When Men Grew Tall, or The Story Of Andrew Jackson
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While the hunting-shirt men drive the English along the fringe of the cypress swamp, the General, a half mile nearer the river, is working his two field pieces. Affairs proceed to his warlike satisfaction – and this is saying a deal for one so insatiate in matters of blood – until a flying ounce of lucky English lead wounds a horse on the number two gun. This brings present relief to those English in the General’s front; for the hurt animal upsets the gun into the ditch. It takes fifteen minutes to put it on its proper wheels again. The accident disgruntles the General; but he bears it with what philosophy he may, and in good truth is pleased to find that the gun carriage has not been smashed in the upset.
“Save the gun!” is his word to the artillery men; and when it is saved he praises them.
At the booming signal from the Carolina, the intrepid Papa Plauche cries out:
“Forwards, brave Fathers of Families! Forwards, heroes!”
The “Fathers” respond, and go on with the hunting-shirt men. But their pace is sedate; and this last results in an impoliteness which disturbs the excellent Papa Plauche to the core.
The hunting-shirt men are, for the major portion, riotous young blades from the backwoods. Moreover, they are used to this prowling warfare of the night. Is it wonder then that they advance more rapidly than does Papa Plauche with his “Fathers,” whose step is measured and dignified as becomes the heads of households?
Thus it befalls that, do their dignified best, Papa Plauche and his “Fathers” are left behind by the hunting-shirt men, who, deploying more and still more to the left, extend themselves in front of Papa Plauche. This does not suit the latter’s hardy tastes, and he frets ferociously. He grows condemnatory, as the spitting rifle flashes show him that the vainglorious hunting-shirt men are between him and those English whom he hungers to destroy. Indeed, he fumes like tiger cheated of its prey.
“But we shall extricate ourselves, neighbor St. Geme!” cries Papa Plauche. “We shall yet extricate ourselves! Behold!”
The “Behold!” is the foreword of certain masterly maneuvers by Papa Plauche among the sugar stubble. The maneuvers free the farseeing Papa Plauche and his “Fathers” from those obstructive, unmannerly hunting-shirt men, who have cut off their advance even in its indomitable bud. The “Fathers” being better used to shop floors than plowed fields, however, make difficult work of it. At last courage has its reward, and the “Fathers” uncover their dauntless front.
“Oh, my brave St. Geme!” cries Papa Plauche, when his strategy has put the hunting-shirt men on his right, where they belong, “nothing can save the caitiff English now! Those ruffians in hunting tunics who protected them no longer impede our front. Forwards!”
The final word has hardly issued from between the clenched teeth of Papa Plauche when a rustling in the stubble apprises him of the foe.
“Fire, Fathers of Families, fire!” shouts Papa Plauche, and such is the fury which consumes him that the shout is no shout, but a screech.
It is enough! One by one each “Father” discharges his flintlock.The procession of reports is rather ragged, and now and again a considerable wait occurs between shots, like a great gap in a picket fence. Still, the last “Father” finally finds the trigger, and the command of Papa Plauche is obeyed.
The “Fathers” hurt no one by this savage volley, for their aim like their hearts is high. It is quite as well they do not. The stubble-disturbing force in front chances to be none other than that half company of regulars, to whose rear it seems the inadvertent Papa Plauche, in freeing them from the hunting-shirt men, has led his “Fathers.” The regulars are in a towering rage with Papa Plauche; but since no one has been injured, and Papa Plauche is profuse in his apologies, their anger presently subsides. The regulars again take up their bloody work upon the retreating English, while the discouraged Papa Plauche and the “Fathers,” full of confusion and chagrin at twice being balked, remain where they are.
“After all, neighbor St. Geme,” observes Papa Plauche, “the mistake was theirs. Did they not usurp the place which belonged to the English, in thus getting in front of us? It should teach them to beware how they put themselves in the path of my ‘Fathers,’ whose wrath is terrible.”
For two black, sightless hours the huntingshirt men crowd the English to the south. Then the General draws them off. They come, bringing as captives one colonel, two majors, three captains, and sixty-four privates. Also they have killed and wounded two hundred and thirteen of the English, which comforts them marvelously. They themselves have suffered but slightly, and the backloads of English guns they carry will gladden many an unarmed Kentucky heart.
Now when he has them together, the beloved Coffee at their head, the General leads the way to the thither side of the Roderiquez Canal, where he plans a line of breastworks. Arriving, the weary hunting-shirt men build fires, and make themselves easy for the balance of the night.
After a brief rest, the thoughtful General detaches a party with one of the field guns, to interest the English until daylight.
“For I think, Coffee,” says he, “that if we keep them awake, they will be apt to sleep tomorrow; and so leave us free to work on our defenses.”
CHAPTER XV – COTTON BALES AND SUGAR CASKS
IT is the day before Christmas when the General lays out his line for fortifications. The Roderiquez Canal is no canal at all, but a disused mill race, which an active man can leap and any one may wade. The General will make a moat of it, and raise his breastworks along its mile-length muddy course, between the river and the cypress swamp. He keeps an army of mules and negroes, with scrapers and carts, hard at work, heaping up the earth. A boat load of cotton is lying at the levee. The cotton bales are rolled ashore, and added to the heaped-up earth. This pleases Papa Plauche.
“It is singular,” he remarks to neighbor St. Geme, “that cotton, which has been my business support for years, should now defend my life.”
There is a low place to the General’s front. He cuts the levee; and soon the Mississippi furnishes three feet of water, to serve as a wet drawback to any English advance. The latter, however, are not thinking on an advance. Supports have come dripping from the swamp, and swollen their numbers to threefold the General’s force; but none the less their hearts are weak. That horrifying night attack, when their blood was shed in the dark, has broken the heart of their vanity, and a paralyzing fear of those dangerous hunting-shirt men lies all across the English like a cloud. More and worse, the Carolina swings downstream, abreast of their position, and her broadsides drive them to hide in ditches and the cypress borders of the swamp. There is no peace, no safety, on the flat, stubble ground, while light remains by which to point the Carolina’s guns.
Nor does nightfall bring relief. Those empty-handed Kentuckians must be provided for; and, no sooner does the sun go down, than the hunting-shirt men by two and three go forth in search of English muskets. They shoot down sentries, and carry away their dead belongings. Does an English group assemble round a camp fire, it becomes an invitation seldom neglected. A party of hunting-shirt men creep within range and begin the butchery. There is never the moment, daylight and dark, when the unhappy English are not within the icy reach of death. There is no repose, no safety! A chill dread claims them like a palsy!
The English complain bitterly at this bushwhacking; which, to the hunting-shirt men, reared in schools of Indian war, is the merest A B C of battle. The harassed English denounce the General as a barbarian, in whose savage bosom burns no spark of chivalry. They recall how in their late campaigns in Spain, English and French pickets spent peace-filled weeks within fifty yards of one another, exchanging nothing more deadly than coffee and compliments.
The grim General refuses to be affected by the French-English example. He continues to pile up his earthworks, while the hunting-shirt men go forth to pot nightly English as usual. The situation wears away the courage of the English to a white and paper thinness.
While the General is fortifying his lines, and the hunting-shirt men are stalking English sentinels, peace is signed in Europe between America and England. But Europe is far away; and there is no Atlantic cable. And so the General continues at his congenial labors undisturbed.
Christmas does not go unrecognized in the General’s camp. He himself attempts nothing of festival sort, and only drives his fortifying mules and negroes the harder. But the hunting-shirt men celebrate by cleaning their rifles, molding bullets, refilling powder horns, and whetting knives and tomahawks to a more lethal edge.
As for Papa Plauche and the “Fathers of Families,” they become jocund. Their wives and daughters purvey them roast fowls in little wicker baskets, and the warmest wines of Burgundy in bottles. Whereupon Papa Plauche and his “Fathers” wax blithe and merry, singing the songs of France and talking of old loves.
And now Sir Edward Pakenham arrives, and relieves General Keane in command of the English. With him comes General Gibbs. The two listen to the reports of General Keane, and shrug polite shoulders as he speaks of the savage valor of the Americans. It is preposterous that peasants clad in skins, and not a bayonet among them, should check the flower of England. General Keane does not reply to the polite shrug. He reflects that the General, with his hunting-shirt men, can be relied upon to later make convincing answer.
Upon the morning which follows the advent of General Pakenham, the English see a moment of good fortune. A red-hot shot sets fire to the Carolina, as she swings downstream on her cable for that daily bombardment, and burns her to the water line. This cheers the English mightily; and does not discourage Commodore Patterson, who transfers his activities to the decks of the Louisiana.
Sir Edward gives the General three uninterrupted days. This the latter warrior improves so far as to rear his earthworks to a height of four feet, and mount five guns. On the fourth day the English are led out to the assault. Sir Edward does not say so, but he expects to march over those four-foot walls of mud and cotton bales as he might over any other casual four-foot obstruction, and go up to the city beyond.
The sequel does not justify Sir Edward’s optimism. The moment the English approach within two hundred yards of the General’s line, a sheet of fire hisses all along. The English melt away like smoke. They break and run, seeking refuge in the cross ditches which drain the stubble lands. Once in the ditches, they are made to sit fast by the watchful hunting-shirt men, whose aim is death and who shoot at every exposed two square inches of English flesh and blood.
All day the English must crouch in the saving mud and water of those ditches, and it ruffles their self-regard. With darkness for a shield, Sir Edward brings them off. He explains the disaster to his staff by calling it a “reconnoissance.” General Keane also calls it a “reconnoissance”; but there is a satisfied grin on his war-worn face. Sir Edward has received a taste of the mettle of those “peasants,” and may now take a more tolerant, and less politely cynical, view of what earlier setbacks were experienced by General Keane. As for the seventy dead who lie, faces to the quiet stars, among the sugar stubble, they say nothing. And whether it be called a “reconnoissance” or a defeat matters little to them.
“What do you think of it?” asks Sir Edward of his friend, General Gibbs, as the two confer over a bottle of port.
“Sir Edward,” returns the General, “I should call a council of war.”
Sir Edward winces. It is too great an honor for the brother-in-law of Lord Wellington to pay a “Copper Captain” like the General. For all that he calls it; and the call assembles, besides Generals Gibbs and Keane, those saltwater soldiers, Admirals Cochrane, Codrington and Malcolm, and Captain Hardy whom Nelson loved. Sir John Burgoyne, the chief of the English engineers, is also there. The solemn debate lasts hours. The decision is to regard the General’s position as “A walled and fortified place, to be reduced by regular and formal approaches.” Which is flattering to the General’s engineering skill.
The council breaks up. The next morning Sir John Burgoyne commits a stroke of genius. He rolls out of the storehouses to the English rear countless hogsheads of sugar. Night sets in, foggy and black. Under its protecting cover, Sir John trundles his hundreds of hogsheads to a point not six hundred yards from the General’s mud walls. Till daybreak the English work. They set the hogsheads on end – four close-packed thicknesses of them, two tier high. Ingenious portholes are left to receive the muzzles of the guns, and thirty cannon, which have been dragged through the cypress swamp from the fleet, are placed in position.
Those hogsheads of sugar, with the thirty black muzzles frowning forth, impress folk as a most formidable fortalice, when the upshooting sun rolls back the fog and offers a view of them. The General, however, does not hesitate; he instantly opens with his five, and the thirty guns of the English bellow their iron response. Hardly a whit behind the General, the active Commodore Patterson drops downstream with the Louisiana, and throws the weight of her broadsides against the English.
The big-gun duel is hot and furious, and the rolling clouds of powder smoke shut out the fighters from one another. They do not pause for that, but fire blindly through the smoke, sighting their guns by guess. When the smoke has cloaked the scene, Sir Edward orders two columns of the English foot to storm the General’s mud walls.
The columns advance, and run headforemost into the hunting-shirt men. The sleety rain of lead which greets them rolls the columns up like two red carpets. The recoiling columns break, and the English take cover for a second time in those saving ditches. They declare among themselves that mortal man might more easily face the fires of hell itself, than the flame-filled muzzles of the hunting-shirt men, who seem to be Death’s very agents upon earth.
As the broken English crouch in those ditches the fire of Sir John Burgoyne’s big guns begins to falter. The smoke is so thick that no one may tell the cause. At last the English volleys altogether end, and the General orders Dominique and Bluche, with their swarthy pirate crews from Barrataria, and what other artillerists are serving his quintette of guns, to cease their stormy work. With that a silence falls on both sides.
The breeze from the river tears the smoky veil aside; and lo! that noble fortification of sugar hogsheads is heaped and piled in ruins. The General’s solid shot go through and through those hogsheads of sugar, as though they are hogsheads of snow. Five of the thirty English guns are smashed. The proud work of Sir John Burgoyne presents a spectacle of desolation, while the English who serve the batteries go flying for their lives. Not all! The three-score dead remain – the only English whose honor is saved that day!
Sir Edward’s cheek is white as death. He blames Sir John Burgoyne, who has erred, he says, in constructing the works. Sir John did err, and Sir Edward is right. Forty years later, the same Sir John will repeat the same mistake at Sebastapol; which shows how there be Bourbons among the English, learning nothing, forgetting nothing.
As the English skulk in clusters, and ragged, beaten groups for their old position beyond the General’s long reach, the fear of death is written on their faces. It will take a long rest, and much must be forgotten, e’er they may be brought front to front with the General again.
Among the hunting-shirt men are exultation and crowing triumph. Only Papa Plauche is sad. During the fight, the cotton bales in front of Papa Plauche and the “Fathers” are sorely knocked about. As though this be not enough, what must a felon hot shot do but set one of them ablaze! The smoke fills the noses of Papa Plauche and his “Fathers,” and makes them sneeze. It burns their eyes until the tears the “Fathers” shed might make one think them engaged upon the very funeral of Papa Plauche himself.
In the tearful sneezing midst of this anguish, a vagrant flying flake of cotton, all afire, explodes an ammunition wagon to the heroic rear of Papa Plauche and the “Fathers,” and the shock is as the awful shock of doom.
The fortitude of Hercules would fail at such a pinch! Papa Plauche and the “Fathers” actually and for the moment think on flight! But whither shall they fly? They are caught between Satan and a deepest sea – the ammunition wagon and the English! Also to the right, plying sponge and rammer, are the pirate Barratarians who are as bad as the English! While to the left is the General, who is worse than the ammunition wagon.
“It is written!” murmurs Papa Plauche; “our fate is sure! We must perish where we stand!” Papa Plauche extends his hands, and cries: “Courage, my heroes! Give your hearts to heaven, your fame to posterity, and show history how ‘Fathers of Families’ can die!” From the cypress swamp a last detachment of re?nforcements emerges, and meets the beaten English coming back. General Lambert, with the re?nforcements, is shocked as he reads their broken-hearted story in their eyes. “What is it, Colonel?” he whispers to Colonel Dale of the Highlanders. “In heaven’s name, what stopped you?”
“Bullets, mon!” returns the Scotchman. “Naught but bullets! The fire of those de’ils in lang shirts wud ‘a’ stopped Caesar himsel’!”
CHAPTER XVI – THE EIGHTH OF JANUARY
BACK to his negroes and mules and carts and scrapers goes the General, and sets them to renewed hard labor on those immortal mud walls which he will never get too high. Those cotton bales, so distressing to Papa Plauche and the “Fathers,” are eliminated, at which that paternal commander breathes freer. The hunting-shirt men, with each going down of the sun, resume their nighthawk parties, which swoop upon English sentinels, taking lives and guns.
The English themselves are a prey to dejection. The foe against whom they war is so strange, so savage, so sleepless, so coldly inveterate! Also those incessant night attacks sap their manhood. They build no fires now, but sit in darkness through the nights. A fire is but the attractive prelude to a shower of nocturnal lead, and the woefully lengthening list of dead and wounded tells strongly against it. To even light a cigar after dark is an approach to suicide; and so the English wrap themselves in blackness – very miserable! Their earlier horror of the hunting-shirt men is increased; for they have three times studied backwoods marksmanship from the standpoint of targets, and the dumb chill about their heart-roots is a testimony to its awful accuracy.
The General, who reads humanity as astronomers read the heavens, is not wanting in notions of the gloom which envelops the English like a funeral pall.
“Coffee,” says he, at one of those famous war councils of two, “in their souls we have them beaten. They will fight again; but only from pride. Their hope is gone, Coffee; we have broken their hearts.”
The reports of the General’s scouts teach him that the English will put a force across the river. In anticipation, he dispatches Commodore Patterson, with a mixed command of soldiers and sailors, to fortify the west bank. Commodore Patterson emulates the General’s four-foot mud walls and throws up a redoubt of his own, mounting thereon twelve eighteen-pounders taken from the Louisiana.
He tries one on the English opposite. The result is gratifying; the gum pitches a solid shot all across the Mississippi and into the English lines.
Eight days pass by in Indian file, and Sir Edward Pakenham with his English feels that, for his safety as much as his honor, he must attack the General, whose mud walls increase with each new sunset. The General foresees this, and has reports of Sir Edward’s movements brought him every hour.
On the morning of the eighth the General’s scouts wake him at two o’clock and say that the English are astir. He is instantly abroad; the word goes down the line; by four o’clock every rifle is ready, each hunting-shirt man at his post.
The weak spot, the one at which Sir Edward will level his utmost force, is where the General’s line finds an end in the moss-hung cypress swamp. It is there he stations the reliable Coffee with his hunting-shirt men. To the rear, as a reserve, is General Adair with what Kentuckians the good, unerring offices of those night-prowling hunting-shirt men have armed at the red expense of the English.
In the center is the redoubtable Papa Plauche and his “Fathers.” The “Fathers” are between the pirates Dominique and Bluche and Captain Humphries of the regular artillery.
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