The Battle of New Orleans

“In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in a town in New Orleans”

 

The song the Battle of New Orleans’ sung by Johnny Horton, although a fun song, speaks of a very real battle. The battle of New Orleans was the final major battle in the War of1812.  The British wanted to take New Orleans in order to end the war. Andrew Jackson was having none of it and his army of 4,732 men   fought hard to keep the British from taking New Orleans. This army  included 968 US Army regulars, 58 US Marines, 106 seamen of the US Naval battalion, 1,060 Louisiana Militia and volunteers (including 462 free people of color), 1,352 Tennessee Militia, 986 Kentucky Militia, 150 Mississippi Militia and 52 Choctaw warriors and  a force of the pirate Jean Lafitte’s Baratarians.

 Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Besides just being determined, there several things that happened that aided the Americans in their defeat of the British. . On December 12,  1814, a British fleet arrived with more than 8,000 soldiers and sailors aboard They had anchored in the Gulf of Mexico to the east of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. Preventing them from accessing the lakes was Lieutenant Thomas Catesby Jones and his flotilla of long boats. Jones was defeated and the British had d access to the lake. They established a Garrison on Pea Island. It was from there they intended to attack and take New Orleans.
On December 23, British General John Keane arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi river with 1800 British soldiers. They certainly could have attacked New Orleans, via the river road, it was undefended all the way up the river, but in typical British General fashion Keene ordered his troops to camp at Lacoste’s Plantation and wait for the arrival of reinforcements.  Colonel Thomas Hinds’ Squadron of Light Dragoons, a militia unit from the Mississippi Territory discovered this and sent the message to Jackson. Jackson was determined not to let the British sleep on American soil, so taking 2,131 men along, he attacked the British while they slept.  Although the Americans retreated, the British were now on notice that winning New Orleans was not going to be the easy battle they expected.

In fact, the British General had become so nervous and cautious he did not attack on either the 23 or the 24. This

Drawing of the battle from The battle of New Orleans, or Glory, love and loyalty; an historical and national drama, in five acts published 1816.

Drawing of the battle from The battle of New Orleans, or Glory, love and loyalty; an historical and national drama, in five acts published 1816.

gave Jackson time to get some   earthworks built on the river protecting New Orleans. The earthworks were heavily armed.  It was on Christmas day that British General Edward Pakenham arrived he ordered a reconnaissance on the earthworks. He then told both General Keene and Admiral Cochrane, that they had placed his army in a bad situation. He wanted to march his army up Chef Menteur Road but was overruled by the Admiral. The Admiral still believed that his sailors would easily trounce a rag tag group of Americans. In addition, Keene was positive his boats provided all they needed for a victory.  Bad move there.

With the British reconnaissance gone, Jackson ordered his artillery to be fortified with earthworks.  He had one 32-pound gun, three 24-pounders, one 18-pounder, three 12-pounders, three 6-pounders, and a 6-inch 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 USS Louisiana. He also support from battleships in the Mississippi River including the   USS Louisiana, the USS Carolina and a steamboat Enterprise. (No Spock on that one though).

Anonymous portrait of Jean Lafitte, early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas

Anonymous portrait of Jean Lafitte, early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas

The British army arrived and the heavy artillery lasted for three hours. Artillery pelted the British.  Americans guns were knocked out, the earthworks took damage, but the British ran out of ammunition so they stood down to wait for reinforcements.  Those arrived on January 98, kind of. Pirate Jean Lafitte told the Americans that the British were gearing up for an assault on New Orleans itself. The British found Andrew Jackson waiting for him, entrenched in the Rodriguez canal. The British decided to attack him using a two-pronged assault.  Colonel William Thornton (of the 85th Regiment) was to cross the Mississippi during the night with his 780- men,  go  upriver and storm the battery on the flank of the main American entrenchments . They were then to open a raking fire on Jackson’s line with howitzers and rockets. The main attack against the earthworks manned by the vast majority of American troops would be launched in two columns (along the river led by Keane and along the swamp line led by Major General Samuel Gibbs). The brigade commanded by Major General John Lambert was held in reserve.

However, preparations for the attack stumbled early, as a canal being dug by Cochrane’s sailors collapsed.  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 they arrived for battle 12 hours late.

To make matter worse, Lt-Col. Thomas Mullins, the British commander of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot, had forgotten the ladders and fascines needed to cross the canal and scale the earthworks, and confusion reigned when the British tried to get close. The British were soundly defeated with only the one success.  That was on the west bank of the Mississippi river.

Steamboat Enterprise

Steamboat Enterprise

Thornton’s brigade, which consisted of the 85th Regiment and detachments from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, attacked and overwhelmed the American line. The sides of the canal that the boats were to get through caved in and choked the passage.  He only had half of his force, seven hundred in number. Thornton crossed, but he forgot about the current, which carried him down about two miles below where he should have landed.  Although he won his

battle Thornton, was severely wounded and his success had no effect on the main battle.

British Uniforms

British Uniforms

The battle was pretty amazing both for its brevity and lopsided lethality. In twenty-five minutes, the enemy lost 700 killed, 1400 wounded and 500 prisoners, a total loss of twenty-six hundred men. American losses were only seven killed and six wounded.  Adjutant-general Robert Butler, in his official report to General Jackson said the losses of the British were 700 killed, 1400 wounded and 500 prisoners. After the battle was over, around 500 British soldiers who had pretended to be dead rose up and surrendered to the Americans. Can you imagine that sight?

The blame for the loss was given to Colonel Mullins, of the Forty-fourth Regiment, who was given orders to prepare, have ready, and to carry to the front on the morning of the eighth, fascines, and ladders. It said  that the Colonel deserted his trust and at the moment of need was half a mile to the rear.

American Uniforms

American Uniforms

Three days after the battle General Lambert decided that to continue with the attempt to capture New Orleans and continuing the Louisiana campaign would be too costly and agreed with his officers to withdraw. By January 19, the British camp at Villere’s Plantation had been completely evacuated. The battle although small compared to say The Battle at Waterloo, it was important for American Moral. They country believed as did Andrew Jackson that at least 25,000 British troops were coming. Unsurmountable odds for sure. The  news of the victory at the battle of New Orleans 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 and insured Jacksons Place in history.

“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they begin to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico”

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_New_Orleans#cite_note-62
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Historical_Association
http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-new-orleans
http://battleofneworleans.org/