Friday, February 27, 2015
FEBRUARY SHORT STORY READALONG: The Battle of Lake Borgne
The second story in our readalong is appropriately about the Battle of New Orleans. Appropriate because it is the bicentennial anniversary of the famous battle. Here in Louisiana we take that battle seriously and do not buy the bull crap that because it was fought after the Treaty of Ghent was agreed to, it was laughably useless. Would the British have given New Orleans back if they had taken it? Highly unlikely. You know why that is a big "what-if"? Because Andrew Jackson whipped British ass so we did not have to find out the answer to that question. The story is entitled "The Battle of Lake Borgne" by George Eggleston.
Most people, including Louisianians, don't know that the climactic showdown of January 8 was the third of three noteworthy actions. George Eggleston included the stories of these two neglected actions in his book "Strange Stories from History" which was published in 1886. Eggleston aimed his book of nonfiction short stories at a young audience and they read like adventure stories. Surprisingly, the stories are not "gosh-wow". The two I read as part of this project are on the Battle of Borgne and the "Battle in the Dark".
The "Battle of Lake Borgne" tells the story of the British assault on a small flotilla of American gunboats that were trying to prevent a British landing on the shore of Lake Borgne. Eggleston does an excellent job outlining the British and American strategies. We understand why the battle took place and the advantages and disadvantages of each side. This builds to the description of the action which has a ring of swashbuckling to it. Eggleston does exaggerate the fighting for his boyish audience (it actually lasted only five minutes), but he does not blatantly tamper with history. He is much more constrained than a movie would be.
The second story tells the tale of the night assault by Jackson on the British camp. Eggleston refers to Jackson's army as a "posse comitatus of ragamuffins". Possibly the only time that awesome phrase has ever been used in literature. His description of the chaos of the attack is outstanding. I have never read anything better that points out why generals are reluctant to roll the dice on night actions. This passage, more than the main battle of January 8, confirms what a bad-ass Jackson was. Eggleston makes the pitched battle in pitched dark exhilirating. Since most readers will not know the outcome, there is quite a bit of suspense. I loved the description of how units would identify themselves and then wade in if it turned out they were on opposite sides. Needless to say there was a friendly fire issue.
Eggleston closes the story with an aftermath that outlines the importance of the tactical defeat for the Americans. He only briefly touches on the main battle, but manages to destroy that old chestnut that the Americans used cotton bales as part of their barricades. You the man, Eggleston!
At first I was a little upset that the story was nonfiction. I assumed all the stories would be fictional. I read enough nonfiction already. However, because of the nature of Eggleston's style and the audience he was writing for, the story reads like fiction. Since I have a bit of the fourteen year old boy in me, I really enjoyed it. It has a certain verve to it. More importantly, Eggleston is quite complimentary of the British. He is not just stoking the flames of patriotism. He credits bravery when he sees it. Not only is the story entertaining, but it does a better job on the history of the battles than I found in several encyclopedia entries.
GRADE = A
Next up: The Boy Commander of the Camisards