The Dead Skunk

For Want of a Skunk (1)
  • “There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants.”
    -Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to U.S. Minister to France Robert R. Livingston, April 18, 1802

    December 23, 1814
    About 3:45 a.m.
    Bayou Mazant
    The moon was just about full, and after what seemed like days of dismal weather the sky was at last clear. But the trees, heavy with vines and Spanish moss, blocked out most of the heavens. The bayou, and the path that led from it, were a winding thread of dim gray light that ran through absolute darkness.

    Major General John Keane watched as his men disembarked. They moved in single file, walking carefully from one barge to the next until they set foot on the shore, then going down the path far enough to make room for their comrades. It would have been so much easier if only they could have risked a light, but everything depended on secrecy and surprise.

    He shivered. Even in winter, southern Louisiana had no business being this cold.

    And then the queue stopped moving. General Keane made his way forward, trying to keep his feet on firm ground. As he neared the front, he became aware of a horrible smell, like burning rotten eggs. He wasn’t the only one — all the soldiers up here were making faces and muttering their revulsion.

    The man at the head of the queue couldn’t have been more than eighteen. He was doubled over, holding his nose.

    “Lt. Gleig, 85th Regiment of Foot,” he said, barely getting the words out. His eyes were watering. He pointed to something in front of him. “Watch out, sir. There’s a skunk just up ahead.”

    Keane had heard of the animals, but never seen one. The white stripes down its back shone in the darkness. It stood its ground in front of the whole army, obviously with no fear of man. (And though it couldn’t know why, it was right — shooting it right now would give everything away.)

    Nonetheless, if this was the worst it could do, his men could endure it. Keane was about to order the army to defy the beast and keep walking, when something happened that made the matter moot. Something he couldn’t hear and almost couldn’t see swooped out of the sky, landed on the skunk and struck it in the back of the neck. The skunk squealed and struggled. Its enemy fought to stay on top, the pale underside of its wings flashing in the moonlight. Those wings were easily four feet wide. After about ten seconds, the beast fell insensible to the ground and the bird began to eat. Keane ordered the march to resume.

    The killer proved less trouble than its prey. When the soldiers walked close by, it hooted angrily at them and flew off into the night.

    * * *
    About 11:00 a.m.
    Near Villeré’s plantation
    Over seven sleepless hours later, General Keane now found himself looking at another dead animal in the woods. This one was a dog which had once belonged to Major Villeré of the Louisiana militia. They had captured him — on his own front porch, no less — and when he made a run for it, his dog had run innocently after him, barking the whole way. Then, somewhere behind a big live oak, it had stopped barking. Villeré had silenced it permanently.

    “In a couple of hours, the Yankees will know we’re here,” said Colonel William Thornton. “I recommend we strike now, sir. We’re not far from New Orleans — we can march there today.”

    “To face what exactly?” said Keane. “This Andrew Jackson has a fearsome reputation, and we don’t know how many men he has with him.”

    “Surely you can’t believe what the deserters are saying.” The few Americans Keane had caught were claiming Jackson had anywhere from fifteen to twenty thousand mean.

    “Cousin Jonathan can’t possibly have organized that many men and brought them out here so quickly,” Thornton continued. “And think about it — if Jackson was that certain of victory, why would anyone desert him in the first place?”

    “At present, we only have 1,800 men here ourselves.”

    “And so? The dirty-shirts can shoot as well as anyone, but they have no staying power — we saw that at Bladensburg. If we attack them before they’re ready, they’ll scatter like field mice.”

    Keane was about to point out that events went otherwise at Baltimore, but then he remembered that Baltimore was a well-defended city near the heart of American power, such as it was. New Orleans, to the Yankees, was more along the lines of a distant but valuable outpost.

    He found himself thinking of what he’d seen last night. The skunk, fearless with what seemed to be a perfect natural defense against other animals (poor Gleig still hadn’t had a chance to get himself cleaned up properly) had been surprised and killed by a sudden and unexpected attack from some sort of large owl.

    Keane was a cautious man by nature, and he certainly didn’t think of himself as the sort of man to see omens in the flights of birds… but it occurred to him that under certain circumstance, moving quickly and decisively was the best possible precaution. This might be a case where valor was the better part of discretion. In any event, if Jackson did have as big an army as the deserters were claiming, he could squash Keane’s little strike force flat, and he could do it as easily here as in New Orleans.

    And if not… the British force might just capture the city in one fell swoop.

    “Very well, Thornton,” said the general. “You’ve convinced me.” He turned to go, brushing a curtain of moss out of his way. “We march.”
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    For Want of a Skunk (2)
  • At least part of General Jackson’s dismal reputation stems from the fact that the people who remember him most vividly — the Creeks of Florida and the Creoles of Louisiana — suffered most from his actions. To them, he was a vicious yeoman and a treacherous butcher who treated his allies worse than his enemies. Yet his friends and Army rivals invariably describe him in their memoirs as a man of determination, great bravery, and, above all, intense personal honor…
    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812

    About 2:30 p.m.
    New Orleans

    Keane crouched behind the wall of the house. It wasn’t one of the fine houses of New Orleans — it was in fact little more than the average frontier shack — but it kept him well hidden from enemy fire. Those Yankee riflemen were too bloody good, and there were a dozen red-coated dead bodies around him to prove it.

    It was hard for him to believe that as savage as this battle was, he was winning. But Jackson couldn’t have had more than an hour’s worth of warning. Only an hour in which to get his field guns and soldiers into position in a city where the streets were clogged with civilians trying to flee.

    And luckily, the city was a nice, neat grid. If one street was blocked by a field-piece and sharpshooters firing from windows, another would do just as well. A good-sized chunk of Cousin Jonathan’s force was holed up in Fort Charles, at the southeastern tip of the city, and now effectively under siege.

    From somewhere around the corner came Colonel Thornton’s voice. “You can come out now, General!”

    Keane did. Thornton was standing fearlessly in the middle of the street amid drifting clouds of gunsmoke. The soldiers around him were triumphantly cleaning the blood off their bayonets.

    “The thing about rifles,” said the colonel smugly, “is that in a fight, they take rather a long time to reload.”

    “Well done, Colonel,” said Keane. “How goes the rest of the battle?”

    “We hold the eastern half of the city. Didn’t I say this would happen, sir?”

    “You did indeed, Colonel,” said Keane. “You may have also said some things concerning field mice, but I choose to forget…” He paused. “Do you smell smoke?”

    As soon as he said it, he realized it was a foolish thing to say. Gunsmoke hung over the city like fog. But woodsmoke had a different scent, and Keane was very sure he had just smelled it. Either a lot of people had chosen to cook an early supper in the middle of a battle, or… Now that Keane looked again, the smoke drifting in from the west seemed a lot thicker.

    Then, from the middle of the smoke, came new noises. Gunfire. Angry shouts in French. Cries of “Treason!” in American accents. Keane had no idea what was happening over there, but it sounded promising. He ordered the men to get back into formation and be ready to advance.

    After about a minute, a man emerged from the smoke. Keane saw the white flag he was holding before he saw the man’s face.

    “Dussau de la Croix, of the New Orleans Committee of Public Safety,” said the man with the white flag. Keane repressed a shudder at the Jacobinesque title. The city was a notorious hive of Bonapartism and revolutionary sentiment.

    “Have you come to surrender?”

    “To hell with that — we’ve come to join you. I speak for the Louisiana militia and the local volunteers.” He spat. “That cochon Jackson is trying to burn down our city.”

    Of course. It would be like Jackson to torch this place rather than let it fall into British hands. What he’d forgotten, or more likely not cared about, was that New Orleans wasn’t Boston or Philadelphia. It was still relatively new to the United States, and the loyalty of its people was… conditional. They were not prepared to see their lives or fortunes sacrificed on the altar of other men’s freedom.
    * * *
    About 2:45 p.m.
    A half-dozen Louisiana militiamen huddled around the doorway of a burning house, pointing their muskets through it. They all fired at once.

    Then they backed away from the door. A pale, skinny figure in a smoke-stained uniform emerged, bleeding from a dozen places. He fell to his knees.

    One of the militiamen, cutlass in hand, approached cautiously — but not cautiously enough. He didn’t see the tension in the pale man’s arms, or the rage in his eyes, until the man’s bayonet stabbed upward and slashed through the femoral artery of the militiaman. The militiaman was already dying as he brought his cutlass down on the pale man’s neck.

    The rest of them kept out of slashing distance until they were quite sure that General Andrew Jackson was dead.
    * * *
    About 8:00 p.m.
    “This I had to see for myself,” said Sir Edward Michael Pakenham as he looked around him.

    “I said I’d spend Christmas in New Orleans,” said Admiral Cochrane, “and I damned well will. How goes the fight?”

    “The city is secure, and the fires are out,” said Keane. “The American General Coffee got here just in time to lead what was left of the defenders out of the city. All that remains is to secure Fort St. Philip and the rest.”

    “Do we have any prisoners?” said Pakenham.

    “We do. We’re keeping them with General Carroll in Fort St. Charles. It makes as good a prison as any, and it keeps them safe from the locals.”

    “One more thing remains to be done, then,” said Cochrane. “We must write forthwith to His Majesty’s government, tell them what we’ve done and urge them to formalize it with their blessing. The whole territory, including this city, belonged to Spain until Napoleon seized it and sold it to Cousin Jonathan to sustain his war on us. In my letter I shall propose to the Earl of Liverpool that he purchase New Orleans from the legitimate government of Spain. And to buy Florida while he’s about it, for I intend to take it next.” The Yankees had killed Alexander Cochrane’s brother at Yorktown. To him, this whole war was one long opportunity to take the maximum amount of revenge.
    * * *
    The next day, on the other side of the Atlantic, British and American representatives signed the Treaty of Ghent.
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    Natchez (1)
  • The U.S. government’s reaction to the fall of New Orleans could best be described as “panicked.” Between the defeats suffered on the upper Mississippi and the loss of this vital port, the young nation was in imminent danger of losing the entire west, and its future with it.
    Madison urged Crawford to mobilize as many regiments as humanly possible, but there was only so much he could do with the whole continent in the grip of winter. Scott and Gaines were still recovering from their wounds, and Brown was busy in Sackett’s Harbor, far to the north. The hope of the republic rested with the man on the spot, General John Coffee.

    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812
    Natchez (2)
  • On January 2, the British Army, some eleven thousand strong, marched forth from New Orleans under the command of Major General Pakenham to secure the territory of Louisiana. Only the 44th Regiment remained to hold the city, along with the newly loyal city militia.
    The very next day Pakenham encountered what was left of General Coffee’s command at LaPlace. That day, 86 Americans and 51 British soldiers were killed, and Coffee was forced to retreat.
    After LaPlace, Pakenham divided his force. Major General Gibbs went northeast with the 4th, the 21st Fusiliers and the 1st and 5th West Indian regiments, and routed what was left of the pro-American Louisiana militia at Manchac Crossing. Pakenham, with the rest of the force, drove Coffee back from Istrouma Hill, then from St. Francisville, then from Wilkinburg, seizing Fort Adams. By this time, the American general was desperate enough to try just about anything.
    (It must be understood that by the standards of the Second Thirty Years’ War, all four of these “battles,” in which only two or three dozen men on either side were killed or wounded, barely qualified as skirmishes. Even the four-day stalemate at the Pearl River which halted Gibbs’s advance ended with fewer than five hundred casualties total. It is to these engagements that Natchez should properly be compared, rather than to later battles such as Merrymeeting Bay or Roxbury.)​
    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812
    Natchez (3)
  • January 16, 1815
    About 10:15 a.m.
    Natchez, Mississippi Territory

    The hill just southwest of Natchez was a little over a mile wide at its base. It was covered with pine trees and a dusting of snow, with a taste in the air of more snow to some. It was, Brigadier General John Coffee reflected, a good enough hill to die on… if it came to that.

    The ground was too frozen to dig a proper trench, and Fort Rosalie wasn’t much of a fort anymore, so he’d set up a barricade along the crest of the hill. It started at the river and zigzagged northwest to southeast for about six thousand feet.

    His men weren’t trained military engineers and they’d had barely a week to build it, and it showed. It was nowhere more than six feet high, and made of saplings and branches as much as big trees. It was more a barrier to the eye than to anything else.

    The British knew he was there, of course. What they didn’t know — or so Coffee hoped — was that the 39th Infantry had arrived two days ago under Colonel John Williams, along with a fresh regiment of Tennessee militiamen under Colonel Benton. Coffee had ordered both regiments to stay low and out of sight below the crest of the hill.

    By all accounts, Pakenham was moving quickly, with little time to scout ahead. There were not many people around (even the Choctaws were thin on the ground in these parts) to spy on Coffee’s army. There was a decent chance the Americans could take the enemy by surprise… especially if Pakenham was kind enough to be overconfident.

    God knows he’s got reason to be, thought Coffee. The war hadn’t gone well for the United States at all, even before New Orleans. And since then… Coffee wouldn’t blame the British for being overconfident, but he would be very happy to make them pay for it.
    He looked up to the gray wall of cloud that blocked the sky. Please, God, let him be overconfident. Let him do something foolish. We need a victory here. The American army had practically been driven from the upper Mississippi valley. They couldn’t lose this place. They were starting to wonder if they could give the redcoats a meaningful defeat anywhere. Privately, Coffee was getting worried himself.

    About this time, a scout galloped up from the south.

    “Sir,” he said, sketching off a quick salute. “They’re coming.”

    “How far behind you are they?”

    “On foot?… Not more than an hour. Maybe less.” Coffee tried not to think about the fact that this was about as much warning as Jackson had had.

    “How many?”

    “Maybe eight thousand. Maybe ten.” All told, Coffee had about four thousand men under his command. Well, no help for it.


    The scout shook his head. “Just those rockets, sir.”

    Of course. They were moving too fast to bring along anything heavier. They’d probably left the big guns behind at Fort Adams.
    Just as well — Coffee didn’t have so many field-guns himself. He’d put what he did have on his right flank, where he judged the British would be most likely to make their initial thrust. What was left of Coffee’s command was guarding them. As for the Congreves, they would be all but useless against the men at the barricade, under the trees.
    * * *
    About 11 a.m.
    The snow had begun to fall — tiny, dry, gentle flakes that meandered down through the air, making an interesting contrast to the four-pound iron round shot heading for the British front ranks at over six hundred yards per second, or the rockets fired at the Americans in reply.

    The round shot hit the ground before they hit the soldiers. Some of them buried themselves in the stumps of cut trees, but others vanished into the forest of British legs, knees and ankles, shattering every bone in their path. Every once in a while, a perfect shot would hit the ground right in front of the army, pelting the front ranks with shrapnel of granite-hard frozen dirt.

    The rockets were round-headed cylinders weighing 6 to 24 pounds, loaded with case shot. When they exploded in the right place, they could kill an entire gun crew. More often, however, they veered off in an entirely different direction — sometimes straight up in the air.

    Keane gritted his teeth and looked ahead. The 85th, at the front, was still some five hundred yards from the American line. Already, the Yankee gunners were starting to use grapeshot, which had less range but more killing power against infantrymen.

    We can win this battle doing what we’re doing, thought Keane, but it will be a bloody affair — bloodier, I think, than it need be. The worst casualties so far were among the Congreve handlers. (You had to launch the rockets from as far forward as possible — they had a regrettable tendency to go off too soon.)

    He was just about to suggest a better way to Pakenham, when a soldier came from the front, his red coat spattered with redder blood and bits that didn’t bear close examination. It was Lieutenant Gleig.

    “Colonel Thornton is dead, sir,” said Gleig, addressing Pakenham.

    “Are you sure?”

    “I saw it happen myself, sir. Grape through the chest — almost the full load. Lieutenant Colonel Gubbins is in charge of the regiment now. He’s awaiting your next order.” The unspoken message here was are you sure you want us to keep trying this? Any moment now they’re going to switch to canister.

    Keane decided the time had come to direct Pakenham’s attention elsewhere. “Sir,” he said, “the American line on the crest of the hill looks rather thin. And there…” He pointed to their immediate right, to a heavily wooded depression that cut through the side of the hill. “That way, sir, we could come quite close to the barricade without being seen.”

    Pakenham’s eyes lit up. He smiled like a wolf catching the smell of an injured deer.

    “I like the way you think, Keane,” he said. “Hold the reserves together. I’ll lead this next attack myself.”

    * * *

    See you next Saturday!
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    Natchez (4)
  • From the hillside overlooking the artillery, Coffee watched as the redcoats pulled back from their attack.

    If they’d pressed on, he’d planned to move his reserves to the right to fire down on them from more or less where he was standing. If they’d swung entirely around the hill, he’d intended to order his reserves to go left and try to block them.

    But instead, they were going straight up the hill, moving through that one little hollow where he couldn’t quite see them. The thing about having a blind spot was that if you knew exactly where it was and could plan accordingly, it wasn’t really a blind spot any more. Coffee and a few of his aides started walking, determined to get close enough to know when to give the signal.

    The hill was still heavily forested — not too many of its trees had gone into the building of the barricade. That gave the attacking British many chances to take cover, but it also broke up their neat formations and made it that much harder to coordinate a volley.

    In two places, at the highest points of the hill, the wall was particularly high, and crowned with extra pine branches. They seemed to be weak points in the defensive line — only a handful of Americans, the tips of their muskets sticking out from between piles of brush, were positioned there.

    No one ordered the British to converge on these two places. They simply did, as naturally as water flowing downhill. Pakenham was one of the first.

    Which made it something of a miracle that he survived what happened next. At the sound of a trumpet, on Coffee’s command, the brush was pushed or pulled aside to reveal over two hundred of Williams’ regulars at each “weak point.”

    “FIRE!” shouted Williams, standing equidistant between the two points and somehow making his voice carry over the whole battlefield.

    A perfect volley sounded like a single mighty explosion, rather than hundreds of individual muskets were going off. This one was such a volley, but since it was happening in two places about two thousand feet apart, it sounded like either one explosion or two, depending on where you stood.

    Raw recruits were often stunned or terrified by the sound of a volley, especially one that they weren’t expecting. The men Pakenham led were barely slowed down. In fact, it made the soldiers closest to the barricade — most of whom had survived the volley — run faster. They knew by experience that if they could close with the Yankees in the next fifteen to twenty seconds, the enemy wouldn’t have time to reload and it would come down to bayonet against bayonet.

    The second volley came ten seconds later. It was a looser, sloppier volley, more like a three-second roll of thunder than a loud bang, but it killed and maimed more people than the first one had. (The men at the barricade were less than half of Williams’ regiment, but they were holding all the muskets and had loaded and primed them half an hour ago.)

    Even now, the British kept on coming. Soon the first redcoats were climbing the wall… where they encountered the next surprise.

    Last night, the Americans had carefully poured river water onto the wood of the barricade. Now it was covered with a glaze of ice. Under sunlight, even the weak sunlight of winter, the ice would have glistened and given itself away — but between the overcast sky, the piney-wood canopy overhead and all the snow and gunsmoke in the air, there was little danger of that. So they were using all four limbs to try to get some purchase on this slippery woodpile, while the Americans had at them with bayonets and swords and cutlasses and knives and those edged wooden war clubs they’d taken from the Creeks, the name of which escaped Coffee at the moment.

    “LADDERS!” someone shouted. They hadn’t thought they’d even need ladders to climb this paltry thing.

    At this point, the redcoats broke off their attack and retreated behind the trees, pausing only to collect their wounded. There was no sense throwing their lives away now when the means to make a more effective attack would be here in a matter of minutes. And the Americans couldn’t counterattack — the barricade would be just as treacherous under their feet.

    Coffee strode to the left end of his line, and there he waited. As soon as he heard them coming, he turned to Colonel Benton and simply nodded. Benton’s volunteers didn’t get started as quickly or smoothly as U.S. regulars, let alone British soldiers, but soon enough they were swinging around the left end of the barricade to attack the nearest ladder-bearers. The snow was getting heavier.

    That was it. Coffee had no more stratagems, no more surprises, and no more reserves — everyone on the American side who could fight was doing it right now. He hoped the enemy didn’t know that.
    * * *
    If Benton had made his attack half an hour earlier, the British would not only have driven him off, but would probably have followed him around the southeast end of the barricade. But now, they’d been running around uphill and downhill drawing in great lungfuls of cold, dry air that scraped their throats raw, and had taken several nasty shocks and many casualties.

    It showed in their fighting. Those who survived the first few moments of the volunteers’ attack took shelter behind trees and fired from there. Both sides struggled to reload with fingers half-numb from the cold.

    All this was on the left, from Coffee’s standpoint. In the center and on the right, the redcoats were faring no better. They had ladders, but not enough of them to bring their greater numbers to bear. And, again, they had lost more energy than the defenders over the course of the battle. This made all the difference in the almost hand-to-hand fighting on the barricade.

    A few redcoats made it over the wall, but they were quickly overwhelmed and either killed or taken prisoner. One of them — an officer who had just been shot through the chest at point-blank range — drew Coffee’s eye.

    As he looked closer, he saw that the officer’s scarf had fallen off, revealing scars on either side of his neck that almost matched. Coffee had only heard of one man with scars like that.

    This was Sir Edward Michael Pakenham. Like Jackson, he had been a fighter. Like Jackson, he had survived things that no man should be able to live through. And like Jackson, he had finally run out of miracles. Coffee doffed his hat in respect.

    And sure enough, the cry was going up among the British — “THE GENERAL’S DOWN! THE GENERAL’S FALLEN!”
    * * *
    Keane felt sick with guilt. It had been on his suggestion that Pakenham had tried to take the hill.

    Could they still win? Possibly… but not likely. God only knew how many men they’d lost today. When in doubt, he thought, do what you know you can do.

    “Call for a cease-fire,” he said. “We’ll collect our wounded — those who can move — and the bodies of Thornton and Pakenham, and retreat to Fort Adams.” There, he knew, he could hold off anything the dirty-shirts cared to send against him.
    * * *
    We’ve won. Coffee hardly dared to say it out loud. It seemed so fragile. Any moment, surely the British would turn around and attack again, or a fresh army would appear on the southern horizon…

    “What are the casualties?” he asked Williams.

    “On the British side, about two hundred fifty killed, over a thousand wounded. Maybe half that on our side, sir.”

    Coffee nodded.

    About that time, the militia commander returned.

    “The day is ours and fairly won, sir,” he said. “Shall we pursue?”

    “Don’t make me push you downstairs again, Benton.” What was happening to the south was a long way from a rout. The redcoats were retreating in good order, and even after their casualties they still outnumbered the Americans. Attack or pursuit would be foolhardy. “We shall tend to our wounded, bury our dead, and await further orders.”
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    "What Were They Thinking?" (1)
  • I think I'm going to have to pick up the pace a little. Otherwise, by the time I get to the really cool stuff in the 1850s, Rebecca Black will be the nominee against incumbent President Justin Bieber.:p

    Along with the fear that swept the land in the wake of the loss of New Orleans came anger. Inaccurate early reports led to the widespread misimpression that the city had fallen due to treachery on the part of its inhabitants. In fact, virtually all historians agree that such “treachery” as occurred was provoked by Jackson’s desperate act of attempting to torch the city in order to deny it to the British — an act he never would have considered if he had not already despaired of winning the battle. But even for those who knew the truth, it was easier to blame a cabal of semi-American, French-speaking traitors than a fallen patriot and war hero.
    The subject of what should be done with these “traitors,” should the fortunes of either war or peace deliver them into American hands, was a favorite one of the “War Hawks” of Congress, led by the South Carolinian representatives Calhoun, Cheves and Lowndes. Calhoun in particular waxed famously eloquent on the topic, vowing in one speech that upon retaking New Orleans, the United States would “hang enough traitors to fill the ninth circle of Hell.” For their part, the U.S. Army and militia officers who allowed themselves to be quoted invariably swore that, by whatever means, Jackson would be avenged.
    These sentiments were echoed in Republican newspapers throughout the land. From the safety of their offices, the scribblers called for the city to be “chastised,” “purged of corruption” or “cleansed with fire and the sword.” In mid-February, when word of the Treaty of Ghent reached American shores, the Worcester National Aegis gloated that “the mongrel miscreants must be trembling with fear at the thought of the justice that approaches them in the shadow of the Stars and Stripes.”
    With so many speaking freely out of ignorance, the one man whose words might have rectified the situation held his tongue. President Madison knew the truth about the fall of the city, and, having no intention of running for a third term, had nothing more to fear from public opinion. He had already written a bill of amnesty covering the Louisiana militia, the New Orleans Committee of Public Safety and all members of the city and state government who continued serving in their positions under the British. If this failed, his biographers are unanimous in the opinion that he intended to pardon any New Orleanian who happened to be convicted of treason.
    His closest advisors, however, encouraged him not to introduce the bill or reveal anything of his intentions until the British were gone from the city — or, better still, until the Americans had reclaimed it. “An act of mercy,” said Crawford, “will not be known for what it is unless it is offered from a position of strength.”
    Monroe, for his part reminded the president that Jackson had had many friends in the army, who would not look kindly on forgiveness for his killers. He cautioned that the army might have to retake the city by force, and that if they knew the “traitors” they were hunting had a pardon waiting for them, they might not take those “traitors” alive.
    And so, the people of New Orleans knew nothing of his good intentions. They knew only what they read in the American newspapers that the British sailors under Admiral Cochrane’s command were only too happy to supply them with. As they, too, received word of Ghent, they feared they might be left to fend for themselves.
    Terrible rumors swept the city during that Mardi Gras. They began with the rumor that Madison planned to hang the Committee of Public Safety and the leaders of the Louisiana militia, and soon became a good deal more far-fetched. Two weeks later, Lieutenant George Robert Gleig of the 85th wrote, “The whole city is convinced that the Yankees intend to butcher them to the last child as Joshua did the Canaanites.”
    The city government and militia, more sober-minded, had no intention of fleeing the city they had risked so much to defend. Nor did they wish to throw themselves on the mercy of a nation that had first betrayed them and now had the arrogance to accuse them of treason.
    And so, they found a third option…​
    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812
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    "What Were They Thinking?" (2)
  • As a professor of American History, the question my students most often ask me concerning the Federalists (actually, the question my students most often ask in almost all contexts) is “What were they thinking?”
    In the case of the Federalists of New England, what they were thinking in late 1814 and early 1815 was this:
    • Of the four Presidents of the United States, three had been from one state — Virginia. The one New Englander, John Adams, was also the only one who had suffered the indignity of being defeated for re-election. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court in 1815 consisted of seven judges, three of whom (including Chief Justice John Marshall, himself a Federalist) were from Virginia or Kentucky, and only one of whom was from New England.
    • In 1790, the then-five New England states held 28.0% of the population of the United States. Twenty years later, they held only 20.3%. They had grown by over a third, but the rest of the country had grown by much more.
    • Since the Jefferson administration, it seemed, the favorite foreign-policy tool of the DRs was the economic embargo, a weapon that hurt the trade-based economies of the New England states at least as badly as it hurt the British or any other enemy.
    • Although they had been assured that the war was being fought for self-defense, they had already witnessed more than one attempted invasion of Canada. As for defense, the defense of the New England states had been severely underfunded — partly by their own state governments, but also by the federal government.
    In short, the New England Federalists saw themselves and their region as having a rapidly diminishing stake in a nation which had engaged itself in a war they opposed, and which had given no thought for their well-being…

    The news of New Orleans did not arrive in Hartford until the convention was almost over. A few hotheads like Bigelow tried to use this to call for more radical action, but they were kept in check by their peers. The final draft of the Convention’s report called for (among other things) limits on Congress’s power to declare war, admit new states or interfere with trade, a diminishing of the South’s electoral clout by ending the 3/5 compromise, and an end to the “Virginia dynasty,” but it revealed no interest in secession.
    Meanwhile, as we have seen, Rep. Timothy Pickering, of Massachusetts’ 2nd District, who had served as Secretary of State under John Adams, had already stated that the British capture of New Orleans would be the signal for the secession of New England. When sailors brought word to the capital (Congress was at this juncture meeting in the Patent Office, the only government building the British had left unharmed) that New Orleans had indeed fallen, Pickering knew that his time had come. He rose to inform the astounded representatives that New England would forthwith secede from the Union and seek a separate peace with Great Britain. (As soon as he had left, the remaining New England representatives hurriedly reassured the Virginians that they had no thought of secession. One of them, a Connecticut congressman with the magnificent name of Epaphroditus Champion, approvingly quoted the Richmond Enquirer from November 1 of the year just past, which stated that “no state nor set of States has a right to withdraw itself from this Union, of its own accord.”)
    Having thus distinguished himself, the 69-year-old Pickering then fled the city and rode hell-for-leather to Hartford in the middle of winter — only to find that the convention was long since over, and another one was not planned until June at the earliest. Not to be discouraged, he, along with John Lowell Jr. and a handful of other like-minded individuals, began work on a “Declaration of Independence” for the New England states.
    He announced his intentions by way of an advertisement in the Boston Centinel, in which he assured all interested parties that once New England had cast aside all ties to the regime in Washington, the British would leave it in peace. (To give the reader some idea of the mindset at work here, Pickering referred to his group as the “blue-lighters,” taking as a badge of honor Decatur’s spurious allegations of treason.)
    Unfortunately for Rep. Pickering, on the very day his advertisement ran, the Centinel also carried the news of the Treaty of Ghent, and with it the understandable expectation that there would soon be peace. The self-professed “blue-lighters” were now irrelevant, humiliated, and with no way of knowing that the worst was yet to come.
    Nor did they realize that Massachusetts Gov. Strong had been quietly making plans of his own…​
    Andrea Fessler, The Federalists: America’s First Second Party
    "What Were They Thinking?" (3)
  • In 1815, when steam engines were new and unreliable, it took about six or seven weeks to sail from the British Isles to North America. Thanks to the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift, however, the return journey took four to five weeks. So it was that Lord Liverpool learned about Keane’s capture of New Orleans near the end of January — some two weeks before Americans learned of the Treaty of Ghent.
    Left to himself, perhaps, the Prime Minister might have proceeded as though nothing had happened. The long war against Napoleon had dominated the business of his ministry, as it had that of the ill-fated Spencer Perceval and the five other Prime Ministers before him. Liverpool had been hoping for peace.
    But the reactionary wing of the Tory party, who hated the United States and all it stood for, demanded that the treaty be scrapped forthwith. They were joined in this by the editorialists of the Times, the Globe, the Sun and the Morning Chronicle. Some commentators called this an opportunity to take back the colonies entirely, heedless of the effort that would be required to subdue a republic of eight million recalcitrant souls scattered over an area twice the size of Spain and Portugal combined.
    Even those who were not inclined to hostility towards the United States pointed out that although war was expensive, the sudden onset of peace would surely disrupt the economy, with tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors all unemployed at once, and industries which had come to depend on the Crown’s purchases now in desperate need of new buyers. It was George Canning who suggested that a smaller conflict with the United States might ease the transition from the economy of war to that of peace.
    The Whigs were (for once) united in their opposition to any further pursuit of the war in the New World, but they found little support among the majority. When U.S. Ambassador John Quincy Adams addressed Parliament, demanding that the British adhere to the terms of the treaty, Lord Castlereagh replied, “How many treaties with the Indians has your young nation already signed and broken?” The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs further pointed out that by all accounts available thus far, the city of New Orleans had freely given its loyalty to the Crown.
    “Where now is your vaunted love of the high principle of self-determination?” said Castlereagh.
    What ultimately caused Lord Liverpool and the Duke of York to agree on the course of action they ultimately took was their frustrating lack of immediate knowledge. They knew New Orleans had been taken, but nothing beyond that. For all they knew, the British Empire might reign supreme over the Mississippi Valley, or Keane and Pakenham might have been driven back into the Gulf of Mexico.
    Many in both parties suggested that the Crown send a trusted emissary, a man who had proven his worth in both war and peace. But, again, in this pre-telegraph era news traveled no faster than it could be carried. By the time the emissary returned to London, his report would be a month out of date, and any response to it would take the better part of two months to reach the shores of the New World. Events in Louisiana were proving how much could happen in that time. Whoever was sent needed the capacity to respond to whatever situation presented itself in America.
    So it was that the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief were compelled by circumstances to give one of the strangest commands in the history of the Empire…​
    H. Michael Wolcott, The Great Breach in the Anglo-Saxon World: Its Causes And Consequences
    Enter the General
  • “There they were, all in one place — the best and the brightest, and all the sons and daughters of privilege, indulging in music and dancing and lovemaking and conversation as they dreamed of a better world and squabbled over its details, believing in their hearts that they had the power to take the Western world and reshape it into a form that would bring about peace forever.
    “It was not to be… but was it not a beautiful dream while it lasted?”

    Arthur Christopher Swinburne, An Essay on the Congress of Vienna

    February 13, 1815
    8:50 a.m.

    Sir Arthur Wellesley, recently created Duke of Wellington, had been in Vienna less than a month when the messenger came. The message found him at the gate of the Hofburg.

    When he read it, he had to restrain himself from cursing. Never in his life had he received such absurd orders. Never had he been sent on a less honorable mission. And the worst part was that Lord Castlereagh had left Vienna five days ago. From here on, Britain would have to be represented by his subordinates.

    Well, that needn’t be a disaster. Lord Clancarty was no Castlereagh, but he was competent enough. As for the other two, Lord Cathcart was an expert on Russian affairs, and that was about what he had going for him. Sir Charles Stewart was an excellent soldier, and as a diplomat, was… an excellent soldier. They were perhaps not the ideal triumvirate to preserve Europe from Russian domination, but they would have to do.

    He found Richard Trench, the second Earl of Clancarty, in the Minoritenplatz not two blocks away.

    “I’m afraid I must leave the business of the Crown in your hands,” he said. “I have been called away. With the exception of the King’s German Legion, all British forces currently in the Low Countries are being transferred to our holdings on the North American mainland, and I am to take command of them.”

    Clancarty blinked for a moment.

    “Are we at war with the colonials again?” he finally said.

    “We don’t… know.” It took a great effort for Wellington to keep from raising his voice. He hated giving long explanations, even under sane circumstances.

    “Remember Toulouse?” he said. “You weren’t there, of course, but you might have heard of it. Bloody business it was… but the worst part was finding out that Boney had abdicated four days earlier. The whole battle need never have been fought. And this looks to be an even worse mess.” He explained to them how the city of New Orleans had been seized even as the Treaty of Ghent was being signed — or slightly before.

    “We hold a few other locations,” he continued, “A town on the coast, a few islands… but New Orleans is the only thing His Majesty’s government truly cares about.

    “By now they should be learning of the treaty, but Ned — that is, Sir Edward Pakenham — and the other officers are very clear that they are not leaving New Orleans without specific orders to that effect. So the Prime Minister and our illustrious Commander in Chief His Grace Frederick Duke of York have decreed in their infinite wisdom that I and my army are to cross the whole ocean without having the least idea whether or not we have a war to fight. A sort of… reconnaisance in overwhelming force, you might say.

    “If the treaty has been put into full effect — that is to say, if our army has already withdrawn from New Orleans, or been forced from it — there’ll be nothing for it but for myself and the whole army to turn around and come back across the pond.”

    “And if we still hold New Orleans?”

    “Then I am to determine the attitude of the New Orleansians, or whatever they are called, towards our occupation. If they wish to be restored to the United States, off we go.”

    “And if they wish us to remain?”

    “In that event,” Wellington said, gritting his teeth, “according to their Lordships, the treaty can go hang.”

    Clancarty blinked.

    “The official line is something to do with the illegitimacy of the Louisiana Purchase,” he said, “but the truth is… they want New Orleans. The city commands the mouth of the Mississippi. You recall Malta and the Treaty of Amiens? ‘The forces of His Britannic Majesty shall evacuate the island, and its dependencies, within three months of the exchange of the ratifications, or sooner if possible…’ etc., etc. Of course, the forces of His Britannic Majesty did nothing of the sort — partly because Old Boney wasn’t keeping up his end of the bargain, but never mind that.

    “The good news is that I have been granted ‘full plenipotentiary power’ in this matter. I will be acting in the name of the King — or rather, the Prince Regent — and my decisions will be binding. I will be the one to decide if there is to be peace or war. And I will not throw a perfectly good treaty on the bonfire unless the people of New Orleans are clear and united in their desire for us to remain.

    “Give me regrets to everyone here. Explain the situtaion as best you can. While you’re at it, tell that fool of a Spaniard we have an interest in making a purchase of Florida.”

    “We already agreed to pay the Spanish 400,000 pounds to end their part in the slave trade.”

    “Buy them off again. Pay whatever you need to pay — but for God’s sake, don’t tell Don Pedro I said so.”

    “What about Louisiana? Should we make a… legitimate… purchase of it ourselves?”

    “Not until we know more.”

    And so, Wellington started to pack his bags. He found he was half sorry and half relieved. He’d been here for a few weeks, and it seemed like about four parts partying to one part work. Dances and banquets and concerts and all sorts of social events every night. Wellington enjoyed a party now and then, but this was a surfeit and then some.

    A surfeit and then some — if Vienna had a civic motto, that would be it. Beautiful women, rich desserts, fine brandy, the best music… here was a place where a man could actually begin to tire of these things. Also, concerts (especially the violins) always made him feel wistful, and he didn’t like feeling wistful.

    He met Klemens von Metternich at the door.

    “Lord Clancarty told me what you’re about,” said the prince. “I wish you luck — perhaps you will get Britain’s own back, and clean up that nasty little puddle of democracy once and for all.”

    Whatever his other qualities, the duke reflected, Metternich was not a military man.

    “Give me nothing but the twelve thousand Britons in the Low Countries now, and I can thrash any army the Yankees care to send my way,” he said. “But conquest? That is something else entirely. Anyone who served in Spain could tell you that conquering a nation means more than just defeating its armies.”

    February 22, 1815
    Just after noon
    St. Francisville, Louisiana

    There was no need to call for silence in the ranks as the British army marched south along the river. No one was in the mood to talk.

    Natchez had been a vicious fight, and one that had ended with the army retreating from an enemy they outnumbered… an enemy they had thrashed more than once. At the time it had seemed like the right thing to do — they were in enemy territory, they’d taken heavy losses, and who knew if reinforcements were coming — but now they were all starting to second-guess themselves.

    They had dug in at Fort Adams and waited, practically hoping General Coffee would come and try to force him out. Instead, what had come was two messengers, within days of each other, with news of Ghent. Pakenham might have been willing to stay in the face of that, but Keane was not.

    And now, Keane, riding at the head of his army, felt worse than any of his men. The guilt over the death of his commanding officer felt like a 12-pound iron round shot sitting in his chest. The city of New Orleans, intact and under the Union Jack, was the only thing he had to show for his efforts… and now, it seemed, he was to give it back.

    As his horse went around the bend in the road, he met a small party of men riding up from the south. Two of them, in front, were carrying flags. The one on the left was the Union Jack. The one on the right Keane had never seen before.

    DS Louisiana Republic.png

    “Nous représentons la République de la Louisiane, une nation indépendante sous la protection de la Couronne,” said the man holding the strange flag.

    “It is all right here in black and white,” said the man holding the British flag. With his other hand he pulled out a rolled parchment and handed it to one of Keane’s officers, who gave it to the general.

    As Keane read it, he saw that it was more than just a declaration of independence. According to this, the Louisiana Purchase had never been legitimate, and therefore the people of the French colony had never been truly citizens of the United States. Their wishes had never been consulted, and now for the first time they had expressed them. If this were presented as an argument in a court of law, the judge would fall on the floor laughing.

    Keane said nothing. These people could proclaim themselves citizens of a republic, subjects of the Crown or warlords of the moon, but in his opinion, they would be better served by spending less time proclaiming and more time packing. The United States was coming back to this land, and its leaders were already unreasonably angry with the city and state government. This would only make them angrier.

    Nonetheless, he managed to avoid giving the emissaries of the “republic” a straight answer.

    March 1, 1815
    About 10 a.m.

    The last few British soldiers in the Low Countries were boarding the transports. Wellington wasn’t watching. Nor was he listening to Lord Paget. He was staring at a letter from Lord Castlereagh. It told him that his brother-in-law Ned had been killed in battle, scaling a barricade against the Yankees in a far corner of the Americas, on a hill at a place called Natchez.

    It was not like hearing of the unexpected loss of a loved one in an accident — there was no shock, no bewildered denial before the grief set in. Nor was it like the long-expected last breath of an ailing grandfather. He had always known this day could come, but not that it would. There had always been hope that the two of them would survive this long age of war, grow old rehashing the stories of the Peninsula and France, and wherever else they fought together… until this morning.

    Well, Ned had certainly died as he lived — Wellington had never known a braver man. And it sounded as though Paget was trying to tell him something important.

    “I beg your pardon, Henry,” he said. “What were you saying?”

    “I was saying, sir, that the 33rd and 73rd of Foot have embarked for to New Orleans — if the ships aren’t permitted to land, they’ll sail to Jamaica — and the 52nd is on its way to St. Augustine. Everything else is headed for Halifax or the Maine-New Brunswick border.”

    “Good.” Louisiana was too far from the American population centers to hit them where it hurt, and Florida was a howling wilderness that could not support more than one regiment for any length of time. Any serious attack on Yankee territory — if such were necessary — would have to be launched from the north. Wellington would rather have had the 52nd by his side, but if any one regiment could hold its own in a distant place far from any friend, it would be the Light Bobs.

    “Ultimately, between the units there and the units being sent over from the British Isles, you shall have some 24,000 men under your command. I only hope they have good cavalry horses in Halifax.” Transporting this many men across the Atlantic on such short notice would have been complicated enough without trying to bring their horses along.

    Before boarding, Wellington looked at the letter in his hands again. God willing, there will be no need to fight at all, he thought. But if there is, Ned, I’ll make it a fight worthy of you.

    Then he walked up the gangplank, not looking back. At that very moment, nearly six hundred miles to the south, Napoleon Bonaparte was entering the town of Golfe-Juan.

    DS Louisiana Republic.png
    The Point of No Return (1)
  • Word of the treaty spread through the continent with a painful slowness that we can scarcely imagine today. Nonetheless, by the end of February almost all British forces had evacuated U.S. territory.
    There were two major exceptions. One was the coastal town of Castine, in what would become Maine. There Sherbrooke held out, hoping against hope that the government would change its mind and add the so-called “Province of New Ireland” to its Canadian possessions, or that Strong would remember his proposal of the previous year.
    The other, of course, was New Orleans…
    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812

    * * *

    March 8, 1815
    About 10 a.m.
    New Orleans

    “Damned if I like this,” said Cochrane. “None of these people are going to leave, you know. They turned against that bloody-minded maniac precisely because they were loyal to their city, and you expect them to abandon it?”

    “I don’t see that they have much choice,” said Keane, watching the sailors load supplies onto the fleet at the lakeside dock. “You might have encouraged them to come with us, rather than leading them on with false hope.”

    “I didn’t think they were false promises. Now that this place is a republic…” They had been over this ground a good many times over the last couple of days. “If nothing else, I wish we could offer Lafitte and You privateer commissions.”


    “Forgive me — Dominique You. That is his name.”



    Keane turned to look. It was a messenger from one of Gibbs’ regiments.

    “Sir, General Gibbs requests your presence at the west end of the city.”

    “What’s this in aid of?”

    “Some Yankees on horseback have shown up with arrest warrants.”

    “Already?” Keane got moving.

    A fair number of the buildings in New Orleans — especially the poorer homes, made of logs instead of brick — were still burned-out shells. If Keane hadn’t put his men to work putting out the fires the minute the Yankees had fled, and if there hadn’t been a river and lake handy to draw water from, the city might have been lost.

    As he walked through the streets, he saw that more and more of the townspeople were walking in the same direction as himself. Most of them were armed. This couldn’t be a good sign. He quickened his pace.

    At the edge of town, Keane saw the intruders. They were cavalry — a militia unit. He estimated their numbers at between three and four hundred, with plenty of remounts. General Gibbs and a couple of companies of British soldiers were blocking their path into the city.

    “Colonel Thomas Benton,” he said. “For the purposes of this mission, my men and I have been sworn in as deputy U.S. Marshals. We’re here to serve this arrest warrant.” He pulled out a roll of parchment.

    Keane looked at it. They had everybody here — Jacques Villeré who seemed to be in charge of the Republic’s provisional government, his son Gabriel who had killed his dog to escape the British, Destrehan, Plauche, Latour, Nolte, Ducartel, Seignouret, Dussau de la Croix and the rest of the Committee… He looked down. There were over a hundred names on this list.

    “You might have come two weeks later,” said Keane. “By then we would have been out of your hair, and we would have persuaded your so-called ‘traitors’ to come with us.”

    “Why do you think we were in such a hurry?” said Benton. “We don’t want them ‘out of our hair,’ we want them in our hands. We want to make them pay for what they’ve done. And there’s at least one other who is not on this list.”

    “Who might that be?”

    “The man or men who murdered General Jackson, of course.” Benton tried to keep his face and voice neutral as he said this, but didn’t quite succeed.

    “General Jackson fell in battle,” said Keane. “He killed one of his enemies in the process. You can hardly call that murder.” He would have reminded Benton that the British had lost a leader as well, but he did not want to risk showing the guilt he still felt over that.

    “Whoever it is — along with every man on this list — will have their day in court, I promise you. They can make their case then.”

    Keane suddenly became acutely aware of all the muttering behind him. He turned. Something like the entire Louisiana militia was gathering in the streets, armed and looking ready to fight.

    Keane was no prophet, but suddenly he could see the future very clearly. Even if he stood aside and did nothing, the militia could easily drive off Benton and his men today. But the dirty-shirts would come back, with General Coffee and ten, or twenty, or thirty thousand men. Even if every New Orleanian who could lift, point and fire a musket fought, they would be outnumbered… and after that would come something very much like the massacre they all feared.

    Then Keane noticed that one of them was a woman in widow’s weeds. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five.

    “Héléne Judith Toutant-Beauregarde,” she said when he asked for her name. “My Jacques… was at Pearl River.” Her black dress was loose about the waist. She wasn’t starting to show, but something in her complexion said to Keane this woman is pregnant.

    At this point his treacherous memory whispered the phrase beauty and booty into his ear. His army had come with the intention not to save the city, but to loot it… among other things. The general was sickened by the thought of the fate that this brave young woman might have suffered at the hands of Englishman under his command. Thank You, God, for sparing her that, he thought. And thank You even more for sparing me that. Could the Lord possibly have spared her then, only to desert her now? Did he not have a duty to these people, as well as to the Crown?

    “I remind you that you no longer have any right to stop us,” said Benton. “Tell your men to stand aside.”

    Keane realized at this point that there were two people whose actions had brought things to this pass. He was one, and the other was dead. This might not be his fault, but it was surely his responsibility.

    And it only got worse as he looked at the crowd behind the Beauregarde widow. The sight of all these women and gray-headed men and beardless boys assembled in the street behind the militia, clutching old muskets and cutlasses, cane-knives or whatever other weapons they could find… even a coward might have been moved to defend these people. And there was not a grain of cowardice anywhere in Keane’s army. His men were looking at him expectantly — even Gibbs. (Even black freedmen were in the crowd, armed like everyone else. In New Orleans, this was well-nigh a sign of the coming Apocalypse.)

    “General Keane?” said Benton. The seconds were ticking past one by one, each one whispering four little words as it went by — Make up your mind. Make up your mind. Make up your mind.

    So he did.

    “No,” he said.

    “I beg your pardon?”

    “No. You may not arrest anyone here.”

    As the crowd cheered, Benton stared blankly. Finally he said, “On whose authority?”

    Well, one might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. “On the authority of the Republic of Louisiana, which rests under the protection of the Crown.” There. He’d said it.

    Benton was silent. He was almost the only one there who was. The crowd cheered and catcalled. Even the British soldiers were cheering. Finally, the Americans said something that was probably an ominous warning, even though it was completely drowned out. Then he and his men turned and left.

    * * *

    “I promise you, you won’t regret this,” said Jacques Villeré. Keane was already regretting it a little, but he knew he would have regretted the alternative even more.

    “Is Mr. Claiborne still being held in Fort Charles?”

    “So he is.”

    “I should like to have him released to the Americans,” said Keane, “and I should like to speak to him first.”

    “That seems reasonable,” said Villeré, with the air of a man granting a favor rather than obeying an order.

    While Keane was sitting in Villeré’s office, waiting for the release of the former state’s former governor, Admiral Cochrane entered.

    “I must say, I didn’t think you had it in you,” he said.

    “Nor did I, until the moment came.”

    “Well, rest assured — if you need a man to plead the rightness of our cause, I will not be found wanting.”

    * * *

    William C. C. Claiborne had been kept in decent health during his two months or more as a prisoner of war, but his militiaman’s uniform was worn and mended to unrecognizability.

    “Well, am I being given my parole?” said the ex-governor.

    “In a manner of speaking.”

    “And you truly intend to recognize this farce of a republic.”

    “We remain loyal to our Louisianan allies, and respect their decision,” said Keane. “But in the interest of peace, I have a request to make of you.

    “Go to Washington. Take your wife and children with you — I won’t have it said that I’m holding any hostages.

    “Find President Madison and tell him this from me. I am willing to serve as mediator in this dispute between the United States and the Republic of Louisiana. Simply put, if your government can persuade these people to rejoin your union of their own free will, Admiral Cochrane and I will be more than happy to leave in full accord with the treaty already signed.” More than happy was not strictly true, but for this purpose it didn’t matter.

    “You truly expect me to believe you,” said Claiborne.

    “Think of me as you please. My chief purpose is to prevent needless bloodshed.”

    Claiborne shook his head. “I think you mean what you say,” he said, “but I wonder what you would have done differently if it had been your chief purpose to start a war.”

    To this, Keane had no answer.

    March 25, 1815
    7:30 p.m.

    Lord Clancarty sat at the desk in his suite, desperately trying to think of the best way to write his letter to Lord Castlereagh. That Bonaparte had escaped was already old news. They’d learned it in London not long after they learned it in Vienna.

    At first, it hadn’t been cause for panic. Surely, they thought, surely the French would seize the man who had led them into so many disasters and hang him from the nearest tree.

    They hadn’t.

    This was not an emergency. Surely Marshal Michel Ney would bring the would-be Emperor to Paris in an iron cage as he had promised.

    He followed Bonaparte to Paris in triumph instead.

    Surely the French people would not suffer the overthrow of their good king Louis XVIII. Surely they would not allow themselves to be rallied for yet another war.

    Guess what was happening now.

    Clancarty tried to remember that the man was only mortal. He could be beaten — had been beaten, early on, in Egypt. His expedition to Haiti had been a failure, and it was only a pity he hadn’t led it personally.

    But other memories rose up into his mind as well. Austerlitz. Jena. Auerstädt. Halle. Freidland. Wagram. Even thinking any one of those names felt like sticking a finger into an open wound. For years, it had seemed like the certain fate of all Europe to be part of a French Empire under that man’s rule.

    Finally — finally, after the great beast had wasted the bulk of his army on a military adventure so grandiose than not even he could make it work — through the combined efforts of basically every other nation in Europe, he was defeated. It cost more, in lives and material, than anyone would reasonably expect. But last year, they did it. They beat him and they sent him off to the island of Elba. Let that be his empire.

    And since then, everyone had been trying to pick up the pieces… and Clancarty thought they’d been doing rather well. The past quarter of a century had already started to seem like a bad dream, a nightmare in which royal families of ancient lineage could be overthrown by angry mobs and beheaded like chickens in the marketplace, and a clan of Corsican banditti could put crowns on their heads, proclaim themselves lords of creation, sweep all before them and destroy the order of centuries and no one could stop them. Now, at last, Christendom was awake, the fever had broken, the nightmare was over, and the world could rest safe at peace in the hands of legitimate kings from real dynasties…

    Until now. He’s back. I thought we were shot of him. He’s back. We’ll have to do it all over again. He’s back. God, I know we’re sinners, but have we really sinned this much?

    All this, Their Lordships already knew. What they didn’t know about was the suspicion with which the Powers were starting to regard each other. Who, exactly, had financed Bonaparte’s escape? Who had paid his bills until he gained control of the state? Whose bright idea was it to send him into exile so close to home? The Prussians suspected the Austrians, the Austrians the tsar… and everybody was looking askance at the British. It was their ships and men that had been given the task of watching over Bonaparte, and they had failed. According to Talleyrand, they “were guilty of a negligence which they will find it difficult to excuse.”

    Sir Charles Stewart had made things worse, blithely saying that they had never actually committed themselves in writing to the man’s imprisonment. The looks on the faces of the Austrians and Russians and Prussians — and even the Spaniards — had spoken volumes. Hundreds of thousands of brave men died to put that beast in a cage where he belongs, and YOU left the door unlocked. Whatever happened to “England expects that every man will do his duty?”

    Today, at least, Clancarty had done his duty. Together with the representatives of Austria, Prussia and Russia, he had worked out a treaty whereby each of the four Powers would raise an army of 150,000 for the express purpose of defeating Bonaparte.

    Well, sort of. The British army was very professional, had possibly the best logistical support in the world… and it was very small. Clancarty wasn’t sure the United Kingdom could field 150,000 men. He was quite sure he didn’t dare commit them to it. So he had arranged an additional article to the treaty whereby His Britannic Majesty might contribute fewer men and more money — twenty pounds a year per infantryman and thirty pounds a year per cavalryman. The other signatories had nodded, with only a hint of contempt, as if they had expected nothing better.

    Clancarty wasn’t worried that this new coalition (which one was it now? The seventh?) would break up over these differences — not while Bonaparte was on the loose. But not since the American Revolution had Britain’s standing in the world been in greater jeopardy.

    We need Wellington, he thought. Whatever else we give the war effort, he must be part of it. Whatever he’s doing in America can’t be as important as this. Their Lordships won’t want to call him back so soon after sending him there, but they must. We must be seen by the world to be giving our best.
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    The Point of No Return (2)
  • March 30, 1815
    Washington, D.C.
    President James Madison looked around his office and sighed once again. The Octagon House was a very nice place, but when the President of the United States was living on someone else’s property because he’d been burned out of his mansion by an enemy, something had gone terribly wrong somewhere.

    James Monroe and William Crawford winced a little at the expression on his face.

    “You must be ruing the day you listened to our advice,” said Monroe.

    “Don’t blame yourself — either of you,” said the president. “I don’t think any of us could have anticipated that things could come to such a pass. And if I had offered the amnesty bill or guaranteed pardons, who’s to say things wouldn’t have turned out even worse?”

    “What do you think of this message from Claiborne?” said Monroe.

    “If Claiborne thinks that this Keane is sincere, then so do I,” said Madison. “I also think that I am a head of state and I am not going to negotiate with Keane or Sherbrooke or any other underling of the Crown. Do these people follow orders, or do they not?”

    “One wonders,” said Crawford. “Do you think war is likely?”

    “I hope not,” said Madison. “All the same, we’d better reinforce the defenses along the border. Especially Detroit — I am not losing that place again. Send Lieutenant Colonel Armistead to take charge of the defenses there. He did more than well enough at Fort McHenry.”

    “Have you heard that Governor Strong has decided to call out the Massachusetts militia?” said Monroe.

    “Has he?” said Madison. “Better late than never, I suppose.”

    “What about Speaker Clay?” said Crawford. “Is it true he offered to negotiate with the New Orleanians?”

    “He did,” said the president. “He would have done better to silence the hotheaded War Hawks in our party.”

    “Perhaps,” said Monroe, “but at least no one will accuse him of plotting our capitulation.”

    “Certainly not,” said Madison. “At this point, I’m tempted, but… think of the precedent it would set. If a part of the nation secedes and harbors foreign troops on its soil, must we negotiate to win them back? Given the sort of regional divisions we’ve already seen, I don’t care to see future administrations held hostage to every disaffected state and city.”

    * * *

    April 5, 1815

    What was it Dr. Johnson had said? Ah, yes. "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

    At the moment, the mind of Governor Caleb Strong was feeling painfully concentrated. They were going to find out. Sooner or later they were going to find out.

    Last year, when things had looked particularly bleak, he had written to Sir John Sherbrooke, proposing to take his state out of the war entirely, allowing the British to keep the parts of Maine they’d taken. He hadn’t gotten a response, and not long after that the peace treaty had been signed… but now it looked like they were in danger of war again, and the enemy had proof of his attempted betrayal.

    “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Those last five words seemed to be echoing inside his head. Bringing his state to a separate peace with the British Empire, allowing them to concentrate their forces elsewhere… what else could you call it?

    “No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” Unfortunately, all they would need would be Sherbrooke and his secretary.

    There was never a good time to be caught betraying your country, but this was a worse time than usual. Thanks to those Creole maniacs in New Orleans, the people were up in arms against traitors of any sort.

    And the biggest irony of all was that his constituents had hated this war. If the treaty had never been signed, the people of Massachusetts might have applauded him for getting him out of the war cheaply. If New Orleans hadn’t fallen, he at least could have hoped no one would have found out about what he’d done until he was already dead. Now, he could see his future and there was a noose at the end of it.

    He couldn’t very well write to Sherbrooke and ask nicely for his letter back. The only thing he could do was prove, by his deeds, that he was loyal to the United States.

    He looked at himself in the mirror. Perhaps he didn’t cut the most martial of figures even in his uniform, but the militia wouldn’t care. He had given the order a month ago. By now there should be a force assembled in Portland and ready to move.

    His bags were packed. He was ready for war. If Sherbrooke wouldn’t leave Castine of his own free will, Strong would drive him out.

    * * *

    April 7, 1815

    A packet ship left Liverpool harbor carrying messages from all over the British Isles — but not as many as usual. The captain had been given one message in particular, from the Prince Regent to the Duke of Wellington, and been ordered to sail as soon as the tide allowed.

    By the standards of the time, packet ships were very fast indeed. This one could make the voyage from Liverpool to New York City in a mere forty days. Of course, finding Wellington, unlike finding New York, would take up at least a few days. Nonetheless, the captain was confident he would have the message in the general’s hands before the end of May.
    The Point of No Return (3)
  • April 17, 1815
    Halifax, Nova Scotia

    The Duke of Wellington looked up from his desk.

    “What is it?”

    “Cochrane and Murray are here, sir,” said Morriset in that odd whistling voice that no one else could imitate, although a good many sailors had been flogged for trying over the course of their journey. (Personally, Wellington thought the man was doing well to be able to talk at all out of that skewed and slightly off-center mouth.)

    Major James Morisset, recently of the 80th Foot, was his aide-de-camp for this expedition. The major always wore his dress uniform, with well-polished buttons and as much gold braid as he could get away with. He looked more like a dandy than a soldier, until you caught sight of his face, and then you wished you had kept your eyes shut.

    “Bring them in,” said Wellington.

    Morisset was an old Spanish hand who’d had the misfortune of fighting at Albuera under Beresford. In his case, the great misfortune — the bones of his face had been shattered by an explosion, and had healed… wrong. Fortunately, his brain was undamaged, and he was a harsher disciplinarian than Wellington, which was a useful quality in a subordinate.

    He also had a gift for intimidation. As Cochrane entered, Morriset turned his head to show the admiral the most damaged part of his face. (The major had the habit of doing this — partly as a way of daring other men to look at him, and partly because, although he could still see out of the eye on that side, he couldn’t move it.)

    “Good morning, Your Grace,” said Cochrane.

    “’Sir’ will suffice,” said Wellington. “I have been given plenipotentiary power here, which makes me your commanding officer. Something I hope Keane, Sherbrooke and yourself will bear in mind, as you have all exceeded your authority to a degree that I have never before seen in British officers.” Cochrane had the grace to look a little ashamed.

    “Now then… what is the situation in Louisiana?”

    “When I left, it was a cease-fire. General Keane was still offering to mediate the matter, but the dirty-shirts were determined to retake the place by force and the New Orleanians were refusing to allow it.”

    “Well, that does make things more complicated.” The duke spared a moment to think a few more disgusted thoughts about the mess Cousin Jonathan had made. Trying to burn down your own city… Lisbon wasn't even a British city, but if Masséna had somehow pierced the Lines of Torres Vedras, Wellington would not have destroyed it on the way out any more than Moore had torched Corunna.

    “If it is not out of line for me to say so, sir,” said Cochrane, “although the decision lies in your hands, I can’t believe that the Crown would send such a large body of men with you on the expectation that you wouldn’t use it.”

    “You are most likely right,” said Wellington, “but if I can resolve this matter peacefully, I will do so. To that end…” He turned to Sir George Murray, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada.

    “You have delivered my message?” Wellington had sent a message to the president, offering to negotiate over the disposition and boundaries of Louisiana.

    “I have,” said Murray, “but… permission to speak freely?”

    “By all means.”

    “President Madison has issued an ultimatum. He’s given us until the end of April to quit all U.S. territory, or he will give the order to resume the war. From the tone of his remarks, I don’t imagine he will accept another negotiated peace — not even from yourself. What he wants, I think, is for the world to respect his nation.”

    Cochrane made a noise that was half laugh, half gasp of disbelief. “A little bandits’ lair on the far side of the pond, shouting out death threats to every crowned head on Earth… what about that are we supposed to respect? What have they done in this war to command respect? Do they think themselves conquistadors because His Majesty decided they weren’t worth”—

    “Be silent,” said Wellington. “Now, Lieutenant-Governor, how do the colonial forces stand?”

    “Ready to resume the war, if necessary,” said Murray.

    “What about Prévost? Is he gone?”

    “Yes, sir. He left Quebec not two weeks ago. Sir Gordon Drummond is in command of Canadian forces.”


    “He’s concentrating his army north of Lake Champlain. He’s expecting you to join him.”

    “Is he? Well, Sir Gordon may do as he pleases, but not with my army. We have attacked the United States twice by way of that corridor, and failed both times. If we come at them the same old way, they’ll beat us the same old way.”

    “If you wish, sir,” said Cochrane, much more humbly than before, “I could undertake the transfer of your army to Louisiana or Florida.”

    “That would take too long,” said Wellington. “I have already sent reinforcements to both places. If it comes to war, they’ll have to stand on the defensive.” Most of his army was positioned on the Maine-New Brunswick border. (The old border, not the Penobscot. Wellington still held out some hope of peace, and he certainly wasn’t going to go to war for the sake of Sherbrooke’s “New Ireland.”)

    Wellington took out a map of New England.

    “This afternoon I will take ship for St. George, New Brunswick,” he said. “That will be my command post.

    “If it comes to war, this is my plan of attack. We will start here and proceed south along the coast, supplying the army by sea — you will be in charge of that aspect, Admiral Cochrane. Our aim will be not to conquer and hold territory, but to force the United States to the negotiating table.”

    “The terrain will be difficult, sir,” said Murray.

    “The terrain is difficult? Heavens,” said Wellington dryly, thinking of the rocky hillsides of Maharashtra and Spain, where he had done quite well.

    “And there are several rivers you would have to cross — the Penobscot, the Merrimack…”

    Wellington restrained himself from rolling his eyes. For as long as he’d been in the army, it seemed, he’d had to put up with people who treated rivers as though they were impassable barriers — too deep, too swift, the bridges were out, the water was full of crocodiles, etc. His first victory had been at Assaye — two villages within five hundred yards of one another on either side of a river, and the natives had had the cheek to tell him there was no ford between them.

    “I crossed an ocean to get here,” he said. “I think I can manage a few rivers. Of course, if the president agrees to talk, all this will become moot.”

    “What about Sherbrooke, sir?” said Murray. “Will you be commanding him to leave Castine?”

    “As I said in my letter to Madison, my first act on receiving his reply will be to give that order. We have no real claim on it, and so long as we control the sea it adds nothing to our strategic advantage. Nonetheless, it does not pay to make concessions until the other side at least shows some willingness to negotiate.”
    Bloody May (1)
  • The Battle of Castine
    “Benedict Arnold proved that a hero can die a traitor. Caleb Strong proved that a traitor can die a hero.” — historian Charles Cerniglia
    “Bloody May” — the sudden resumption in hostilities after three months of cease-fire — actually began in the last week of April, when Governor Strong led a force of 10,000 Massachusetts militiamen towards the British-occupied town of Castine to demand Sherbrooke’s immediate withdrawal. There he found the 29th encamped across the not-quite-half-mile-wide isthmus between Wadsworth Cove and Hatch Cove.
    Which side is to blame for starting the battle is a matter of historical contention. The general agreement is that the British refused to get out of the Americans’ way, and opened fire when the Americans refused to stop.
    After taking heavy casualties, the militiamen drove the British back from the isthmus. Sherbrooke re-formed his lines behind the canal. It was while forcing a crossing of this canal that Governor Strong was killed. When they found themselves charging uphill towards Fort George, occupied by two more regiments, the militia had had enough. They retreated to Bucksport, and from there began marching to reinforce the border.

    David Harvey Copp, Military Engagements of the War of 1812
    Bloody May (2)
  • The Battle of the Great Chazy River

    “They are not monsters. They are not devils. They are men, they are no stronger or more enduring of body than we are, and THEY CAN BE DEFEATED. I have seen it done. I have done it before.” — General Jacob Jennings Brown
    Shortly after Wellington crossed the border, the Glengarry Light Infantry and a substantial force of Canadian militia, including the Voltigeurs, invaded the United States between Mooers and Champlain, headed for Plattsburgh.
    As they were fording the Great Chazy River (“Great compared to what?” said one Voltigeur) they were met by 5,000 U.S. army regulars from the Army of the Niagara, under the personal command of General Brown. The heavily wooded terrain did not allow either side to enter formation, but the Americans were able to make use of trees and improvised cover. Over 100 British and Canadians were killed, compared with 14 Americans, before the retreat. Brown did not pursue — Madison had ordered him not to attempt to hold Canadian territory, but instead to prepare to engage Wellington.

    David Harvey Copp, Military Engagements of the War of 1812
    Bloody May (3)
  • The Battle of Madambontis Lake
    “The trouble with being the fastest dog in the hunt is you might catch up to the bear before the others do.” — anonymous Massachusetts militia volunteer
    General Wellington and his army began their march through U.S. territory on May 5, slipping their army between two American forces guarding the border. The Americans immediately began pursuit. In their haste, the Massachusetts militiamen allowed some of their faster regiments to get too far ahead of the main body.
    As a result, when one regiment encountered Wellington’s rear guard the next day north of Madambontis Lake, it found itself severely outnumbered by soldiers who were already individually more competent. In the ensuing skirmish, seventeen Americans and nine Britons were killed or wounded before the Americans retreated.

    David Harvey Copp, Military Engagements of the War of 1812

    Note: Madambontis Lake is what we call (when we call it anything, which isn't often) Meddybemps Lake.

    DS Bloody May Basic 2.0.png
    Bloody May (4)
  • The Second Siege of Detroit
    “I am not William Hull.” — Lieutenant Colonel (later General) George Armistead
    The 41st regiment, which had captured Detroit once before, was sent to do so again, backed up by the Michigan Fencibles and over 500 Native Americans of various tribes. When it crossed the river, it encountered over 600 regular U.S. troops under Armistead’s command.
    Following a brief battle, the Americans abandoned the waterfront and retreated to Fort Shelby. After the first two attacks failed on the fort failed, the British settled in for a siege. More Native Americans, primarily Shawnee and Wyandot, joined in the effort. However, the fort proved adequately equipped with food, powder and shot, and the new allies of the British overwhelmed the planned logistical support. The Native Americans dispersed when the food ran short. Seeing their allies leaving, the British abandoned the siege at the end of the month.
    Contrary to popular misimpression, Armistead was not killed in the battle, or even wounded. The prolonged effort took its toll on his health, however, and he died of heart failure shortly afterward.

    David Harvey Copp, Military Engagements of the War of 1812
    Bloody May (5)
  • The Battle of Merrymeeting Bay
    Leave your weapons here. Go home. Pray you never cross my path again.” — Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, to the surviving militia
    Two days before the battle, Wellington’s already substantial army had been reinforced by the addition of the three regiments under the command of Sherbrooke. (History does not record what Wellington said to Sherbrooke when they met, but witnesses describe the lieutenant-governor as appearing “chastened” as he emerged from the tent.) The combined army was more than a match for the 15,000-strong force of Massachusetts militia encamped between Lily’s Cove and Cork Cove, under the command of Major General Joseph Whiton.
    Wellington chose to attack at first light, so that the sun would shine increasingly in the Americans’ eyes over the course of the battle. This, however, proved irrelevant. The militia were taken completely by surprise, and by the time the sun had cleared the treeline, they had been thoroughly routed. Whiton was killed in the opening volleys of the attack.
    In fifteen minutes, the militia had been driven into the bay. Literally — the senior surviving officer was standing in water up to the knees when he offered his surrender. The Americans suffered a loss of 1,128 killed and wounded to the British-Canadian loss of 42.

    David Harvey Copp, Military Engagements of the War of 1812
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    Bloody May (6)
  • The Second Battle of LaPlace
    “People of Louisiana! Here I am and here I shall remain, until the King of England or the Angel of Death command my departure.” — Major General John Keane, the day before the battle
    Keane’s army had built a fortified line upriver from New Orleans, stretching from the Mississippi to Lake Ponchartrain. There were several gunboats on the lake, and a number of the local “algerines” had been persuaded to patrol the river. On the American side, General Coffee’s losses at Natchez had been more than made up by Choctaws under the command of Pushmataha and additional regiments of Kentucky and Tennessee militia.
    On the first day, Coffee tried a series of probing attacks while keeping the bulk of his army in reserve, searching for a possible weak spot. On the second day, he ordered an all-out attack on the northern end of the line, near the lake, where there were only a few dozen New Orleans volunteers and no artillery. The lake gunboats arrived in time to strike his army with enfilading fire, and the attack was a disaster.
    The third day was quiet, except for a confused battle after dusk when Pushamataha’s Choctaws canoed past the pirates and attacked the city. Pirates, Choctaws and volunteers fought on the docks without being able to clearly see one another. Nonetheless, many of the Choctaws were killed or captured, and the attack yielded no tactical advantage.
    On the fourth day, Coffee had to turn upriver to deal with the fact that the Chickasaw had begun raiding his supply lines. (After the war, the Chickasaw would be granted a residency in Louisiana.)

    David Harvey Copp, Military Engagements of the War of 1812
    Bloody May (7)
  • The Sack of the Ports
    5/14, 5/17​
    “Remember the ‘beauty and booty’ you were promised in New Orleans? Here it is, men! Make the most of it!” — Admiral Alexander Cochrane, at Portland
    Wellington’s overall strategy was to march down the coast, supplied by sea, torching the major American ports — Boston, Providence, the Connecticut ports, New York City if necessary — until the U.S. government agreed to come to the bargaining table. Due to the necessity for speed, there was a limit to how much damage his army could stop to commit, and stopping to loot was out of the question.
    No such restrictions applied to Cochrane. While the Portland militia and volunteers were arrayed in a line northeast of the city to meet Welllington, Cochrane sailed in virtually unopposed, and the Royal and Colonial Marines under his command sacked and burned much of the town center, then fought a defensive battle amid the flaming rubble as they retreated to the ships.
    Three days later, at Portsmouth, Cochrane found the city militia waiting at the docks for him. He was unable to loot the city, but did manage to set much of the port on fire, including the shipyard.

    David Harvey Copp, Military Engagements of the War of 1812