Battle of New Orleans Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Although this battle was fought after the formal conclusion of the War of 1812, the American victory over the British helped restore pride in the nation and launched General Andrew Jackson on a career that would lead him to the presidency.

Summary of Event

Through two years, Louisiana lay on the fringe of the southern theater of the War of 1812. The southern campaigns were waged in what was then Spanish Florida Florida;and War of 1812[War of 1812] , where U.S. troops seized Mobile, and in the Mississippi Territory, where frontiersmen fought Creek Indians. The British naval blockade brought commerce to a standstill at New Orleans, but before late 1814, the war did not otherwise threaten its polyglot population. Engaged in a vast struggle with Napoleon I’s France, Great Britain could barely spare enough troops to defend Canada against U.S. attack, and the British War Ministry dismissed early proposals to capture New Orleans. New Orleans, Battle of (1815) War of 1812 (1812-1814);Battle of New Orleans Jackson, Andrew [p]Jackson, Andrew;Battle of New Orleans Pakenham, Edward Louisiana;Battle of New Orleans [kw]Battle of New Orleans (Jan. 8, 1815) [kw]New Orleans, Battle of (Jan. 8, 1815) New Orleans, Battle of (1815) War of 1812 (1812-1814);Battle of New Orleans Jackson, Andrew [p]Jackson, Andrew;Battle of New Orleans Pakenham, Edward Louisiana;Battle of New Orleans [g]Great Britain;Jan. 8, 1815: Battle of New Orleans[0770] [g]United States;Jan. 8, 1815: Battle of New Orleans[0770] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Jan. 8, 1815: Battle of New Orleans[0770] Patterson, Daniel T. Bathurst, third earl of Cochrane, Alexander Ross, Robert

Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig in October, 1813, allowed the British to begin consideration of large-scale operations against the United States. After Napoleon abdicated in April, 1814, a substantial number of British forces were released from European commitments, and the British government began preparations in earnest to tighten its blockade of the United States, raid the Atlantic coast, and invade northern New York from Canada.

In July, 1814, the British War Ministry decided to attack New Orleans and subsequently appointed Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane Cochrane, Alexander and Major General Robert Ross Ross, Robert to command the expedition. The earl of Bathurst, Bathurst, third earl of as secretary for war, explained the purposes of the invasion to Ross in September: to gain control over the mouth of the Mississippi River and thereby deprive trans-Appalachian Americans of their link with the sea, and to occupy a valuable land possession whose restoration would improve the terms of peace for Great Britain, or whose cession by the United States could be exacted as the price of peace. Bathurst gave Cochrane and Ross discretion to strike at New Orleans directly from the Gulf of Mexico or overland from Mobile, and he instructed Ross to aid Louisiana’s Creoles if they desired to reattach their homeland to Spain. At that time, Cochrane Cochrane, Alexander and Ross were raiding the Chesapeake Bay area, but New Orleans was their next target.

Romanticized depiction of General Andrew Jackson leading his troops in the Battle of New Orleans; from a painting by Percy Moran (1862-1935).

(Library of Congress)

Cochrane believed that American Indians, slaves, and Piracy;and New Orleans[New Orleans] pirates who sheltered at Barataria, Barataria an island in the swamps off New Orleans, would assist a Gulf coast invasion directed against New Orleans. Operating under orders that Cochrane issued before the War Ministry’s decision, his subordinates occupied Spanish Pensacola Florida;and War of 1812[War of 1812] in August and began to organize and arm Indians and escaped slaves. In early September, the British made overtures to the Baratarians and prepared to attack Mobile; however, that effort came to nothing.

Andrew Jackson was major general of the Tennessee militia in March, 1814, when he defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend and seriously weakened their ability to continue fighting. Two months later, Jackson was appointed federal commander of Military District Number Seven, which included the Mobile-New Orleans area, as well as the U.S. Army in the Southwest. Fully aware of British activities, he went south in August to strengthen Mobile’s defenses, to sever remaining British and Spanish connections with the Indians, and to secure the coast against invasion. In mid-September, his forces defeated the British attempt on Mobile, which had been made without the Baratarians, who showed no signs of cooperating. In early November, Jackson expelled both the British and Indians from Pensacola.

General Ross’s Ross, Robert death near Baltimore in September dealt British fortunes another blow. The ship carrying Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, Ross’s successor, was slow in crossing the Atlantic. As a result, Pakenham was not with Cochrane’s Cochrane, Alexander powerful invasion fleet when it sailed from its Jamaica rendezvous into the Gulf of Mexico in late November or when Cochrane’s sailors overcame U.S. gunboats at the mouth of Lake Borgne in December. Cochrane had decided to attack New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico by sailing through Lake Borgne.

Meanwhile, Jackson arrived in New Orleans on December 1 and proceeded to block all invasion approaches. However, because of a subordinate’s negligence, one approach was left open. On December 23, the vanguard of British troops landed, advanced along unprotected Bayou Bienvenue, and emerged from the swamps on the east bank of the Mississippi, fewer than ten miles below the city. Jackson responded quickly. That same night, he attacked the British camp, inflicting large casualties and throwing the invaders off balance. When Pakenham finally arrived on Christmas Day, he found his army in a dead end. On its right were cypress swamps; on its left were two U.S. warships and the Mississippi River; Mississippi River;and War of 1812[War of 1812] and in front, Jackson’s small but growing army was constructing a mud and log breastwork on the narrow plain of Chalmett, barring the way to New Orleans.

While attempting to regain the advantage, the British destroyed one of Commandant Daniel T. Patterson’s Patterson, Daniel T. ships on December 27. During the following days, they suffered serious reverses. U.S. troops turned back a reconnaissance-in-force on December 28, 1814, and won an artillery duel on January 1, 1815, thwarting Pakenham’s attempt to breach the breastwork. The only alternative left to the British was a direct assault. Pakenham developed his plan: One large column would attack the U.S. center at the edge of the swamp, a smaller column would assault the U.S. right, and a third would move to support one of the other two columns as the fighting developed. Meanwhile, a small force would attack the weak U.S. positions across the river, and the rest of Pakenham’s approximately ten thousand soldiers, some of whom were veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, would form a reserve.

At daybreak, on Sunday, January 8, Pakenham gave the signal to advance. Waiting for the attack was a heterogeneous collection of about five thousand defenders—Louisiana Acadians; Anglo-Saxons; Creoles; free men of color, including Baratarians, Choctaw Indians, and French émigrés; Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee militia; and U.S. Marines, regulars, and sailors. Only portions of the line were directly engaged, but the terrific fire from their artillery, muskets, and rifles cut down Pakenham’s troops as they advanced through the mist across the rain-soaked field. Pakenham himself was killed while desperately urging his men on. Shortly afterward, his crippled army withdrew. The partially successful British attack on the west bank came too late to affect the outcome of the great assault. American casualties totaled only 71 men, of whom only about a dozen were killed. By contrast, the British lost 2,057 men. In the entire campaign that had begun on December 23, British dead totaled more than 2,400 men.

Because of the apparent impregnability of Jackson’s lines and a shortage of supplies, the British leaders decided to retreat. The withdrawal went unimpeded, as Jackson decided against allowing his relatively undisciplined and heterogeneous collection of troops to attack what was still a trained army. The American forces thus remained behind their lines until the British had disappeared. Pakenham’s forces moved through the swamp to Lake Borgne and then to Pea Island. On January 27, the remainder of the now half-starved British troops were gone from the Mississippi Delta. In a face-saving move, Cochrane Cochrane, Alexander attempted to level Fort St. Philip near the Gulf. After failing to accomplish even that, his fleet sailed away to attack Fort Bowyer at Mobile. After its fall, official news of the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent War of 1812 (1812-1814);Treaty of Ghent — which had been concluded on December 24, 1814—reached the armies. In mid-March, the British fleet returned to England.

On January 23, Jackson marched into the city of New Orleans with his troops, welcomed as a hero. However, he continued to maintain martial law until the middle of March and required the volunteers to remain under arms in the militia until he received official word of the signing of a treaty. As a consequence, when members of the Louisiana senate listed the officers to whom they extended official thanks, they omitted Jackson’s name.

Significance

The last major battle in the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans, was a British tragedy, inasmuch as it had taken place two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent had brought the war to a close. Despite the fact that the bloody engagement did not play a role in the outcome of the war, the Battle of New Orleans made Andrew Jackson a national hero. The battle’s consequences stretched beyond Jackson’s role. One must address the question of British goals in a war that they certainly provoked, but that was started by the United States. First, the British aimed to limit U.S. settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains. To do so, they wanted to create an American Indian buffer state in the region beyond Ohio. Their second goal was to assuage the fear of U.S. aggression into Canada Canada;and War of 1812[War of 1812] , a fear with some merit. Further, by annexing Louisiana, they could prevent communication of the west with the sea. Along with Spanish claims to Florida Florida;and War of 1812[War of 1812] , this would serve to block U.S. expansion.

Pakenham arrived in the United States with instructions to “rescue” Louisiana; he brought with him a complete governmental staff, with himself appointed as governor. Although the Treaty of Ghent was signed, it was not to take effect until ratified by all concerned. In the meantime, Pakenham would have control of Louisiana, an eventuality interrupted by his defeat and death.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Borneman, Walter. 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. History of the War of 1812 that places it in a broad context, arguing that despite internal controversy over the necessity of the war in the United States, its prosecution ultimately united the American states into a national entity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brooks, Charles B. The Siege of New Orleans. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1961. Detailed account of events leading up to the Battle of New Orleans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elting, John. Amateurs to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995. Military perspective on the War of 1812 that closely examines its military actions, including the Battle of New Orleans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hitsman, J. Mackay, and Donald Graves, eds. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History. Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 2000. Broad military history of the War of 1812 with a good account of the Battle of New Orleans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McConnell, Roland C. Negro Troops of Antebellum Louisiana: A History of the Battalion of Free Men of Color. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968. Contains an account of the role played by African Americans in the Battle of New Orleans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson. 3 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. The first volume of this nearly definitive three-volume biography of Jackson covers his military career and role in territorial expansion.

Louisiana Purchase

Battle of Tippecanoe

War of 1812

Creek War

Treaty of Ghent Takes Effect

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Sir Isaac Brock; Andrew Jackson; Napoleon I. New Orleans, Battle of (1815) War of 1812 (1812-1814);Battle of New Orleans Jackson, Andrew [p]Jackson, Andrew;Battle of New Orleans Pakenham, Edward Louisiana;Battle of New Orleans

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