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Battle of New Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815, and was the final major battle of the War of 1812. American forces, with General Andrew Jackson in command, defeated an invading British Army intent on seizing New Orleans and America's vast western lands. The Treaty of Ghent had been signed on 24 December 1814, but news of the peace would not reach New Orleans until February.

Prelude

By December 12, 1814 a large British fleet under the command of Sir Alexander Cochrane and with more than 10,000 soldiers and sailors aboard, had anchored in the Gulf of Mexico east of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. Preventing access to the lakes was an American flotilla, commanded by Thomas ap Catesby Jones, consisting of five gunboats. On December 14, British sailors in rowing boats, each boat armed with a small cannon, captured the vastly outnumbered American gunboats in a brief but violent battle. Now free to navigate Lake Borgne, thousands of British soldiers, under the command of General John Keane, were rowed to Pea Island, about east of New Orleans, where they established a garrison.

On the morning of December 22, Keane led a vanguard of 1,600 British soldiers from the island to the east bank of the Mississippi River, south of New Orleans. Keane could have attacked the city by advancing for a few hours up the river road, which was undefended all the way to New Orleans, but he made the fateful decision to wait for the arrival of reinforcements. Early that afternoon, when news of the British position reached Major General Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, he reportedly said, "Gentlemen, the British are below, we must fight them tonight." Jackson quickly sent about 2,000 of his troops from New Orleans to a position immediately north of the British to block them from making any further advances toward the city. Jackson, because he needed time to get his artillery into position, decided to attack the British immediately. On the night of December 23, Jackson personally led a three-pronged attack on the British camp that lasted until the early morning hours of December 24. The Americans suffered a reported 24 killed, 115 wounded, and 74 missing or captured, while the British reported their losses as 46 killed, 167 wounded, and 64 missing or captured.

Jackson's troops quickly built an earthworks and fortified it with heavy artillery. On Christmas Day, General Edward Pakenham arrived on the battlefield and ordered a reconnaissance-in-force on January 1, 1815 against the American earthworks protecting the advance to New Orleans. That evening, General Pakenham met with General Keane and Admiral Cochrane for an update on the situation, angry with the position that the army had been placed in. General Pakenham wanted to use Chef Menteur Road as the invasion route but was over-ruled by Admiral Cochrane who insisted that his boats were providing everything that could be needed. Admiral Cochrane believing that the British Army would destroy a ramshackle American army and allegedly said that if the Army would not do so his sailors would. Whatever Pakenham's thoughts on the matter, the meeting settled the method and place of the attack. On December 28, groups of British troops made probing attacks against the American earthworks.

When the British troops withdrew, the Americans began construction of artillery batteries to protect the earthworks, which were then christened Line Jackson. The Americans installed eight batteries, which included one 32-pound gun, three 24-pounders, one 18-pounder, three 12-pounders, three 6-pounders, and a howitzer. Jackson also sent a detachment of men to the west bank of the Mississippi to man two 24-pounders and two 12-pounders from the grounded warship Louisiana.

The main British army arrived on New Year's Day, and attacked the earthworks using their artillery. An exchange of artillery fire began that lasted for three hours. Several of the American guns were destroyed or knocked out, including the 32-pounder, a 24-pounder, and a 12-pounder, and some damage was done to the earthworks. The British guns ran out of ammunition, which led Pakenham to cancel the attack. Unknown at the moment to Pakenham, the Americans on the left of Line Jackson near the swamp had broken and ran from the position. Pakenham decided to wait for his entire force of over 8,000 men to assemble before launching his attack.

Battle of January 8

In the early morning of January 8, Pakenham ordered a two-pronged assault against Jackson's position: a small force on the west bank of the Mississippi and the main attack in three columns (along the river, along the swamp line, and in reserve) directly against the earthworks manned by the vast majority of American troops.

Preparations for the attack had foundered early, as a canal being dug by Cochrane's sailors collapsed and the dam made to divert the flow of the river into the canal failed leaving the sailors to drag the boats of Col. Thornton's west bank assault force through deep mud and left the force starting off just before daybreak 12 hours late.

The attack began under darkness and a heavy fog, but as the British neared the main enemy line, the fog lifted, exposing them to withering artillery fire. Lt-Col. Thomas Mullins, the British commander of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot, had forgotten the ladders and fascines needed to cross a canal and scale the earthworks, and confusion evolved in the dark and fog as the British tried to close the gap. Most of the senior officers were killed or wounded, and the British infantry either flung themselves to the ground, huddled in the canal, or were mown down by a combination of musket fire and grapeshot from the Americans. A handful made it to the top of the parapet but were either killed or captured. An American advance redoubt next to the river was overrun by British light infantry but without reinforcements they could neither hold the position nor storm the main American line behind.

The two large, main assaults on the American position were repulsed. Pakenham was fatally wounded, while on horseback, by grapeshot fired from the earthworks. General John Lambert assumed command and eventually ordered a withdrawal.

The only British success was on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where a 700-man detachment under the command of Colonel Thornton of the 85th light infantry attacked and overwhelmed the American line. However the attack came after the loss of the main battle. Though both Jackson and Patterson reported the retreating forces had spiked their cannon leaving no guns to turn on the American's main defense line, this is contradicted by Major Mitchell's diary which makes it clear this was not so, as he states he had "Commenced cleaning enemy's guns to form a battery to enfilade their lines on the left bank. General Lambert ordered his Chief of Artillery to assess the position, who reported back that no less than 2,000 men would be needed to hold the position. General Lambert issued orders to withdraw after the defeat of their main army on the east bank, and retreated taking a few American prisoners and cannons with them.

At the end of the day, the British had 2,037 casualties: 291 dead (including three senior generals), 1,262 wounded, and 484 captured or missing. The Americans had 71 casualties: 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing.

Aftermath

With the defeat of the British army and the death of Pakenham, Lambert decided that despite the arrival of reinforcements and a siege train for use against New Orleans, continuing the battle would be too costly. Within a week, all of the British troops had redeployed onto the ships and sailed away to Biloxi, Mississippi, where the British army attacked and captured Fort Bowyer on February 12. The British army was making preparations to attack Mobile when news arrived of the peace treaty. The treaty had been ratified by the British Parliament but would not be ratified by Congress and the president until mid-February. It, however, did resolve that hostilities should cease, and the British sailed home. Although the Battle of New Orleans had no influence on the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, the defeat at New Orleans did compel Britain to abide by the treaty. Also, since the Treaty of Ghent did not specifically mention the vast territory America had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase, it only required both sides to give back those lands that had been taken from the other during the war.

Americans believed that a vastly powerful British fleet and army had sailed for New Orleans (Jackson himself thought 25,000 troops were coming), and most expected the worst. The news of victory, one man recalled, "came upon the country like a clap of thunder in the clear azure vault of the firmament, and traveled with electromagnetic velocity, throughout the confines of the land. The battle boosted the reputation of Andrew Jackson and helped to propel him to the White House. The anniversary of the battle was celebrated for many years.

A federal park was established in 1907 to preserve the battlefield; today it features a monument and is part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

"The 8th of January" became a traditional American fiddle tune the melody of which was used by Jimmie Driftwood to write the song "The Battle of New Orleans", which in a lighthearted tone details the battle from the perspective of an American volunteer fighting alongside Andrew Jackson. The version by Johnny Horton topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959.

See also

Notes

References

  • Borneman, Walter H. 1812 The War that forged a nation ISBN 0-06-053112-6
  • Brooks, Charles B (1961). The Siege of New Orleans. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Brown, Wilburt S (1969). The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, 1814-1815. University of Alabama Press.
  • Cooper, John Spencer (1996). Rough Notes of Seven Campaigns in Portugal, Spain, France and America During the Years 1809-1815. Staplehurst: Spellmount.
  • Forrest, Charles Ramus (1961). The Battle of New Orleans: a British view; the journal of Major C.R. Forrest; Asst. QM General, 34th. Regiment of Foot. New Orleans: Hauser Press.
  • Gleig, George Robert (1827). The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans, 1814-1815. London: J. Murray.
  • Hickey, Donald R (1989). The War of 1812 : a forgotten conflict. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.
  • James, William (1818). A full and correct account of the military occurrences of the late war between Great Britain and the United States of America; with an appendix, and plates. London: Printed for the author and distributed by Black et al.
  • Latour, Arsène Lacarrière (1999). Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15, with an Atlas. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  • Maass, Alfred R (1994). "Brownsville's steamboat Enterprize and Pittsburgh's supply of general Jackson's army". Pittsburgh History 77 22–29.
  • Caffrey, Kate The Twilight's Last Gleaming ISBN 0-8128-1920-9 Stein and Day
  • Owsley, Frank. Struggle for the Gulf borderlands: the Creek War and the battle of New Orleans 1812-1815. (1981) ISBN 0817310622
  • Patterson, Benton Rains The Generals, Andrew Jackson, Sir Edward Pakenham, and the road to New Orleans. 2008 ISBN 0-8147-6717-6
  • Pickles, Tim New Orleans 1815; Osprey Campaign Series, #28. Osprey Publishing, 1993.
  • Reilly, Robin (1974), The British at the gates - the New Orleans campaign in the War of 1812, New York: Putnam
  • Remini, Robert V. (1977), Andrew Jackson and the course of American empire, 1767-1821
  • Rowland, Eron (1971). Andrew Jackson's Campaign against the British, or, the Mississippi Territory in the War of 1812, concerning the Military Operations of the Americans, Creek Indians, British, and Spanish, 1813-1815. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press.
  • Smith, Sir Harry "Various Anecdotes and Events of my Life - The Autobiography of Lt. Gen. Sir Harry Smith, covering the period 1787 to 1860" First published in 2 volumes, edited by G.C. Moore, London (1901)
  • Stanley, George F.G. "The War of 1812 - Land Operations" . MacMillan & National Museum of Canada (1983)
  • Surtees, W. "Twenty-Five Years in the Rifle Brigade" (1833) Reprint by Greenhill Books
  • Ward, John William . Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age. 1962.

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