Posts tagged ‘Battle of New Orleans’

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 — ADVISORY


Battle of New Orleans by Dennis M. Carter 1856.

Battle of New Orleans by Dennis M. Carter 1856.



The third and final part of our blog’s coverage of the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans has been delayed.

We will be posting it before noon today (Friday, January 9, 2015)

We regret the delay.

Your 4GWAR editor

January 9, 2015 at 1:26 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 14-December 20, 1814)

Prelude to New Orleans.

U.S. Navy gunboats battle scores of oar-powered Royal Navy barges on Lake Borgne, Louisiana. Painting by  Thomas Horbrook courtesy of U.S. Naval Academy via Wikipedia.

U.S. Navy gunboats battle scores of oar-powered Royal Navy barges on Lake Borgne, Louisiana.
Painting by Thomas Horbrook courtesy of U.S. Naval Academy via Wikipedia.

Most Americans know little about the War of 1812, except, maybe for the Battle of New Orleans – thanks to two movies (in the 1930s and the 1950s) and the popular song recorded by Johnny Horton in 1959.

“The Battle of New Orleans” was written by Jimmy Driftwood, an Arkansas high school history teacher in 1936, to make learning history more palatable for his students. But at 4GWAR we’ve come to learn that there was no single battle of New Orleans but a series of engagements on land and water between mid-December 1814 and early January 1815.

This week’s post marks the bicentennial of the first engagement, on the swampy waters of Louisiana’s Lake Borgne (thanks to years of erosion, a lagoon now instead of a lake).

December 14

The Americans spot British warships just outside Lake Borgne southeast of New Orleans on December 13. Entry to the lake is guarded by five small U.S. Navy ships — gunboats really — with the awe-inspiring names of Number 5, Number 23, Number 65, Number 162 and Number 163. They are manned by less than 200 sailors under the command of Lieutenant Thomas ap Catesby Jones. The lake waters are too shallow to accommodate the 50 warships of the British fleet which arrived a few days previously from Jamaica. So the British pile 1,200 sailors and Royal Marines into 45 longboats and barges, most armed with a cannon in the bow, and row furiously at Catesby Jones’ flotilla.

The lieutenant orders his tiny fleet to withdraw to the Western side of the lake to block a channel into Lake Pontchartrain and lure the British boats under the guns of a small U.S. strongpoint, Fort Petites Coquilles. But in the early hours of December 14, the wind dies and the ebb tide pushes the Americans the wrong way, leaving them becalmed as the faster moving longboats and barges approach.

Map of Battle of Lake Borgne (Courtesy of National Park Service)

Map of Battle of Lake Borgne
(Courtesy of National Park Service)

Beyond the protective range of the Fort Petite Coquilles’ guns, Catesby Jones decides to fight anyway. His U.S. ships open fire around 11 a.m., taking a heavy toll on the open boats, which are firing back. Eventually the British swarm the American ships, clamber aboard and after fierce hand-to-hand fighting, capture all five ships. The Americans suffer six killed and 35 wounded (including Catesby Jones). The toll is even greater for the British: 94 killed and wounded.

The British are now even closer to New Orleans, although the 8,000-man attack force will have to be ferried by rowboats from the entrance of Lake Borgne some 36 miles to the far Western shore where a makeshift British base is set up in an unhealthy, marshy area for the big push against New Orleans about 15 miles away.

*** *** ***

With the loss of the Lake Borgne flotilla, Major General Andrew Jackson has lost his “eyes” on the lake approaches to New Orleans. But that same day, he receives word from Major General William Carroll that he is in Natchez (Mississippi Territory) heading for New Orleans with about 3,000 Tennessee militia and 1,400 muskets and ammunition. He is accompanied by more than 100 Mississippi dragoons under Major Thomas Hinds. On December 20, Brigadier John Coffee arrives from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with some 1,200 mounted infantry. Carroll’s troops arrive the next day. It’s beginning to look like Jackson will have enough troops to hold off the British after all.

Please click on the photos to see a larger image.

December 14, 2014 at 10:59 pm 1 comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 7-December 13, 1814)

Enter the Pirate.

Anonymous portrait claimed to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century. (Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

Anonymous portrait claimed to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century.
(Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson is scrambling to find the men, weapons, ships and supplies to defend New Orleans from a pending British invasion — that may outnumber his 1,500 troops 10-to-1 — when he encounters the pirate Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre, on a New Orleans street corner in early December.

Since August, when first approached by the British to join their efforts against the United States, Lafitte has been trying to get a similar offer, first from Louisiana officials, and then, United States authorities.  After years of smuggling into New Orleans untaxed goods, mostly taken from captured Spanish ships by Lafitte and his fellow privateers, the so-called “pirate” wants to clear his record, help Jackson and the United States and — perhaps most of all — get about 80 of his men out of jail.

They were captured when the U.S. Navy attacked their hideout on Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay, about 40 miles southwest of New Orleans, in September. The incarcerated pirates include Dominque You, a pirate captain who may be Lafitte’s eldest brother (historians disagree) and also may have been an expert cannoneer in Napoleon’s Grand Army. As the reader may surmise, little is known for sure about Lafitte. He may have been born around 1780 in France or in the French colony that became Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. He may or may not have been a pirate but he is certainly a smuggler of duty-free goods. And the new state of Louisiana (entered the union in 1812) as well as the federal government are looking to put Lafitte out of business after they collect the taxes owed them.

When first approached by the  Lafittes’ attorney, Edward Livingston a prominent member of New Orleans society, who also happened to be Jackson’s private secretary and adviser, the general balked at enlisting the help of shameless bandits (Jackson called them “hellish banditti).  But the surprisingly genteel and articulate Lafitte (he spoke English, Spanish, French and Italian) made his case again to Jackson at his headquarters on Royal Street (Rue de Royale). Lafitte explained he could supply gunpowder, shot, flints and cannon – which Jackson badly needed — as well as experienced gun crews that could man batteries on land or sea. Jackson relented. The jailed pirates were released and pardoned — if they enlisted in the defense force — and Jackson made Lafitte a member of his personal staff.

As we’ve said already, the facts of Lafitte’s life are hard to nail down beyond what he did during the Battle of New Orleans. However, there was enough swashbuckling to it, that Hollywood has made two fictionalized feature films about Lafitte. Click here to see a trailer (preview) of the second one, produced by Cecil B. DeMille in 1958.

We’ll have more on Monsieur/Capitane Lafitte in coming weeks as we approach the climactic battle of the New Orleans campaign.


December 12

Jackson closes his deal with Lafitte just in time. On December 12, the sails of the British invasion fleet are spotted approaching Lake Borgne (see map) 30 miles or so East of New Orleans.

December 8, 2014 at 1:59 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (November 30-December 6, 1814)

Jackson Returns.

Major General Andrew Jackson (Photo: U.S. Marshals Service)

Major General Andrew Jackson
(Photo: U.S. Marshals Service)

December 1

U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson arrives in New Orleans after a hasty march from New Orleans. The arrival of Jackson and his “army” of less than 2,000 troops calms the uneasy populace of the Crescent City.

Even though New Orleans is the major seaport of the western United States, President James Madison’s administration has done next-to-nothing to secure the important port other than sending three under strength regiments to regulars south to aid in defending the city.

Although sick with dysentery, still weakened from arm wounds sustained in a duel the year before and exhausted from marching from New Orleans to Pensacola in Spanish Florida and back again over the past few months, Jackson plunges into preparing the defenses of New Orleans.

Only a few small units of wealthy creoles and free black men (free men of color, as they were called then), have been mustered for the city’s defense. Complicating matters, most of the city’s squabbling inhabitants speak French or Spanish and many speak no English at all. To assist him, Jackson appoints an influential American lawyer, politician and longtime New Orleans resident, Edward Livingston, as his personal aide and private secretary. Livingston translates Jackson’s speech to the nervous locals in which he pledges “to drive their enemies into the sea, or perish in the effort.”

He sends small units of his troops and engineers to assess the fortifications East, North and South of the city and reinforce them where necessary.

British Advance on New Orleas (Map: U.S. Military Academy, Department of History)

British Advance on New Orleas
(Map: U.S. Military Academy, Department of History)

*** *** ***

Cockburn remains

Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn

Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn

December 6

Meanwhile, far to the north, Virginia militia drive off a British raiding party in a skirmish at Farnham Church, up the Rappahannock River from Chesapeake Bay. The British forces are commanded by Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, the man who burned Washington and had been raiding up and down the bay since 1813.

Bullet and shell holes from the Royal Navy’s bombardment, remain in the walls of the old church to this day.

November 30, 2014 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (November 23-November 29, 1814)

A World In Motion.

November 25

Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane (National Galleries, Scotland)

Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane
(National Galleries, Scotland)

The British invasion fleet that has been building up in the Caribbean since early fall sets sail from Negril Bay, Jamaica for Louisiana.

The Royal Navy’s Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane commands a small armada of more than 60 warships, ranging from frigates and bomb ships to sloops, gunboats and troop transports. Some 4,000 soldiers, many of them veterans of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe under the Duke of Wellington, form the land force of this invasion. Cochrane, who oversaw the failed attack on Fort McHenry outside Baltimore in September,  is the overall commander. The ground troops were to be commanded by Major General  Robert Ross, but he was killed at the battle of North Point outside of Baltimore. The new commander, Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham, Wellington’s brother-in-law, is still in Europe and will take weeks to catch up to Cochrane’s fleet.

Meanwhile Major General Andrew Jackson is making his way with an “army” of less than 2,000 regulars and militia from Mobile to New Orleans. Jackson has sent word to President Madison and the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee to send more troops to help him defend New Orleans.

*** *** ***

November 27

The chief negotiators at Ghent, Britain's Fleet Admiral Lord James Gambier (left) and the United States' John Quincy Adams (right). Detail from a painting in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The chief negotiators at Ghent, Britain’s Fleet Admiral Lord James Gambier (left) and the United States’ John Quincy Adams (right).
Detail from a painting in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In the Flemish city of Ghent, where U.S. and British officials are trying to negotiate a peace treaty to end the war, the British change course.

Flush with the news of the routing of U.S. troops at Bladensburg, Maryland and the subsequent burning of most public buildings in Washington in August, the British thought victory was at hand and offered to end hostilities with both sides keeping the territory seized during the war. That would leave the British in control of a big chunk of Maine and most of the Upper Mississippi Valley — as well as a key fort (Mackinac) where lakes Michigan and Superior meet. Since the Americans have abandoned their footholds on Canadian soil opposite Detroit in the West and across from Buffalo, New York in the East, they have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Not surprisingly, they rejected the British offer in October.

But now word has reached London — and Ghent — of the simultaneous British failures to take Plattsburgh — and strategic Lake Champlain — in northern New York and Baltimore, Maryland on the Atlantic Coast. In just two days in September, British arms suffered two strategic setbacks — although the third part of the three-pronged assault on America in late 1814 (through Louisiana) has just begun.

No longer holding the winning hand they thought they had, the British government shifts its treaty demands from “we keep captured territory that we hold now” (the concept know as “utis posseditis”) to “let’s go back to the way things were before the shooting started in June 1812.” It’s a diplomatic/legal concept known as  “status quo ante bellum.” The stalled negotiations pick up again with this development.

November 23, 2014 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (November 9-November 15, 1814)

Objective: New Orleans

Major General Andrew Jackson

Major General Andrew Jackson

After driving the British out of Pensacola in Spanish Florida (Nov. 7-8), Major General Andrew Jackson heads back to Mobile, in what is now Alabama, but in 1814 it was part of the Territory of Mississippi or Spanish West Florida — depending on who you talked to.

Jackson fears the small British fleet that evacuated Pensacola may be headed to Mobile to set up a base for a larger invasion of New Orleans.

The British aren’t there when he arrives in Mobile on November 11 but here is word that thousands of British troops are heading for New Orleans from bases in Bermuda and the Bahamas. So Jackson marches out, headed for the Crescent City on the lower Mississippi River.

*** *** ***

McArthur’s Raid

With more than 1,000 British soldiers and Canadian militia on his tail, U.S. Brigadier General Duncan McArthur and his raiding party of some 700 mounted Kentucky and Ohio riflemen are making their way back to Fort Detroit about 100 miles away.

McArthur is burning settlements — especially flour mills and other sources of food and supplies for the British and Canadian troops — along the Lake Erie shoreline. On November 6, McArthur’s troops defeated a smaller force of Canadian militia and Mohawk Indian allies at  Malcolm’s Mills. It will be the last battle with an invading army fought on Canadian soil.

The Southern Frontier 1812-1815 (Map: U.S. Army Office of Military History)

The Southern Frontier 1812-1815
(Map: U.S. Army Office of Military History)

November 13, 2014 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment


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