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The Artillery Duel, January 1, 1815

Between battles, the Americans harrassed their enemy by day and by night. The Louisiana dropped downriver each day to bombard the English position, until the invaders placed howitzers to reach her. After that, she had to stay out of enemy range, and some of her guns were added to those the defenders were mounting on the right bank of the Mississippi. From there these guns continued to annoy the invaders.

Night after night, individual Tennesseans slipped through the woods and underbrush, frontier fashion, to kill British sentinels. Three men in one outpost were killed by unseen Americans in a single night. Frequent shots in the dark kept the others in the British camp awake. The invaders were not used to this kind of war. It got on their nerves.

American defense preparations continued. More cannon were placed behind the mud rampart. Other lines, manned by militia, were established between the Rodriguez Canal and the city. These troops were short of weapons and, New Orleans being under martial law, Jackson directed the mayor to have houses searched for arms. More Louisiana Militia prepared to defend the right bank of the Mississippi in case the enemy should cross the river.

Then, elated by their successes, the Americans planned a review and celebration for New Year's Day, 1815. Something quite different was planned by the enemy.

With great labor the British had transported heavy artillery from their fleet to batter the American breastworks. All through the night of December 31, 1814, the camp of the invaders resounded with the noise of hammering, as gun platforms were constructed.

New Year's morning was foggy. Back of Jackson's line, soldiers in their best uniforms were preparing for a parade. A band was playing. Civilian visitors, including women, gathered for the celebration. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion, followed by shells and rockets. Spectators fled in every direction. The troops dashed to the mud rampart.

The first discharges of the British batteries near the river were directed mainly against the American headquarters. This was in a planter's residence, the Macarty house, back of the line near the Mississippi. The commanding general and his staff were in the building when the firing began. Bricks, splinters, rockets, and balls were sent flying through the place in all directions, but no one was hurt.

Soon American artillery answered the British. The cannonading continued all morning. Cotton bales had been placed around the openings in the mud wall for the cannon. Now the bales were blown out of place and set on fire. On the other side, the British were finding that hogsheads of sugar did not make good breastworks. Their cannoneers were killed by balls that went through the barrels, and the sugar ran down into the mud. Someone said that this was the first battle fought in "molasses."

An attempted assault by the British infantry during a lull in the cannonading was thrown back by Coffee and the Tennesseans. Although considerably damaged, the American guns kept up their accurate fire. Dominique You and the other pirates showed their skill as cannoneers on this New Year's Day. The American fire had greater precision and effect. By noon the British fire slackened and at 1 p. m. it ceased. The American losses were 11 killed and 23 wounded. The British lost 32 killed, 44 wounded, and 2 missing.


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