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The American Way of War

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With the piquets [sentries], again, it fared even worse. For the outposts of an army to sleep is at all times considered as a thing impossible; but in modern and civilized warfare they are nevertheless looked upon as in some degree sacred. Thus, whilst two European armies remain inactively facing each other, the outposts of neither are molested, unless a direct attack upon the main body be intended; nay, so far is this tacit good understanding carried, that I have myself seen French and English sentinels not more than twenty yards apart. But the Americans entertained no such chivalric notions. An enemy was to them an enemy, whether alone or in the midst of five thousand companions; and they therefore counted the death of every individual as so much taken from the strength of the whole. In point of fact they no doubt reasoned correctly, but to us at least it appeared an ungenerous return to barbarity.

The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans 1814-1815 by Rev. G. R. Gleig, M.A., Chaplain-General to the forces, 1879.

Note – Gleig is referring to the American practice at New Orleans of sneaking forward at night and killing British sentries.  He apparently did not consider the British Army actions in the Chesapeake Bay area — burning of farmsteads, murder of men and boys, and the rape of women — to be an “ungenerous return to barbarity”.



 

The British officers appeared to view war as a sort of game, with rules and niceties and an etiquette all their own, a sentiment embodied perhaps in the droll remark later attributed to Wellington after his final victory over Napoleon: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

Americans might have been rude, but they were certainly not barbarians, and they also did not regard the conflict as some kind of gentlemen’s tea party arrayed with guns. Instead, they viewed the Englishmen as contemptuous invaders and intruders in their country, and on their own soil; from everything they’d heard and read, the British had been the perpetrators of the vilest acts of cruelty against an American people who simply wished to be left alone.

Americans . . . would not rest until the enemy was ejected once and for all.

Winston Groom, Patriot Fire, Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans, p214

Note – This is the best single book on the battles for New Orleans.  Comprehensive and very well written.

 


 

The Americans in war are peculiar. In Napoleon’s day, the French fought for the “glory of the great Nation.”  Now, perhaps, they fight for “the glory of our arms.” The British fight for “king and country” or “God and country” but the Americans “for the good of my country.”

After the peace, an officer in this war, the Marquis of Tweeddale, who was taken prisoner on the Canadian frontier and brought to New York, said to me “I hope it will never fall to my lot again to fight Americans; every one of them always fights his own individual battle, and is a most dangerous enemy.”

Fifty Years In Both Hemispheres Or, Reminiscences Of The Life Of A Former Merchant By Vincent Nolte   1854;  p 223

Note – Nolte was a wealthy businessman, and served as an enlisted rifleman in defense of New Orleans. When Jackson wanted cotton bales to reinforce the American rampart along the Rodriguez Canal he took them from Nolte without compensation.  After the British attack on 1 January, 1815, the cotton bales were found to be unsuitable and were removed.  Understandably, Nolte was not a great fan of Andrew Jackson.

 


But the Americans, how did they act?  Why their [warship] rating system was founded upon deception, and deception alone. They built “44s,” and mounted them with 56 guns; and they have since built “74s,” and mounted them with 102 guns . . .

Naval history of Great Britain – Vol. VI by William James – 1837

 

 

But the Americans, how did they act? Why their [warship] rating system was founded upon deception, and deception alone. They built “44s,” and mounted them with 56 guns; and they have since built “74s,” and mounted them with 102 guns . . .

 

Naval history of Great Britain – Vol. VI by William James – 1837