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Definition: New Orleans, Battle of from Philip's Encyclopedia

(January 5, 1815) Last engagement in the War of 1812. It took place two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed because news of the treaty had not reached New Orleans. The Americans under General Andrew Jackson won the battle with only 71 killed, while the British lost 2,500 lives.


Summary Article: New Orleans, Battle of
from Encyclopedia of the War of 1812, The: A Political, Social, and Military History

Event Date: January 8, 1815

Battle between U.S. forces, led by Major General Andrew Jackson, and British forces under the command of Major General Sir Edward Pakenham. The Battle of New Orleans occurred about five miles south of New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 8, 1815, and was the last significant battle of the War of 1812. Significantly, the battle actually occurred a week after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war on December 24, 1814.

British planning for an invasion of the Gulf Coast of the United States had been ongoing since early 1814, when the defeat of Napoleon enabled them to shift substantial military and naval resources to the war in North America. The British planned a three-pronged assault to end the war. One army would invade the United States south from Canada, while another force operated in the Chesapeake region with the possibility of capturing Washington, D.C. A third assault, mounted from Jamaica, was to attack the Gulf Coast region by taking Mobile, Alabama, and then moving overland to capture New Orleans. From there British forces would work their way north, up the Mississippi River. As part of this latter strategy, the British enlisted the aid of Creek Indians to disrupt American forces in the southern interior. The commander of the North American Station, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, was the overall architect of the campaign.

Throughout much of 1814 while the British were relocating forces for the Gulf Coast assault, American forces under Jackson were busy fighting the Red Stick Creeks, who were allied with the British. Jackson decisively defeated the Creeks in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814. His forces also successfully defended Mobile from a British naval attack on September 15, and he captured Pensacola from the British during November 7–9. In May 1814 he had been promoted to major general in the regular army and given command of the Seventh Military District. Jackson then gathered a force of regulars, militia, and volunteers and marched quickly toward New Orleans.

Jackson was well aware of British intentions, for in early September 1814 Royal Navy captain Nicholas Lockyer of the brig sloop Sophia had established contact with pirate chieftain Jean Lafitte at Grande Terre on Lake Barataria, south of New Orleans, about cooperating with the British in their attack on the city. Lafitte feigned acceptance but then informed American authorities of the British overture, this despite the fact that his brother was jailed in New Orleans and the Americans were then making preparations to attack his pirate stronghold.

On November 27, 1814, the British sailed from Jamaica with a large task force of some 50 ships (including 7 ships of the line along with 7 frigates and numerous sloops and brigs) commanded by Admiral Cochrane and carrying some 6,500 British regulars, 1,000 West Indian blacks, and 1,000 Royal Marines. On December 1 Jackson arrived in New Orleans with his forces to bolster the 1,000 men already there and began preparing defenses. Jackson also ordered works prepared at Baton Rouge should it be necessary to fall back there.

Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815

United States

Great Britain

United States

Great Britain

Men

4,000

5,300

Casualties

  Killed

13

291

  Wounded

39

1,262

  Missing

19

Unknown

  Prisoners

Unknown

484

Depiction of the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. Actually fought after a peace treaty had been signed, the battle ended in a resounding victory for U.S. forces, led by Major General Andrew Jackson. (Library of Congress)

Jackson had to decide which of the six available invasion routes the British would likely take. This was resolved on December 13, 1814, when the British fleet anchored at the entrance to Lake Borgne, 40 miles east of New Orleans, signaling that as their likely approach route. Indeed, they planned to move against New Orleans not from the south but instead from the east through Bayou Bienvenue, which drains the area east of the city and reaches from Lake Borgne within 1 mile of the Mississippi. Jackson now summoned to New Orleans 4,800 Tennessee infantrymen stationed throughout Louisiana; very few actually arrived.

On December 14 Captain Lockyer led an attack by some 42 British launches and other craft to engage and capture 5 American gunboats defending Lake Borgne. Because of the shallowness of the lake, it took Pakenham more than a week to land all his troops below New Orleans. In a surprise move, however, on December 23 Pakenham sent an advance force of 1,600 men under Major General Sir John Keane down Bayou Bienvenue and Bayou Mazant to near Villeré Plantation only seven miles below the city where there were no defenses. The British swiftly captured American pickets there; they then paused for six hours. Keane hoped to push on to the city, but he was ordered to wait for reinforcements. This was a fatal mistake, in retrospect, as the way to New Orleans lay open.

Informed of events, Jackson moved with typical resolve to counter this threat, and with some 2,000 men supported by the schooner Carolina (14 guns), on the night of December 23–24 he launched a raid on the British position. Keane's Peninsula veterans, while surprised, fought well but failed to pursue. Rebuffed, Jackson then withdrew to a point about five miles from the city. Taking advantage of the dry, shallow Canal Rodriguez, Jackson set up a line of breastworks. On Christmas Day, Pakenham arrived to assume personal command of the British forces.

On January 1, 1815, Pakenham sent out a reconnaissance in force resulting in an inconclusive artillery duel between the two sides, with the Americans getting the better of it. Pakenham then called up reinforcements, and these arrived on January 6. Unfortunately for the British, in that week's delay Jackson also received reinforcements in the form of 2,000 Kentucky militiamen (although only 700 were armed) under Brigadier General John Adair. The Americans also used the time to improve their fortifications and position 16 artillery pieces.

Pakenham now prepared for a full infantry assault. Shortly before 7:00 a.m. on January 8, 1815, he launched a frontal assault on the American line with 5,300 men. Jackson had some 4,000 men deployed across his front and 1,000 in reserve. In what was the largest battle of the War of 1812, the British troops proved to be easy targets for American artillery fire and steady rifle and musket fire delivered by a three-deep line of defending infantry.

In order to scale the American ramparts, the British troops were to bring along ladders and fascines; however, the 44th Regiment neglected these tools and sent men back to retrieve them, causing the attack to be delayed and the surprise of a dawn assault to be lost. Pakenham ordered the attack across 650 yards of open terrain in close-order formation. At 500 yards American artillery opened fire, with shell and shot ripping into the closely packed British formations. After Jackson ordered the artillery to cease fire, American infantrymen opened fire as the British were a mere 300 yards from their lines. American artillery from the left continued to fire. Through this fusillade of fire the British troops kept advancing, reaching the base of Canal Rodriguez, where they stopped, allowing the American defenders to pour fire down upon the hapless troops. The 93rd Highlanders attempt to come to the aid of their comrades, but they too were raked by withering American fire.

Pakenham rode forward to rally his men and was mortally wounded. The only British success came on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where a brigade of the 85th Regiment supported by Royal Navy and Royal Marine detachments overwhelmed the American militiamen guarding the line.

Following the deaths of both Pakenham and his second-in-command, Major General Samuel Gibbs, Major General John Lambert took command of the British forces and ordered a withdrawal. In the battle of only some 75 minutes, the British sustained nearly 40 percent casualties: 291 dead, 1,262 wounded, and 484 taken prisoner. The strength of the Americans’ position is made clear in their losses of only 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. Jackson, cognizant of British strength, allowed them to withdraw unmolested.

On January 9 ships of Cochrane's task force approached American Fort St. Philip on the Mississippi River some 45 miles south of New Orleans. The bomb vessels Aetna and Meteor, supported by three sloops and a schooner, commenced a bombardment. The American garrison of 306 men, commanded by Major Walter H. Overton, held out for nine days of British shelling, with 2 men killed for some 1,000 shot and shells fired before the British withdrew on January 18.

On January 25 the British troops returned to their ships and departed. British casualties for the entire New Orleans campaign were 2,459; the Americans suffered but 333. In an effort to mitigate the effects of the New Orleans disaster, the British then moved against Fort Bowyer, Alabama. The Battle of New Orleans, although meaningless as far as the Treaty of Ghent was concerned, nonetheless proved a great boost for American nationalism and helped propel Jackson into the presidency. The lopsided nature of the victory also helped perpetuate the cherished American militia myth, much to the detriment of the U.S. Army, over the next decades.

See also

Baratarian Pirates; Cochrane, Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis; Creek War; Dickson, Alexander; Fort Bowyer; Hayne, Arthur Peronneau; Horseshoe Bend, Battle of; Jackson, Andrew; Keane, John; Lafitte, Jean; Lake Borgne, Battle of; Lockyer, Nicholas; Pakenham, Sir Edward Michael; Pensacola, Battle of

Further Reading
  • Aitchison, Robert. A British Eyewitness at the Battle of New Orleans: The Memoir of Royal Navy Admiral Robert Aitchison, 1808-1827. Edited by Smith, Gene A. . Historic New Orleans Collection New Orleans, 2004.
  • Cummings, Edward B.E. Pluribus Unum: The American Battle Line at New Orleans, 8 January 1815.” On Point: Journal of Army History 14(3) (December 2008): 6-12.
  • Reilly, Robin. The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign and the War of 1812. Putnam New York, 1974.
  • Remini, Robert V. The Battle of New Orleans. Penguin New York, 1999.
  • Rick Dyson
    Spencer C. Tucker
    Copyright 2012 by Spencer C. Tucker

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