Sunday, December 28, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 258: Anonymous (A Kentucky Soldier), “Like a Sea of Blood” (#258)

Anonymous (A Kentucky Soldier), “Like a Sea of Blood” (published 1926) from The War of 1812: Writings from America’s War of Independence:

A first person account from the trenches--or rather the brestwork around New Orleans. (I don't know if that spelling is idiosyncratic or historical, since we write "breastwork" now.)

The battle of New Orleans is one part of the War of 1812 that gets wide play, possibly because it was such an American victory against long odds (the British had more men and lost a lot more); possibly because it led (eventually) to Andrew Jackson's presidency; or possibly because it's a classic example of looking back at history and thinking, "those dolts!"--which always makes us feel better today, never realizing that some future people will think we're pretty doltish ourselves--since the battle took place after the peace treaty. I've always liked that pirate Jean Lafitte took part in the defense.

(Though what if Andrew Jackson had been killed? Or merely failed to defend the city? What would a US be like without his presidency?)

This anonymous Kentucky soldier tells his experience of the battle, which wasn't much: there's a lot of shooting in the dark and some antics by American soldiers, each with their own idiosyncrasy. There's the death of one American that seems like friendly fire. There's the surrender of the British, which leads to the narrator helping a young man over the wall, giving him some water, and then being there when he dies, which is a curiously empathetic scene. I mean, and this has come up before in war reporting, how curious that one moment you can be firing at and killing people, and the next, feeling bad for a young man who dies.

Which is especially interesting considering the report ends with one British guy trying to escape and making rude gestures--and getting shot for them. So, yeah, not everyone is going to switch so quickly from firing to feeling bad for the people fired on.

Also, the "sea of blood" image isn't actually blood--it's the Britishers' red coats.

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