The Battle of New Orleans was fought December 23, 1814-January 8, 1815, during the War of 1812 (1812-1815).
Armies & Commanders
- Major General Andrew Jackson
- Commodore Daniel Patterson
- approx. 4,700-4,800 men
- Major General Edward Pakenham
- Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane
- Major General John Lambert
- approx. 8,000-9,000 men
Battle of New Orleans - Background
In 1814, with the Napoleonic Wars concluding in Europe, Britain was free to focus its attention on fighting the Americans in North America. The British plan for the year called for three major offensives with one coming from Canada, another striking at Washington, and the third hitting New Orleans. While the thrust from Canada was defeated at the Battle of Plattsburgh by Commodore Thomas MacDonough and Brigadier General Alexander Macomb, the offensive in the Chesapeake region saw some success before being halted at Fort McHenry. A veteran of the latter campaign, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane moved south that fall for the attack on New Orleans.
Having embarked 8,000-9,000 men, under the command of Major General Edward Pakenham, a veteran of the Duke of Wellington's Spanish campaigns, Cochrane's fleet of around 60 ships arrived off Lake Borgne on December 12. In New Orleans, the defense of the city was tasked to Major General Andrew Jackson, commanding the Seventh Military District, and Commodore Daniel Patterson who oversaw the US Navy's forces in the region. Working frantically, Jackson assembled around 4,700 men which included the 7th US Infantry, 58 US Marines, a variety of militia, Jean Lafitte's Baratarian pirates, as well as free black and Native American troops (Map).
Battle of New Orleans - Fighting on Lake Borgne
Desiring to approach New Orleans through Lake Borgne and the adjacent bayous, Cochrane directed Commander Nicholas Lockyer to assemble a force of 42 armed longboats to sweep American gunboats from the lake. Commanded by Lieutenant Thomas ap Catesby Jones, American forces on Lake Borgne numbered five gunboats and two small sloops of war. Departing on December 12, Lockyer's 1,200-man force located Jones' squadron 36 hours later. Closing with the enemy, his men were able to board the American vessels and overwhelm their crews. Though a victory for British, the engagement delayed their advance and gave Jackson additional time to prepare his defenses.
Battle of New Orleans - The British Approach
With the lake open, Major General John Keane landed on Pea Island and established a British garrison. Pushing forward, Keane and 1,800 men reached the east bank of the Mississippi River approximately nine miles south of the city on December 23 and encamped on the Lacoste Plantation. Had Keane continued his advance up the river, he would have found the road to New Orleans undefended. Alerted to the British presence by Colonel Thomas Hinds' dragoons, Jackson reportedly proclaimed "By the Eternal, they shall not sleep on our soil" and commenced preparations for an immediate strike against the enemy camp.
Early that evening, Jackson arrived north of Keane's position with 2,131men. Launching a three-pronged attack on the camp, a sharp fight ensued that saw American forces inflict 277 (46 killed) casualties while sustaining 213 (24 killed). Falling back after the battle, Jackson established a line along the Rodriguez Canal four miles south of the city at Chalmette. Though a tactical victory for Keane, the American attack put the British commander off balance, causing him to delay any advance on the city. Using this time, Jackson's men began fortifying the canal, dubbing it "Line Jackson." Two days later, Pakenham arrived on the scene and was angered by the army's position opposite an increasingly strong fortification.
Though Pakenham initially wished to move the army through the Chef Menteur Pass to Lake Pontchartrain, he was convinced by his staff to move against Line Jackson as they believed the small American force could be easily defeated. Repelling British probing attacks on December 28, Jackson's men began eight constructing batteries along the line and on the west bank of the Mississippi. These were supported by the sloop of war USS Louisiana (16 guns) in the river. As Pakenham's main force arrived on January 1, an artillery duel began between the opposing forces. Though several American guns were disabled, Pakenham elected to delay his main attack.
Battle of New Orleans - Pakenham's Plan
For his main assault, Pakenham wished an attack on both sides of the river. A force under Colonel William Thornton was to cross to the west bank, assault the American batteries, and turn their guns on Jackson's line. As this occurred, the main body of the army would attack Line Jackson with Major General Samuel Gibbs advancing on the right, with Keane to his left. A smaller force under Colonel Robert Rennie would move forward along the river. This plan quickly ran into problems as difficulties arose getting the boats to move Thornton's men from Lake Borne to the river. While a canal had been constructed, it began to collapse and the dam intended to divert water into the new channel failed. As a result, the boats had to be dragged through the mud leading to a 12-hour delay.
As a result, Thornton was late in crossing on the night of January 7/8 and the current forced him to land further downstream than intended. Despite knowing that Thornton would not be in place to attack in concert with the army, Pakenham elected to move forward. Additional delays soon occurred when Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Mullens' 44th Irish Regiment, which was meant to lead Gibbs' attack and bridge the canal with ladders and fascines, could not be found in the morning fog. With dawn approaching, Pakenham ordered the attack to begin. While Gibbs and Rennie advanced, Keane was further delayed.
Battle of New Orleans - Standing Firm
As his men moved onto the Chalmette plain, Pakenham hoped that the dense fog would provide some protection. This was soon dashed as the fog melted away under the morning sun. Seeing the British columns before their line, Jackson's men opened an intense artillery and rifle fire upon the enemy. Along the river, Rennie's men succeeded in taking a redoubt in front of the American lines. Storming inside, they were halted by fire from the main line and Rennie was shot dead. On the British right, Gibbs' column, under heavy fire, was approaching the ditch in front of the American lines but lacked the fascines to cross (Map).
With his command falling apart, Gibbs was soon joined by Pakenham who led the wayward 44th Irish forward. Despite their arrival, the advance remained stalled and Pakenham was soon wounded in the arm. Seeing Gibbs' men faltering, Keane foolishly ordered the 93rd Highlanders to angle across the field to their aid. Absorbing fire from the Americans, the Highlanders soon lost their commander, Colonel Robert Dale. With his army collapsing, Pakenham ordered Major General John Lambert to lead the reserves forward. Moving to rally the Highlanders, he was struck in the thigh, and then mortally wounded in the spine.
The loss of Pakenham was soon followed by the death of Gibbs and the wounding of Keane. In a matter of minutes, the entirety of British senior command on the field was down. Leaderless, British troops remained on the killing field. Pushing forward with the reserves, Lambert was met by the remnants of the attack columns as they fled towards the rear. Seeing the situation as hopeless, Lambert pulled back. The only success of the day came across the river where Thornton's command overwhelmed the American position. This too was surrendered though after Lambert learned that it would take 2,000 men to hold the west bank.
Battle of New Orleans - Aftermath
The victory at New Orleans on January 8 cost Jackson around 13 killed, 58 wounded, and 30 captured for a total of 101. The British reported their losses as 291 killed, 1,262 wounded, and 484 captured/missing for a total of 2,037. A stunningly one-sided victory, the Battle of New Orleans was the signature American land victory of the war. In the wake of the defeat, Lambert and Cochrane withdrew after bombarding Fort St. Philip. Sailing to Mobile Bay, they captured Fort Bowyer in February and made preparations for attacking Mobile.
Before the attack could go forward, the British commanders learned that a peace treaty had been signed at Ghent, Belgium. In fact, the treaty had been signed on December 24, 1814, prior to the majority of the fighting in New Orleans. Though the United States Senate had yet to ratify the treaty, its terms stipulated that fighting should cease. While the victory at New Orleans did not influence the content of the treaty, it did aid in forcing the British to abide by its terms. In addition, the battle made Jackson a national hero and aided in propelling him to the presidency.