When Men Grew Tall, or The Story Of Andrew Jackson
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The General nods to this. He does not expect Lieutenant Jones to defend the city alone. Commodore Patterson continues: “There are the schooner Carolina and the ship Louisiana in the river, but they are out of commission and have no crews.”
“Enlist crews at once!” urges the General.
The General appoints Mr. Livingston to his staff, and the pair make a tour of the suburbs and the flat, marshy regions round about. The General is alert, inquisitive; he is studying the strategic advantages and disadvantages of the place. When he returns he orders a muster of the city’s military strength for the next day. The review occurs, and the General declares himself pleased with the display.
Commodore Patterson comes to say that, while the streets are full of sailors, not one will enlist. The General asks the Legislature to suspend the habeas corpus. That done, he will organize press gangs and enlist those reluctant “volunteers” by force. The Legislature refuses, and the General’s eyes begin to sparkle.
“To-morrow, Ned,” says he, “I shall clap your city under martial law.”
“But, my dear General,” urges Mr. Livingston, who, being a lawyer, reveres the law, “you haven’t the authority.”
“But, my dear Ned,” replies the determined General, “I have the power. Which is more to the point.”
The General declares civil rule suspended, and puts the city under martial law. It is as though he lays his strong, bony hand on the shoulder of every man, and, the first shock over, every man feels safer for it. The press gangs are formed, and scores of seafaring “volunteers” are carried aboard the Carolina and Louisiana in irons. Once aboard and irons off, the “volunteers” become miracles of zeal and patriotic fire, furbishing up the dormant broadside guns, filling the shot racks, and making ready the magazines, hearts light as larks, as though to fight invading English is the one pleasant purpose of their lives; for such is the seafaring nature.
The General’s “press” does not confine itself to sailors. Negroes, mules, carts, shovels, and picks are brought under his rigid thumb. Every gun, every sword, every pistol is collected and stored for use when needed. Meanwhile, the indefatigable Coffee arrives, marching seventy miles the last day and fifty the day before to join his beloved chief. Also Captain Hinds of the dragoons is no less headlong, and brings his command two hundred and thirty miles in four days, such is his heat to fight beneath the blue, commanding eye of the General.
Nor is this all. A day goes by, and Colonel Carroll steps ashore from a fleet of flatboats, at the head of a hunting-shirt force from the Cumberland country. The backwoods cheer which goes up when the new hunting-shirt men see the General, brings the water to his eyes with thoughts of home. Lastly, Colonel Adair appears with his force of Kentuckians. These latter are a disappointment, being practically unarmed, owning but one gun among ten.
“Ain’t you got no guns for us, Gin’ral?” asks one of the Kentucky captains anxiously.
“I am sorry to say I have not,” returns the General.
“Well,” responds the Kentuckian, while a look of satisfaction begins to struggle into his face, as though he has hit upon a solution of the tangle, “well, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, then.Which the boys’ll just nacherally go out on the firin’ line with the rest, an’ then as fast as one of them Tennesseans gets knocked over, we’ll up an’ inherit his gun.”
CHAPTER XIII – THE WATCH FIRES OF THE ENGLISH
THESE are busy times for the General. He lives on rice and coffee, and goes days and nights without sleep. He sends the tireless Coffee, with his hunting-shirt men, to take position below the city, between the morass and the river. Finally he orders all his forces below – Colonel Carroll with his new hunting-shirt men, Colonel Adair with his unarmed Kentuckians, the hard-riding Captain Hinds with his dragoons, as well as the muster of local military companies, among the rest Major Plauche’s battalion of “Fathers of Families.” There are a great many filial as well as paternal tears shed when the “Fathers of Families” march away to the field of certain honor and possible death; even Papa Plauche himself does not refrain from a sob or two. The “Fathers of Families” take with them their band, which musical organization plays the Chant du Depart, whereat, catching the tempo, they strut heroically. The rough hunting-shirt men are much interested in the “Fathers of Families,” and think them as good as a play.
The General busies himself about his headquarters, and waits for news of the English, of whose coming he has word. One afternoon appears a lean little dark man, with black, beady eyes, like a rat. He introduces himself; he is Jean Lafitte, the “Pirate of Barrataria.” Only he explains that he is really no pirate at all, not even a sailor; at the worst he is simply the innocent shore agent or business manager of pirates. Also, he declares that he is very patriotic and very rich, and might add “very criminal” without startling the truth.
Why has he come to see Monsieur General? Only to show him a letter from the English Admiralty, brought by the General’s old friend, Captain Percy, late of H. R. H. Ship Hermes, offering him, Jean Lafitte, a captain’s commission in the royal navy, thirty thousand dollars in English gold, and the privilege of looting. New Orleans, if he will but aid in the city’s capture. Now he, Jean Lafitte, scorning these base attempts upon his honor, desires to offer his own and the services of his buccaneers to the General in repulsing those villain English, whom he looks upon with loathing as Greeks bearing gifts.
“Only,” concludes Jean Lafitte, his black rat eyes taking on a sly expression, “my two best captains, Dominique and Bluche, together with most of their crews, are locked up in the New Orleans calaboose.”
The General considers a moment, looking the while deep into the rat eyes of Jean Lafitte. The scrutiny is satisfactory; there is nothing there save an anxiety to get his men out of jail. This the General is pleased to regard as creditable to Jean Lafitte. He comes back to the question in hand.
“Dominique and Bluche,” he repeats. “Can they fight?”
“They can do anything with a cannon, Monsieur General, which your sharpshooters do with their squirrel rifles.”
The General has the caged Dominique and Bluche brought before him. They are hardy, daring, brown men of the sea, with bushy hair, curling beards, gold rings in their ears, crimson handkerchiefs about their heads, gay shirts, sashes of silk, short voluminous trousers, like Breton fisherman, and loose sea boots – altogether of the brine briny are Dominique and Bluche. One glance convinces the General. The order is issued, and the two pirates with their followers take their places as artillerists where the wary Coffee may keep an eye on them.
The English fleet arrives and anchors off the Louisiana coast. Loaded scuppers-deep with soldiers and sailors and marines, the lighter craft enter Lake Borgne. They sight the six cockleshells of Lieutenant Jones, and make for them.
Lieutenant Jones, with his cockleshells, slowly and carefully retreats. He retreats so carefully that one after another the English boats, to the round number of a score, run aground on divers mud banks, where they stick, looking exceeding foolish. When the last pursuing boat is fast on the mud banks, Lieutenant Jones anchors his six cockleshells where the English may only get at him in small boats, and awaits results.
The English are in no wise backward. Down splash the small boats, in tumble the men, and presently they are pulling down upon the waiting Lieutenant Jones – twelve men for every one of his. The small boats have swivels mounted in their bows, and by way of preliminary, stand off from the six cockleshells, waging battle with their little bow guns. This is a mistake. Lieutenant Jones returns the fire from his cockleshells, sinks four of the small boats, and spills out the crews among the alligators. Unhappily, it is winter, and the alligators are sound asleep in the mud below, by which effect of the season the spilled ones are pulled aboard their sister boats with legs and arms intact.
Being reorganized, and having enough of swivel war, the English fleet of small boats rush the six cockleshells, and after a fierce struggle, take them by weight of numbers. The English Captain Lockyer, following the fight, wipes the blood from his face, which has been scratched by a cutlass, and reports to Admiral Cockrane his success, and adds:
“The American loss is, killed and wounded, sixty; English, ninety-four.”
Being masters of Lake Borgne, the English go about the landing of troops on Pine Island. The sixteen hundred first ashore are formed into an advance battalion and ordered forward. They go splashing through the swamps toward the river like so many muskrats, and in the wet, cold, dripping end crawl out on a narrow belt of sugar-cane stubble which bristles between the levee and the swamp from which they have emerged. Finding dry land under their feet, they cheer up a bit, and build fires to make comfortable their bivouac while waiting the coming of their comrades, still wallowing in the swamp.
Night descends, but finds those sixteen hundred of the English advance reasonably gay; for, while the present is distressing, their fellows by brigades will be with them in the morning, and they may then march on to sumptuous New Orleans, where – as goes their war word – theirs shall be the “Beauty and Booty” for which they have come so far. And so the chilled, starved sixteen hundred of that English advance hold out their benumbed hands to the fires, and console themselves with what the poet describes as “The Pleasures of Anticipation.” And in this instance, of course, the anticipations are sure of fulfillment, for what shall withstand them? The raw, cowardly militia of the country? Absurd!
As confirmatory of this, a subaltern hands about a copy of the London Sun which has a description of Americans. The others peruse it by the light of their camp fires. It makes timely reading, since it is ever worth while to gather – so that they be reliable – what scraps one may descriptive of an enemy. The English, crouched about their fires, are much benefited by the following:
“The American armies of Copper Captains and Falstaff recruits defy the pen of satire to paint them worse than they are – worthless, lying, treacherous, false, slanderous, cowardly, and vaporing heroes, with boasting on their loud tongues and terror in their quaking hearts. Were it not that the course of punishment they are to receive is necessary to the ends of moral and political justice, we declare before our country that we should feel ashamed of victory over such ignoble foes. The quarrel resembles one between a gentleman and a sweep – the former may beat the low scoundrel to his heart’s content, but there is no honor in the exploit, and he is sure to be covered with the soil and dirt of his ignominious antagonist. But necessity will sometimes compel us to descend from our station to chastise a vagabond, and endure the degradation of such a contest in order to repress, by wholesome correction, the presumptuous insolence and mischievous designs of the basest assailant.”
The young English officers find this refreshing as literature. It might have been less uplifting could they have foreseen how ninety years later England will fawn upon and flatter and wheedle America to the point which sickens, while her bankrupt nobility make that despised region a hunting ground where, equipped of a title and a coat of arms, they track heiresses to lairs of gold and marry them.
Now that the satisfied English are asleep about their fires, it behooves one to hear how the General is faring. The day with him is one fraught with work. Word reaches him of the captured cockleshells on Lake Borgne. Also it reaches that valuable Legislature – honeycombed of treason.
The Legislature sends a committee to ask the General what will be his course if he’s beaten back. The General is hardly courteous:
“Tell your honorable body,” says he, “that if disaster overtake me and the fate of war drives me from my lines to the city, they may expect to have a very warm session.”
Mr. Livingston catches the adjective. The committee having departed, he propounds a query.
“A warm session, General!” says he. “What do you mean by that?”
“Ned,” replies the General, “if I am beaten here, I shall fall back on the city, fire it, and fight it out in the flames! Nothing for the maintenance of the enemy shall be left. New Orleans destroyed, I shall occupy a position on the river above, cut off supplies, and, since I can’t drive, I shall starve the English out of the country. There is this difference, Ned, between me and those fellows from the Legislature. They think only of the city and its safety. For my side, I’m not here to defend the city, but the nation at large.”
On the heels of this, the Legislature whispers of surrendering Louisiana to the English by resolution. It is scarcely feasible as a plan, but it angers the General. He stations a guard at the door of the chamber and turns the members away.
“We can dispense with your sessions,” says he. “We have laws enough; our great need now is men and muskets at the front.”
The patricians of the Legislature are scandalized as being shut out of their chamber.
“Did I not tell you,” cries the prophetic House Speaker, “did I not tell you this fellow was a desperado, and would wage war like a savage?”
The members retire from the guarded doors, cursing the General under their breath. Their doorkeeper, a low, common person, is so struck by what the General has said anent men and muskets, that he gets a gun and joins that “desperado.” And wherefore no? Patriotism has been the mark of vulgar souls in every age.
Colonel Coffee’s hunting-shirt scouts come in and report the watch fires of those sixteen hundred of the English advance winking and blinking among the sugar stubble.
“Ah!” says the General, “I’ve a mind to disturb their dreams.”
The General dispatches word to Commodore Patterson to have the Carolina in readiness to act with his forces. Then he sends for the indispensable Coffee.
“Coffee, we shall attack them to-night.”
The wise Coffee gives the grunt acquiescent.
“Thank you, Coffee!” says the General.
The council over, Colonel Coffee goes to turn out the troops. This is to be done softly, as a surprise is aimed at.
Now on the dread threshold of battle, Papa Plauche of the “Fathers of Families” is overcome. As the intrepid “Fathers” fall into line, tears fill Papa Plauche’s eyes, and he appeals to neighbor St. Geme.
“I am a Frenchman!” cries Papa Plauche, tossing his arms; “I am a Frenchman, and do not fear to die! But, alas! mon St. Geme, I fear I have not the courage to lead the ‘Fathers of Families’ to slaughter.”
“Hush, Papa Plauche!” returns the good St. Geme, made wretched by the grief of his friend. “Hush! Command yourself! Do not let the wild General hear you; he will not, with his coarse nature, understand such sentiments.”
Captain Roche, of the “Fathers of Families,” steps in front of his company. Striking his breast melodramatically, he sings out:
“Sergeant Roche, advance!”
Sergeant Roche advances.
“Embrace me, brother!” cries Captain Roche in broken utterances, “embrace me! It is perhaps for the last time.”
The brothers Roche embrace, and the “Fathers of Families” are melted by the tableau.
“Sergeant Roche, return to your place!” commands the devoted Captain Roche, and the sergeant, weeping, lapses into the ranks.
The hunting-shirt men, witnesses of these touching scenes, are rude enough to laugh, and by way of parody embrace one another effusively. As they depart through the dark for their station, they break into whispered debate as to whether the theatrical grief of Papa Plauche, the brothers Roche, and the “Fathers of Families” is due to their creole blood, or their city breeding, either, according to the theories of the hunting-shirt men, being calculated to promote the effeminate in a man. While they thus wrangle, there comes an angry hissing whisper from Colonel Coffee, like the hiss of a serpent:
Every hunting-shirt man is stricken dumb. They move forward like shadows, right flank skirting the cypress swamp. To the far left they hear the moccasined, half-muffled tramp of Colonel Carroll’s men – their hunting-shirt brothers from the Cumberland. As they turn a bend in the swamp, they see not a furlong away the flickering and shadow dancing of the watch fires of the tired English. At this every hunting-shirt man makes certain the flint is secure in the hammer of his rifle, and loosens the knife and tomahawk in his rawhide belt.
CHAPTER XIV – THE BATTLE IN THE DARK
AS the hunting-shirt men come within sight of the blinking lights, which polka-dot the sugar stubble in front and mark the bivouac of the English, Colonel Coffee sends the whispered word along the line to halt. At this, the hunting-shirt men crouch in the lee of the cypress swamp, and wait. Colonel Coffee is lying by for the signal which shall tell him to begin.
Before the movement commences, the General calls Colonel Coffee to one of their celebrated conferences.
“It is my purpose, Coffee,” explains the General, “merely to shake them up a bit. An attack will cure them of overconfidence, and break the teeth of their conceit. This should hold them in check, and give us time for certain earthworks I meditate. The signal will be a gun from the Carolina. When you hear the gun, Coffee, attack everything wearing a red coat. But be careful!” Here the General lifts a long, admonitory finger. “Do not follow too far! Reinforcements are crawling out of the swamp to the rear of the English every hour, and the only certainty is that, even as we talk, they outnumber us two for one.”
The faithful Coffee departs. As he reaches the door, the General calls after him:
“Don’t forget, Coffee! The gun from the Carolina!”
The hunting-shirt men lie waiting by the cypress swamp. On their near left is Papa Plauche and his “Fathers of Families.” Beyond these is a half company of regulars, which the General has brought up from the near-by post. On the Bayou Road, between the regulars and the river, is the General himself, with a brace of small field pieces.
It is a moonless night, and what light the stars might furnish is withheld by a blanket-screen of thick clouds. No night could be darker; for, lest an occasional star find a cloud-rift and peer through, a fog drifts up from the river. This is good for the English, since it hides their watch fires, which one by one are lost in the mists. The darkness deepens until even the hawk-eyed hunting-shirt men, trained by much night fighting to a nocturnal keenness of vision, are unable to make out their nearest comrades.
The pitch blackness, and the fog chill creeping over him, tell on Papa Plauche. He whispers sorrowfully to his friend St. Geme.
“Neighbor St. Geme,” he says, “these differences should be adjusted by argument, and not by deadly guns. I see that he who would either shoot or be shot by his fellow-man; is in an erroneous position.”
Before the kindly St. Geme may frame response, a liquid tongue of flame illuminates the broad dark bosom of the river. It is followed sharply by a crashing “Boom!” This is the word from the Carolina.
The signal carries dismay into the hearts of the English, since Commodore Patterson, whose genius is thoroughgoing, is at pains to load the gun with two pecks of slugs, and eighty-four killed and wounded are the red English harvest of that one discharge. The frightened drums beat the alarm, and the ranks of English form. As they grasp their arms the nine broadside guns of the Carolina begin to rake them. With this the English fall slowly back from the river.
The rearward movement, while managed slowly because of the darkness, brings discouraging results. The English retreat into the hunting-shirt men, who are skirmishing up from the cypress swamp. The English are first told of this new danger by the spitting flashes which remind them of needles of fire, and the crack of the long squirrel rifles like the snapping of a whip. Here and there, too, a groan is heard, as the sightless lead finds some English breast. This augments the blind horror of the hour.
The trapped English reply in a desultory fashion, and make a bad matter worse. The hunting-shirt men locate them by the flash of their guns, at which they shoot with incredible quickness and accuracy. With men falling like November’s leaves, the English give ground to the south, which saves them somewhat from both the Carolina and the hunting-shirt men.
Guessing the English direction, the hunting-shirt men follow, loading and firing as they advance. Now and then a hunting-shirt man overtakes an individual foe, and settles the national differences which divide them with tomahawk and knife. It is cruel work – this unseeing bloodshed in the dark, and disturbingly new to the English, who express their dislike for it.
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