Posts tagged ‘Major General Sir Edward Pakenham’

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

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

New Orleans: The Last Battle.

PART I of Three Parts. Prelude to Battle

Major General Andrew Jackson

Major General Andrew Jackson

December 28-January 1

Enraged and embarrassed by their failed December 28 attack on Andrew Jackson’s defensive line along the Rodriguez Canal, the British are making plans for one final grand battle to take New Orleans (only 9 miles away) and crush the Americans’ will to continue fighting. Apparently, they don’t know much about the lean, hawk-faced major general from Tennessee.

When worried New Orleans politicians ask Jackson what he would do if the British broke through his lines, he snarled that if the hair on his head knew his plans he  would cut it off.  To an aide he confides he would retreat, set fire to the city and fight the enemy “amidst the surrounding flames.”

While the British take days to bring up more men and heavy guns for the final assault, Jackson is using the time to strengthen the mud and log rampart facing Chalmette plantation where the British are camped. The “canal,” really a dry ditch runs nearly a mile from the Mississippi River on his army’s right to woods and cypress swamps on its left.

Jackson also sets up eight gun batteries along his line with a total of 14 guns, ranging from a 6-inch howitzer to a Navy 32-pounder. The batteries are manned by U.S. Army artillery men, Navy gunners, U.S. Marines, Creole volunteers – many of them veterans of Napoleon’s Grande Armée – and seasoned gunners from Jean Lafitte’s pirate/privateer crews.

Jackson’s defense line curls around like a fish hook once it hits the swamps – to avoid being flanked by the British. While this work goes on, Choctaw Indians and Tennessee sharpshooters sneak out at dusk to raid British outposts, killing or capturing luckless sentries and stripping them of their weapons and ammunition.

Jackson has also sent 400 men, mostly from the Louisiana militia, to defend a small battery of cannons on the West side of the Mississippi aimed at the area in front of the rampart to catch any advancing British troops in a cross-fire with the guns on the rampart. Later, Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson, the American naval commander at New Orleans, sends two more guns from the U.S.S. Louisiana to the marine battery to pepper the British camp with harassing fire.

Meanwhile, the British have brought up 30 heavy naval guns from their fleet anchored off Lake Borgne in the Gulf of Mexico, rowing them across the lake and then dragging them though the bayous to the British camp.

Under cover of night on December 31, the British begin setting up the heavy guns in three fortified positions. American sentries hear the British soldiers and sailors digging out on the dark but can’t see what they’re doing. A fog at dawn January 1, 1815, obscures the British strong points just 300 yards from the American defenses.

At the urging of local gentry, Jackson calls off work on the defenses for New Year’s Day and a grand review of all units in full uniform starts up. The British hiding in their fortified artillery batteries can hear fiddle music, drums and bugles coming from the American lines. Visitors from New Orleans have come to see friends and relatives among the American defenders and to witness the review.

Then at about 10 a.m. the fog lifts and the British guns open up, sowing confusion among the troops and panic among the civilian spectators. Jackson and his staff are finishing breakfast at headquarters in the Macarty plantation house when British shells nearly demolish the building. Jackson and company manage to escape unharmed, then restore order and get the American guns firing.

For nearly two hours the American and British blast away at each other. The Americans have fewer, less powerful guns but the gunners and the riflemen protecting them surprise the British with their accuracy. In their haste to take the Americans by the surprise when the fog lifted, the British gunners got the range wrong. Most shells sail over the American lines, striking civilians who have taken refuge farther back. The British cannon balls that do hit the American line sink harmlessly into the mud rampart. The American fire is more telling and five British guns are disabled and most of the gun crews killed or wounded by “Yankee” riflemen. By 3 p.m. the British cease firing and abandon their positions. They abandon the remaining cannon under heavy sniper fire. Surprisingly, the Americans make no effort to seize or spike (make useless) the British cannon. The king’ forces lose 44 dead and 55 wounded to the American gunners. The American losses are far less, 11 dead, 23 wounded – most of them civilians. Major General Edward Pakenham, the British commander, calls off a planned attack since the American rampart is relatively unscathed although three U.S. guns have been damaged and two ammunition wagon was struck and blown up.

Battle of New Orleans by Dennis M. Carter 1856.

Battle of New Orleans by Dennis M. Carter 1856.

January 2

American spirits rise with the arrival of more than 1,500 volunteers from Kentucky. But the reinforcements are in tatters after marching through rain, mud and cold from Natchez in Mississippi Territory. Also, about two thirds of them have no guns.

The citizens of New Orleans and surrounding Louisiana parishes raise $16,100 to clothe the frozen Kentuckians, making pants, shirts, coats and waist coats for their protectors. The 550 Kentuckians that do have weapons are sent to bolster Jackson’s right flank, where the ditch and rampart reach the cypress swamps. This is also where the Tennesseans and Choctaws have been raising cain with the British at night. The Indians alone have killed or wounded 50 men.

January 6

British spirits lift when reinforcements arrive in camp. Two regiments totaling 1,700 men boost the British invasion force – soldiers, sailors and Marines – to between 7,000 and 8,000. Most accounts put Jackson’s forces at somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000.

With these added troops, Pakenham decides to launch a two-pronged attack on Jackson from both sides of the river on January 8, 1815.

Tomorrow — New Orleans: Day of Battle





January 5, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 28, 1814-January 3, 1815)

General Packenham’s Decision.

Major General Sir Edward Pakenham (Courtesy National Park Service)

Major General Sir Edward Pakenham
(Courtesy National Park Service)

December 28

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.

Detail from a 1910 painting of  Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans (Library of Congress)

Detail from a 1910 painting of Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans
(Library of Congress)

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.

December 29, 2014 at 11:57 pm 1 comment


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