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A Veteran of the War of 1812 Talks to Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Veteran of the War of 1812 Talks to Nathaniel Hawthorne
December 15 1856

   Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his English Note-books, recalls a 1856 chat with a War of 1812 veteran who was at the Battles of the Thames and New Orleans


   December 15th.--An old gentleman has recently paid me a good many visits,--a Kentucky man, who has been a good deal in England and Europe generally without losing the freshness and unconventionality of his earlier life. He was a boatman, and afterwards captain of a steamer on the Ohio and Mississippi; but has gained property, and is now the owner of mines of coal and iron, which he is endeavoring to dispose of here in England. A plain, respectable, well-to-do-looking personage, of more than seventy years; very free of conversation, and beginning to talk with everybody as a matter of course; tall, stalwart, a dark face, with white curly hair and keen eyes; and an expression shrewd, yet kindly and benign. He fought through the whole War of 1812, beginning with General Harrison at the battle of Tippecanoe [Battle of the Thames meant?], which he described to me. He says that at the beginning of the battle, and for a considerable time, he heard Tecumseh's voice, loudly giving orders. There was a man named Wheatley in the English camp, a strange, incommunicative person,--a volunteer, making war entirely on his own hook, and seeking revenge for some relatives of his, who had been killed by the Indians. In the midst of the battle this Wheatley ran at a slow trot past R---- (my informant), trailing his rifle, and making towards the point where Tecumseh's voice was heard. The fight drifted around, and R---- along with it; and by and by he reached a spot where Wheatley lay dead, with his head on Tecumseh's breast. Tecumseh had been shot with a rifle, but, before expiring, appeared to have shot Wheatley with a pistol, which he still held in his hand. R---- affirms that Tecumseh was flayed by the Kentucky men on the spot, and his skin converted into razor-strops. I have left out the most striking point of the narrative, after all, as R---- told it, viz, that soon after Wheatley passed him, he suddenly ceased to hear Tecumseh's voice ringing through the forest, as he gave his orders. He was at the battle of New Orleans, and gave me the story of it from beginning to end; but I remember only a few particulars in which he was personally concerned. He confesses that his hair bristled upright--every hair in his head--when he heard the shouts of the British soldiers before advancing to the attack. His uncomfortable sensations lasted till he began to fire, after which he felt no more of them. It was in the dusk of the morning, or a little before sunrise, when the assault was made; and the fight lasted about two hours and a half, during which R---- fired twenty-four times; and said he, "I saw my object distinctly each time, and I was a good rifle-shot." He was raising his rifle to fire the twenty-fifth time, when an English officer, General Carroll, pressed it down, and bade him fire no more. "Enough is enough," quoth the General. For there needed no more slaughter, the British being in utter rout and confusion. In this retreat many of the enemy would drop down among the dead, then rise, run a considerable distance, and drop again, thus confusing the riflemen's aim. One fellow had thus got about four hundred and fifty yards from the English line, and, thinking himself secure, he made a derisive gesture. "I'll have a shot at him, anyhow," cried a rifleman; so he fired, and the poor devil dropped.
   
   R---- himself, with one of his twenty-four shots, hit a British officer, who fell forward on his face, about thirty paces from our line, and as the enemy were then retreating (they advanced and were repelled two or three times) R---- ran out, and turned him over on his back. The officer was a man about thirty-eight, tall and fine-looking; his eyes were wide open, clear, and bright, and were fixed full on with a somewhat stern glance, but there was the sweetest and happiest smile over his face that could be conceived. He seemed to be dead;--at least, R---- thinks that he did not really see him, fixedly as he appeared to gaze. The officer held his sword in his hand, and R---- tried in vain to wrest it from him, until suddenly the clutch relaxed. R---- still keeps the sword hung up over his mantel-piece. I asked him how the dead man's aspect affected him. He replied that he felt nothing at the time; but that ever since, in all trouble, in uneasy sleep, and whenever he is out of tune, or waking early, or lying awake at night, he sees this officer's face, with the clear bright eyes and the pleasant smile, just as distinctly as if lie were bending over him. His wound was in the breast, exactly on the spot that R---- had aimed at, and bled profusely. The enemy advanced in such masses, he says, that it was impossible not to hit them unless by purposely firing over their heads.
   
   After the battle, R---- leaped over the rampart, and took a prisoner who was standing unarmed in the midst of the slain, having probably dropped down during the heat of the action, to avoid the hail-storm of rifle-shots. As he led him in, the prisoner paused, and pointed to an officer who was lying dead beside his dead horse, with his foot still in the stirrup. "There lies our General," said he. The horse had been killed by a grape-shot, and Pakenham himself, apparently, by a six-pounder ball, which had first struck the earth, covering him from head to foot with mud and clay, and had then entered his side, and gone upward through his breast. His face was all besmirched with the moist earth. R---- took the slain general's foot out of the stirrup, and then went to report his death.
   
   Much more he told me, being an exceedingly talkative old man, and seldom, I suppose, finding so good a listener as myself. I like the man,--a good-tempered, upright, bold and free old fellow; of a rough breeding, but sufficiently smoothed by society to be of pleasant intercourse. He is as dogmatic as possible, having formed his own opinions, often on very disputable grounds, and hardened in them; taking queer views of matters and things, and giving shrewd and not ridiculous reasons for them; but with a keen, strong sense at the bottom of his character.
   
   * * * * *
   
   Editor's Note: Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames in 1813, not at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. How authentic are these reminiscences, or has Hawthorne possibly introduced the confusion by confusing the battles? There was also no English General Carroll at the Battle of New Orleans but the reminiscence may refer to Pennsylvania-born Maj. Gen. William Carroll who led more than 3,000 troops of the Tennessee militia's Second Division at the Battle of New Orleans. Carroll and his men formed the center of Jackson's line at the Rodriguez Canal and poured in accurate volleys to decimate Pakenham's advancing forces.
   
   From The English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Nathaniel Hawthorne(1804-1864), edited and with a preface by Sophia Hawthorne, and with an introduction by George Parsons Lathrop, Vols. VII-VIII of the Riverside Edition of the Works of Hawthorne. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1883.
   
   
   
   

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Related pages:
  New Orleans, Battle of
       Documents: Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson Writes to Maj. Gen. John Lambert in the Aftermath of the Ameri 
       People: Lt. George R. Gleig 
       People: Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson 
       People: Maj. Gen. William Carroll 
       Press: New York Evening Post - January 15, 1815 

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