of the earthworks which a deserter had correctly informed Pakenham was the weakest point in the American position. Jackson was present there awaiting the arrival of the Kentuckians, among whom he walked, saying very quietly as he went - "Don't waste your ammunition. See that every shot tells. Let us finish the business to-day." And that day - Sunday, Jan. 8, 1815 - the "business" was done in a very short time indeed. As soon as the morning mists cleared away, and showed the whole plain covered by advancing British troops, the American bands struck up "Yankee Doodle," and the soldiers, who had absolute faith in their commander, welcomed the coming struggle silently, but with grim exultation. On came the dense columns of British, marching right on what they supposed to be the vulnerable point already mentioned; but when they came nearer, the huge cannon balls cut great lanes amongst them, tossing many into the air, and hurling them right and left. But the columns still steadily advanced with the greatest bravery until they came within range of the riflemen of Kentucky and Tennessee, who were massed at the very spot where Pakenham was bent on making the first assault. There were four lines of riflemen, one behind the other, and the discharge from their rifles is described as having been as steady, as continuous, and as destructive as it could have been from a row of accurately-pointed Gatling guns. Yet, during all this dreadful ordeal, the British columns continued gallantly to advance, until they came within sight of the yawning moat or canal which lay before the American fortifications, and whose great depth and width brought them at last to a sudden stand. Neither scaling-ladders nor fascines were forward in time, and what else could be done by the rank and file than save themselves as best they could? There were no means at hand of getting over the canal, and none of scaling the earthworks beyond it. Almost every mounted officer had fallen; at least, seven hundred men had been already slain, and more than half of the remainder wounded. The whole of the great British army then suddenly broke, the men running headlong from the front, despite the orders and threats of their officers. Sir Edward Pakenham rode amongst them, shouting, "For shame! Recollect that you are British soldiers! This is the road you ought to take," pointing to Jackson's breastworks. He then took off his hat and rode straight into the most dangerous spot on the field. He was soon shot down and carried to the rear, expiring under an oak tree, which is still, we have been told, standing there, and known by his name. In less than a week the British had all departed in their ships, leaving a large number of wounded, too ill to be removed, who were tenderly treated by the Yankee soldiers, and by several private families in New Orleans.
All this dreadful slaughter at New Orleans was going on at least fifteen days after the peace between Great Britain and the United States had been duly concluded at Ghent! Why did not the English Cabinet wait to see the result of preliminary negotiations before incurring the ignominious loss of so many men and so much treasure?