General John Coffee
Transcribed and Contributed by Patricia Hartley, January 8, 2017
Source: Northern Alabama Historical and Biographical, 1888 (Sketch was written by Col. James E. Saunders)
(Continued from Page 2)
"This had the effect of distracting the attention of the Indians. The troops had been clamoring for some time for permission to charge, but Jackson waited until his operations in the rear had been perfected, and when the smoke of the burning village rose to the heavens, he ordered the charge. Surrounded as they were, the warriors fought with desperation, and, it is computed, that they were all killed except about two hundred. Thus was the power of this brave people effectually broken, and they sued for peace. Every reflecting reader will see how skillfully General Coffee performed his part of the plan of this battle.
"Florida was then a possession of Spain. The Governor residing at Pensacola had made this place a harbor for our enemies. It was the home of the British fleet on the Gulf. One of their war vessels had brought in a supply of arms which were put into the hands of the Indians. These savages were openly drilled by a British officer in the streets of Pensacola, under the eyes of its Governor. When the massacre occurred at Fort Mims, British agents bough the scalps at five dollars apiece openly, there, and its perfidious Governor had written a letter to the chief Weatherford, congratulating him on the massacre. General Jackson boiled with indignation and waited impatiently for his reinforcements.
"At length General Coffee arrived with the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers at the cut-off above Mobile. He was ordered to take one thousand of his men, and, with two thousand more of other commands. General Jackson marched directly on Pensacola. He arrived there on the 6th of November, 1814. Next morning he sent a flag of truce which was fired upon, when he took the place by storm. The Spanish Governor received a most vigorous lecture, the peroration of which was: 'And now Sir, you must behave yourself hereafter, or by the Eternal I will return and hang you upon the first tree which may be the most convenient.' 'Old Hickory' was terribly in earnest, and the Governor said afterward, that he would rather encounter a Bengal Tiger, than General Jackson.
"On the 2d of December, 18148, General Jackson entered New Orleans, without an army and attended only by the members of his staff. Why had he delayed so long? An expedition of so great strength had been planned so skillfully and executed so secrely that it was not known where the blow would fall. A squadron, having on board a strong infantry force, sailed from Plymouth, in England, and another from the Chesapeake, for a rendezvous in Jamaica, both giving out that they were bound for Halifax and setting out in that direction, and then changing their course for their destination. Not more than three officers of the fleet knew (until they were at sea) the object of the expedition, which was the capture of New Orleans. They united in Jamaica in the harbor of Negril on the 24th of November, and had a general review of the ships and troops which Great Britain had so marvelously assembled in this remote quarter of the Globe. Two large squadrons had been combined, those of Cochran and Malcolm. Rarely, if ever, had Great Britain collected a braver or more powerful fleet. It was commanded by chiefs whose valor had built up for England those impregnable wooden walls, which enabled her to defy the Conqueror of Europe. There were at least fifty sail, carrying more than one thousand guns. Why was it that Great Britain could afford to send such an expedition across the Atlantic? It was because Bonaparte the Conqueror had been conquered, and was in prison bound.
"This great fleet, carrying an army of renowned soldiers (of whom we shall speak as the regiments, respectively, come into action), cast anchor in Lake Borgne, on the 9th of December. On the 14th, they destroyed the American gunboats off Pass-Christian, after a bloody action. In the meantime, New Orleans was galvanized into life by General Jackson. He organized the fighting men of the city into regiments and companies, and hurried on his reinforcements by special messengers.
"Coffee's brigade, which has performed a long and tedious march, from Fort Jackson on the Alabama, around Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, which they reached by the old Spanish road, at Sandy Creek, a few miles below Baton Rouge. Hastening to this town, he found a messenger from Jackson, directing him to push forward with all rapidity, leaving the sick and baggage at Baton Rouge. Coffee immediately selected all his strong men and horses, and with them started for New Orleans in a brisk trot. In two days he reached the suburbs of the city, having in that time marched one hundred and fity miles with men and animals who had just performed a wearisome journey of eight hundred miles through a wilderness. There is no march to equal this in the history of modern warfare. Encamping just above the city, he rode to town to report to General Jackson. It was a warm meeting between these two gallant soldiers, who had shared so mary perils and hardships together. General Carroll's brigade, which came in boat down the Mississippi River, arrived on the evening of the 22d December.
"Major-General Keane, who commanded the British Army, was a young officer, gallant and ambitious. He had been colonel of the celebrated fighting regiment, the Twenty-Seventh, or Enniskillens. After careful reconnoissances he selected an obscure bayou leading into the Missouri at General Villere's plantation, twelve miles below New Orleans, and started his advance of three regiments under Colonel Thornton, a most active and most enterprising officer, who arrived at daybreak on the 23d of December.
"General Jackson was engaged the same day, at half past one o'clock P. M. when his attention was drawn from certain documents he was perusing, by the sound of horses galloping rapidly, and suddenly stopping before his headquarters. Three French gentlemen who lived on the coast below, came in. 'What news do bring, gentlemen?' eagerly inquired the General. 'Important! The British have landed below.' Governor Claiborne, who was persent, inquired into all the facts, and when the colloquy came to a full stop, General Jackson who had been listening with his head down, raised it firmly and said to the members of his staff: 'Gentlemen, we will fight them before midnight.' Orders were sent for the march to commence at 3 P. M. The rendezvous was old Fort St. Charles, now the site of the United States Mint. Mr. Walker mentions each command as they passed in review before General Jackson, and says, 'Then followed, moving in a rapid trot, the long line of Coffee's mounted gunmen. Their appearance, however, was not very military. In their woolen hunting-shirts and copperas-dyed pantaloons: with slouched wool hats, or caps made of the skins of raccoons or foxes; with belts of untanned deer-skin, in which were stuck their hunting knives: but they were admirable soldiers, remarkable for endurance and possessing that admirable quality in soldiers, of taking care of themselves. At their head, rode their gallant leader, a man of noble aspect, tall and herculean in frame, yet not destitute of natural dignity and ease of manner. His appearance, mounted upon a fine Tennessee thoroughbred, was stately and impressive.
"Jackson's plan of the battle was very simple. The 'Carolina,' under Commodore Patterson, was ordered to drop down and anchor abreast of the British camp, and open her batteries on them at half past seven o'clock. the right division of his army, under Jackson himself, at this signal was to attack the enemy's camp near the river, guided by Major Villere. Whilst they were thus engaged with the left division, Coffee (guided by Colonel De La Roude, whose plantation was near) was ordered with his Brigade, with Hind's Dragoons and Beale's Rifles, to scout the edge of the swamp, and advancing as far as was safe, to endeavor to cut off the communications of the enemy with their fleet, and thus hem in and, if possible, capture or destry him. And what regiments were these which these undisciplined Americans, with no advantage in numbers, are seeking to surround? They were the Fourth, the Eighty-fifth and the Ninety-fifth Rifles, all tried Peninsular soldiers; whilst other Regiments were on the way, which might arrive at any moment during the battle on the flank or rear of Coffee's division.
"About seven o'clock a vessel was stealing slowly down the river, and, letting go her anchor, she swung her broadside to the British camp. She was hailed but returned no answer. At length, a loud voice was heard. 'Give this for the honor of America.' The words were followed by a perfect tornado of grape-shot and musket-balls, which swept the levee and the British camps. The havoc was the more terrible for its suddenness, and the enemy was struck with consternation. It was the 'Carolina,' under Commodore Patterson, which had dropped down so suddenly to perform her part in the dark tragedy. The enemy sheltered under the levee. Presently a blaze of fire seemed to encirle the camp, and it was evident that they were surrounded. They were soon engaged in one of the fiercest and most evenly contested night battles which ever occurred.