A glance at the map will give the reader some idea of the doubts that must have beset Jackson concerniug the point at which the enemy would probably attack New Orleans. The island on which the city stands was accessible from the sea by at least three general routes. The British might approach by the Mississippi River, which flows by the city on the west, or over Lake Pontchar-train, which stretches out to the north, or over Lake Borgne, from the southeast. Jackson first inspected Fort St. Philip, sixty miles below, on the river; besides the fort, there were, for river defences, the schooner Carolina and the sloop Louisiana. His next move was to Lake Pontchartrain, and he was still in that quarter when news came that the enemy had chosen the third route and was already on Lake Borgne. The British found there six American gunboats, which were all destroyed or taken after a brief but gallant struggle. That was December 14, and New Orleans was not yet in any good posture of defence. The most natural route from the lake to the immediate neighborhood of the city was up the Bayou Bienvenu, which led to the southern end of a level plain bounded on the west by the river and on the east by a dense cypress swamp. At the northern end of the plain lay New Orleans, and the distance was but six or seven miles; the plain was in most places about a mile wide. Between the head of the bayou and the city there was not a fort or even a line of intrench-ments. For this state of things Jackson has not escaped blame from military critics.
But if illness or any other cause had robbed him of his usual energy, the news of the disaster on Lake Borgne was the signal for a change in him and in the situation. Coffee, with part of the Tennessee volunteers, was up the river at Baton Rouge. A hurried summons brought him a hundred and twenty-miles in two days, and on the 19th he was in camp a few miles above the city with eight hundred men. Two days later came General Carroll and a brigade of Tennessee militia, two thousand strong; with them came also a squadron of mounted Mississippi volunteers. Louisiana furnished a thousand militia; the city of New Orleans five or six hundred volunteers, of whom about a third were mulattoes. J ackson had also two incomplete regiments of regulars numbering together about eight himdred rank and file. A Kentucky brigade of twenty-five hundred men was on the way, but without arms. Of Carroll's men, only one in ten had a musket. To provide arms for these new troops was a difficult matter, and many of the Kentuckians were still unarmed when the final struggle came. The city became panic-stricken and disorderly, and J ackson promptly placed it under martial law.
Such was the situation when, on the morning of December 23, the British advance party, numbering about seventeen hundred, conveyed in small boats over the shallow-Lake Borgne and up the Bienvenu, landed six miles below the city and seized the mansion of Major Villere, a Creole gentleman of the neighborhood. Villere was captured, but escaped, and at half past one o'clock Jackson knew in New Orleans that the enemy was at hand. By good luck, Major Latour, a French engineer, and the best historian of the campaign, was among the first to view the invaders, and he gave the general a correct idea of their position and numbers. As in all other crises, Jackson's resolve was taken at once. "By the Eternal," he exclaimed, " they shall not sleep on our soil! " He set his troops in motion for a night attack.
Had the British marched on to New Orleans without stopping, it seems probable that they would have taken it that evening. But at nightfall upwards of two thousand Americans were between them and the city. J ackson was on the American right, near the river, with the regulars and the Louisiana contingent. Coffee, with his Tennesseans and the Mississippi horsemen, was on the left, next the cypress swamp. Carroll's brigade and the city militia were left to guard New Orleans on the north. The Carolina had crept down the river opposite the enemy's position, and at half past seven one of her guns gave the signal for attack.
What followed, in the fog and darkness, is not clearly known. The British were surprised ; but British soldiers are proverbially hard to drive from their own position. The Americans had the advantage of making the attack; but they were nearly all raw troops. Each side was confused and uncertain of its own and the enemy's position. Coffee, on the left, drove the British back towards the river, where they were protected by an old levee, while the new levee on the bank shielded them from the Louisiana's fire. On the right, the Americans were repulsed. Reinforcements reached the British army during the action. At half past nine the attack ceased. The enemy lost two hundred and sixty-seven killed, wounded, and missing; the Americans, two hundred and thirteen. The night attack, however, strengthened the Americans. The enemy, overrating Jackson's force, became too cautious to advance at once, but waited until the entire army should be landed. The Americans gained time to build defenses.
Jackson chose a line two miles above the battlefield, marked by a shallow canal or ditch which crossed the plain at its narrowest point, from the swamp to the river. Behind the ditch he threw up a parapet. In some places cotton bales were used, for the soil was but three feet deep; at that depth one found water, as indeed one found water almost everywhere, - in the foggy air, in the bayous, the river, the swamps, of that low land about New Orleans. In a few days Jackson's arrangements for defence were completed. Fifteen guns were disposed at intervals along the line, some of them manned by Lafitte and his buccaneers. The whole force numbered about three thousand, and the Kentuckians, though not all armed, were used as a reserve. On the river the Louisiana and the Carolina gave the enemy much trouble.
The British army, when completely disembarked, seemed to justify the Duke of Wellington's confidence that it coidd rout any American army he ever heard of. Seven thousand trained British soldiers, seamen, and marines, and a thousand West Indian blacks, were assembled at Villere's plantation, with from twenty-five to thirty guns. There were regiments which had helped Wellington to win Talavera, Salamanca, and Vitoria, and within a few short months some of these same regiments were to stand at Waterloo in that thin red line which Ney and Napoleon's guard could never break. Their general, Pakenham, Wellington's brother-in-law, was a distinguished pupil of his illustrious kinsman. Could frontiersmen who had never fought together before, who had never seen the face of a civilized foe, withstand the conquerors of Napoleon ? But two branches of the same stubborn race were represented on that little watery plain. The soldiers trained to serve the strongest will in the Old World were face to face with the rough and ready yeomanry embattled for defence by the one man of the New World whose soul had most of iron in it. It was Salamanca against Tohopeka, discipline against individual alertness, the Briton of the little Isle against the Briton of the wastes and wilds. But there was one great difference. Wellington, "the Iron Duke," was not there; " Old Hickory" was everywhere along the American lines. A grave and moderate historian, comparing the defense of New Orleans with the defence of Washington, finds the two situations not unlike. " The principal difference," he remarks, "was that Jackson commanded."