March 1 -The Mediterranean.
The short man stood at the prow of the Inconstant, looking out to sea towards the faint dark smudge on the horizon that told of approaching land. The savor of the chill salt air made him forget his stomach pains. He had promised he would be back before spring was over, and now he made good his promise. He adjusted his bicorn hat, pulled his greatcoat closer around him, and he smiled.
The monster was out of his cage.
The most dangerous man in Europe was free.
It would be good to be back in France.
March 15 - Mobile Bay.
Sharpe stood at the prow of the Statira, looking out to sea towards a shore far out of sight. The savor of the chill salt air made him forget his many aches and pains. He had promised he would be back before spring was over, and he now he made good his promise. The wind ruffled his hair as he pulled his greatcoat closer around him, and he smiled.
He was going home at last.
Home to Lucille.
It would be good to be back in France.
With the coming of the dawn, the fleet weighed anchors and pulled out of Bon Secours Bay. The wind bellied their sails as they came around the head of Heron Island, heading for the open ocean, prepared for the long Atlantic crossing. As the fleet began to pick up momentum, a lookout in the Statira's mainmast called a warning, a sail had appeared out of the dimness of the western horizon. As it drew near, they could see that it was a sloop. It flew the flag of the Baratarian pirates, and below it, a flag of truce. Then it hoisted a series of signal flags. From where he stood on the fore deck, Captain Swaine put his telescope to his eye to read them, and then made an exclamation of surprise. He turned to Sharpe.
"Major Sharpe, they are asking if you are on board."
"Shall I acknowledge?"
Sharpe nodded, and the Statira's signal flags were raised in response. He watched in confusion as the sloop drew alongside, then he saw a familiar form standing at the prow, the smiling, darkly handsome face, broad-brimmed hat and gaudy sash of Jean Lafitte. The pirate removed his hat and bowed with an elaborate flourish.
"Bonjour, Mon ami! Comment allez-vous?"
Grinning, Sharpe stood at the railing and called down.
"Lafitte! What the hell are you doing here?"
"I have a gift for you, my friend, a gift from ma belle Marie, that you might not forget her! She told me that if I failed to deliver it to you before you left, she would put a spell on me and shrivel my manhood to the size of a peanut! I cannot afford to risk such a calamity. Thank the Virgin I caught you in time!"
He took something out of his sash, about a foot long, flat and light brown, and hurled it through the air. Sharpe caught it.
It was a sheath, a sheath to hold the big fighting knife that now belonged to him. He took the blade out of his belt where he had been keeping it; and it slid easily into the mouth of the sheath, a perfect fit. On the back, stitched in silver thread, were the initials "ML". The sheath was of finely tanned leather, cut from the hide of one of the great reptiles that swam in the bayous of this land, an alligator. But he knew it was much more than just any alligator.
It was Sharpe's gator.
The Battle of New Orleans was without a doubt the most humiliating defeat that British arms had ever suffered up to that point. In all of British history, the only battle that was arguably a more complete catastrophe was the annihilation of the British No. 3 Column by the Zulus at Isandhlwana in 1879.
For the British, New Orleans was the dismal climax to an unfortunate sideshow of the war against Napoleon. For the Americans, it was their one decisive land victory of the conflict, and a pivotal point in American history. A ragtag army of citizen soldiers under a commander who had never before faced a regular army stunningly defeated Wellington's crack troops. It confirmed that America was a nation, and not the subjects of a foreign power.
The Americans under Andrew Jackson demonstrated the truth of the old adage "There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers." The British had wrongly assumed that the Americans were bad soldiers because of their dismal performance in the first part of the war. New Orleans showed what they could do when competently led. Jackson refused battle until he had systemically eliminated all of Pakenham's options except two: either frontally attack his overwhelmingly strong position or else retreat. Pakenham's pride ensured that he would choose the first option. The battle was fought completely on Jackson's terms. His stunning victory catapulted him into the American consciousness, starting with a triumphal entry into New Orleans that was worthy of a conquering Caesar, and ending in the White House.
Lieutenant General Edward Pakenham was a competent subordinate to the Duke of Wellington. Much like Napoleon's Marshals, he performed less than adequately when given his own command. He evidenced an all-too-typically British lack of flexibility to unexpected circumstances. This, combined with an unjustified scorn for the American Army, made his defeat inevitable. When Wellington looked at the map of the battle, he commented that nothing could have compelled him to attack such a formidable line across such open ground while he had any other option. He would have continued the campaign elsewhere, under circumstances more favorable. Many of the regiments who were humiliated at New Orleans would redeem themselves six months later at Waterloo, among them the South Essex, as all Sharpe fans will remember.
Andrew Jackson, Tecumseh, Marie Laveau, and Jean Lafitte were real characters and are presented much as they might have been, although Marie Laveau had not gained the considerable notoriety that she was to enjoy in later years. Red Gator and the Brothers of the Swamp are fictitious. Although General Ross was shot by a sharpshooter outside of Baltimore, there was no conspiracy to prolong the war by blaming civilian massacres on the British army. There was no Blassenville or Napoleon's Landing. Nor did any British column make an orderly fighting withdrawal from the battlefield, although some five hundred Redcoats did hug the ground until the shooting was over, whereupon they stood up, surrendered, and were taken prisoners. The bayous cover a lot less territory these days, but they are still wild places to take a nature cruise in, and the cottonmouths, alligator gars, alligator snapping turtles, and the alligators are still there. You can also visit Marie Laveau's tomb in the French Quarter, and it is said that her spirit still sometimes grants wishes to people who do so.
Today, the battlefield is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Every year on whatever weekend is closest to January 8th, re-enactment groups like the 93rd Highlanders, the 95th Rifles 3rd Battalion, and the U.S. 7th Regiment of Infantry meet there to recreate the battle. Although done on a much smaller scale, you do get a taste of what it must have been like back in 1815. When you turn into the park, you are traveling down the American side of Line Jackson, heading towards the river. As you pass through the gates, you are in the area of Battery 8 on Jackson's left and you can see the reconstructed defenses. The gun positions give a good impression of what they must have been like on the day of the battle. A line of railway tracks mark the approximate edge of the cypress swamp as it was in 1815. A tall monolithic monument, proposed in 1840 and completed in 1908, looms before you. A visitor's center behind the monument shows a short film about the battle and exhibits a few period weapons, including a sword bayonet from a Baker rifle that was excavated from the Rodriguez canal.
From the visitor's center, you can drive around the circumference of the battlefield. At various points, plaques describe the action that took place there. When you head towards the river, you come to the levee. It is much higher than it was in 1815, and covers the position of the old brick kiln and the river road down which General Keane's column marched to the attack. Standing with the river on your left, you can see a slipway cut into the levee just beyond the park boundary, about six hundred yards away. It marks the approximate location of the Macarte mansion, General Jackson's headquarters. To the right is a small plantation house, built in 1832.
Where the road turns left away from the river, you intersect the march of the 93rd as they were ordered away from Keane's column to support Gibb's attack. A British flag on a pole marks the advanced redoubt where Colonel Mullens was supposed to be with the ladders and fascines. From here, you can appreciate how flat the field is, with the only feature the American line, and of how vulnerable the British were as they attacked. Behind you is a military cemetery from the American War Between the States. It marks the farthest extent of the park towards the British camp. It was here that Lambert's brigade was formed up in reserve. After this, the road turns left towards the American position and runs by a small wood on the right. This marks the line of march for Gibbs' attack, both on December 28 and January 8. The road bends around a small extension of the tree line. It was here that the 93rd stood without orders and were shot to pieces. About twenty yards to the right, among the trees, is where General Pakenham fell.
There is not really anything else to see. If you leave the park and turn right again, going down Route 46 for approximately 1 ½ miles, you will come upon an island between the dual railroad tracks on which stands the remains of the De La Ronde mansion that served as the British forward headquarters. The rest of the sites connected with the British are under various shipping facilities or factories. The ruins of the old Villere plantation house are on the site of a sewage treatment plant and off limits to the public. On the west bank, the American battery of General Morgan that Colonel Thorton captured is part of the grounds of a private school, the Aurora Academy. Special permission is required to visit the site, but there is nothing left of the battery anyway. All in all, the battlefield is a rather one-sided tribute to the Americans at the expense of the British.
So as we know, Sharpe returned to Normandy, where he found that Lucille did wait for him, with his new son, Patrick Lassan. And Sharpe prepared to settle down with his family on the farm, in hope of a long, peaceful life.
But, as we know, Napoleon had other ideas.
Many who read Sharpe's Gator will have noticed that this work contradicts Cornwell's Waterloo and Sharpe's Devil in a few places. Since I am inserting Gator into the Sharpe canon, this is to be expected. Cornwell never figured on his hero getting involved in America, and wrote Waterloo and Devil to reflect that chronology. However, for those who want to operate in my slightly altered timeline, Gator can be reconciled with Waterloo and Devil with only a few small modifications, none of which significantly alter the plots. I have listed the ones I could find below. Page references are from the Penguin paperback of Waterloo, and the HarperCollins paperback of Sharpe's Devil.
Back to Chapter 16
Return to Gator Main Page
Return to Sue's Fan Fiction
Return to Sue's Main Page
Copyright © 2001 Alan Kempner and his licensors. All rights reserved.
Last update 18/7/01