The War of 1812 – Part 5 - The Attack on New Orleans
In Part 1 of our series on the War of 1812, we looked at operations along the Canadian border. In Part 2 and Part 3, we looked at operations in the areas along the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, in Part 4, we examined operations in the Gulf of Mexico theater up to just before the final major land battle of the war – the Battle of New Orleans. Now, we will continue with the British campaign to capture New Orleans, which would have closed the Mississippi River to the United States and provided Great Britain a pathway for invasion of the interior of the United States.
The Battle of Lake Borgne, 14 December 1814
While in Pensacola, Jackson received reports that the British had assembled a major invasion force in Jamaica with intentions to attack New Orleans. He at once ordered his troops back to Mobile while he traveled to New Orleans to supervise defensive preparations. Arriving in New Orleans on 1 December, he quickly went to work.
His first goal was to prevent any British attempt to advance directly up the Mississippi River. To do this, he ordered Fort St. Philip positioned at Plaquemines Bend, about sixty-five miles downriver from the city and thirty miles from the river’s mouth, reinforced with more artillery. Closer to the city, he ordered the strengthening of the entrenchments and artillery redoubts at Fort St. Leon whose guns commanded an S-shaped bend in the Mississippi called the English Turn, where sailing vessels would be exposed to withering fire as they waited for the wind to change direction before continuing upriver.
New Orleans itself rested on relatively high ground along the east bank of the Mississippi River while countless waterways and bayous crisscrossed the surrounding landscape. An invading army would require reliable guides to pass through them. Only a fraction of the city’s multilingual population of about twenty-five thousand were American. Because of this diversity, and mixed loyalties, as well as the ethnic, racial, and social tension, it was difficult to know who would be loyal to the United States when the British arrived. Jackson had to assume that some residents might aid the invaders and guide them through the swamps. Therefore, he imposed martial law on 15 December and posted the most reliable local militia units to guard the approaches. He kept the more experienced troops he had brought with him near the city proper. From there, he could quickly move to block an attempted British landing as soon as it was discovered.
Meanwhile, his ground forces dug entrenchments to cover the likely avenues of approach. To the east of the city, on Lake Borgne, a shallow body of water separated from the Gulf of Mexico by marshes. Jackson supplemented the defense with a naval force of seven vessels and 209 men commanded by Lt. Thomas ap Catesby Jones (Thomas ap Catesby in Welsh means "Thomas, son of Catesby")
As it happened, the British chose to advance via Lake Borgne. Admiral Cochrane sent Capt. Nicholas Lockyer, of HMS Sophie, in command of a squadron of forty-five ship’s boats, each armed with a bow-mounted cannon, and about twelve hundred sailors and marines to overcome the U.S. flotilla. After withdrawing up the lake, on 13 December Jones positioned the one-gun tender Seahorse to protect his stores on the shore. Seahorse fought seven British launches for a half hour before its crew abandoned ship, setting fire to both the vessel and the stores to prevent their capture.
The next day Jones moored his gunboats, most of which mounted five guns each, in a line in shoals between two islands. The lighter British launches closed in on them and opened fire at about 1050. After quickly capturing the one-gun tender Alligator, the launch carrying Captain Lockyer assailed Jones’ gunboat. U.S. gunboats quickly sunk two enemy launches and repelled two attacks before British sailors boarded Jones’ gunboat and turned its guns on the other American craft. Having ruptured the U.S. line, the British boarded and captured the rest of the gunboats in quick succession, ending the battle by 12:30 PM. The loss of the barges allowed the British to land troops unimpeded. They could now strike overland toward New Orleans or, if they chose, Baton Rouge, where they could cut New Orleans off from communications and reinforcement coming down the Mississippi River from the north.
The captured Lieutenant Jones, under British questioning, convinced them that five hundred Americans with forty guns guarded the Rigolets, the narrow waterway that linked Lake Borgne with Lake Pontchartrain, a large body of water to the north of New Orleans. Cochrane took Jones’ word at face value and ruled out an attempt to advance by Lake Pontchartrain. Instead, Cochrane decided to have his sailors row their shallow-draft vessels to a site where the British land forces under the command of Maj. Gen. John Keane would face a difficult trek through bayous and swamps to get to New Orleans.
The Royal Navy disembarked British soldiers on Pine Island at the north end of Lake Borgne. There, the soldiers regained their land legs as the sailors prepared to row the men across to the main landing site on Bayou Bienvenu. British light infantrymen surprised a militia picket near a small fishing camp inhabited by Spanish-speaking “Isleño” residents. British officers persuaded at least one Isleño to guide their convoy of troop-laden small craft through the swamps along Bayou Mazant. The bayou connected to a canal that ended where the soldiers could disembark on dry land on the east bank of the Mississippi about eight miles below New Orleans. This was at the plantation home of the adjutant general of the Louisiana militia, Jacques Villeré.
Keane divided his force into three brigades. On the morning of 22 December, he led the sixteen hundred men of his 1st, or Light Brigade, forward. Under the command of Col. William Thornton, it consisted of the 4th and 85th Regiments of Foot, and six companies from the 95th (Rifle Corps) Regiment. The 4th and 85th were specially trained as light infantry, while the men of the 95th, equipped with rifled muskets and green uniforms, were ideally suited for light infantry missions. The members of this brigade had seen considerable service in Europe against Napoleon, and both the 4th and 85th had fought at Bladensburg and Baltimore, Maryland. After hours of moving from Lake Borgne through the swamps along Bayous Bienvenu, Mazant, and the Villeré Canal, Thornton’s troops arrived at the Villeré Plantation. There, riflemen from the 95th surprised and captured a small guard of about thirty militia commanded by the general’s son, Maj. Gabriel Villeré.
By questioning the prisoners and Isleño fishermen, the British discovered that Jackson might have as few as two thousand men in New Orleans. Although he really had twice that number, the general had spread them out across the region to cover several possible avenues of approach. Thornton urged Keane to bring the rest of the available troops forward so they could move quickly on the city before Jackson concentrated his forces. Keane, however, chose to wait for reinforcements led by Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham.
The Villeré Plantation Night Battle, 23 December 1814
After learning the British had landed, about noon on 23 December, Jackson ordered some of his most reliable troops to assemble from all around the city for an immediate attack. He pledged, “By the eternal they will not sleep on our soil tonight!” After ordering Maj. Gen. William Carroll’s division of Tennessee militia to remain in reserve at New Orleans, Jackson assembled several militia and regular units, including an artillery detachment with two 6-pounder field pieces. While Jackson’s dragoons reconnoitered the British positions, Maj. Jean Baptiste Plauché’s volunteer militia battalion answered Jackson’s call. Determined to get in the fight, the French-speaking men jogged from Fort St. John. At 2 PM, Jackson ordered his force of over 2,000 men to advance.
Jackson halted the advance at the de la Ronde Plantation, five hundred yards from the British camp, and organized his units into line of battle with two divisions. They then advanced at dusk. The Right Division, under his personal command, consisted of a brigade commanded by Col. George Ross, which included the regulars of the 7th and 44th U.S. Infantry regiments; Plauché’s battalion; Maj. Louis D’Aquin’s battalion of Saint-Domingue Free Men of Color; as well as a detachment of Choctaw Indians. This division would attack the British left flank, extending to the left from the levee road, while the two-gun artillery detachment went into a battery astride the road, and a company of marines supported them. The Left Division, under the command of Brig. Gen. John Coffee, consisted of a brigade of Tennessee volunteer mounted riflemen fighting on foot, Capt. Beale’s Orleans Rifle Company, and Col. Hind’s squadron of Mississippi dragoons. To protect his flanks from British advancing from the direction of Lake Borgne, Governor Claiborne commanded the 1st, 2d, and 4th Regiments of Louisiana militia, totaling around twenty-five hundred men to the northeast, while Brig. Gen. David Morgan commanded a force of three hundred fifty Louisiana militiamen posted downriver at English Turn.
In the twilight, British soldiers saw the masts of a ship on the Mississippi River next to their position. Believing it to be a Royal Navy vessel, soldiers ran to the levee and began hailing the ship. They realized their mistake when the U.S. Navy’s twelve-gun schooner Carolina, commanded by Capt. Henley, opened fire with a broadside of grapeshot. Meanwhile, advancing under cover of darkness, and guided by the British campfires, the American divisions attacked the camp on both flanks. The attacking Right Division drove the camp’s pickets in ahead of them. Fighting spread inland and Coffee’s Left Division pressed the British right to encircle the defenders. The surprised redcoats initially retreated but quickly rallied and counterattacked along the road. They nearly captured the two American cannon before U.S. infantry drove them back once more. In the darkness, as the fighting became widespread, confused, and hand-to-hand, some U.S. units became separated or lost in the dark. At about 0400, Col. Brooke’s 2d Brigade began arriving to support the British defenders. Jackson ordered his men to disengage and retire. The 7th and 44th U.S. Infantry, along with some attached militia, covered the retreat against a possible counterattack, but Keane’s army was in no condition to pursue. Perplexed over the rapid and undetected American advance, and their camp in shambles, Keane ordered his men to take defensive positions. U.S. casualties amounted to 24 killed, 115 wounded, and 74 missing or captured. British losses included 46 killed, 166 wounded, and 64 missing.
Although Jackson considered the battle a victory, he realized that the British outnumbered his force. After falling back in reasonably good order, Jackson’s troops re-formed along the Rodriguez Canal, the boundary between the Chalmette and Macarty Plantations, and started throwing up earthworks. Named “Line Jackson,” the newly established defenses ran along the canal from the east bank of the Mississippi River to a cypress swamp. No longer used for irrigation, the canal had a dry bottom and caved-in banks for much of its length when Jackson’s engineers started work. Soldiers cut the levee to flood the canal for much of its length—to a depth of five to six feet in some places. They raised a rampart on the canal bank by constructing two double walls of logs, filled the space in between with the excavated spoil, and added a parapet.
On Christmas Day, General Pakenham arrived and assumed command of the British land forces and for the next few days the armies cautiously watched each other. While the Royal Navy ferried more troops and artillery ashore and evacuated the wounded, the new commander reorganized his men into three brigades. Pakenham realized that the U.S. Navy’s vessels on the Mississippi River could enfilade his left flank in any move toward New Orleans. The Mississippi Flotilla, under the command of Master Commandant Patterson, who held the local rank of commodore, consisted of Carolina, riding at anchor; the unfinished converted sixteen-gun sloop-of-war Louisiana, anchored about one mile farther upriver and being used as a floating battery under Lt. Thompson’s command; and two gunboats. To remove this threat, Pakenham ordered his chief of artillery, Lt. Col. Dickson, to sink Carolina and, if possible, Louisiana. After cutting embrasures in the levee during the night of 25 December, the British erected furnaces for heating “hot shot,” and waited for more ammunition.
The British opened fire at dawn on 27 December, with guns firing round shot and howitzers firing shell, the artillerymen quickly found the range to Carolina. Both Louisiana and Carolina returned fire, but only the forward 12-pounder aboard the Carolina could reply effectively. Patterson ordered both ships and the gunboats to withdraw upstream. With shot and shell raking her deck, the Carolina struggled against the current and northwest wind. Finally, a hot shot penetrated to the hold and started a fire. When he realized the flames were out of control, Captain Henley ordered the crew to abandon ship before the fire spread to the magazine and ignited the powder. The resulting explosion destroyed the ship at about 1020. Although at maximum range, British artillerymen now turned their attention on Louisiana, but the crew used their boats to tow the ship upstream to safety. The men of Carolina later salvaged some guns from the sunken hulk and served on shore.
The Grand Reconnaissance, 28 December 1814
With Carolina eliminated, and eager to figure out what lay ahead of him, Pakenham directed a major probe of the U.S. defenses. By giving the appearance of a full-scale attack—without intending to bring on a general engagement—Pakenham hoped Jackson would commit his forces and reveal his dispositions and strength. This would allow his staff to use the intelligence to plan a deliberate attack once the rest of the British infantry and artillery arrived. Late on the afternoon of 27 December, Pakenham’s light infantry drove the American pickets back and occupied de la Ronde and Bienvenu Plantations where they discovered that U.S. artillery and retreating infantry had already destroyed many of the buildings to clear fields of fire in front of their main line.
The British probe began as soon as the early morning mist cleared. About three thousand British troops advanced across the cane-stubble fields in two columns with skirmishers from the light infantry and 95th Rifle Corps companies deployed in front of and between them. Maj. Gen. Gibbs led the 2nd Brigade, or Right Column, which advanced along the edge of the cypress swamp with the 4th, 21st, and 44th Regiments of Foot and the 1st West India Regiment toward the American left. Keane led the 3rd Brigade, or Left Column, as the 85th Foot, 93rd Highland Regiment, and 5th West India Regiment advanced along the river and the levee road against Jackson’s right. With continual supporting cannon and rocket fire, the infantrymen drove the remaining pickets of Maj. Peire’s 7th Infantry and Hind’s dragoons off the Chalmette Plantation and back to the main U.S. defenses. However, the green militia did not panic at the sight of tight, disciplined columns of bayonet-wielding troops.
Nevertheless, with Keane’s brigade pinned down and several of his artillery pieces destroyed or damaged by effective American counterbattery fire, Pakenham halted the advance. Some of the more exposed forward British troops waited to retreat under cover of darkness. After falling back, the British began constructing new artillery positions and repairing their damaged pieces. The action had cost the British 152 killed, wounded, or captured, against 8 dead and 8 wounded Americans. Based on the experience, the British commander decided to wait for the last of his infantry and artillery to arrive, and he asked that the Royal Navy provide him with more naval cannon. Pakenham wanted to ensure success by massing as much heavy ordnance as possible to overwhelm the U.S. batteries and to breach the earthworks.
The Americans meanwhile strengthened Line Jackson. To give the east bank defenses more depth, Louisiana militiamen began working on Line Dupre, about one-half mile behind Line Jackson, and Line Montreuil, another one and one-quarter mile farther upriver. On the west bank, a brigade of Louisiana militiamen under General Morgan’s command set up Line Boisgervais. In addition, Patterson’s sailors removed most of the naval guns from Louisiana and positioned them in a “marine battery” along the riverfront, where they could fire across the Mississippi and into the flanks of a British army advance.
Artillery Duel and Battle, New Year’s Day 1815
On the first of January 1815, British batteries totaling about thirty naval and field guns, howitzers, mortars, and Congreve rockets opened fire. One British battery concentrated its fire at the guns on the high road on the American right, while another fired from behind the Chalmette house at Louisiana. In conjunction with rockets, batteries of howitzers shelled the right and center of the U.S. line, and a grand battery of light field guns positioned astride the road supplied support for the main infantry effort.
The intensity of the cannonade surprised the Americans. The Macarty house, where Jackson and his staff had their headquarters, sustained over one hundred hits, but most rounds overshot the U.S. positions and landed harmlessly in the fields beyond. Those rounds that struck the parapet tended to bounce harmlessly off the improved earthworks. After figuring out the range to the British positions, U.S. artillerists from Line Jackson, joined by Patterson’s naval batteries, responded with effective counterbattery fire, and inflicted great damage, destroying, and disabling many of the less-well-protected British pieces. While the artillery exchange continued, a British column advanced against the left of Line Jackson to exploit the weakness seen during the earlier reconnaissance, but Coffee’s Tennessee volunteers easily repulsed the probe. Off in the swamp, Colonel Rennie’s light infantry again advanced to within one hundred yards of the American left, where the men took cover and waited for a signal to attack. They received a recall order instead.
After a three-and-one-half-hour cannonade with no significant effect, Pakenham ordered the artillery to cease fire. The British fell back to their positions near the de la Ronde house, leaving ammunition and several guns on the battlefield—some to be captured by U.S. patrols. The action convinced British commanders that only a simultaneous attack on both sides of the Mississippi would break the defenses and clear the way to New Orleans. British losses for the day numbered thirty killed and forty wounded while the Americans suffered eleven killed and thirty-three wounded, with casualties disproportionally high among those in the rear bringing ammunition forward to the batteries.
The Battle of New Orleans, 8 January 1815
While the Americans worked to further improve their earthworks, Pakenham reorganized his command and planned the next attack eventually developing a complex plan involving a river crossing and three coordinated assaults. (What could go wrong?) Getting Thornton’s Light Brigade across the Mississippi meant moving boats through bayous and canals, over land, cutting an access through a levee, and then to the river. After landing on the opposite bank, the 700-man brigade, made up of the 85th Regiment of Foot, a composite Royal Marine battalion, a detachment of Royal Navy seamen, and some supporting artillery, would attack the U.S. batteries along the river and Line Boisgervais. They would then turn the captured American guns to fire in enfilade against Line Jackson in support of the main assault.
Meanwhile, the twenty-one hundred men of the Right Column or Gibbs’ 2nd Brigade, would conduct the primary effort against the American left. The 4th, 21st, and 44th Regiments of Foot would advance under cover of darkness in column, close to the edge of the swamp, where much of their approach would be hidden from American view by the irregular wood line. It was imperative that the assaulting regiments reached the ditch at first light. Using bound bundles of sticks, called fascines, to bridge the ditch and ladders to scale the earthwork, they would then assault the apparently weaker U.S. left flank. Keane’s 3rd Brigade, or Left Column, with twelve hundred men, would conduct a supporting attack against the right of Line Jackson. At the same time, Colonel Rennie’s battalion, composed of the light infantry companies detached from the regiments in Brig. Gen. Lambert’s brigade would attack the redoubt that blocked the levee road at the extreme right of Line Jackson.
Finally, the 93rd Highland and 5th West India Regiments of Keane’s main column would exploit a success by Rennie or support Gibbs by attacking the American center. General Lambert’s 1st Brigade with the 7th and 43rd Foot—arguably the most reliable troops in the army—and the 1st West India Regiment, minus the light infantry companies detached to Rennie, would remain in reserve, ready to exploit a breach of the U.S. line. As Pakenham’s staff completed the plan, the last of his artillery and infantry arrived to bring his strength to more than nine thousand men. Meanwhile, British soldiers fashioned bundles of sticks into fascines for crossing the canal and ladders to scale the breastworks. Before the attack, soldiers would place the fascines and ladders in the battery positions that were abandoned after the New Year’s Day artillery battle, and designated men of the 44th would carry them forward with the leading assault companies.
By 7 January, about five thousand men defended Line Jackson. The fortification featured eight batteries that mounted twelve artillery pieces of various calibers and stretched from the Mississippi River across the open fields for one thousand yards, then continued into the cypress swamp for another five hundred yards. Engineers had constructed a redoubt, or “demi-bastion,” on the right and in front of the line at a point where the canal intersected the road along the river. Maj. Tatum, the topographic engineer on Jackson’s staff, noted that two firing ports were constructed in its base to rake the Canal and plane in front of the line, and two others in its face for the purpose of raking the levee & road. In addition, it was encircled by a moat. At designated Battery One, the Americans placed two brass 12-pounders and a 5½-inch howitzer manned by regular artillerymen and supported by a company of the 7th U.S. Infantry in the strongpoint. A bridge over the Rodriguez Canal connected the small outwork to the main line.
Battery Two was placed ninety feet from the redoubt on the main line and consisted of a 24-pounder manned by U.S. sailors. Baratarian privateers served two 24-pounders at Battery Three, fifty yards down the line. Next, only twenty yards away, U.S. sailors manned a 32-pounder at Battery Four while 200 yards away regular artillerymen manned two 6-pounders at Battery Five. Although Batteries Four and Five were widely separated, the range of the naval ordnance in Battery Four enabled them to engage troops assaulting on the left with enfilade fire. Just thirty-six yards from Battery Five, a 12-pounder, crewed by militiamen many of whom were immigrants who were veterans of Napoleon’s army, constituted Battery Six. Just before Jackson’s line entered the cypress swamp, regular artillerists, and Tennesseans manned Batteries Seven and Eight. Battery Seven consisted of an 18-pounder and a 6-pounder field gun, and Battery Eight had a small brass carronade loaded with grapeshot and canister (or case shot), holding hundreds of small musket-ball-size projectiles. Thus, the British would face heavy cannon fire as they crossed the two thousand yards of open ground that lay before Jackson’s earthwork.
The American infantry took position along the line in several brigade-size units. The brigade of regulars and Louisiana volunteer militia deployed on the right and extended to the left as far as Battery Five. Commanded by Colonel Ross, the brigade included the 7th U.S. Infantry (minus those stationed at Fort St. Philip); Beale’s riflemen; Plauché’s battalion; Maj. Lacoste’s battalion of Orleans Free Men of Color; D’Aquin’s Saint-Domingue Free Men of Color; several companies of the 44th U.S. Infantry commanded by Capt. Baker; and a company of marines under the command of 1st Lt. DeBellevue. General Carroll’s division of Tennessee militia manned the line from Battery Five to a point beyond Battery Eight, supported by two regiments of Brig. Gen. Adair’s recently arrived brigade of Kentucky militia posted behind their center. From the left flank of Carroll’s division, Coffee’s brigade held the rest of Line Jackson into the cypress swamp, including where it turned ninety degrees to the left to protect against flanking the American position. American skirmishers and Choctaw Indians deployed into the swamp to detect and harass any British movement in that area, while the 10th Regiment of Louisiana militia posted in reserve behind Coffee’s brigade.
Morgan’s brigade, with the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Louisiana militia, defended the west bank of the Mississippi River. Just before the battle, Jackson reinforced them with a battalion of Louisiana drafted militia and a regiment from Adair’s Kentucky brigade. After receiving these reinforcements, Morgan had nearly one thousand men. As a result, he began to construct a second line lower down the river along the Raguet Canal to better support Patterson’s marine battery on the Mississippi’s bank, and he also improved his defensive structure along Line Boisgervais, opposite Line Jackson.
Predictably, due to the complexity of the plan, the British attack went wrong from the start. Multiple problems hampered Thornton’s crossing and reduced the size of his assault force. When the British finally launched their boats, the Mississippi current carried them about one thousand yards below the intended landing site, causing further delay. Growing impatient, at about 5 AM Pakenham signaled the main attack to begin without waiting for the diversionary attack on the west bank. Rocket and artillery batteries fired as skirmishers from the 95th Rifles and the battalion light infantry companies moved forward. Withdrawing American pickets gave the alarm, so that U.S. forces were alert and ready when the fog lifted, and the British came into view.
The batteries of artillery on the American left opened a heavy fire. The green-clad British riflemen rushed the canal, scrambled into the ditch, but could not make their way up the rampart. Meanwhile, U.S. artillery fire became more deadly the closer the main British columns approached. Instead of sticking to the tree line, Gibbs’ brigade veered to the left into the open fields and presented a more lucrative target to American gunners. The British artillery did not knock out the U.S. guns, which continued to take their toll, and as the advancing brigade came within range, the Tennessee and Kentucky infantry opened with deadly volleys of rifle and musket fire.
Although they were supposed to follow closely behind the skirmishers of the 95th, Gibbs’ column halted when the 44th discovered that the fascines and ladders, that were supposed to be prepositioned, had not been brought forward as planned. While waiting for them to be brought up, the rest of the regiment’s lead elements, contrary to orders, halted in the open and traded shots with the Americans. As small arms, grape, canister, and solid shot took their toll, many of the British fell back in disorder and took cover in furrows, ditches, or the previously abandoned artillery positions. Once the officers rallied their troops, the British advanced once more, but in the withering fire, only about four hundred reached the U.S. line. A few managed to claw their way up the embankment, but the British could not get enough men over the wall to overwhelm the defenders before either being killed, wounded, or captured.
Keane’s brigade fared no better. Patterson’s naval battery on the west bank began firing as the column advanced along the river. Pakenham rode forward toward Gibbs’ column and sent orders for Keane’s men to follow him. Keane complied, and to minimize the damage from Patterson’s guns on the west bank, he led most of his men obliquely across the American right to assault the center. When they came within range, the American infantry, standing four ranks deep behind protective earthworks, fired devastating volleys of rifle and musket fire, while the guns of Battery Four opened fire at point-blank range. The 93rd Highlanders took heavy casualties as they approached the American line and their attack ground to a halt. They withdrew leaving behind many dead and wounded.
Rennie’s battalion advanced rapidly along the levee road and initially enjoyed some success. After driving in the U.S. pickets, they reached the redoubt. The Americans there, not wanting to hit their withdrawing pickets, held their fire until it was too late and had to evacuate as the redcoats entered the position. Unfortunately for the British attack, with Keane’s brigade no longer following them, Rennie could not exploit his gains. U.S. regulars and Beale’s riflemen poured fire into the attackers, killing Rennie and two other officers as they tried to lead an attack across the bridge into the main line. Infantrymen of the 7th Regiment then attacked and drove the surviving British out of the bastion with the entire action lasting about twenty-five minutes. The withdrawing British light infantry continued to suffer under heavy infantry and artillery fire.
At this point, the entire attack had stalled, and Lt. Col. Jones’ flanking maneuver through the swamp had failed, with Jones mortally wounded. Back with the main body of his brigade, Gibbs also fell mortally wounded and a messenger reported that Keane had been seriously wounded and was out of action. Pakenham came forward to rally the troops but was also mortally wounded. Before he was carried to the rear where he died, he ordered Lambert to commit the reserve, but U.S. fire had pinned it down as well. In an hour and a half, hundreds of British lay dead and wounded on the field, and many units were badly disorganized. With many senior officers killed or wounded, General Lambert assumed command and halted the attack on the east bank.
On the west bank of the Mississippi, Thornton’s brigade, reduced in number to a bit more than five hundred men due to a shortage of boats, finally advanced after the attack on the east bank had already started. First it moved to capture Patterson’s guns that were enfilading the attack on Jackson’s line. The British quickly routed the forward deployed pickets of Maj. Paul Arnaud’s Louisiana battalion and Col. John Davis’ Kentucky regiment, who withdrew to the line along the Raguet Canal. Thornton then attacked the U.S. line and Patterson’s batteries, forcing the Americans to retreat to Line Boisgervais. Although the withdrawing U.S. sailors managed to spike some of the cannon, most fell intact to the British, who lost six killed and seventy-six wounded, compared to one dead, three wounded, and fifteen missing Americans. Thornton advanced to about twelve hundred yards from Morgan’s second line. As a detachment of his men destroyed the U.S. naval batteries, Thornton sent word to Lambert that he would need two thousand men to assault the main U.S. entrenchment and hold the west bank position. Since Lambert, had already decided not to renew the attack against Line Jackson, he ordered Thornton to retire and withdraw back across the Mississippi. The battle was over.
Lambert asked Jackson for a truce to gather the dead and to treat the wounded. The two sides agreed to a 300-yard-wide zone extending from Line Jackson in which the Americans would recover and care for the British casualties that remained on the field. British casualties in the battle on the east bank amounted to 285 killed, 1,265 wounded, and 484 captured or missing. The Americans suffered 13 dead, 30 wounded, and 19 captured or missing in the main battle. For the next week, the U.S. and British troops watched each other across their lines and contemplated their next moves. As the British buried their dead and evacuated their wounded seventy miles to the fleet, a general air of defeat hovered over the camp. Naval officers like Admiral Cochrane wanted to make another attempt, but the army officers had had enough. Some of Jackson’s subordinates urged him to attack, but he realized that the American army had the good fortune of fighting from behind prepared positions, and he did not care to risk a battle in the open. Since 23 December, the land battles had cost a total of 333 U.S. and 2,459 British casualties.
The Battle of Fort St. Philip, 9–18 January 1815
The day after the Battle of New Orleans, a British squadron—consisting of a sloop-of-war, a gun-brig, a schooner, and two bomb vessels—approached Fort St. Philip. The fort, which was built on the foundation of an old Spanish work at Plaquemines Bend on the east bank of the Mississippi River, had its position strengthened in recent weeks by Jackson’s engineers and artillerists. Maj. Overton commanded the post with armament of twenty-nine 24-pounder guns, a 6-pounder cannon, eight 5½-inch howitzers, and one 13-inch mortar in the fort and two 32-pounders in an earthen battery at water level. Troops manning the post included two companies of regular Army artillerymen, two companies from the 7th Infantry, and two companies of Louisiana volunteer militia, including one of Free Men of Color, while a U.S. Navy gunboat lay offshore.
At 3 PM on January 9, the Americans opened fire with their cannons on British barges that were taking soundings of the river bottom about one and one-half miles below the fort. Although they drove the scouts back, they also revealed the maximum range of their guns to the British. As a result, the British ships anchored safely almost 4,000 yards below the fort, and their two bomb vessels opened fire with mortars. Due to problems with fuses and ammunition, the U.S. mortar was incapable of supplying counterbattery fire, and so the garrison hunkered down waiting for the British to approach close enough to engage. As the shelling continued into the night, several armed launches pulled close to the fort firing grape and round shot from their bow guns as a diversion for the larger vessels. When the British ships finally closed the range, however, U.S. artillery fire drove them back.
The British shelling of the fort continued intermittently for the next eight days. Finally, the garrison received a fresh supply of ammunition and fuses for their mortar, and it went into action with its fire effectively disrupting the British formation. Just after dawn on 18 January, the British weighed anchor and retreated downriver. The Americans suffered two dead and seven wounded, from the British shelling while the British reported no casualties.
Meanwhile, back at the Chalmette Plantation, the two sides exchanged prisoners, and on the evening of 18 January, the British completed their withdrawal from the battlefield, leaving behind fourteen spiked artillery pieces. The British retreat was executed with such secrecy that Jackson did not learn of it until the next day when a British doctor approached with a letter from Lambert asking the Americans to care for eighty patients too gravely wounded to make the journey to the fleet. By the evening of 27 January, all the landing forces had re-embarked.
Refusing to admit defeat, Admiral Cochrane decided to fall back to the earlier plan for taking New Orleans by moving overland from Mobile. He dispatched a messenger to Colonel Nicholls at Apalachicola with orders to send one force of Indian allies northeast to raid the Georgia frontier and another northwest to cut off Fort Stoddert and the communities north of Mobile. Cochrane, with his fleet, would attack up Mobile Bay, putting Lambert’s army ashore to capture Fort Bowyer before marching from Mobile to Baton Rouge. After cutting New Orleans off from the rest of the United States, the army would entrench and wait for Jackson’s army to attack—turning the tables of January 8.
The Capture of Fort Bowyer, 9–12 February 1815
Before they withdrew from the Lake Borgne area, the British received reinforcements of infantry and artillery. Meanwhile, General Lambert, developing his plan for taking Fort Bowyer, decided to put a brigade ashore at the end of Mobile Point to capture the fort and the entrance to Mobile Bay. He saw this as having two purposes. First, it would clear the way to Mobile and second, a quick victory would help restore morale. While this was going on, the rest of the army would land on Dauphin Island to further secure the entrance to the bay and to create a supply base. Once Fort Bowyer was taken, Lambert would decide whether to continue up the peninsula to seize Mobile before making a second attempt against New Orleans. With the memory of the unsuccessful attempt to capture the fort the previous September still fresh in mind, Lambert was determined to take the Fort at the lowest possible cost.
On February 6, Lt. Col. Lawrence, and the garrison of 375 U.S. regular artillerymen and infantrymen watched as British warships anchored a safe distance offshore. Two days later, twelve hundred British soldiers landed on the peninsula and deployed along Fort Bowyer’s less defended landward side, effectively cutting the fort off from resupply and reinforcement. Colonel Dickson then landed with 450 artillerymen and six guns, two howitzers, and eight mortars, and Lt. Col. Burgoyne of the Royal Engineers came ashore with the army’s Sappers and Miners.
When the sun rose on February 9, the defenders discovered that the British had cut a trench parallel to the fort’s north curtain wall, and by the end of the day, the redcoats had extended the length of the trench to one hundred fifty yards. British infantrymen took focused particularly on U.S. gun crews as both sides continued to exchange artillery and musket fire. The next day, the attackers cut another trench and extended it three hundred yards to join the first one. By early morning on February 11, the British had advanced a sap, or approach trench, to within thirty yards of the fort’s protective ditch, while their batteries opened an intense cannonade. At about 10AM, the firing ceased, and a British officer advanced under a flag of truce to present Lawrence with General Lambert’s demand to surrender. If refused, Lambert promised to allow the U.S. soldiers’ dependent women and children time to leave before he started an assault.
With no hope of reinforcement, ammunition running low, and facing overwhelming odds, the colonel knew further resistance would prove futile. After consulting his officers, Lawrence agreed to capitulate, and notified General Lambert that afternoon. The garrison marched out into captivity at noon on February 12 having suffered 1 dead, 10 wounded, and 366 captured during the five-day siege. The victory cost the British 13 killed and 18 wounded. Brig. Gen. Winchester, commander of the U.S. forces defending Mobile, had sent a column to the fort’s relief that attacked a British picket post and captured seventeen redcoats, but not before Lawrence had surrendered. Following the British occupation of the fort, Admiral Cochrane and General Lambert gave the British Army an opportunity to rest before resuming the invasion. Two days later, the sloop-of-war HMS Brazen arrived with the news that a preliminary peace agreement had been signed in Ghent, Belgium.
Although U.S. and British commissioners had concluded a treaty on 24 December 1814, the war had not ended on that day. It is therefore a mistake to believe that the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war had ended. The U.S. government in Washington learned of Jackson’s victory on 4 February 1815, followed two days later by the arrival of the official copies of the Treaty of Ghent. The British Parliament ratified the treaty on 30 December 1814; the U.S. Senate followed suit on 16 February 1815. The next day, Secretary of State James Monroe, on behalf of the United States, exchanged the signed and ratified copies with a British ambassador in Washington. The day after, as specified in the treaty, the War of 1812 officially ended when peace was proclaimed on 18 February 1815.
Jackson received notification of the war’s termination on 13 March. He at once ordered a cessation of hostilities and the next day released the militia and volunteers from federal service and sent them home for discharge and final pay. Jackson also revoked the order of 15 December that had placed New Orleans under martial law, and he proclaimed a pardon for all military offenses committed and sent regular Army units to replace the volunteers who were manning forts in the district. News of the armistice reached Mobile on 14 March, and British troops embarked and sailed for Europe the following day.
We hope you found Part 5 of our examination of the War of 1812 to be interesting and informative. Please join us again in two-weeks for our next look at the War of 1812, where we will look at the war on the high seas in the Atlantic Ocean.
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