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War of 1812: Battle of New Orleans

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War of 1812: Battle of New Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of New Orleas - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of New Orleans was fought December 23, 1814-January 8, 1815, during the War of 1812 (1812-1815).

Armies & Commanders

Americans

  • Major General Andrew Jackson
  • Commodore Daniel Patterson
  • approx. 4,000 men

British

  • Major General Edward Pakenham
  • Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane
  • Major General John Lambert
  • approx. 8,000-9,000 men
  • Battle of New Orleans - Background:

    In 1814, with the Napoleonic Wars concluding in Europe, Britain was free to focus its attention on fighting the Americans in North America. The British plan for the year called for three major offensives with one coming from Canada, another striking at Washington, and the third hitting New Orleans. While the thrust from Canada was defeated at the Battle of Plattsburgh, the offensive in the Chesapeake region saw some success before being halted at Fort McHenry. A veteran of the latter campaign, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane moved south that fall for the attack on New Orleans.

    Having embarked 8,000-9,000 men, under the command of Major General Edward Pakenham, Cochrane's fleet arrived off Lake Borgne on December 12. In New Orleans, the defense of city was tasked to Major General Andrew Jackson, commanding the Seventh Military District, and Commodore Daniel Patterson who oversaw the US Navy's forces in the region. Working frantically, Jackson assembled around 4,000 men which included the 7th US Infantry, a variety of militia, Jean Lafitte's Baratarian pirates, as well as free black and Native American troops.

    Battle of New Orleans - Fighting Begins:

    Hostilities commenced when Cochrane sent naval forces forward to sweep American gunboats from Lake Borgne on December 12. Attacking with 42 armed longboats, Cochrane overwhelmed Lieutenant Thomas ap Catesby Jones' force on the lake. With the lake open, Major General John Keane landed on Pea Island and established a British garrison. Pushing forward, Keane and 1,800 men reached the east bank of the Mississippi River on December 23 and encamped on the Villeré Plantation. Unwilling to tolerate British troop on American soil, Jackson sortied from the city that night.

    Early that evening, he launched a three-pronged attack on Keane's camp. In a sharp fight, American forces inflicted 277 (46 killed) casualties while sustaining 213 (24 killed). Falling back after the battle, Jackson established a line along the Rodriguez Canal four miles south of the city at Chalmette. The American attack put the British off balance, causing them to delay their advance on the city. Using this time, Jackson's men began fortifying the canal, dubbing it "Line Jackson." Two days later, Pakenham arrived on the scene and was angered by the army's position opposite an increasingly strong fortification.

    Though Pakenham initially wished to move the army through the Chef Menteur Pass to Lake Pontchartrain, he was convinced by his staff to move against Line Jackson as they believed the small American force could be easily defeated. Repelling British probing attacks on December 28, Jackson's men began constructing batteries along the line and on the west bank of the river. As Pakenham's main force arrived on January 1, an artillery duel began between the opposing forces. Though several American guns were disabled, Pakenham elected to delay his main attack.

    Battle of New Orleans - Standing Firm:

    For his main assault, Pakenham wished attack on both sides of the river. A force under Colonel William Thornton was to cross to the west bank, assault the American batteries, and turn their guns on Jackson's line. As this occurred, the main body of the army would attack Line Jackson with Major General Samuel Gibbs advancing on the right, with Keane to his left. A smaller force under Colonel Robert Rennie would move forward along the river. This plan quickly ran into problems as difficulties arose getting the boats to move Thornton's men from Lake Borne to the river.

    As a result, Thornton was delayed in crossing on the night of January 7/8 and the current forced him to land further downstream than intended. Despite knowing that Thornton would not be in place to attack in concert with the army, Pakenham elected to move forward. Additional delays soon occurred when Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Mullens' 44th Irish Regiment, which was meant to lead Gibbs' attack and bridge the canal with ladders and fascines, could not be found in the morning fog. With dawn approaching, Pakenham ordered the attack to begin. While Gibbs and Rennie advanced, Keane was further delayed.

    As his men moved onto the Chalmette plain, Pakenham hoped that the dense fog would provide some protection. This was soon dashed as the fog melted away under the morning sun. Seeing the British columns before their line, Jackson's men opened an intense artillery and rifle fire upon the enemy. Along the river, Rennie's men succeeded in taking a redoubt in front of the American lines. Storming inside, they were halted by fire from the main line and Rennie was shot dead. On the British right, Gibbs' column, under heavy fire, was approaching the ditch in front of the American lines but lacked the fascines to cross.

    With his command falling apart, Gibbs was soon joined by Pakenham who led the wayward 44th Irish forward. Despite their arrival, the advance remained stalled and Pakenham was soon wounded in the arm. Seeing Gibbs' men faltering, Keane foolishly ordered the 93rd Highlanders to angle across the field to their aid. Absorbing fire from the Americans, the Highlanders soon lost their commander, Colonel Robert Dale. With his army collapsing, Pakenham ordered Major General John Lambert to lead the reserves forward. Moving to rally the Highlanders, he was struck in the thigh, and then mortally wounded in the spine.

    The loss of Pakenham was soon followed by the death of Gibbs and the wounding of Keane. In a matter of minutes the entirety of British senior command on the field was down. Leaderless, British troops remained on the killing field. Pushing forward with the reserves, Lambert was met by the remnants of the attack columns as they fled towards the rear. Seeing the situation as hopeless, Lambert pulled back. The only success of the day came across the river where Thornton's command overwhelmed the American position. This too was surrendered though after Lambert learned that it would take 2,000 men to hold the west bank.

    Aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans

    The victory at New Orleans on January 8 cost Jackson around 13 killed, 58 wounded, and 30 captured for a total of 101. The British reported their losses as 291 killed, 1,262 wounded, and 484 captured/missing for a total of 2,037. A stunningly one-sided victory, the Battle of New Orleans was the signature American land victory of the war. In the wake of the defeat, Lambert and Cochrane withdrew after bombarding Fort St. Philip. Sailing to Mobile Bay, they captured Fort Bowyer in February and made preparations for attacking Mobile.

    Before the attack could go forward, the British commanders learned that a peace treaty had been signed at Ghent, Belgium. In fact, the treaty had been signed on December 24, 1814, prior to the majority of the fighting at New Orleans. Though the United States Senate had yet to ratify the treaty, its terms stipulated that fighting should cease. While the victory at New Orleans did not influence the content of the treaty, it did aid in forcing the British to abide by its terms. In addition, the battle made Jackson a national hero and aided in propelling him to the presidency.

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