Battle of New Orleans

January 8, 1815 New Orleans, Louisisana

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American Forces Commanded by
Gen. Andrew Jackson
Strength Killed Wounded Missing/Captured
4,000 - 6,000 13 39 19
British Forces Commanded by
Lt. Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham
Strength Killed Wounded Missing/Captured
11,000 -14,500 291 1,267 484
Conclusion: American Victory
New Orleans Campaign

New Orleans was essentially an isolated outpost of the United States. It was the only American naval station on the Gulf Coast and was geographically cut off from the rest of the country by Spain’s territories. Since acquiring Louisiana, the U.S. had made no secret of its desire to acquire these lands, since it would give them control of the shoreline from the Gulf right up to the Atlantic seaboard.

But, the war weakened New Orleans to an extremely vulnerable position. The Spanish crown prince was allied with England in its war against Napoleon. The Americans feared that the Spanish would allow Britain access to its forts and waterways in order to infiltrate the south. As important as New Orleans was for the American government, the northern theater presented a more immediate concern early on in the conflict.

The British were well aware of the value that the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Territory held for the Americans. They also realized that America’s control of these territories was not as strong as it would have liked. Due however, to its fight in Europe throughout 1812-13, Britain could not provide the military and naval strength needed to capitalize on this weakness by mounting a major campaign along the Gulf coast. All Britain could do was send agents to try forge alliances with the disaffected First Nations, such as the Creeks, as well as with the large population of black slaves living in the Louisiana and Mississippi Territories. With the balance of the war constantly tipping back and forth, the British met with little success.

In early summer of 1814, after weeks of strong petitioning, Royal Navy Vice Adm. Sir Alexander Cochrane had convinced Britain that possession of New Orleans would not only throw a monkey wrench in America’s plans to expand their borders, but it could cripple their already- shaky economy. At the very least, British possession of any American lands would prove useful at the Ghent bargaining table.

This issue of the diverse population was the primary concern for Brig. Gen. Andrew Jackson. He found that his recent campaign against the Red Stick Creeks provided a stepping stone to more military and political clout which could be used to further his vision of a growing America. In the summer of 1814, he was determined to use the conflict with England in order to make even more gains, but he knew this would be difficult given the circumstances surrounding the southern population.

The Louisiana Territory was thinly-populated with the majority of people concentrated around New Orleans. Jackson did not see them as the dependable type of settlers one might find in Kentucky or his home state of Tennessee; they were mainly Francophones of mixed race, immigrants, slaves and pirates.

In December 1814, British forces under Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham landed along the lower Mississippi River. At first they met with only minor resistance. The Americans, led by Col. Andrew Jackson, set up defensive positions at Chalmette, Louisiana, some five miles downriver from the city of New Orleans. The first British troops reached the American position on January 1, and in an exchange of artillery fire, the Americans held their ground. Packenham decided to wait for his entire force of over 10,000 men to assemble before launching an attack. On the 8th he ordered three large, direct assaults on the American positions, all of which were cut down by American fire. Pakenham himself was mortally wounded in the third attack. The British had fought bravely but suffered defeat because ladders needed to scale the earthworks defended by the Americans were never brought forward to the soldiers. All the British infantry could do was to stand out in the open and be shot by the Americans behind defenses that the British could not assault. Gen. John Lambert, who assumed command upon Pakenham's death, ordered the British withdrawal, despite the fact that Pakenham, before dying, ordered him to continue the battle. The British had suffered a loss of some 700 dead and 2000 wounded or taken prisoner, while the Americans only had 13 dead with 58 wounded.

Throughout the battle, the Americans were greatly aided by Jean Lafitte, and his group of pirates. Lafitte's men fought alongside the Americans, their pirating in the seas south of Louisiana having been largely ignored by the US government, as they, as a rule, attacked only the Spanish and other pirates. It is an interesting sidenote that Lafitte's men wore red shirts as their uniform, which caused much confusion in the British ranks, also clothed in red. Some daring pirates came down from Gen. Jackson's ramparts and merged with the British ranks, thus allowing them to kill small pockets of isolated troops before they realized there was an intruder. Also aiding the Americans were quite a few liberated Haitian slaves and a group of men from the mountains of Kentucky, wielding long rifles.

The British were decimated at the Battle of New Orleans because of a lack of preparation. It had been planned to bring ladders to mount the American rampart, which was an excellent plan. Unfortunately, in the actual battle itself, the British made a tactical mistake of great cost: they did not bring their ladders. It is believed that they were simply forgotten, or that nobody was put in charge of ladder distribution.

Contributing to the defeat was a lack of communication. Had the British troops been able to notify the entire attacking group that they did not have the ladders, the battle may have been salvageable, or, at the very least, a less costly retreat. However, the troops in the rear of the formation were waiting for the Americans to be chased off their rampart, at which point they would engage them. However, each small group of soldiers fought on its own. It was reported (though disputed) that a group was actually seen which had forgotten its weapons.

The last factor was weather, or rather a misjudgement of the weather. The British were stationed not only near a large swamp, but also at a much lower position. In the swamp, dense fog had made visibility low, and the British planned to use this to their advantage. They would be concealed in fog, while the Americans on the rampart above were exposed. On the day of the battle, Pakenham and his men stormed out of the swamp and up to the American rampart, only to discover that there was no fog where they were. Pakenham also waited too late in the day to attack, and any of the fog there may have been was gone.

This defeat for the British was, historically, quite embarassing. Pakenham, normally an excellent military strategist and tactician, simply made too many mistakes. Even one of Britain's top officers fell to poor planning.

Unknown to both parties, an end to the war had been negotiated with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. However, by the terms of the treaty, the war was not officially over until ratifications were exchanged on February 17, 1815 and proclaimed the following day. The battle, nonetheless, had historic consequences. It has been speculated that had the British been in control of the key port of New Orleans they would have attempted to use this to get additional concessions from the United States. The victory was celebrated with great enthusiasm in the United States and gave Jackson the reputation of a hero which later propelled him to the presidency.

The Battle of New Orleans was also known as the Battle of Chalmette Plantation.
______________________-

December 1814, British forces under Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham landed along the lower Mississippi River. At first they met with only minor resistance. The Americans, led by Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, set up defensive positions at Chalmette, Louisiana, some 5 miles downriver from the city of New Orleans. The first British troops reached the American position on January 1, and in an exchange of artillery fire, the Americans held their ground. Packenham decided to wait for his entire force of over 10,000 men to assemble before launching an attack. On the 8th he ordered three large, direct assaults on the American positions, all of which were cut down by American fire. Packenham himself was mortally wounded in the third attack. The British had fought bravely but suffered defeat because ladders needed to scale the earthworks defended by the Americans were never brought forward to the soldiers. All the British infantry could do was to stand out in the open and be shot by the Americans behind defenses that the British could not assault. Gen. John Lambert, who assumed command upon Pakenham's death, ordered the British withdrawal, despite the fact that Pakenham, before dying, ordered him to continue the battle. The British had suffered a loss of some 700 dead and 2,000 wounded or taken prisoner, while the Americans only had 13 dead with 58 wounded.

Throughout the battle, the Americans were greatly aided by Jean Lafitte, and his group of pirates. Lafitte's men fought alongside the Americans, their pirating in the seas south of Lousiana having been largely ignored by the US government, as they, as a rule, attacked only the Spanish and other pirates. It is an interesting sidenote that Lafitte's men wore red shirts as their uniform, which caused much confusion in the British ranks, also clothed in red. Some daring pirates came down from Gen. Jackson's ramparts and merged with the British ranks, thus allowing them to kill small pockets of isolated troops before they realized there was an intruder.

Also helping were quite a few liberated Haitian slaves and a group of men from the mountains of Kentucky, wielding long rifles.

The British were decimated at the Battle of New Orleans because of a lack of preparation. It had been planned to bring ladders to mount the American rampart, which was an excellent plan. Unfortunately, in the actual battle itself, the British made a tactical mistake of great cost: they did not bring their ladders. It is believed that they were simply forgotten, or that nobody was put in charge of ladder distribution.

Contributing, too to the defeat was the lack of communication. Had the British troops been able to notify the entire attacking group that they did not have the ladders, the battle may have been salvageable, or, at the very least, a less costly retreat. However, the troops in the rear of the formation were waiting for the Americans to be chased off their rampart, at which point they would engage them. However, each small group of soldiers fought on its own. It was reported (though disputed) that a group was actually seen which had forgotten its weapons.

The last factor was weather, or rather a misjudgement of the weather. The British were stationed not only near a large swamp, but also at a much lower position. In the swamp, dense fog had made visibility low, and the British planned to use this to their advantage. They would be concealed in fog, while the Americans on the rampart above were exposed. On the day of the battle, Pakenham and his men stormed out of the swamp and up to the American rampart, only to discover that there was no fog where they were. Pakenham also waited too late in the day to attack, and any of the fog there may have been was gone.

This defeat for the British was, historically, quite embarassing. Pakenham, normally an excellent military strategist and tactician, simply made too many mistakes. Even one of Britain's top officers fell to poor planning.
Unknown to both parties, an end to the war had been negotiated with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. However, by the terms of the treaty, the war was not officially over until ratifications were exchanged on February 17, and proclaimed the following day. The battle, nonetheless, had historic consequences. It has been speculated that had the British been in control of the key port of New Orleans they would have attempted to use this to get additional concessions from the United States. The victory was celebrated with great enthusiasm in the United States and gave Jackson the reputation of a hero which later propelled him to the presidency.

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