Saturday, July 05, 2014

Gleig's description of Dauphin Island in February and March of 1815, from

A Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans, Under Generals ... (1821)

... 349-357
In this state we remained wind-bound till the 4th of February, when, at length getting under weigh, the fleet ran down as far as Cat Island. This is a spot of sandy soil at the mouth of the lake, remarkable for nothing except a solitary Spanish family which possesses it. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, an old man, his wife, two daughters, and a son, dwell here in apparent happiness and contentment. Being at least one hundred and twenty miles from the main, it is seldom that their little kingdom is visited by strangers; and I believe that till our arrival the daughters, though grown up to womanhood, had seen few faces besides those of their parents and brother. Their cottage, composed simply of a few boughs, thatched and in-woven with straw, is beautifully situated within a short distance of the water. Two cows and a few sheep grazed beside it; whilst a small tract of ground covered with stubble, and a little garden well stocked with fruit-trees and vegetables, at once gave proof of their industry, and showed the source from whence they supplied themselves with bread.
Having remained here till the 7th, we again took advantage of a fair wind and stood to sea. As soon as we had cleared the lake, we directed our course towards the east, steering, as it was rumoured, upon Mobile; nor was it long before we came in sight of the bay which bears that name. It is formed by a projecting headland called Point Bayo, and a large island called Isle Dauphin. Upon the first is erected a small fort, possessing the same title with the promontory which commands the entrance; for though the island is, at least five miles from the main, there is no water for floating a ship of any burthen except within a few hundred yards of the latter. The island is, like Cat Island, uninhabited, except by one family, and unprovided with any works of defence.
As the attack of Mobile was professedly our object, it was clear that nothing could be done previous to the reduction of the fort. The ships accordingly dropped anchor at the mouth of the bay, and immediate preparations were made for the siege. But the fort was too inconsiderable in point of size to require the employment of all our forces in its investment. Whilst one brigade, therefore, was allotted to this service, the rest proceeded to establish themselves on the island, where, carrying tents and other conveniences on shore, the first regular encampment which we had seen since our arrival in this hemisphere was formed.
The spot of ground, of which we had now taken possession, extended twelve miles in length, and from one to three in width. Its soil is in general dry and sandy, well covered with grass, and ornamented by continued groves of pine, cedar, oak, and laurel. On one side only is there a swamp, but not of sufficient size to contaminate the atmosphere of the whole, which is considered so peculiarly healthy, that the place is generally used as a depot for the sick in the American army. At present, as I have said, it was tenanted by no more than a single family, the master of which was a midshipman in the American navy, and banished hither for some misdemeanor; but what was to us of much greater importance, it was likewise stocked with cattle resembling in appearance the black cattle of the Highlands of Scotland, and not behind them in point of wildness.
Whilst the remainder of the army spent their time here, the 4th, 21st, and 44th, being landed above the fort, were busied in the siege. This small work stands, as I have stated, at the extremity of a promontory. Towards the sea its fortifications are respectable enough, but on the land side it is little better than a blockhouse. The ramparts being composed of sand, not more than three feet in thickness, are faced with plank barely cannon-proof; whilst a sand-hill rising within pistol-shot of the ditch, completely commands them. Within, again, the fort is as much wanting in accommodation as it is in strength. There are no bomb-proof barracks, nor any hole or arch under which men might find protection from shells; indeed, so deficient is it in common lodging-rooms, that a great part of the garrison slept in tents. To reduce this place, therefore, occupied but a short time. The troops having assembled on the 8th, drove the enemy within their lines on the 9th, and broke ground the same evening. On the 10th, four eighteen-pounders with two howitzers were placed in battery upon the top of the sand-hill; on the 11th, the fort surrendered; and on the 12th, the garrison, consisting of four hundred men of the second American regiment, marched out with all the honours of war, and laid down their arms upon the glacis.
With the reduction of this trifling work ended all hostilities in this quarter of America, for the army had scarcely re-assembled when intelligence arrived from England of peace. The news reached us on the 14th, and I shall not deny that it was received with general satisfaction. Though war is the soldier's harvest, yet it must be confessed, that when carried on as it had of late been conducted, it is a harvest of which men in time become weary; and many of us having been absent for several years from our native shores, experienced absolute delight at the prospect of returning once more to the bosom of our families. The communication was therefore welcomed with unfeigned joy, nor could any other topic of conversation gain attention throughout the camp, except the anticipated re-embarkation. .
But as the preliminaries only had been signed, and as Mr. Maddison's approval was required before we should be at liberty to depart, our army still continued stationary upon the island. Of the President's conduct, however, no doubts were entertained; all thoughts of future military operations were in consequence laid aside; and the sole aim of every individual thenceforth was to make himself as comfortable as circumstances would permit. To effect this end various expedients were adopted. Among others a theatre was erected, in which such officers as chose to exhibit performed for their own amusement and the amusement of their friends. In shooting and fishing, likewise, much of our time was spent; and thus, by adopting the usual expedients of idle men, we contrived to pass some days in a state of tolerable comfort.
Occupations such as these, however, soon grew insipid, and it was with sincere rejoicing that on the 5th of March we were made acquainted with Mr. Maddison's agreement to the terms proposed. All was now hope and exultation, an immediate departure was anticipated, and those were pitied as unfortunate whose lot it was supposed, might detain them even a day behind their fellows. But as yet no movement took place; our provisions were not sufficient to authorize the undertaking so long a voyage as we must undertake, did we attempt to run for the nearest British settlement; we were therefore compelled to remain where we were, till a frigate should return, which had been sent forward to solicit supplies from the Governor of Cuba.
During this interval, the same occupations were resorted to; and others of a less agreeable nature undertaken. As summer came on, the island sent forth multitudes of snakes from their lurking- places, which infested the camp, making their way in some instances into our very beds. This was bad enough, but it was not the only nuisance to which we were subject. The alligators, which during the winter months lie in a dormant state, now began to awaken, and prowling about the margin of the pool, created no little alarm and agitation. Apparently confounded at our invasion of their territories, these monsters at first confined themselves to the marshy part of the island, but becoming by degrees more familiar, they soon ventured to approach the very precincts of the camp. One of them at length entered a tent; in which only a woman and child chanced to be, and having stared round as if in amazement, walked out again without offering to commit any violence. But the visit was of too serious a nature to be overlooked. Parties were accordingly formed for their destruction, and it was usual on the return of each from an excursion, instead of asking how many birds, to demand how many snakes and alligators they had shot. Of the former, indeed, great numbers were killed,`and of the latter not a few, the largest of which measured about nine feet from the snout to the tail.
Another employment, also, deserves to be noted, because it is truly characteristic of the boyish jollity of young soldiers. Wearied with a state of idleness, the officers of the 7th, 43rd, and 14th dragoons made an attack with fir-apples upon those of the 85th, 93rd, and 95th. For the space of some days they pelted each other from morning till night, laying ambuscades and exhibiting, on a small scale, all the stratagems of war; whilst the whole army, not even excepting the Generals themselves, stood by and spurred them on.
But to continue a detail of such proceedings would only swell my narrative, without amusing my reader; I shall therefore content myself with observing, that things remained in this state till the 14th of March, when the long-looked for frigate at length arrived, and on the 15th, the first division of the army embarking, set sail for England. The wind, however, was foul, nor did the ships make any way till the 17th, when a fresh breeze springing up, we stood our course, and by ten o'clock on the 21st could distinguish the high land of Cuba. But the violence of the gale having driven us considerably to leeward, we were forced to bear up, and beat along the coast, on which account it was not till the 23rd that we came opposite to the port of Havannah.

In 1814 AND 1815. 


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