Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans
Battle of New Orleans
Part of the War of 1812
The Battle of New Orleans. January 1815. Copy of engraving by H. B. Hall after W. Momberger., ca. 1900 - 1982 - NARA - 531091.tif
The Battle of New Orleans by Henry Bryan Hall after William Momberger
Date January 8, 1815
Location About five miles (8 km) south of New Orleans on the grounds of Chalmette Plantation
Result Decisive American victory[1]; British troops and fleet withdraw from Louisiana
United Kingdom United Kingdom  United States
Jean Lafitte's Privateers
Commanders and leaders
Sir Edward Pakenham
Sir Alexander Cochrane
John Keane
John Lambert
Andrew Jackson
William Carroll
John Coffee
Jean Lafitte
11,000 Land:
16 artillery pieces
1 sloop-of-war
1 schooner
Casualties and losses
December 23:
46 killed
167 wounded
64 missing
Total: 277[2]
January 8:
291 killed
1,267 wounded
484 missing
Total: 2,042[3]
Rest of Siege:
49 killed
87 wounded
4 missing
Total: 140[4]
386 killed
1,521 wounded
552 missing
Grand Total: 2,459
December 23:
24 killed
115 wounded
74 missing
Total: 213[5]
January 8:
13 killed
39 wounded
19 missing
Total: 71[6]
Rest of Siege:
18 killed
31 wounded
Total: 49[7]

55 killed
185 wounded
93 missing
Grand Total: 333[6]

The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815 and was the final major battle of the War of 1812.[8][9] 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.[10][11][12] The Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December 24, 1814 and ratified by the United States Senate on February 16, 1815. However, official dispatches announcing the peace would not reach the combatants until late February, finally putting an end to the war.[13][14] The battle is widely regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war.


Battle of Lake Borgne

Eighteenth century map of southeast Louisiana

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.[15] 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[16] 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. 17 British sailors were killed and 77 wounded,[17] while 6 Americans were killed, 35 wounded and 86 captured.[17] 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.[18]

Night attack of December 23

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.[19] 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[20] and wait for the arrival of reinforcements.[21] 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."[22] That evening, Jackson led 2,131[23] men in a brief three-pronged attack from the north on the unsuspecting British troops who were resting in their camp. Then Jackson pulled his forces back to the Rodriguez Canal, about four miles south of the city. The Americans suffered 24 killed, 115 wounded and 74 missing,[5] while the British reported their losses as 46 killed, 167 wounded and 64 missing.[24]

Historian Robert Quimby says, "the British certainly did win a tactical victory, which enabled them to maintain their position".[25] 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".[26] As a consequence, the Americans were given time to begin the transformation of the canal into a heavily fortified earthwork.[27] 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 over-ruled by Admiral Cochrane who insisted that his boats were providing everything that could be needed.[28] 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.[29] 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 Louisiana.

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.[30]

Battle of January 8

Early 19th century map of depicting the battlefield at Chalmette Plantation on January 8, 1815

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.[31] Then, the main attack, directly against the earthworks manned by the vast majority of American troops,[32] 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 foundered 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.[33]

The battlefield at Chalmette Plantation on January 8, 1815

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.

General Andrew Jackson stands on the parapet of his makeshift defenses as his troops repulse attacking Highlanders, as imagined by painter Edward Percy Moran in 1910.

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,[34] 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".[35] 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.[36]

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.[3] The Americans had 71 casualties: 13 dead; 39 wounded and 19 missing.[6]

Siege of Fort St. Philip

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 British

With the defeat of the British army, Lambert decided that despite the arrival of reinforcements and a siege train for use against New Orleans, continuing with the Louisiana Campaign would be too costly. On February 5, 1815, all of the British troops embarked onto the fleet[37] and sailed away to Biloxi, Mississippi.

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, however, did 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.[38] 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.[39]


Battle of New Orleans postage stamp depicting Andrew Jackson. Issued in 1965 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, Chalmettte Plantation, Jan. 8-18.

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.[4] 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.[6]

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.[40]

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."[41] The battle boosted the reputation of Andrew Jackson and helped to propel him to the White House. The anniversary of the battle was celebrated for many years.

In honor of Jackson, the newly-organized Louisiana Historical Association dedicated its new Memorial Hall facility on January 8, 1891, the 76th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.[42]

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 the melody of which was used by Jimmie Driftwood to write the song "The Battle of New Orleans", which in a lighthearted tone details the battle from the perspective of an American volunteer fighting alongside Andrew Jackson. It also misrepresents the British forces as being cowards which, given that the units involved were veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, seems unlikely. The version by Johnny Horton topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959, while the same version (with one profane word changed) by British singer Lonnie Donegan reached #2 in the British charts in the same year.

Victory attributed to a miracle

Mosaic of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Old Ursulines Convent complex, French Quarter, New Orleans.

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." [43] The vow made by Mother Ste. Marie has been faithfully kept throughout the years.[44]


  1. ^ The American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812: People, Politics, and Power, Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 209.
  2. ^ James, pp. 532-533
  3. ^ a b Quimby, p. 906
  4. ^ a b James, pp. 542, 543 and 568
  5. ^ a b James, pp. 535-536
  6. ^ a b c d James, p. 563
  7. ^ Arrived at by deducting the losses incurred on December 23 and January 8 from Jackson's return of total casualties for period of December 23 to January 8 inclusive
  8. ^ Also known as the "Battle of Chalmette Plantation".
  9. ^ Britain's Louisiana Campaign consisted of several military engagements that were less important than the epic battle of January 8, 1815, widely known as the Battle of New Orleans. The first, the Battle of Lake Borgne, occurred on December 14, 1814 when British forces captured an American flotilla protecting Lake Borgne. The next occurred on December 23 when Andrew Jackson led a bold night attack on the British camp. The last, which began on January 9, ended on January 18 when the British terminated their unsuccessful bombardment of Fort St. Philip and began to withdraw the last of their troops and ships, signalling the end of their Louisiana Campaign.
  10. ^ Reilly, Robin (1974). The British at the gates - the New Orleans campaign in the War of 1812. New York: Putnam.
  11. ^ Rodriguez, Junius P. (2002). The Louisiana Purchase: a historical and geographical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 348: "The Battle of New Orleans settled once and for all the question over the Louisiana Purchase. Neither the British nor the Spanish government had recognized the legality of the transfer, and, in consequence, the British planned either to retain the region or return Louisiana to Spain had they won the battle."
  12. ^ Thomas, Gregory M. (2005). The Battle of New Orleans. Master of Arts dissertation, Louisiana State University. p. 88: "[The Battle of] New Orleans also eliminated vague British designs on a second colonization of America by expanding Canadian possessions down the Mississippi to the Gulf."
  13. ^ Remini, Robert V. (1999). The battle of New Orleans. New York: Penguin Books. p. 193-194: "Then in mid-February dispatches arrived from Europe announcing that the commissioners in Ghent had signed a treaty of peace with their British counterparts and that the War of 1812 had ended." "...the Senate of the United States unanimously (35-0) ratified the Treaty of Ghent on February 16, 1815. Now the war was officially over."
  14. ^ Reilly 1974, pp. 311–325.
  15. ^ Refer to the map of Louisiana.
  16. ^ Quimby, p. 824
  17. ^ a b Quimby,p. 826
  18. ^ Pea Island, or Pearl Island, is located close to the mouth of the Pearl River.
  19. ^ Remini (1999), p. 62-64
  20. ^ Quimby, p. 836
  21. ^ Thomas, p. 61
  22. ^ Remini, Robert V. (1977), Andrew Jackson and the course of American empire, 1767-1821. pp. 259-263
  23. ^ Quimby, p. 843
  24. ^ Thomas, pp. 61-64
  25. ^ Quimby, p. 852
  26. ^ Quimby, pp. 852-853
  27. ^ Refer to the map of the battlefield.
  28. ^ Patterson, Benton Rain, p.214-215
  29. ^ Patterson, Benton Rain, p.215-216
  30. ^ The British regulars included the 4th, 7th, 21st, 43rd, 44th, 85th, 93rd (Highland) Regiments, a 500-man "demi-battalion" of the 95th Rifles, 14th Light Dragoons, and the 1st and 5th West Indies Regiments of several hundred black soldiers from the British West Indies colonies. Other troops included Native American members of the Hitchiti tribe, led by Kinache.
  31. ^ Quimby, pp. 892-893
  32. ^ United States forces (3,500 to 4,500 strong) were composed of U.S. Army troops; state militiamen from Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana; U.S. Marines; U.S. Navy sailors; Barataria Bay pirates; Choctaw Indians; "freemen of color" (such as Beale's Rifles), and freed black slaves (a large amount of the work building the parapet however was done by local black slaves). Major Gabriel Villeré commanded the Louisiana Militia, and Major Jean Baptiste Plauché headed the New Orleans uniformed militia companies.
  33. ^ Patterson, Benton Rain, p.236
  34. ^ Patterson, Benton Rain, p.230
  35. ^ Reilly, Robin p.296
  36. ^ Patterson, Benton Rain, p.253
  37. ^ James, p. 391
  38. ^ Remini (1999) p. 5, 195
  39. ^ Text of the Treaty of Ghent
  40. ^ Empire of Liberty, episode 20/30, "The Second War of Independence"
  41. ^ Ward 1962, pp. 4–5.
  42. ^ "Kenneth Trist Urquhart, "Seventy Years of the Louisiana Historical Association", March 21, 1959, Alexandria, Louisiana". Retrieved July 21, 2010. 
  43. ^ Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, Volume 23, By American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, pg 128 (1912)
  44. ^ The Story of the Battle of New Orleans, By Stanley Clisby Arthur, 239-242.


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