On January 8, 1815, American forces commanded by General Jackson, decisively defeated the British forces as they tried to capture New Orleans. The battle, which took place after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed, effectively ended the war.
The British chose New Orleans as their last possible objective. They ruled out a water assault on New Orleans and instead decided to mount a ground assault. They anchored their ships at Pea River in the mouth of the Mississippi. Guarding the entrance to the River were five American gunboats. Their 29 guns and 145 were no match for the 45 British barges manned by 1200 men with 43 guns. The American ships gave General Jackson, the commander of American forces in New Orleans, additional time to prepare the defenses of the city. The British troops went ashore at the mouth of the Bayou Bienvenu unopposed. An advance guard of 1500 men moved forward and captured the Viillere plantation. One of the American officers managed to escape and get to New Orleans to warn Jackson. Jackson ordered an attack on British positions. He sent a 14-gun schooner downriver to bombard the British positions, while at the same time ordered General John Caffee to attack the British and try to halt their soldiers on the river. The Americans had some initial success, but ultimately the British lines held. Jackson called off the attack, and his men withdrew to defensive positions along the Rodriguez Canal. This ended the first part of the battle.
The two sides then spent two weeks preparing their positions for future battle. The British received a new commander Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham. Pakenham was not happy with the lack of British progress. He developed a complicated plan that involved an attack on both banks of the river; however, crossing the river was more difficult than initially envisioned. It was not until January 8 that a force could dispatch. In the meantime, General Pakenham prepared for a direct assault on the center of Americans lines. General Jackson and his men were ready with well-prepared defensive positions of 4,000 men and well position cannons.
At the last minute, Jackson positioned his reserve troops at the exact spot the British were planning to aim their assault. As dawn broke, the British began their assault. The British soldiers gallantly attacked, but the Americans were too prepared, and their artillery wreaked havoc on the advancing British. General Pakenham tried to rally his men and continue the assault even though two horses were shot out from under him and he was wounded. Eventually, he was mortally wounded and died on the battlefield. Within an hour the battle was over.
Three British generals and eight colonels were among the 251 British killed. 1,259 were wounded, and 484 were missing in the battle. The Americans lost a total of 11 men and 23 wounded. It was the most significant American victory of the war, and it was against the finest of the British army. It propelled General Jackson into a national hero, which in turn paved the way for his eventual run for the PresidencyThe tragedy of the battle is that it took place after a peace treaty had ended the war.
NEW ORLEANS, BATTLE OF
On the morning of 8 January 1815, a sea of red coats rushed toward the American lines defending New Orleans. Within a few short hours the extent of General Andrew Jackson's victory over the British was clear. Americans sustained a mere 6 casualties with an additional 7 wounded. The British troops under the command of Sir Edward Michael Pakenham suffered upwards of 2,500 deaths and injuries, with Pakenham among the dead. The victory was the greatest in the nation's brief history and sparked a rampant nationalism that helped to erase the rather pathetic American military record during the War of 1812. The battle also launched Andrew Jackson to overnight stardom. Known as a rough-and-tumble Indian fighter, the
general suddenly became the people's hero. Most historians agree that the gates of New Orleans led Jackson directly to the White House. His popularity was second only to George Washington's.
The actual "battle" of New Orleans was in reality the final assault in a larger campaign. The British had arrived secretly via a bayou leading from Lake Borgne and positioned themselves just miles below the city. Jackson engaged in a risky night attack on 23 December, and the two armies exchanged considerable cannon fire on New Year's Day. The 8 January battle was the last attempt to break through Jackson's line, which ran from the edge of the Mississippi River on the west to an impenetrable cypress swamp on the east. Pakenham knew that the advance guard had chosen a horrible logistical position with absolutely no possibility to engage in a flanking maneuver, but nevertheless attempted to carry the day through sheer force of numbers. Hurling against Jackson's ragtag army thousands of Britain's famed Peninsular veterans, the men who had defeated Napoleon, Pakenham hoped that a well-coordinated attack under the cover of a dense fog would carry his troops to victory. American cannon under the direction of Jean Lafitte's notorious pirate "banditti" proved the British general wrong.
The soldiers on both sides of the engagement were awestruck at the level of carnage. A largely militia army had soundly defeated Europe's greatest fighting force. Many Americans, including Jackson, viewed the victory as a sign of Providence and an acknowledgment that freemen fighting in defense of liberty were equal to the armies of monarchs and despots.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the battle is that it occurred after the Ghent peace negotiations had been signed on Christmas Eve 1814. The war did not officially end until the U.S. Senate and British Parliament ratified the agreement in February, however thus, the battle did occur during the official war. In many respects the history of the War of 1812 would have been quite different had the New Orleans victory never occurred. The battle certainly allowed America to hold its head high even though the nation's capital had been burned in August 1814. Moreover, though historians disagree on this point, there is some argument to be made that had the British taken New Orleans they would have kept it. They had never been terribly pleased with the Louisiana Purchase and officers for an entire civil government were on board their warships.
TEMPORARILY CANCELLED Battle of New Orleans talk - daily at about 10:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. when Creole Queen excursion boat docks at battlefield. The visitor center is open and talks are given on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. On all other federal holidays and on Mardi Gras, the visitor center is closed and no talks are given. Free.
Living history is a crucial part of programs and events at Chalmette Battlefield. To find out about participating in the living history program, email the park. Follow the link to the living history and historic weapons program policies and manuals web page to find useful information about historical authenticity in clothing and about historic weapons firing.
Just downriver from New Orleans in Chalmette is the site of the January 8, 1815, Battle of New Orleans: Chalmette Battlefield. Many people believe that this last great battle of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain was unnecessary, since the treaty ending the war was signed in late 1814, but the war was not over. The resounding American victory at the Battle of New Orleans soon became a symbol of a new idea: American democracy triumphing over the old European ideas of aristocracy and entitlement. General Andrew Jackson's hastily assembled army had won the day against a battle-hardened and numerically superior British force. Americans took great pride in the victory and for decades celebrated January 8 as a national holiday, just like the Fourth of July.
Learn about the War of 1812 from visitor center films and exhibits. Kids can earn a badge with the Junior Ranger program. The visitor center's park store has books, period music, reproductions of items from the period, and children's books. Admission is free. Learn about the visitor center (dedicated on January 8, 2011). Follow these links for the park's calendar of events, exhibits, and programs for directions and transportation options (be sure to see important information about using ride share services) and for accessibility information.
8606 West St. Bernard Highway, Chalmette (GPS users: to reach the battlefield visitor center, use One Battlefield Road. 8606 West St. Bernard Highway is the battlefield/national cemetery mailing address and GPS will provide directions to Chalmette National Cemetery)
Entrance gates hours: Gates at the battlefield and at Chalmette National Cemetery (just downriver from the battlefield) are open 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Monday-Sunday. On federal holidays, gates are open 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., except for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, when gates are open 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. On Mardi Gras (Tuesday, March 5, in 2019), the battlefield is completely closed but the national cemetery is open 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Links to useful information like maps, public transportation, pets, permits for special uses, etc., are available on the basic information page. The paddlewheeler Creole Queen travels from New Orleans' French Quarter to the battlefield visit the Creole Queen website for sailing times and ticket information.
Special programs and activities
Battle of New Orleans
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Battle of New Orleans, (January 8, 1815), U.S. victory against Great Britain in the War of 1812 and the final major battle of that conflict. Both the British and American troops were unaware of the peace treaty that had been signed between the two countries in Ghent, Belgium, a few weeks prior, and so the Battle of New Orleans occurred despite the agreements made across the Atlantic.
In the autumn of 1814 a British fleet of more than 50 ships commanded by Gen. Edward Pakenham sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and prepared to attack New Orleans, strategically located at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The British hoped to seize New Orleans in an effort to expand into territory acquired by the United States through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. On December 1, 1814, Gen. Andrew Jackson, commander of the Seventh Military District, hastened to the defense of the city.
Once Jackson arrived in New Orleans, notice came that the British had been sighted near Lake Borgne, east of the city. In response, Jackson declared martial law, requiring every weapon and able-bodied man around to defend the city. Over 4,000 men came to the city’s aid, including a number of aristocrats, freed slaves, Choctaw people, and the pirate Jean Lafitte. Jackson also drafted a number of civilians, soldiers, and enslaved people to build breastworks spanning from the Mississippi to a large swamp, a structure that became known as “Line Jackson.” Logs, earth, and large cotton bales coated with mud were used to protect batteries of cannons. These defensive structures proved vital to the success of the United States in the battle.
The battle itself was fought just outside New Orleans, on the Chalmette Plantation, where the Americans split into two defensive positions: one on the east bank of the Mississippi and one on the west. Jackson took command of the eastern bank, with some 4,000 troops and eight batteries lined behind a parapet that stretched along the Rodriguez Canal. On the western bank, Gen. David Morgan was in charge of about 1,000 troops and 16 cannons. After a number of smaller-scale skirmishes between the forces, the Americans waited for a full-blown British attack.
On the morning of January 8, Pakenham commanded approximately 8,000 British troops to move forward and break through the American defensive lines. As they moved into range, the British took heavy fire and quickly lost Pakenham to a fatal wound. The British, now commanded by Gen. John Lambert, suffered a decisive loss on the eastern bank. Lambert then withdrew all troops from the western bank. The battle lasted about two hours. Despite being outnumbered, the Americans wounded approximately 2,000 British soldiers while suffering less than 65 casualties of their own.
Though the battle had no effect on the outcome of the war (which had been decided weeks earlier in Ghent), it gave Jackson the platform of support needed to eventually win the presidency in 1828.
Capt. Daniel Todd Patterson by John Wesley Jarvis
Today marks the final victory over the British that ended the War of 1812. The Battle of New Orleans was settled at Chalmette Plantation, where Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s troops scored a final victory for the United States.
Less known, however, is the naval skirmish three weeks prior that set up Jackson’s victory. During the Battle of Lake Borgne, American Sailors and Marines, with just a few gun boats, slowed the approach of 8,000 British troops advancing toward New Orleans. Armed with the knowledge the British were coming, Jackson was able to prepare and amass his troops for the greatest land battle victory during the War of 1812. All thanks to the intuition of Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson.
Patterson was born on Long Island in 1786 and like so many Americans at the time, descended from loyal British subjects. His uncle had been a royal governor of what is now St. John’s Island in Canada. Patterson started his career in the Navy in 1799, fought the French, was taken captive during the Quasi Wars, and led raids against pirates blocking New Orleans. He was later a prisoner of the Barbary pirates in Tripoli until the American victory in 1805.
Stationed in New Orleans, by 1812 Patterson was highly experienced in combat and leadership. He was ready for the British, who had won battles in the Great Lakes, burned Washington, and were now ready to invade the South.
But where? The British had already sent ships to the Gulf of Mexico. Jackson believed it would be Mobile, Ala., and he insisted Commodore Patterson, now the Commander of New Orleans, to send whatever he had to protect Mobile from attack. Patterson repeatedly refused Jackson, convinced the British would attack New Orleans.
In the meantime, the British Commander-in-Chief of the North American Station, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, had anchored in the Gulf of Mexico with a large armada of ships holding 8,000 soldiers and sailors ready to invade.
Patterson had little with which to respond. As the Master Commandant, he had written to the Secretary of the Navy many times asking for ships that could stand a chance in combat against the British fleet. Patterson wrote the year before in December 1813 that none of his ships could even depart from the Gulf of Mexico without “falling into enemy hands.”
The British had HMS Seahorse, which carried 22 nine-pounder guns. Cochrane also had ships like Armide and Sophie, which contained two six-pounder bow guns and 16 32-pounder carronades, which were giant short-range cast iron cannons.
Patterson had five gunboats, a schooner and two sloops of war, USS Alligator and USS Tickler. The squadron had fewer than 250 Sailors, armed with 16 long guns, 14 carronades, two howitzers and 12 swivel guns. The gun boats were often referred to as “Jefferson-class” tug boats, because they were built during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson who believed all America needed was a coastal patrol force, not a blue-water navy. The “Jefferson-class” gun boats didn’t even have names. They had numbers — Numbers 156, 163, 5, 23, and 162.
But now the British were anchored in the Gulf of Mexico. Vice Adm. Cochrane decided the easiest way to New Orleans would be through Lake Borgne, where Patterson’s squadron was patrolling and reporting back to Jackson about the British logistics and movements.
Finally, on Dec. 12, 1814, 1,200 British sailors and marines began their approach to Lake Borgne. After 36 hours of rowing, the invaders faced a hail of grape shot. Patterson had calculated correctly that even without ships to match the Royal Navy, his gunboats could harass any landing party as they rowed ashore, blocking the entrance of Lake Borgne, the gateway to New Orleans.
NHHC – Battle of Lake Borgne
But outmanned and outgunned, the British captured all the American gunboats on Dec. 14. The British then made a tactical error. Rather than pressing forward, they were allowed time to rest.
Jackson heard about a British encampment just seven miles from New Orleans and exclaimed: “By the Eternal they shall not sleep on our soil.”
So during the night of Dec. 23, the Americans attacked the British with troops by land and with USS Carolina and Louisiana, stationed in the Mississippi River, bombarding their encampment. Heavily outnumbered, the Americans were forced to retreat.
The British realized their advance would not be as easy as they thought, and again, hesitated, allowing even more time for Jackson to shore up his forces and prepare their defense. Under bombardment and constant attack, the British tried to advance into New Orleans for the next two weeks until the culmination of the battle on Jan. 8, 1815.
The Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium on Dec., 24, 1814, just one day after Jackson’s assault on the British. But neither side knew the treaty had been signed until after the battle was over two weeks later. After Jan. 8, the British, in one last effort after losing New Orleans, tried to take Mobile again, but then withdrew upon hearing of the treaty. It would formally end all hostilities between the two nations.
Patterson himself commanded naval batteries on the Mississippi during the Battle of New Orleans. He, as well as his Sailors and Marines fought alongside Jackson’s Soldiers during the last week in December and the first week in January. Jackson would go on to give high praise to Patterson, who would be promoted to captain. Patterson would later take command of USS Constitution, and serve in the Navy for another 24 years.
And old Hickory himself, a national hero, would ride his 1815 victory to become the nation’s seventh president in 1829.
Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson
The Battle of New Orleans
The Battle of Lake Borgne
The penultimate battle of the War of 1812
Today in 1815 marks the final victory over the British that ended the War of 1812. It was Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s Army that carried that ball over the goal line for the win. But they crossed that end zone because the U.S. Navy got the ball to within the 10-yard line.
How so, you might ask? The British planned to attack New Orleans weeks prior to Jan. 8, 1815, but a small contingent of American gunboats kept the Red Coats from coming ashore from the Gulf of Mexico through Lake Borgne, allowing Jackson the time to amass more men to prepare for their attack.
A history teacher named Jimmy Driftwood back in the 1936 wrote a little ditty called the Battle of New Orleans to get his history students interested in the War of 1812, using a popular American folk tune called “The 8 th of January.” Singer Johnny Horton turned into a 1959 hit.
But since that song was about the land battle that kept the British out of New Orleans, with our apologies to Driftwood, here’s the Navy version, based on the same tune, on how a handful of Navy boats held off the Royal Navy, and helped set the stage for the bigger victory three weeks later on Jan. 8, 1815.
He betrayed the bloody British in the Battle of New Orleans
Jean Lafitte went from folk hero to war hero thanks to his role in protecting New Orleans during the War of 1812. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Barataria Bay, where the Lafittes' colony was located, was an important approach to New Orleans, one of the most important ports in the US at the time. The British navy, presumably knowing of the Lafittes' less than amicable relationship with the Louisiana government, sought to gain the pirates' help in navigating the waterways of the bayou. To this end, they offered Lafitte $30,000 (and that's in 1814 dollars, mind you) and a position as a captain in the Royal Navy in exchange for his loyalty to Britain. Lafitte, who was not an idiot, was quick to agree to this offer from the British. Lafitte, who was not an idiot, also had no intention of honoring this agreement.
After telling the British he would definitely cooperate with them, Lafitte made his way to the governor of Louisiana, William C. C. Claiborne, who you may remember as the guy Lafitte supposedly put up novelty wanted posters of as an all-time legendary goof. Lafitte told Claiborne of the impending danger to New Orleans. Claiborne, perhaps understandably skeptical, did not believe Lafitte, and instead of gathering up the troops to protect the port, he sent all his army and navy dudes to wipe out the Barataria colony. Jerk move, Claiborne.
One War Correspondent’s Hasty Account of the Battle of New Orleans
Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson (on white horse) and two other mounted officers lead American forces on January 8, 1815, as red-coated British soldiers storm their line in the Battle of New Orleans.
Historic New Orleans Collection
James Morgan Bradford
In 1815 James Morgan Bradford may well have become the first modern war correspondent when he sent a firsthand account of the Battle of New Orleans to The Time Piece, the tiny newspaper he had established four years earlier in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Bradford was born in Virginia in 1777 but grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky, where his father published a newspaper. Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Bradford moved to New Orleans, where he bought a printing plant and began publishing the Orleans Gazette. In 1805 he became the Louisiana Territory’s official printer, but his strident calls for the use of military force to liberate “the wretched subjects of despotic Spain” brought him into direct political conflict with the territory’s governor, who revoked his contract in 1809. At that point, Bradford sold his interest in the Gazette and moved to St. Francisville, where he took up the study of law, founded The Time Piece (the town’s first newspaper), and was admitted to the Louisiana Bar.
In January 1815, as the British—unaware that the Treaty of Ghent had formally ended the War of 1812 on December 24, 1814—turned their sights on New Orleans, Bradford joined a Louisiana unit, Captain Jedediah Smith’s “Feliciana Troop of Horse,” to defend the port city against an enemy assault. U.S. Army forces under the command of Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson scored a resounding victory in the Battle of New Orleans, making Jackson a national hero.
After the war Bradford decided to devote all his time to the practice of law. He lost his bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1822 and ran again, unsuccessfully, in 1834. He died in 1837 of stab wounds received during a quarrel. Bradford’s account of the Battle of New Orleans was published in an extra edition of The Time Piece on January 17, 1815, under the headline great victory. (Some of the punctuation in the annotated version that follows has been modernized for readability.)
After my letter of the 6th [Bradford’s previous dispatch], every thing remained tranquil until the 8th. On the morning of that day, between day light and sun rise, the enemy made an assault on our works. He advanced in three columns—his right on the edge of the swamp, flanked by the woods, which was his strongest effort, directed against our left, and where our line of riflemen commenced—His left on the levee, directed against our right. The left and centre columns halted at about 400 paces distance, except about 100 men, who advanced under cover of the levee, and were mistaken for our own piquets, until they got possession of our bastions, in front of the extreme right of our breast work.
As soon as they entered the bastion, three officers rushed upon our breast work, one of whom having reached the top, called out to the Yankee Rascals to cease firing, and flourishing his sword, cried “the enemy’s works are ours.” The words had not time to cool upon his lips, when he fell with his comrades, lifeless in our ditch. Not a man who entered our bastion was permitted to return & tell the tale of their desperate carnage—all perished, penetrated with innumerable wounds.
As this part of the column reached our right, Capt. [Enoch] Humphrey opened upon the halted columns a most destructive fire, from four 12 pounders. The most desperate attack was that on our left. This column was suffered to advance to our ditch, when three 24 pounders opened upon it with grape and cannister, and every fire cut a lane through the advancing column. After the first discharge of cannon our musketry opened, say from about a thousand hands. Never did I hear such a roar of small arms. The action continued between 40 and 50 minutes, when the enemy retired. Thrice did he advance, and thrice did he retire, mowed down by the irresist[i]ble effect of our fire.
The right column of the enemy was [led], as we are induced to believe from the reports of prisoners, by the Right Honb. Edward Pakenham, Lieut. Gen. and commander in chief. He was killed, as was another General, and Maj. [John] Kean is severely wounded. All the prisoners concur in saying they never witnessed such an action. Those who were at Talavera, Badajo[z], and St. Sebastians [three battles of the Peninsula War] acknowledge that they suffered not half as severely in proportion to our force, as on the dreadful 8th. You may estimate the result after this manner—losses of the enemy 600 killed, 1,000 wounded, & 400 prisoners—total 2,000—800 stand of arms taken, in an action of 50 minutes—whilst our losses was not exceeding 15: five killed and ten wounded.
After detailing this glorious result of the battle of the 8th, at our line, I feel indescribable pain, in detailing the issue on the opposite bank of the Mississippi. On the night of the 7th, the enemy succeeded in getting some of his barges into the river, and crossed over about 900 men. [Brigadier] Gen. [David] Morgan with about 600 state troops, and 400 Kentuckians was posted there, where was also erected a battery of 12 and 24 pounders, and a howit[zer], taken from Lord [Charles] Cornwallis at Yorktown. The Gen., apprised of the situation of the enemy, sent about 100 men under Maj. [Charles] Tessier of Baton Rouge to oppose his landing. The Maj., supposing, or effecting to suppose, that the enemy’s object was an attack on fort St. Leon, at the English Turn, returned, & suffered him to land without molestation.
In the morning of the 8th, the enemy advanced, and made an attack on Gen. Morgan, simultaneous with that on Gen. [Andrew] Jackson. Capt. [T. W.] Scott of Feliciana, and one or two other companies, from New Orleans, sustained the shock with great coolness. Our artillery gave the foe a spirited fire, and halted his advance for a moment, but our right under Maj. Tessier having given away without firing a gun, and falling back upon the Kentuckians, threw them into confusion. The enemy returned to the charge, and our men at the battery having spiked their guns, retired. The result of this affair was two killed and one wounded on our part, with the loss of the howit[zer]—and that of the enemy, we say 8, as six graves and two unburied bodies were discovered and we took two prisoners. The enemy retreated with great precipitation. I have no hesitation saying that had Maj. Tessier’s command behaved with that firmness that became our character, the defeat would have been as signal to the enemy on the west, as on east bank of the river.
A most awful cannonade began on the night of the 10th, and continued until a late hour last night, at fort St. Philip (Plaquemine). On the 11th, an express reached Gen. Jackson, that on the 10th at 10 o’clock P. M. the enemy commenced the attack, leading in ships, gunboats, bomb vessels, barges, &c innumerable. About sunset last evening, two explosions took place in the direction of St. Philip, supposed to be the enemy’s vessels. Of the result we cannot give any account—but we feel great confidence that it is favorable to our arms.
I feel singular pleasure in informing you that our companions have yet suffered nothing, although we were as near the action of the 8th as possible. Of our fellow citizens and acquaintance, the companies of Capts. Lewis Davis and Isaac Johnson were at the breast work on the 8th, and supported by their courage, the high character our parish has so justly acquired.
I must close—for as I write, I am informed our squadron is engaged with the enemy’s piquet, and I must hasten to join them.
This article appears in the Winter 2020 issue (Vol. 33, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Classic Dispatches | Great Victory!
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Running the Gauntlet
At 2:00 AM on April 24, the Union fleet began moving upstream, with the first division, led by Bailey, coming under fire an hour and fifteen minutes later. Racing ahead, the first division was soon clear of the forts, however Farragut's second division encountered more difficulty. As his flagship, USS Hartford (22) cleared the forts, it was forced to turn to avoid a Confederate fire raft and ran aground. Seeing the Union ship in trouble, the Confederates redirected the fire raft towards Hartford causing a fire to break out on the vessel. Moving quickly, the crew extinguished the flames and was able to back the ship out of the mud.
Above the forts, the Union ships encountered the River Defense Fleet and Manassas. While the gunboats were easily dealt with, Manassas attempted to ram USS Pensacola (17) but missed. Moving downstream, it was accidentally fired upon by the forts before moving to strike USS Brooklyn (21). Ramming the Union ship, Manassas failed to strike a fatal blow as it hit Brooklyn's full coal bunkers. By the time the fighting ended, Manassas was downstream of the Union fleet and unable to make enough speed against the current to ram effectively. As a result, its captain ran it aground where it was destroyed by Union gun fire.
Whereas: Stories from the People’s House
It was an astonishing victory considering the U.S. had struggled during the war, and even more so given the fact that the bulk of Jackson’s forces weren’t federal regulars but, rather, a slapdash assembly of citizen-soldiers comprised of rag-tag militia from Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In the aftermath, national pride and patriotism swelled from New Orleans to Capitol Hill—never mind that the battle happened 15 days after the two nations signed the Treaty of Ghent formally ending the hostilities (news from abroad traveled slowly back then).
But as the Crescent City exhaled, the fighting was just getting started as Congress mobilized to perform one of its time-honored practices: expressing its opinion. Over the next month the House and Senate waged what could arguably be called the last battle of the War of 1812: the fight over the thanks of a grateful nation.
When word of the victory reached Washington, the House swung into action first. Representative George Troup of Georgia, a member of the Military Affairs Committee, introduced a joint resolution on February 6, 1815, that, among other things, awarded General Jackson a Congressional Gold Medal and hailed the “hastily collected” volunteers who repulsed a veteran British army, “thus illustrating the patriotic defence of the country with brilliant achievement.”
But the House refused to be flanked. Surely, Members believed, “yeoman of the country marching to the defence” of New Orleans symbolized the very triumph of the founders’ republicanism over the rotted European system of aristocracy, entitlement, and deference. On February 16, Representative Troup stood stalwart on the House Floor to declare that not only was the Senate resolution “defective” for missing the “prominent fact” that the militiamen were decisive, it would mislead future generations into believing that the regular army did all the fighting. America’s “noble patriots, those gallant citizen soldiers who have crowned [the] peace with imperishable lustre” deserved Congress’s “heartfelt thanks,” reiterated Charles Ingersoll of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
By late February time was running short as the 13th Congress (1813–1815) was days away from adjourning. And so, with both sides dug in, the House proposed meeting the Senate in a special conference committee. Troup led the House delegation while William Branch Giles of Virginia led a small contingent of Senate negotiators. Late the next day, Troup reported back to the House that an accord had been struck. The chamber passed the newly revised resolution, followed by Senate approval two days later.
The compromise language of the final resolution, approved on February 27, 1815, read:
So it was that the closing battle of a wearisome and, at times, unpopular war occasioned just another scuffle in a long-running series of skirmishes between the House and Senate.
Sources:Annals of Congress, House and Senate, 13th Cong., 3rd sess. (6, 15–17, 21–25, and 27 February 1815) House Journal, 13th Cong., 3rd sess. (6 February 1815) Statutes at Large, 3 Stat, 249 (27 February 1815).
The Battle of New Orleans
The Shooter stood tall on the earthen rampart, his rifle at his side. His right hand held its barrel while his right foot backstopped the weapon’s hand-carved stock. He wore buckskin leggings, a shirt and pants of woven linsey-woolsey, which gave him a tramplike appearance. A broad-brimmed felt hat shadowed his predator’s eyes.
He stood alone, immune to the battle raging around him. The din had no parallel in his life—the crash of gunfire, the roar of cannon juxtaposed against distant bagpipes, and a New Orleans band belting out “Yankee Doodle.” Around him, men died by the hundreds.
Across the battlefield, a group of British officers rode together. One, Lieutenant L. Walcott, sighted the Shooter and marveled at his poise. Suddenly, the Shooter moved. He shouldered his rifle and its barrel swung toward Walcott’s party. The officers began to laugh. The American was over three hundred yards away, no way he could hit any of them. The gesture seemed ridiculous.
The Shooter pulled the trigger and shot one of the British officers right out of his saddle. His lifeless body flopped to the ground. The others in Walcott’s group gaped at their dead comrade, shocked that one of their own could be killed so effortlessly at a distance that rendered their own weapons ineffective. Several long seconds later, they wrenched their attention back to the rampart. The Shooter had returned to his statuesque stance, rifle in hand, stock at his toes again. Beneath the brim of his hat, he tracked them and selected another target. The rifle came up and belched black smoke. The officer next to Lieutenant Walcott jerked back and fell off his horse.
Two shots, two kills. Walcott later recalled, “The cannon and the thousands of musket balls playing upon our ranks we cared not for for there was a chance of escaping them … but to know that every time that rifle was leveled toward us … one must surely fall … that the messenger of death drove unerringly to its goal, to know this and still march on was awful.”
The Battle of New Orleans.
Image is in the public domain via History.com/
The Shooter reloaded and resighted his weapon. Walcott and his surviving comrades exchanged terror-filled glances and wondered who would be the next of them to die.
Death on the battlefield is a random act. In the middle of a fight, a man can endure flying bullets and falling artillery because of their indiscriminate nature. The soldier in the heat of combat has built in psychological defenses to such incoming. It can’t hit me. The odds are with me. They aren’t aiming at me.
The Shooter stripped away those defenses, leaving Walcott naked to the primal fear aimed fire instills. For Walcott’s group, there was no escape, and they realized it after the Shooter’s second kill. Such a realization causes entire units to seize up in the midst of battle. Men who moments before were filled with courage or resolve will forget everything as their self-preservation instincts kick in. They will go to ground. They will cease advancing. They will lose control and run. Such elemental fear breeds panic, and in a test of arms, the ability to create panic wins battles. We call this the Shock Factor. It is a sniper’s greatest weapon.
The Shooter’s finger curled around the trigger, his rifle’s front sight pinned on the officer riding beside Lieutenant Walcott. The Shooter had no scope, just his remarkable eyesight and a knack for gauging the wind and his bullet’s drop. He took a breath, released half of it, and gently squeezed the trigger. Another of Walcott’s friends was shot out of the saddle, probably dead before he even hit the ground.
Unlike his targets, the Shooter was not a professional officer. He was a frontiersman, born and raised in Tennessee or Kentucky, where a man’s marksmanship determined the margin between life and death. His rifle was his most valued possession, precision-made by hand with loving care, its stock inlaid with ornate silver designs. It had probably been a family heirloom, handed down from one male member of the family to the next as part of his culture’s rite of passage. Like his fellow “Dirty Shirt” frontiersmen, he joined this battle carrying his personal weapon. There were no government-issued guns waiting for him at the end of his passage south to face the British.
Generations of Americans revered Andrew Jackson for his victory at the battle of New Orleans. Patriotic paintings of Jackson remained throughout the nineteenth century, such as this lithograph printed 11 years after his death.
Image is in the public domain via Knowla.org/
That was fine with him. His rifle was an extension of himself. In all likelihood, he’d been shooting it since he was a boy as he learned to hunt with his father or uncles. Bullets and powder did not come easily, so every shot counted in his world. In time, he developed such precision with his weapon that he could kill a squirrel by shooting the branch it was sitting on and sending wood shrapnel into the creature. That left the animal intact and edible. On the battlefield, such skill translated into deadly precision—and lots of headshots. He was an American rifleman marksmanship was coded into his DNA. At New Orleans, future president Andrew Jackson had assembled the only sharpshooting army in United States history—and being on the receiving end of it must have been horrific.
Lieutenant Walcott was one of the lucky few British officers to survive the Battle of New Orleans. American rifleman killed or wounded virtually the entire British chain of command in less than twenty-five minutes of battle. The 93rd Highlanders, who marched toward our Shooter on the rampart with bagpipes blasting, went into the fight a thousand strong. Just short of the American lines, their regimental commander ordered his men to halt. Seconds later, an American rifleman killed him with a headshot. The rest of the regimental leadership went down before anyone could give an order. The 93rd stood there, shoulder to shoulder, its veteran soldiers completely at a loss for what to do next. They had never faced this sort of accurate fire before, and it paralyzed them. Not a man even returned fire.
The American dirty shirts poured it on. Six hundred Highlanders went down before the unit finally broke and ran. All across the battlefield, other British units did the same thing. Men who had never taken cover during a fight now sought any fold in the landscape that might offer respite from the deadly American bullets.
A young Andrew Jackson.
Image is in the public domain via http://avhs-apush.wikispaces.com
General Adair, commander of the Kentucky Riflemen, walked his line, pointing out targets to his men. He tapped one dirty shirt from behind and said, “See that officer on the gray horse?” The marksman nodded at the distant, moving target. Adair ordered, “Snuff his candle.” The Kentuckian took aim and shot him right off his horse.
On the opposite side of the battle, a British colonel named Rennie led an assault on an isolated American redoubt emplaced ahead of the main rampart. He struck an impressive figure at the head of his men, coaxing them forward. The Americans in the redoubt abandoned their posts and scampered back to the main line. Rennie pressed forward and scaled the rear wall of the redoubt with two of his officers by his side. As he turned to urge his troops onward, several shooters from the New Orleans Rifles, a militia unit from the Big Easy, opened fire. All three officers went down. The leaderless British soldiers froze, then fell back pell-mell, their ranks savaged by the American fire.
Afterward an argument broke out among the New Orleans sharpshooters over who killed the British colonel. The best marksman in town, a merchant named Mr. Withers, flatly said, “If he isn’t hit above the eyebrows, it wasn’t my shot.” After the battle, the New Orleans Rifles retrieved the colonel’s body from a ditch—and found he’d been struck in the forehead. That settled the debate.
GUNNERY SGT. JACK COUGHLIN is the author of SHOCK FACTOR: American Snipers in the War on Terror and is the New York Times bestselling author of the autobiography, Shooter (with Donald A. Davis). He served with the Marines during the drive to Baghdad and has operated on a wide range of assignments in hot spots around the world.
JOHN R. BRUNING is the author or coauthor of fifteen nonfiction books. He received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Journalism for an article he wrote while embedded with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade in Afghanistan.