Sunday, August 28, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: May 30, 1861

Wrote in the heat of the day, enlivened by my neighbor, a wonderful mocking-bird, whose songs and imitations would make his fortune in any society capable of appreciating native-born genius. His restlessness, courage, activity, and talent, ought not to be confined to Mr. Mure's cage, but he seems contented and happy. I dined with Madame and M. Milten-berger, and drove out with them to visit the scene of our defeat in 1815, which lies at the distance of some miles down the river.

A dilapidated farm-house surrounded by trees and negro huts, marks the spot where Pakenham was buried, but his body was subsequently exhumed and sent home to England. Close to the point of the canal which constitutes a portion of the American defences, a negro guide came forth to conduct us round the place, but he knew as little as most guides of the incidents of the fight. The most remarkable testimony to the severity of the fire to which the British were exposed, is afforded by the trees in the neighborhood of the tomb. In one live-oak there are no less than eight round shot embedded; others contain two or three, and many are lopped, rent, and scarred by the flight of cannon-ball, The American lines extended nearly three miles, and were covered in the front by swamps, marshes, and water cuts, their batteries and the vessels in the river enfiladed the British as they advanced to the attack.

Among the prominent defenders of the cotton bales was a notorious pirate and murderer named Lafitte, who with his band was released from prison on condition that he enlisted in the defence, and did substantial service to his friends and deliverers.

Without knowing all the circumstances of the case, it would be rash now to condemn the officers who directed the assault; but so far as one could judge from the present condition of the ground, the position must have been very formidable, and should not have been assaulted till the enfilading fire was subdued, and a very heavy covering fire directed to silence the guns in front. The Americans are naturally very proud of their victory, which was gained at a most trifling loss to themselves, which they erroneously conceive to be a proof of their gallantry in resisting the assault. It is one of the events which have created a fixed idea in their minds that they are able to “whip the world.”

On returning from my visit I went to the club, where I had a long conversation with Dr. Rushton, who is strongly convinced of the impossibility of carrying on government, or conducting municipal affairs, until universal suffrage is put down. He gave many instances of the terrorism, violence, and assassinations which prevail during election times in New Orleans. M. Miltenberger, on the contrary, thinks matters are very well as they are, and declares all these stories are fanciful. Incendiarism rife again. All the club windows crowded with men looking at a tremendous fire, which burned down three or four stores and houses.

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 242-3

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