The further military adventures of an officer of the 'Light Bobs'
Readers who enjoyed John Cooke's experiences of his time serving with Wellington's Light Division, as it fought its way through the Penininsula into southern France, recounted by him in Leonaur's book 'With the Light Division' will be intrigued to discover what became of the author after the fall of Napoleon's empire. Cooke's regiment-the 43rd Light Infantry-was one of those selected to cross the Atlantic Ocean to play its part in the punitive 'War of 1812' fought against the new American nation. Cooke and his soldiers arrived in time to take part in the disastrous campaign against Jackson's forces at New Orleans. Cooke's superb penmanship once again takes the reader into the heart of the action whilst at the same time vividly describing the scene about him and painting a superb picture of the North America of the period. The author's attention to detail makes this book an invaluable resource for those fascinated by the activities of the British Army in the early 19th century as well as those interested in the War of 1812 itself.
The mist was slowly clearing away; and, to add to other misfortunes and other injudicious arrangements, three hundred men of the forty-fourth, who were to lead the attack, were only clearing a redoubt five hundred yards behind the head of the column, at whose head they ought to have been, with shouldered ladders and fascines, when this rocket was let off.
The consequence was, that everything was disorganized before a shot was fired; the British artillery began to fire, and were soon answered by those of the Americans. The column was impelled onwards, the twenty-first leading, followed by the fourth regiment, and the soldiers of the forty-fourth carrying fascines and heavy ladders, all round the column, while puffing and blowing from their previous running back to the redoubt for the ladders.
As this column neared the American lines, the musketry opened on them while crossing the drains which here and there intersected these flats; and as there was not the least cover, the troops began to suffer much, and then hesitated within a hundred yards of the lines, and opened a heavy fire of musketry, which positively obliged the rifles which led to cling to the earth.
And now the baneful effects of past occurrences burst forth in the most glaring colours. A cry sprang up from the rear of the column, “Retire! Retreat! There is an order to retreat!” At this critical moment Sir E. Packenham rode up from the banks of the Mississippi; and Major-General Gibbs, in despair, declared that the troops would not follow him. The musketry of the enemy increased.
General Gibbs was mortally wounded, and, with imprecations on his lips, was carried off the field. Sir E. Packenham, now taking off his hat, rode to the head of the column, and valiantly cheered on the soldiers, who were falling and staggering like drunken men from the effects of the fire, some going back and others going on. Here Sir E. Packenham was wounded in the knee, and had his horse slain under him; and while mounting a second charger, the brave general received his mortal wound, and fell dead into the arms of the aid-de-camp.
The confused column soon gave way on all sides. Major-General Keane was also wounded; and a few brave officers and soldiers were prowling about at the edge of the ditch, in vain waiting for only a few planks and some support to enable them to enter the American works; lieutenant Lavack and some straggling soldiers of the twenty-first did actually get in, but were obliged to surrender themselves prisoners.
The remains of the column now took shelter at the edge of the swampy wood, or behind the redoubt, totally disorganized. By some strange error, which still remains a mystery, and perhaps ever will, the ninety-third Highlanders being isolated, were marched up within good musketry range of the American lines, instead of supporting the three victorious companies on the high road, and being then ordered to deploy into line, stood like statues, until they had lost in killed and wounded, including those that fell of their light company, five hundred and forty-four soldiers; and the residue of the regiment, of about three hundred, were obliged to vacate the field.