THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 28, 1814-January 3, 1815)
General Packenham’s Decision.
Three days after arriving in the swamps of Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta, British Major General Sir Edward Pakenham contemplates the mess his army is in.
When Pakenham arrives with 3,000 fresh troops at the British camp on Christmas Day, he is greeted with cheers and celebratory gunfire. But Pakenham also finds an army suffering from the winter cold and rains, in a soggy area with no tents between the river and a cypress swamp.
The Americans had surprised the British in their camp the night of the 23rd, killing, wounding and capturing more than 200 redcoats, before they were driven back to the American lines. The camp is continuously shelled by two American ships anchored in the Mississippi across from the British camp. Snipers pick off British sentries, even at night when European military conventions and civility call for a nocturnal cessation of hostilities.
Pakenham calls a meeting of his officers, complains about the location of the camp and, without naming names, chides them for not advancing on New Orleans on the 23rd instead of halting for the night and leaving themselves open to surprise attack. The two-day delay since that attack gives U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson much needed time to build up the defenses around New Orleans and organize his largely amateur army.
Pakenham wants to pull out and attack the city from a different point on the Chef Menteur Road (which was lightly guarded, although Pakenham didn’t know that.) But Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the nominal commander of the entire army-navy operation, chides Pakenham, saying there is nothing wrong with the Army’s location.
“If the army shrinks from the attack here, I will bring up my sailors and marines from the fleet. We will storm the American lines and march into the city. Then the soldiers can bring up the baggage,” Cochrane says, in jab at Pakenham, according to noted historian Robert V. Remini, in his The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory.
Not one to back down, Pakenham decides to move on the Americans’ defensive line from his current position. He orders cannon placed on the riverbank to eliminate the two U.S. Navy ships. After one, the U.S.S. Carolina is set afire by heated British cannonballs and blows up, the second, the U.S.S. Louisiana, remains a threat even when driven farther upriver toward New Orleans by British cannon fire.
The Louisiana’s guns as well as those on the nearly mile-long U.S. defensive line paralleling the Rodriguez Canal– a dry ditch that runs into the Mississippi – will catch any attackers in a deadly crossfire.
On the evening of the 27th, the British, formed into two brigades, drive off the American advance guard and march as far as Chalmette plantation – less than a mile from Andrew Jackson’s lines along the Rodriguez canal. The next morning, Pakenham orders his troops to advance. They get within 600 yards of the American defenses, when Jackson orders his men to open fire. Among the cannoneers are Jean Lafitte’s Baratarian pirates and sailors from the sunken U.S.S. Carolina. American cannon, musket and riflefire start to take a toll. The British reply with their own artillery as well as Congreve rockets. But Pakenham orders a general retreat. The Americans lose just 17 killed and wounded in this battle. The British, an estimated 152 killed, wounded or captured. The latest clash may be over, but the Battle of New Orleans is not.
Entry filed under: Army, Homeland Security, Naval Warfare, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Traditions, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: Army, Battle of New Orleans 1814-1815, Homeland Security, Jean Lafitte, Major General Andrew Jackson, Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, Navy, Topics, War of 1812 Bicentennial, War of 1812 in Louisiana.