Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence

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9780743226189: Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence

Langguth (journalism, U. of Southern California), author of Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, provides a narrative of the War of 1812, tracing what led up to it, beginning with the resignation of George Washington from the Continental Army in 1783, to the peace treaty in 1815 and aftereffects up to 1861. He discusses roles played by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Tecumseh, and others, and relates the details of what happened during the war. Annotation 2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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About the Author:

A. J. Langguth (1933–2014) was the author of eight books of nonfiction and three novels. After Lincoln marks his fourth book in a series that began in 1988 with Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution. He served as a Saigon bureau chief for the New York Times, after covering the Civil Rights movement for the newspaper. Langguth taught for three decades at the University of Southern California and retired in 2003 as emeritus professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter Twenty-two

NEW ORLEANS

(1814-1815)

The Creeks who had fled south knew how implacable Andrew Jackson could be in war. When British ships failed to capture America's Fort Bowyer on the Gulf of Mexico, their Indian allies sensed disaster and scattered into the wooded countryside.

Outside Pensacola, Jackson decided he could not wait for authorization from Washington and called for reinforcements from Tennessee. The afternoon of November 6, 1814, with three thousand men in camp, he sent a flag of truce to Governor Gonzalez Manrique, along with an explanation that he had not come to attack a neutral power or to damage Pensacola but simply to prevent the British from using the town as a haven. Jackson called for the surrender of two nearby forts where British and Spanish flags had been flying together.

As Jackson's emissary approached with his flag of truce, he was driven back by cannon shot. When Jackson demanded an explanation, Gonzalez Manrique apologized and assured him that a second flag would be respected.

It was midnight before the governor finally received Jackson's terms: He must open Fort St. Michael and Fort Barancas to the Americans, who would hold them until enough Spanish troops arrived to protect their neutrality from the British.

Gonzalez Manrique consulted with his officers and rejected the proposal.

Before dawn, Jackson marched his men along a beach east of Pensacola, but sand made dragging their cannon impossible. After a brief skirmish, the terrified governor appeared with his own white flag and surrendered the town. The British remained in command of Fort Barancas six miles away.

Jackson planned his attack for the next morning. On his way to the fort, however, a deafening explosion told him that the British had blown up Barancas before abandoning it.

Although Jackson wrote a bitter note to the governor accusing him of bad faith, his progress so far left him buoyant. "The steady firmness of my troops has drew a just respect from our enemies," he wrote. "It has confirmed the Red Sticks that they have no stronghold or protections, only in the friendship of the United States."

Best of all, the good behavior of Jackson's Indian allies had impressed the Spanish residents of Pensacola. During their time ashore, Britain's troops had plundered the town and carried off most of its slaves. Jackson was gratified that the Spanish now believed "that our Choctaws are more civilized than the British."

All the same, Jackson had invaded a neutral territory. After he had already succeeded, he received Secretary Monroe's letter instructing him to do nothing to provoke a war with Spain. He could be certain, however, that Monroe was not unhappy with him. Jackson's exploit had further demoralized the hostile Indians, and newspapers back home were filled with extravagant praise.

* * *

Jackson still suspected that the British might attack Mobile, but the pirate Jean Lafitte, a tall and elegant former blacksmith from Haiti, was telling the Americans otherwise. Lafitte had commandeered a port on Barataria Bay outside New Orleans as headquarters for his flotilla of outlaw ships. His men, called Baratarians, had struck lucrative alliances with the local businessmen for disposing of their contraband. Slaves who brought six hundred dollars or seven hundred dollars in legal trading could be purchased from smugglers for less than two hundred dollars.

Congress appreciated the damage being inflicted on British commerce by America's privateers, who had seized almost fourteen hundred British ships since the war began. Daring commanders were able to dart into a merchant fleet with their lightly armed ships and take over a British vessel before its guardian frigate could give chase. The American ship names reflected the spirit of their crews -- True Blooded Yankee, Rattlesnake, Scourge, Catch Me If You Can.

In July 1812, Congress had taxed the privateers 2 percent of their bounty to provide for widows and orphans created by the war. Lately that levy had been lifted, but any legislation out of Washington hardly concerned Lafitte. He scoffed at neutrality laws and evaded all U.S. taxes, even though he considered himself an American patriot and claimed, "I have never ceased to be a good citizen."

Lafitte made good on that boast when the British invited him to regain respectability for himself and his gang by joining the Royal Navy. He would receive a naval commission and thirty thousand dollars; his men would be allotted sizeable tracts of the land the British intended to occupy.

In rejecting the offer, Lafitte turned over the British correspondence to Louisiana's governor Claiborne. He made the gesture in hopes of obtaining the release of eighty of his men, including his brother Pierre, who had been imprisoned after a recent government raid on their base.

With the letters he forwarded, Lafitte did not include his earlier draft in which he accepted Britain's offer. Given his change of heart, Lafitte wanted to impress on Claiborne that while America might see him as a criminal, he would never miss the chance to serve her.

Jackson also received copies of Britain's overtures. They underscored the urgent message he had received from Secretary Monroe that Admiral Cochrane was sailing in his direction with a formidable invasion force -- as many as fourteen thousand troops in at least sixty ships.

Arriving in New Orleans on December 1, Jackson understood why the British might feel confident. The local defenders were in disarray, with few ships on the water and only two small militia units for protection. Despite rumors of the impending danger, residents remained divided by politics and nationality into squabbling factions.

At the last census, New Orleans' total population had been less than twenty-five thousand. Most residents had been born into French-speaking families, and those of English heritage accounted for only one-eighth of the city. "Creole" had first been the name given to descendants of French settlers; now it also could apply to the Spanish and Portuguese. Cajuns, originally landing from Nova Scotia when the British drove them out in 1755, had settled along bayous that emptied into the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite their quarreling, all of the communities seemed to take heart from the general's arrival and were passing the word: "Jackson's come!"

The man they hailed as their savior had been weakened by his constant exertion and was near collapse. When Jackson had been rewarded with his commission in the U.S. Army, he shed his touchy preference for a volunteer militia, and his letter to Rachel had glowed with pride:

"You are now a Major Generals lady," he had written, and must appear "elegant and plain, not extravagant" in the style expected of her.

But urging his wife now to join him in New Orleans, Jackson was less concerned with her wardrobe than with the beds and bedsteads he wanted her to bring to his camp. He explained that before leaving Pensacola, he had been taken very ill. Purging him with two herbs -- jalap and calomel -- the doctors had helped to restore his health. But there had followed "eight days on the march that I never broke bread."

Although Jackson looked cadaverous and older than his forty-seven years, he willed himself to stand erect in his uniform of blue homespun, yellow buckskin, and scuffed boots, and to ride with his usual energy.

He set about blocking the mouths of the many bayous that extended into the city. Jackson posted a guard at each of them and brought forward five gunboats to Lake Borgne. They were to act as decoys and attempt to draw the British ships into range of the guns at Fort Petites Coquilles, a small base built on a channel of land connecting Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain.

Next, Jackson had to decide what use to make of Jean Lafitte. In the past, he had cursed the pirates as "hellish banditti." But he might need their skill and daring. As his go-between, Jackson could depend on his new aide-de-camp, Edward Livingston, a brother of the Robert Livingston who had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. After a financial scandal forced Edward to resign as mayor of New York, he had moved south, married the sister of a prominent Creole, and embraced the unfettered life of the frontier. His law clients these days included pirates forced to appear in court, and when Livingston suggested that Jackson recruit them, his motive was not entirely civic-minded. The imprisoned pirates had promised him twenty thousand dollars if he could get them acquitted on charges of violating U.S. trade laws. Livingston had recommended that their best strategy would be to join the American army.

At first, Jackson refused to deal with the outlaws. When they finally met at Jackson's headquarters on Royal Street, however, Jean Lafitte argued compellingly in English -- he also spoke French, Spanish, and Italian -- that his men should be allowed to join in defending the city. Looking past Lafitte's courtly manners and expensive tailoring, Jackson recognized, as he had with William Weatherford, a kindred fighting spirit. A federal judge released the pirates from jail on the condition that they enlist, and Jackson sent Lafitte to run two batteries below New Orleans and assigned others from his crew to a company of marines.

Even before he arrived in New Orleans, Jackson had resolved the question of whether to recruit the town's six hundred free black men. In the past, many had fought for Spain, but Claiborne interviewed their leaders, including Major Pierre Lacoste, and satisfied himself that they were committed to America. The governor had written to Jackson in August and got back the general's exuberant approval.

"Our country has been invaded and threatened with destruction," Jackson wrote. "She wants soldiers to fight her battles. The free men of color in your city are inured to the Southern climate and would make excellent soldiers. They will not remain quiet spectators of the interesting con...

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