War of 1812: "To Describe Those Lines"

Cropped view of an engraving recolored in light greyscale tones shows General Jackson on a horse with American soldiers fighting the British in the background.

Arsène Lacarrière Latour studied architecture and engineering in France and arrived in the United States in 1804. Two years later, he moved to Louisiana, drafting plans for the city of Baton Rogue, eventually founding an architectural firm in New Orleans, and formalizing his U.S. citizenship in 1812. Latour joined General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 as a military engineer and helped prepare the American lines to defend New Orleans. 

Latour's account of the Battle of New Orleans and accompanying maps are valuable perspectives on the fight. Of particular interest is his description of the terrain and the mentions of commanders and troops, including units of free and enslaved Black soldiers in the American army.

Map "Plate 5" and Map "Plate 7" are available for viewing and examination through Library of Congress.


Before I proceed to relate the events of the 8th of January, a day of ever glorious memory in the annals of America, and especially in those of Louisiana, I think it not unseasonable here to describe those lines, before which was performed the most important military exploit of the whole war, and, considering local circumstances and the respective forces contending, that which reflects on America the highest glory. 

Jackson's lines, within five miles of the city of New Orleans, and running along the limits of Rodriguez and Chalmette's plantations, formerly the property of the United States, were but one of those ancient mill-races, so common in Louisiana, extending from the bank of the river to the Cypress swamp. It has been already seen, from my description of the form of the soil in Lower Louisiana, and from its shelving from the river towards the swamps, that when the Mississippi is swelled to its greatest height, the level of the surface of its waters is some feet above that of the contiguous soil, and from twelve to fifteen above that of the prairies and bayous, which at those periods receive the waters flowing from the Mississippi. To add to the mass and the force of the water, the planters dig canals a few feet deep, throwing the earth on both sides, so as to afford a mass of water from eight to eleven feet deep; and at the head of these canals, which are commonly twenty-five feet wide, are constructed saw-mills. The canal on which Jackson's lines were formed, had long been abandoned, having no longer any mill to turn, so that its banks had fallen in and raised its bottom, which was covered with grass, presenting rather the appearance of an old draining ditch than of a canal. On the 24th of December, general Jackson had taken this position; and that it was well chosen, will sufficiently appear on an inspection of the map—(Plate No. 5.) I will only observe, that those lines leave the least possible space between the river and the wood, and that from the lines to Villere's canal, the depth of the high-land continually increases, and is at Laronde's plantation nearly three times as great as at the lines. As soon as this position was chosen, the troops began to raise a parapet, leaving the ditch as it was except that by cutting the road it was laid underwater, as there was then a temporary rise of the river. Earth was fetched from the rear of the line and thrown carelessly on the left bank, where the earth had been thrown when the canal was originally dug. The bank on the right side being but little elevated above the soul, formed a kind of glacis. All the pales of the fences in the vicinity were taken to line the parapet, and prevent the earth from falling into the canal. All this was done at various intervals, and by different corps, owing to the frequent mutations in the disposition of the troops. This circumstance, added to the cold nd to incessant rain, rendered it impossible to observe any regularity as to the thickness and height of the parapet, which in some places was as much as twenty feet thick at the top, though hardly five feet high; whilst in other places the enemy's balls went through it at the base. On the 1st of January there was but a very small proportion of the line able to withstand the balls; but on the 8th of January the whole extent, as far as the wood, was proof against the enemy's cannon. The length of the lines was eight hundred and fifteen toises, or about a mile, somewhat more than half of which ran from the river to the wood, the remainder extending into the depth, where the line took a direction towards the left, which rested on a cypress swamp almost impassable. On that part of the line which was in the woods, the breastwork was not thicker than was necessary to resist musketry; it was formed of a double row of logs, laid one over the other, leaving a space of two feet, which was filled up with earth. Along one part of the line ran a banquette; in some parts, the height of the breastwork above the soil was hardly sufficient to cover the men. The earth thrown up to form the breastwork, had been dug out at various intervals, and without any order, the rainy weather not admitting of the works being carried on with regularity, as observed before.

The artillery was distributed on the lines in the following manner. On the soil of the road within the levee was battery No. 1, commanded by captain Humphreys, of the U.S. artillery. It consisted of two brass twelve-pounders, and a six-inch howitzer, on field carriages; these pieces enfiladed the road towards that side where the enemy was posted, and their fire grazed the parapet of the flank of the redoubt, toward the right. Battery No. 1, was seventy feet from the bank of the river. The two twelve-pounders were served by soldiers belonging to the regular artillery, and the howitzer by dragoons of major St. Geme's company.

Battery No. 2, which had a twenty-four-pounder, was commanded by lieutenant Norris, of the navy, and served by part of the crew of the late schooner Carolina; its distance from No. 1 was ninety yards. This battery was the most elevated above the soil.

Battery No. 3, commanded by captain Dominquie and Beluche, commanders of privateers, had two twenty-four-pounders, which were served by French mariners; its distance from No. 2 was fifty yards.

Battery No. 4, commanded by lieutenant Crawley, of the navy, and served by part of the crew of the Carolina, had a thirty-two-pounder; its distance from No. 3 was twenty yards.

Battery No. 5, commanded by colonel Perry and lieutenant Kerr, of the artillery, had two six-pounders; its distance from No. 4 was one hundred and ninety yards. 

Battery No. 6, commanded by general Garigues Flaugeac, and served by a detachment of the company of Francs, under the immediate command of lieutenant Bertel, had a brass twelve-pounder; its distance from No. 5 was thirty-six yards. 

Battery No. 7 had a long brass eighteen-pound culverine, and a six-pounder, commanded by lieutenant Spotts and Chauveau, and served by genners of the U.S. artillery; its distance from No. 6 was one hundred and ninety yards.

The 8th battery had a small brass carronade, which rendered very little service, on account of the ill condition of its carriage; it was commanded by a corporal of artillery, and served by militia men of general Carroll's command; its distance from No. 7 was sixty yards.

Next to this piece the line formed a receding elbow, as laid down in the draft of the affair of the 8th—(See Atlas, Plate No. 7.)—enormous holes in the soil maid impassable by their being full of water from the canal, rendered this bend in the line unavoidable.

From this bend, where the wood began, to the extremity of the line, the ground was so low, and so difficult to be drained, that the troops were literally encamped in the water, walking knee deep in mud; and the several tents were pitched on small isles or hillocks, surrounded with water or mud.

It was here that the brave troops of generals Carroll and Coffee, from the 24th of December, 1814, and part of those of Kentucky, from the 6th, until the 20th of January, 1815, gave an example of all the military virtues. Though constantly living, and even sleeping, in the mud, those worthy sons of Columbia never uttered a complaint, nor showed the lest [least] symptom of discontent or impatience. Those who have not seen the ground, cannot form an idea of the deplorable condition of the troops encamped on the left of the line. But it was necessary to guard that quarter against the attacks of the enemy; it was necessary that troops should be stationed there, to repulse him on the edge of the breastwork, if, under cover of the bushes, he advanced to our intrenchments. Those brave men supported all their hardships with resignation, and even with alacrity. The safety of the country was at stake, and their desire to chastise insolent invaders, operated too strongly on hearts inflamed with patriotic ardour, to suffer them to perceive the uncomfortableness of their situation. Such conduct is so much superior to any eulogy I could bestow on it, that I must be content to admire it in silence.

In order to give a correct narrative of the affair on the 8th, I must previously make the reader acquainted with the respective position of the different corps stationed at the lines; that he may perceive, that if a considerable part of the troops exhibited no active valour, it was owing to the attacks not being made on their position; for had it been general, there can be no doubt but all would have equally vied in ardour and bravery.

The redoubt on the river, in front of the extremity of the line on the right, was guarded by a company of the 7th regiment, commanded by lieutenant Ross. The artillery was served by a detachment of the 44th, under the command of lieutenant Marant. Within the line, at the extremity of the right, between battery No. 1 and the river, was stationed the New Orleans volunteer company of riflemen, about thirty men strong.

The 7th regiment covered from that battery to battery No. 3, taking in the powder-magazine, built since the 1st of January, as also battery No. 2, commanded by lieutenant Norris. This regiment, four hundred and thirty men strong, was commanded by major Peire.

The interval between that battery and No. 4, commanded by lieutenant Crawley, was occupied by major Plauche's battalion of volunteer uniform companies, and by major Lacoste's battalion of Louisiana men of colour. The former was two hundred and eighty-nine men strong, and the latter two hundred and eighty. 

From battery No. 4, to colonel Perry's No. 5, the line was defended by major Daquin's battalion of St. Domingo men of colour, one hundred and fifty men strong, and from that out by the 44th, two hundred and forty men strong, commanded by captain Baker. All the corps, from the 7th regiment to the 44th inclusively, were under the command of colonel Ross.

Two-thirds of the remaining length of the line, were guarded by the troops commanded by major-general Carroll. On the right of battery No. 7, commanded by lieutenants Spotts and Chauveau, were stationed fifty marines, under the command of lieutenant Bellevue. 

On the preceeding day, part of the Kentucky troops, under the command of general Adair, had gone to re-enforce that part of the line. The order in which they were ranged may be seen on the plan. All those troops formed a force of about sixteen hundred men.

The troops under the command of general Coffee occupied the rest of the lengt of the line, as also that part which turned off towards the left into the woo; their number was about five hundred men.

Captain Ogden's company of cavalry was stationed behind head-quarters, and a detachment of the Attakapas dragoons was posted within the courtyard, together about fifty men strong.

During the attack, captain Chauveau's company of horse volunteers, about thirty men strong, hasted [hastened] from town and drew up in the same courtyard, to be ready for a sortie, should it be thought expedient.

The Mississippi cavalry, commanded by major Hinds, one hundred and fifty men strong, was encamped in the rear, on Delery's plantation. Our outposts extended about five hundred yards in front of the line.

Different detachments, making an aggregate of two hundred and fifty men of colonel Young's regiment of Louisiana militia, were stationed at intervals, on the skirts of the wood, behind the line, as far as the Piernas canal.

Four hundred yards behind the line, a guard was posted on the road, to prevent any one's going out of camp; and a line of sentinels extended from that post to the wood for the same purpose.

Although the above details show the number of our troops to have amounted to about four thousand men, including one hundred artillerists who did not belong to any corps, it is nevertheless true, that general Jackson's line was defended by only three thousand two hundred men, the remaining eight hundred having been distributed into various detachments, and posted behind to guard the camp, for the defence of the Piernas canal, and on the outskirts of the wood. (See Atlas, plates No. 5 and 7.)



Historical memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15, with an atlas by Arsène Lacarrière Latour, originally published in 1816.

Related Battles

Louisiana | January 8, 1815
Result: United States Victory
Estimated Casualties
United States
United Kingdom