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The Battle In The Dark
by [?]


When the British succeeded in taking Lieutenant Jones’s little gun-boats and making a landing, after the manner described in the preceding story, they supposed that the hardest part of their work was done. It was not far from their landing-place to New Orleans, and there was nothing in their way. Their army numbered nearly twenty thousand men, and the men were the best soldiers that England had. Many of them were Wellington’s veterans.

It seemed certain that such an army could march into New Orleans with very little trouble indeed, and everybody on both sides thought so–everybody, that is to say, but General Jackson. He meant to fight that question out, and as the Legislature and many of the people in the city would do nothing to help him, he put the town under martial law, and worked night and day to get together something like an army.

On the 23d of December, 1814, the British arrived at a point a few miles below the city, and went into camp about noon. As soon as Jackson heard of their arrival he said to the people around him, “Gentlemen, the British are below: we must fight them tonight.”

He immediately ordered his troops forward. He had made a soldier of everybody who could carry a gun, and his little army was a curiously mixed collection of men. There were a few regulars, in uniform; there were some Mississippi troopers, and Coffee’s Kentucky and Tennessee hunters, in hunting-shirts and jeans trousers; there were volunteers of all sorts from the streets of New Orleans–merchants, lawyers, laborers, clerks, and clergymen–armed with shot-guns, rifles, and old muskets; there were some criminals whom Jackson had released from prison on condition that they would fight; there was a battalion of free negroes, who were good soldiers; and, finally, there were about twenty Choctaw Indians.

With this mixed crowd Jackson had to fight the very best troops in the British army. Only about half of his men had ever heard a bullet whistle, and less than half of them were drilled and disciplined; but they were brave men who believed in their general, and they were about to fight for their country as brave men should. When all were counted–backwoodsmen, regulars, city volunteers, negroes, Indians, and all–the whole army numbered only 2131 men! But, weak as this force was, Jackson had made up his mind to fight with it. He knew that the British were too strong for him, but he knew too that every day would make them stronger, as more and more of their troops would come forward each day.

The British camp was nine miles below the city, on a narrow strip of land between the river and a swamp. Jackson sent a gun-boat, the Carolina, down the river, with orders to anchor in front of the camp and pour a fire of grape-shot into it. He sent Coffee across to the swamp, and ordered him to creep through the bushes, and thus get upon the right flank of the British. He kept the rest of his army under his own command, ready to advance from the front upon the enemy’s position.

But no attack was to be made until after dark. The army was kept well out of sight, and the British had no suspicion that any attack was thought of. They did not regard Jackson’s men as soldiers at all, but called them a posse comitatus of ragamuffins–that is to say, a mob of ragged citizens–and the most they expected such a mob to do was to wait somewhere below the city until the British soldiers should get ready to drive them away with a few volleys.

So the British lighted their camp-fires, stacked their arms for the night, and cooked their suppers. They meant to stay where they were for a day or two until the rest of their force could come up, and then they expected to march into the town and make themselves at home.