Archive for January 7, 2015

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 4-January 10, 1815) Part II

New Orleans: The Last Battle

PART II of Three Parts. Day of Battle

January 7-8, 1815

Major Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans, by Frederick Coffay Yohn, circa 1922. (Library of Congress)

Major Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans, by Frederick Coffay Yohn, circa 1922. (Library of Congress)

The night before the British assault on Jackson’s line along the Rodriguez Canal on the northern edge of Chalmette Plantation, Major General Sir Edward Pakenham orders 1,400 of his men to row across the Mississippi River to attack Jackson’s “marine battery” on the Western bank of the river.

British Colonel William Thornton is to drive off the American troops guarding the marine battery, which can spread covering fire in front of Jackson’s defenses, seize the guns by daybreak and turn them on the Americans. Once Thornton opens fire on the Americans, Pakenham will launch his attack on the eastern side of the river.

But the plan goes awry almost immediately. The narrow canal the British have been digging for nearly a week through the bayous connecting the Mississippi to Lake Borgne, collapses in places. That forces the British sailors and marines to push and drag their heavy barges through the mud. What is supposed to take two hours takes eight. By the time Thornton is supposed to push off, only a few boats have been delivered, so he sets out with just 340 soldiers, 50 sailors and 50 marines – about 1,000 less than planned.

On the Western bank, Commodore Daniel Patterson, the U.S. Navy commander sees the British preparations and sends an aide to Jackson, warning that the main British strike may come on the lightly defended west side of the river. Guarding the approach to Paterson’s battery is a thin line of some 400 Louisiana and Kentucky militia — poorly trained and even more poorly armed.
Jackson sends the aide back to Patterson and Morgan, saying they are wrong and the main attack will come against him. Jackson adds that he has no troops to spare and the colonel and commodore must make do with the men they have.

The battlefield at Chalmette Plantation. (History Dept., U.S. Military Academy)

The battlefield at Chalmette Plantation.
(History Dept., U.S. Military Academy)

Jackson’s approximately 4,000 troops include two understrength regular Army regiments – the 7th and 44th Infantry – Tennessee and Kentucky militia, Lafitte’s pirates, Choctaw Indians, a company of New Orleans riflemen, three small battalions of New Orleans Creole gentlemen and merchants – including one consisting of Free Men of Color – some U.S. Navy men and about 50 U.S. Marines. A mile behind them is a second, reserve line consisting of some Kentucky and Louisiana militia, about 100 Mississippi Dragoons and other small cavalry units.

At 4 a.m., Brigadier John Adair leads about 1,000 Kentucky militia into the front line to support the repulse of any British breakthroughs.
Meanwhile the British attack is falling behind schedule as a regiment that is supposed to be carrying the scaling ladders needed to breach Jackson’s mud and log rampart is slow getting into place at the head of the main attack column. Not wanting to delay any longer, Pakenham orders the attack to begin.

U.S. outposts are startled by the British rocket, signaling the attack. The Americans flee to a redoubt built just below the rampart near the Mississippi River but the British charge overwhelms them after hand-to-hand fighting. Those who can, flee over the rampart but when the British pursue, they are cut down by a storm of cannon, rifle and musket fire from the nearest American battery and the marine battery across the river. Next, a West Indian regiment carrying ladders fails to advance in the face of the American gunfire.

On the British right, the regiment assigned to carry the scaling ladders and fascines (rough bundles of brush and wood to fill in the ditch in front of the rampart) is still at the rear. The morning fog dissipates and the entire British force is not visible to the Americans.

Then the Americans open up with cannon balls, grape shot (like really big buckshot) and canister (similar to grapeshot but consisting of scrap metal and nails. The disciplined British troops march on, ironically toward the part of Jackson’s line with the biggest concentration of defenders. Hundreds of British soldiers fall dead and wounded under the withering fire from 200 yards away.
Dozens of British officers fell and soon the attack began to falter. The 44th Regiment – the ones with the ladders and fascines – finally show up with Pakenham leading them. He is soon shot in the arm and his horse shot from under him. Pakenham mounts another horse and tries to rally his faltering men.

A fanciful rendering of  Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, by painter Edward Percy Moran in 1910.

A fanciful rendering of Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, by painter Edward Percy Moran in 1910.

The British rally when a Scottish Regiment, the 93rd Highlanders, comes running to support the main attack. But more American volleys slow them down and kill their colonel. Pakenham orders the reserves committed but the bugler is shot before he can sound and waved his hat to cheer the highlanders. But another American volley of grape shot strikes Pakenham and killed his horse. The British commander dies a short time later. Two other general officers are killed or wounded. Leaderless, the British attack breaks up.

About 200 British soldiers make it to the rampart and some even climb the parapet but are quickly shot or captured. Within half an hour of the battle’s start, it is over. The field is littered with dead and wounded redcoats. Three generals, seven colonels, 75 other officers and nearly 2,000 soldiers have fallen, according to Jackson biographer Robert V. Remini.

By contrast, the Americans lose only 13 killed and about 50 wounded on the east side of the Mississippi. Losses are higher on the little-known battle on the west side of the river.

The death of Major Gen. Pakenham.

The death of Major Gen. Pakenham.

Tomorrow — New Orleans: The Ending

(Please click on all photos to enlarge the image)

January 7, 2015 at 1:45 am Leave a comment


January 2015


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