The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815 and was the final major battle of the War of 1812. American forces, commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, defeated an invading British Army intent on seizing New Orleans and the vast territory the United States had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase. The Treaty of Ghent, having been signed on December 24, 1814, was ratified by the Prince Regent on December 30, 1814, and the United States Senate on February 16, 1815. Hostilities continued until late February when official dispatches announcing the peace reached the combatants in Louisiana, finally putting an end to the war. The Battle of New Orleans is widely regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war.
Battle of Lake BorgneEdit
By December 12, 1814, a large British fleet under the command of Sir Alexander Cochrane with more than 8,000 soldiers and sailors aboard, had anchored in the Gulf of Mexico to the east of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. Preventing access to the lakes was an American flotilla, commanded by Lieutenant Thomas ap Catesby Jones, consisting of five gunboats. On December 14, around 1,200 British sailors and Royal Marines under Captain Nicholas Lockyer set out to attack Catesby's force. Lockyer's men sailed in 42 longboats, each armed with a small carronade. Lockyer captured Catesby's vessels in a brief engagement known as the Battle of Lake Borgne. Seventeen British sailors were killed and 77 wounded, while 6 Americans were killed, 35 wounded, and 86 captured. The wounded included both Catesby and Lockyer. Now free to navigate Lake Borgne, thousands of British soldiers, under the command of General John Keane, were rowed to Pea Island, about 30 miles (48 km) east of New Orleans, where they established a garrison.
Night attack of December 23Edit
On the morning of December 23, Keane and a vanguard of 1,800 British soldiers reached the east bank of the Mississippi River, 9 miles (14 km) 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 encamp at Lacoste's Plantation and wait for the arrival of reinforcements. During the afternoon of December 23, after he had learned of the position of the British encampment, Andrew Jackson reportedly said, "By the Eternal they shall not sleep on our soil." This intelligence had been provided by Colonel Thomas Hinds' Squadron of Light Dragoons, a militia unit from the Mississippi Territory. That evening, attacking from the north, Jackson led 2,131 men in a brief three-pronged assault on the unsuspecting British troops, who were resting in their camp. Then Jackson pulled his forces back to the Rodriguez Canal, about 4 miles (6.4 km) south of the city. The Americans suffered 24 killed, 115 wounded, and 74 missing, while the British reported their losses as 46 killed, 167 wounded, and 64 missing.
Historian Robert Quimby says, "the British certainly did win a tactical victory, which enabled them to maintain their position". However, Quimby goes on to say, "It is not too much to say that it was the battle of December 23 that saved New Orleans. The British were disabused of their expectation of an easy conquest. The unexpected and severe attack made Keane even more cautious...he made no effort to advance on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth". As a consequence, the Americans were given time to begin the transformation of the canal into a heavily fortified earthwork. On Christmas Day, General Edward Pakenham arrived on the battlefield and ordered a reconnaissance-in-force on December 28 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 overruled by Admiral Cochrane who insisted that his boats were providing everything that could be needed. Admiral Cochrane believed 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 6-inch (150 mm) 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. Jackson's force was outnumbered by the attacking British forces. Jackson's army of 4,732 men comprised 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. Additionally, Jackson had the support of warships in the Mississippi River, including the USS Louisiana, the USS Carolina and the Enterprise.
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 run 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 8Edit
In the early morning of January 8, Pakenham ordered a two-pronged assault against Jackson's position. Colonel William Thornton (of the 85th Regiment) was to cross the Mississippi during the night with his 780-strong brigade, move rapidly upriver and storm the batteries commanded by Commodore Daniel Patterson on the flank of the main American entrenchments and then open an enfilading fire on Jackson's line with howitzers and rockets. Then, the main attack, directly 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.
Preparations for the attack had floundered 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, including General Gibbs, killed leading the main attack column on the right comprising the 4th, 21st, 44th and 5th West India Regiments, and Colonel Rennie leading a detachment of light companies of the 7th, 43rd, and 93rd on the left by the river.
Possibly because of Thornton's delay in crossing the river and the withering artillery fire that might hit them from across the river, the 93rd Highlanders were ordered to leave Keane's assault column advancing along the river and move across the open field to join the main force on the right of the field. Keane fell wounded as he crossed the field with the 93rd. Rennie's men managed to attack and overrun an American advance redoubt next to the river, but without reinforcements they could neither hold the position nor successfully storm the main American line behind. Within minutes, the American 7th Infantry arrived, moved forward, and fired upon the British in the captured redoubt: within half an hour, Rennie and most of his men were dead. In the main attack on the right, the British infantrymen either flung themselves to the ground, huddled in the canal, or were mowed down by a combination of musket fire and grapeshot from the Americans. A handful made it to the top of the parapet on the right but were either killed or captured. The 95th Rifles had advanced in open skirmish order ahead of the main assault force and were concealed in the ditch below the parapet, unable to advance further without support.
The two large main assaults on the American position were repulsed. Pakenham and his second-in-command, General Gibbs, were fatally wounded, while on horseback, by grapeshot fired from the earthworks. With most of their senior officers dead or wounded, the British soldiers, having no orders to advance further or retreat, stood out in the open and were shot apart with grapeshot from Line Jackson. After about 20 more minutes of bloodletting, General Lambert assumed command and eventually ordered a withdrawal.
The only British success was on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where Thornton's brigade, comprising the 85th Regiment and detachments from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, attacked and overwhelmed the American line. Though both Jackson and Commodore Patterson reported that the retreating forces had spiked their cannon, leaving no guns to turn on the Americans' 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, Colonel Alexander Dickson, to assess the position. Dickson reported back that no fewer 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 cannon with them.
At the end of the day, the British had 2,042 casualties: 291 killed (including Generals Pakenham and Gibbs), 1,267 wounded (including General Keane) and 484 captured or missing. The Americans had 71 casualties: 13 dead; 39 wounded, and 19 missing.
Siege of Fort St. PhilipEdit
On January 9, British naval forces attacked Fort St. Philip which protected New Orleans from an amphibious assault from the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. American forces within the fort withstood ten days of bombardment by cannon before the British ships withdrew on January 18, 1815.
Withdrawal of the BritishEdit
A few days after the battle, General Lambert held a council of war where he concluded that despite his request for reinforcements as well as siege train, capturing New Orleans and continuing the Louisiana campaign would be too costly and thus agreed with his officers to withdraw. On February 4, 1815, the fleet, with all of the British troops aboard, set sail toward Mobile Bay, Alabama.
The British army then attacked and captured Fort Bowyer at the mouth of Mobile Bay 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 did, however, resolve that hostilities should cease, and the British abandoned Fort Bowyer and sailed home to their base in the West Indies. 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. However, it would have been problematic for the British to continue the war in North America, due to Napoleon's escape from Elba on February 26, 1815, which ensured their forces were needed in Europe. 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.
From December 25, 1814, to January 26, 1815, British casualties during the Louisiana Campaign, apart from the assault on January 8, were 49 killed, 87 wounded and 4 missing. These losses, together with those incurred on December 23 and January 8, added up to 386 killed, 1,521 wounded and 552 missing for the whole campaign. General Jackson reported a grand total of 55 killed, 185 wounded and 93 missing for the entire siege, including December 23 and January 8.
Four currently active battalions of the Regular Army (1-5 FA, 1-6 FA, 1-1 Inf and 2-1 Inf) and one Mississippi Army National Guard regiment (155th Inf) are derived from American units that fought at the Battle of New Orleans.
Although the engagement was small compared to other contemporary battles such as the Battle of Waterloo, it was important for the meaning applied to it by Americans in general and Andrew Jackson in particular.
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 as a national holiday for many years, and continues to be commemorated in south Louisiana.
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, honoring the date of the battle. More than a century later, the melody was used by Jimmie Driftwood to write the song "The Battle of New Orleans", which was a hit for Johnny Horton and Lonnie Donegan.
Victory attributed to a miracleEdit
With the Americans outnumbered it seemed as though the city of New Orleans was in danger of being captured. Consequently, the Ursuline nuns along with many faithful people of New Orleans gathered in the Ursuline Convent's chapel before the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. They spent the night before the battle praying and crying before the holy statue, begging for the Virgin Mary's intercession. On the morning of January 8, the Very Rev. William Dubourg, Vicar General, offered Mass at the altar on which the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor had been placed. The Prioress of the Ursuline convent, Mother Ste. Marie Olivier de Vezin, made a vow to have a Mass of Thanksgiving sung annually should the American forces win. At the very moment of communion, a courier ran into the chapel to inform all those present that the British had been defeated. General Jackson went to the convent himself to thank the nuns for their prayers: "By the blessing of heaven, directing the valor of the troops under my command, one of the most brilliant victories in the annals of war was obtained."  The vow made by Mother Ste. Marie has been faithfully kept throughout the years.