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

January 9, 2015 at 2:35 pm Leave a comment

New Orleans: The Last Battle.
PART III of Three Parts, The Ending

(Click on all images to enlarge)

Very few of the British troops made it as far as the Americans' mud and log rampart, which was built by black slaves commandeered from area plantations. (Courtesy U.S. Army)

Very few of the British troops made it as far as the Americans’ mud and log rampart, which was built by black slaves commandeered from area plantations.
(Courtesy U.S. Army)

January 8-10
As Major General Andrew Jackson moves along the length of his defensive line congratulating and praising his men for their resounding victory over the British late in the morning of January 8, he suddenly realizes he hasn’t heard any firing from the American positions on the west side of the Mississippi River directly across from the battlefield before him.

Navy Commodore Daniel Patterson commands a battery perpendicular to Jackson’s battle line to catch the British in a crossfire as they advance on Jackson’s right (close to the river). In addition to the sailors and Lafitte pirates manning those guns, Brigadier General David Morgan has 600 men and three cannon stationed a mile or so downriver to defend Patterson’s river battery.
The night before (January 7), British Colonel William Thornton crosses the Mississippi with about 450 soldiers, sailors and marines to capture Commodore Patterson’s guns and turn them on Jackson when the main British attack begins in the morning.

Thornton’s barges get a late start (see Part II), then the Mississippi’s strong current pull his barges farther down river than planned. By the time Thornton gets his men ashore and assembled on the morning of the 9th, General Pakenham has launched the British attack on the other side of the river.

British attack on west side of Mississippi River. (National Park Service)

British attack on west side of Mississippi River.
(National Park Service)

Thornton easily routs the first line of American defenders, about 120 poorly trained Louisiana militia armed with bird-hunting guns and ammunition too big to fit in their gun barrels. A little father on, the British encounter the Louisiana militia again joined by a Kentucky militia detachment – also poorly armed and exhausted after an all-night march from U.S. headquarters. The Americans fire a few volleys but flee when three small British gunboats accompanying Thornton’s men open fire from the river. Marching farther northwest along the Mississippi, Thornton’s men encounter General Morgan’s final defensive line, a ditch with waist-high earthworks behind it. Morgan’s troops pour several volleys into the British before their right flank is turned and British sailors punch through their defenses. The Louisiana troops flee into the swamps and the Kentuckians run pell-mell for the Patterson’s river battery. Neither Morgan nor the Kentucky commander can stop the rout. The three gun crews, now out of ammunition, spike their guns, dump them in the river and retreat.

Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson (By John Wesley Jarvis)

Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson
(By John Wesley Jarvis)

Three hundred yards farther upriver, Commodore Patterson sees the Kentuckians fleeing toward him. As he orders his guns turned to meet the approaching British, he realizes he can’t fire on the enemy without hitting Americans. When the Kentucky boys won’t stop running, the outraged Navy man orders one of his gunners to fire on “those damned cowards.” Just as the young midshipman is about to fire, Patterson countermands his own order. Calming down, he realizes his position is untenable. He orders his men to spike their guns, dump the remaining gunpowder into the Mississippi and retreat to the U.S.S. Louisiana, moored about 300 yards away. Patterson then turns and stalks off cursing the British and the Kentuckians.

Across the river, Andy Jackson is also cursing the Kentuckians and sends 400 soldiers across the river to reinforce Morgan, whose force now consists mostly of Louisiana militiamen and the Kentucky officers who didn’t flee. British troops lining the east side of the river cheer when Patterson’s river battery ceases firing on them, but those guns stay silent when Thornton discovers the Americans have rendered them useless. In a little while he receives orders to withdraw back to the east side of the Mississippi. The two-pronged British attack has failed. Pakenham is dead. Two other senior commanders are gravely wounded and hundreds of redcoats lie dead before Jackson’s ramparts. The numbers vary, depending on who is doing the counting, although all sources agree the British suffered more than 2,000 killed, wounded or taken prisoner. American casualties in all the fighting on both sides of the river total: 55 dead, 185 wounded and 93 missing.
Jackson assents to a British request for a temporary truce to exchange prisoners, bury the dead and care for the wounded, but Old Hickory keeps his guard up and his eyes peeled for the next move of the still dangerous British invasion force. Even though New Orleans is now safe, the British could attack Mobile or Pensacola.

 

January 9-10

While Pakenham was mounting his two-pronged land attack on either side of the Mississippi, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the overall commander of the invasion force, decides to try sailing up the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Cochrane sends five ships, including two bomb ships like the ones he used to bombard Fort McHenry outside Baltimore five months earlier, up the river to attack a small U.S. strongpoint, Fort Saint Philip. The fort, bristling with 34 guns (more than Jackson had at Chalmette Plantation), commands the Mississippi about 80 miles south of New Orleans. If the Royal Navy can reduce the fort, it can sail up the river, outflank Jackson and bombard New Orleans – at least that’s the plan.

British attack on Fort St. Philip. (National Park Service)

British attack on Fort St. Philip.
(National Park Service)

At 3:30 p.m. on January 9 – a full day after the British defeat upriver – the Royal Navy bomb ships begin firing on the fort, which contains a little over 400 defenders—mostly Army regulars, with 50 Louisiana volunteers, 30 Free Men of Color and 40 sailors. The British are anchored out of range of all the American guns, except one, a mortar which doesn’t have the right size ammunition.
The bombardment continues all day, every day from January 10 to January 14 – with the exception of two hours every day at noon and sunset when the Royal Navy has lunch and dinner.

Battle of New Orleans 2015 commemorative stamp (U.S. Postal Service)

Battle of New Orleans 2015 commemorative stamp
(U.S. Postal Service)

EDITOR’s NOTE:
While the last big battle of the War of 1812 is concluded and negotiators in Ghent, Belgium have already agreed to a peace treaty (December 24, 1814) word of the treaty – which must be ratified by Congress and signed by President Madison – is still a month away in an era without undersea telegraph cables, railroads or fast moving steamships.
Meanwhile, the British naval blockade is still on, U.S. Navy and privateer ships are still raiding at sea, the Army is still trying to wrest control of the Upper Mississippi region from the British-Canadians and their Indian allies and the Treaty of Ghent, as well as the Constitutional resolutions of the recently ended Hartford Convention have not yet reached Washington.
So stay tuned, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 will continue here at 4GWAR until mid-March.

Je suis Charlie

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Entry filed under: Army, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, Technology, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Traditions, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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