In 1815 James Morgan Bradford may well have become the first modern war correspondent when he sent a firsthand account of the Battle of New Orleans to The Time Piece, the tiny newspaper he had established four years earlier in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Bradford was born in Virginia in 1777 but grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky, where his father published a newspaper. Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Bradford moved to New Orleans, where he bought a printing plant and began publishing the Orleans Gazette. In 1805 he became the Louisiana Territory’s official printer, but his strident calls for the use of military force to liberate “the wretched subjects of despotic Spain” brought him into direct political conflict with the territory’s governor, who revoked his contract in 1809. At that point, Bradford sold his interest in the Gazette and moved to St. Francisville, where he took up the study of law, founded The Time Piece (the town’s first newspaper), and was admitted to the Louisiana Bar.
In January 1815, as the British—unaware that the Treaty of Ghent had formally ended the War of 1812 on December 24, 1814—turned their sights on New Orleans, Bradford joined a Louisiana unit, Captain Jedediah Smith’s “Feliciana Troop of Horse,” to defend the port city against an enemy assault. U.S. Army forces under the command of Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson scored a resounding victory in the Battle of New Orleans, making Jackson a national hero.
After the war Bradford decided to devote all his time to the practice of law. He lost his bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1822 and ran again, unsuccessfully, in 1834. He died in 1837 of stab wounds received during a quarrel. Bradford’s account of the Battle of New Orleans was published in an extra edition of The Time Piece on January 17, 1815, under the headline great victory. (Some of the punctuation in the annotated version that follows has been modernized for readability.)
After my letter of the 6th [Bradford’s previous dispatch], every thing remained tranquil until the 8th. On the morning of that day, between day light and sun rise, the enemy made an assault on our works. He advanced in three columns—his right on the edge of the swamp, flanked by the woods, which was his strongest effort, directed against our left, and where our line of riflemen commenced—His left on the levee, directed against our right. The left and centre columns halted at about 400 paces distance, except about 100 men, who advanced under cover of the levee, and were mistaken for our own piquets, until they got possession of our bastions, in front of the extreme right of our breast work.
As soon as they entered the bastion, three officers rushed upon our breast work, one of whom having reached the top, called out to the Yankee Rascals to cease firing, and flourishing his sword, cried “the enemy’s works are ours.” The words had not time to cool upon his lips, when he fell with his comrades, lifeless in our ditch. Not a man who entered our bastion was permitted to return & tell the tale of their desperate carnage—all perished, penetrated with innumerable wounds.
As this part of the column reached our right, Capt. [Enoch] Humphrey opened upon the halted columns a most destructive fire, from four 12 pounders. The most desperate attack was that on our left. This column was suffered to advance to our ditch, when three 24 pounders opened upon it with grape and cannister, and every fire cut a lane through the advancing column. After the first discharge of cannon our musketry opened, say from about a thousand hands. Never did I hear such a roar of small arms. The action continued between 40 and 50 minutes, when the enemy retired. Thrice did he advance, and thrice did he retire, mowed down by the irresist[i]ble effect of our fire.
The right column of the enemy was [led], as we are induced to believe from the reports of prisoners, by the Right Honb. Edward Pakenham, Lieut. Gen. and commander in chief. He was killed, as was another General, and Maj. [John] Kean is severely wounded. All the prisoners concur in saying they never witnessed such an action. Those who were at Talavera, Badajo[z], and St. Sebastians [three battles of the Peninsula War] acknowledge that they suffered not half as severely in proportion to our force, as on the dreadful 8th. You may estimate the result after this manner—losses of the enemy 600 killed, 1,000 wounded, & 400 prisoners—total 2,000—800 stand of arms taken, in an action of 50 minutes—whilst our losses was not exceeding 15: five killed and ten wounded.
After detailing this glorious result of the battle of the 8th, at our line, I feel indescribable pain, in detailing the issue on the opposite bank of the Mississippi. On the night of the 7th, the enemy succeeded in getting some of his barges into the river, and crossed over about 900 men. [Brigadier] Gen. [David] Morgan with about 600 state troops, and 400 Kentuckians was posted there, where was also erected a battery of 12 and 24 pounders, and a howit[zer], taken from Lord [Charles] Cornwallis at Yorktown. The Gen., apprised of the situation of the enemy, sent about 100 men under Maj. [Charles] Tessier of Baton Rouge to oppose his landing. The Maj., supposing, or effecting to suppose, that the enemy’s object was an attack on fort St. Leon, at the English Turn, returned, & suffered him to land without molestation.
In the morning of the 8th, the enemy advanced, and made an attack on Gen. Morgan, simultaneous with that on Gen. [Andrew] Jackson. Capt. [T. W.] Scott of Feliciana, and one or two other companies, from New Orleans, sustained the shock with great coolness. Our artillery gave the foe a spirited fire, and halted his advance for a moment, but our right under Maj. Tessier having given away without firing a gun, and falling back upon the Kentuckians, threw them into confusion. The enemy returned to the charge, and our men at the battery having spiked their guns, retired. The result of this affair was two killed and one wounded on our part, with the loss of the howit[zer]—and that of the enemy, we say 8, as six graves and two unburied bodies were discovered and we took two prisoners. The enemy retreated with great precipitation. I have no hesitation saying that had Maj. Tessier’s command behaved with that firmness that became our character, the defeat would have been as signal to the enemy on the west, as on east bank of the river.
A most awful cannonade began on the night of the 10th, and continued until a late hour last night, at fort St. Philip (Plaquemine). On the 11th, an express reached Gen. Jackson, that on the 10th at 10 o’clock P. M. the enemy commenced the attack, leading in ships, gunboats, bomb vessels, barges, &c innumerable. About sunset last evening, two explosions took place in the direction of St. Philip, supposed to be the enemy’s vessels. Of the result we cannot give any account—but we feel great confidence that it is favorable to our arms.
I feel singular pleasure in informing you that our companions have yet suffered nothing, although we were as near the action of the 8th as possible. Of our fellow citizens and acquaintance, the companies of Capts. Lewis Davis and Isaac Johnson were at the breast work on the 8th, and supported by their courage, the high character our parish has so justly acquired.
I must close—for as I write, I am informed our squadron is engaged with the enemy’s piquet, and I must hasten to join them.
This article appears in the Winter 2020 issue (Vol. 33, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Classic Dispatches | Great Victory!
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