Posts tagged ‘War of 1812 in Louisiana’

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (March 8-March 14)

General Jackson Relents.

March 13

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson statue in Washington, DC. (Photo by Debaird via wikipedia)

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson statue in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Debaird via wikipedia)

Another sign that things are beginning to return to normal in America after two and a half years of war with Great Britain comes from Major General Andrew Jackson, finally lifts martial law in New Orleans, which he imposed in December 1814.

When Jackson took command of the defense of New Orleans in early December he confronted a panicky city where the majority of residents were French or Spanish-speakers (the United States acquired New Orleans along with the rest of the Louisiana Territory from France just 11 years earlier) who had little or no support for the American cause — just fears that the British might sack and burn the Crescent City on the Mississippi.

Some politicians publicly and privately speculated that it might be safer for all if Jackson surrendered the city to the British. Jackson fired back that if he thought the British would beat him on the battlefield, he would torch the city and fight them amid the flames.

Stating the entire city and its environs a military camp in time of war, Jackson declared martial law on December 16, 1814 — meaning several rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, including the right of habeas corpus, were suspended and military courts were try all cases. It was the first time martial law had been declared in U.S. history.

Most residents put up with the changes while the British threatened but chafed under martial law once the British were defeated and left Louisiana in lat January. Jackson, wary that the British might return, refused to lift martial law. He jailed a state senator who criticized the general’s high-handed ways in a newspaper article. Then Jackson jailed a federal judge who demanded the general from Tennessee either charge the lawmaker or release him.

Jackson also refused to end martial law when British newspapers arrived in New Orleans proclaiming the peace Treaty of Ghent had been signed on Christmas Eve.

Jackson relented and ended martial law after official word of the peace treaty arrives from Washington on March 12.

The judge whom Jackson jailed fines him $1,000 for contempt of court but does not order the general jailed because of his service in during the New Orleans campaign. Many years later, Jackson gets Congress to pass legislation refunding the fine.

For an in-depth evaluation of whether Jackson was justified in declaring martial law and what the implications were for future presidents, click here.

March 8, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 25-January 31, 1815)

Parting Shots.

Equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in front of St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, New Orleans. (Photo by Sami99tr via Wikipedia)

Equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in front of St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, New Orleans.
(Photo by Sami99tr via Wikipedia)

January 25

The slow process of evacuating thousands of British troops from the chilly shoreline of Lake Borgne continues. Sailors in longboats and barges have to row the troops some 60 miles out to the waiting fleet, unload, and then row back to pick up more troops.

Fearing an outbreak of cholera after continuing heavy rains uncover British remains in a mass grave on the Chalmette Planation battlefield near the American lines, Major General Andrew Jackson orders his forces to withdraw back to New Orleans, where a tumultuous celebration is held on January 23 starting at the Roman Catholic cathedral of St. Louis with Abbe Guillaume Duborg, bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas presiding. (One wonders what Jackson, the son of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians made of all the candles, Latin chanting and incense).

A Mississippi Dragoon about 1808. (Courtesy, Mississippi National Guard)

A Mississippi Dragoon about 1808.
(Courtesy, Mississippi National Guard)

On January 25 there is a brief skirmish between the British rear guard and Major Thomas Hinds’ Mississippi Dragoons. If there are any casualties, their number is not known.

January 27

The evacuation is finally completed. The last soldier makes his way aboard the waiting fleet. And by 11:30 a.m. the last sails of the British fleet disappear over the horizon, according to American sentries. But the fighting in the Gulf area is not over. The British are heading for Mobile Bay to capture Fort Bowyer and Mobile itself.

January 28

The famished British stop at Dauphin Island near Mobile and seize all the cattle and pigs.
Meanwhile, on the high seas the war goes on …

War at Sea

January 15

The Royal Navy’s blockade of the U.S. Atlantic coastline from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico is still in force.  Captain Stephen Decatur and his frigate, the USS United States, have been bottled up in New Haven, Connecticut since June 1813.  Late in 1814, the U.S. Navy assigns Decatur, a hero in the war with the Barbary pirates a decade earlier, to command another 44-gun frigate, the USS President, anchored in New York harbor.

On January 15, Decatur and the President slip out of New York in a snowstorm. But the ship runs aground on one of the many sandbars between New York and New Jersey. Battered by the storm, it takes hours to free the ship, soon after setting sail again, three British frigates ships are closing in.

USS President after her capture by the HMS Endymion and two other Royal Navy frigates.

USS President after her capture by the HMS Endymion and two other Royal Navy frigates.

Decatur and the 475 sailors and Marines on the President are facing the 40-gun HMS Endymion, HMS Pomone and HMS Tenedos –both carrying 38 guns. Decatur battles the Endymion first, but by nightfall, the President had lost 24 dead and 55 wounded. There are steering problems and the other two ships are getting ready to pound the President., so Decatur is forced to strike his colors.

The British take the President as a prize and sail her back to Bermuda, where a few days later they learn the war is over.

January 25, 2015 at 8:42 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 18-January 24, 1815)

Where are the British?
January 18-24

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

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

All is quiet outside the small American fort at a bend in the Mississippi River 80 miles south of New Orleans. The cannon fire has stopped after nine days of shelling from a small British naval task force anchored downstream.

The siege of Fort St. Philip is over and the five-ship British squadron sails downstream January 18 to rejoin the rest of the British invasion fleet at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Like Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the garrison of Fort St. Philip has persevered under heavy bombardment and outlasted the British. Unlike Fort McHenry, however, no song like the “Star Spangled Banner” emerges from this little-known engagement – although the U.S. flag over the fort is shot down and replaced under heavy fire by a U.S. sailor who climbed to the top of a new flagstaff to unfurl the Stars and Stripes.

Upstream, Major General Andrew Jackson is worried the British may attack again despite their heavy losses on the morning of January 8. From his headquarters in the battered but still standing Macarty Planation He orders a constant cannonade to harry the British camp at the Villere Plantation nearly two miles away.

Some of Jackson’s subordinates, especially the commanders of his small cavalry and dragoon detachments want to mount a counterattack. But Jackson opts to stand pat, mindful that the enemy still has more than 5,000 experienced troops to his barely 4,000-man force scattered over a wide area around New Orleans.

The British soldiers, sailors and Marines still on U.S. soil are battle-tested veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. Jackson’s army is a pick-up force of regular Army infantry and artillery, sailors from the Navy and local merchant ships, a small contingent of U.S. Marines, Jean Lafitte’s pirates, Choctaw Indians, New Orleans volunteers (black and white) and militiamen from Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee – many of them ill-trained and poorly armed. Jackson wonders if the British are changing tactics and preparing to attack from the north. Or have they found a different way through the swamps to attack him from behind? Jackson orders his cavalry and scouts to learn what the British are planning. Reinforcements are sent to other possible approaches to the city.

Sir John Lambert (UK National Portrait Gallery)

Sir John Lambert
(National Portrait Gallery, London)

Meanwhile, British Major General John Lambert – pretty much the last man standing among the senior British commanders after the disastrous assault on Jan. 8 – meets with his officers that night to assess their situation: more than 2,000 dead, wounded and missing; morale low after weeks of cold rainy nights in the Louisiana swamps with the Tennesseans and Choctaws sneaking out of the dark to kill and capture sentries; no shelter and little food available from a supply line that stretches over a nearly two-day slog through the swamps and bayous back to a fleet blocked by sandbars from getting any closer.

Lambert decides further assaults on New Orleans’ defenders are futile and so he orders the invasion force to withdraw back to the fleet. Like George Washington’s evacuation of Brooklyn Heights in 1776, it’s a masterful withdrawal under difficult conditions without tipping off the Americans.

U.S. Military Academy History Dept. (Click on image to enlarge)

U.S. Military Academy History Dept.
(Click on image to enlarge)

It takes nine days for the British to prepare a way through swamps infested with alligators, snakes and quicksand. Wide ditches and streams in the cypress swamps have to be bridged with branches and reeds because there aren’t enough trees for lumber. On the night of the 18th, the withdrawal begins, moving the wounded, weapons and remaining supplies to the fleet. Ten heavy guns have to be abandoned. Once through the swamps the troops have to wait on the shore of Lake Borgne for the Navy to row them out to the fleets. Each trip takes hours.

On the morning of January 19, peering through his spyglass on the top floor of the bomb-shattered Macarty mansion, Andrew Jackson notices a strange lack of activity in the British camp. A cavalry patrol reports back that the British have departed.

The Americans discover the British path of retreat late that night and some enterprising Louisiana militiamen begin ambushing the slow moving longboats transferring the British troops. Forming small convoys of rowboats to fend off the Americans slows the evacuation process to a crawl as do high winds and rough seas. By January 24, some British units are still waiting and starving on the lakeshore.

January 19, 2015 at 10:01 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 11-January 17, 1815)

Siege of Fort St. Philip.

January 10-17

HMS Erebus a British bomb vessel similar to the ones used against Fort Saint Philip, Louisiana after the Battle of New Orleans. (via wikipedia)

HMS Erebus a British bomb vessel similar to the ones used against Fort Saint Philip, Louisiana after the Battle of New Orleans.
(via wikipedia)

The small, rugged Fort St. Philip along a bend in the Mississippi River blocks the way for the Royal Navy, preventing a naval bombardment of the city of New Orleans. British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane (the man who commanded the attacks on Washington and Baltimore in late summer) orders a small squadron of five ships including two bomb vessels, to reduce the fort, move up river and support the British army in an attack on New Orleans.

But more than 400 Army regulars — infantry and artillerymen — black and white Louisiana militia and about 40 sailors — are prepared for attack. All the fort’s wooden buildings, like barracks, have been dismantled as a possible fire hazard. The powder magazine is divided into several smaller magazines around the fort, all buried under several feet of earth and timber.

Starting late on January 9, the Royal Navy — anchored more than two miles downstream — begins shelling the fort. Many of the shells bury themselves in the swampy morass surrounding the fort and fail to explode. Others fall short or sail harmlessly overhead. Frequent attempts to approach the fort in longboats are driven off by the fort’s small arms. So far the shelling has killed only one man and wounded two others. No part of the fort has been severely damaged although several cannon have had their carriages damaged.

Day after day the British bombard the small fort — except for two hour meal breaks at noon and sunset. It rains constantly, turning most of the fort’s interior into a lake. The fort’s tents have been shredded by the British shelling and there is little shelter from the elements. None of the fort’s 34 guns can reach the British ships, except one, a large mortar, but it doesn’t have the right ammunition.

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

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

On January 15, supply ships from New Orleans reach the fort bringing much-needed food and the proper ammunition for the mortar. By January 17, the gun crews have the big mortar all ready and finally return fire on the British. One mortar round strikes one of the bomb ships, doing unknown damage. The British bombardment stops at sunset.

Battle of Fort Peter

January 13-14

Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn  (with Washington, DC afire in background)

An 1817 painting of Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (with Washington, DC afire in background)

When Admiral Cochrane sailed off to New Orleans in December, he left behind Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (the man who suggested attacking Washington and Baltimore) to raid around Chesapeake Bay and along the southern U.S. coast to create a diversion and keep the Americans off balance.

On January 10, soldiers of the 2nd West Indian Regiment and Royal Marines under Cockburn land on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast. They number about 1,000 men. Three days later Cockburn’s ships begin bombarding Fort Peter on the Georgia mainland near the town of St. Mary’s. The St. Mary’s River marks the boundary between British-allied Spanish Florida and the United States. Runaway American slaves flee south into Florida and Native American raiding parties attack  Georgia plantations and settlements from the largely-ungoverned Spanish colony.

Cockburn lands troops at Point Peter, attacks Fort Peter and takes it without suffering any casualties. On their way to sack St. Mary’s the British force encounters a small American force of 160 Army regulars. There’s a brief skirmish. The Americans suffer 1 killed, 4 wounded and 9 missing before withdrawing in the face of a force that outnumbers them almost 7-to-1.

Map of the St. Mary's River area by Karl Musser via Wikipedia

Map of the St. Mary’s River area by Karl Musser via Wikipedia

On January 15 the British capture St. Mary’s even though there is another small fort just outside the town. In addition to burning Fort Peter, the British capture two American gunboats and a dozen merchant vessels. Cockburn’s men occupy the area for about a week before withdrawing back to Cumberland Island. They suffer only 3 dead and 5 wounded. With no one in North America yet aware that a peace treaty has been reached in Belgium, the British begin planning a raid in force on Savannah, Georgia.

January 13, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

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

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)

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

January 9, 2015 at 2:35 pm 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

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 21-December 27, 1814)

Surprise Attack.

U.S. forces, including Choctaw Indians and Free Men of Color battle British troops in a surprise night attack in the fog south of New Orleans. (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

U.S. forces, including Choctaw Indians and Free Men of Color, battle British troops in a surprise night attack in the fog south of New Orleans.
(U.S. Army Center of Military History)

December 23

Scouts inform U.S. Army Major General Andrew Jackson that British troops are marching from Lake Borgne to New Orleans and he heads South with two under strength U.S. Army infantry regiments, the 7th and 44th, 1,000 Tennessee and Mississippi state militia, 300 New Orleans volunteers, a rifle company of about 60 sharpshooters, a battalion of free black men and 28 Choctaw Indians warriors — about 2,000 in all. Jackson also orders the 230-ton schooner, U.S.S. Carolina mounting 14 cannon, to sail down the Mississippi River to the bank opposite where about 1,900 British troops are camped for the night. In the growing darkness the British think the Carolina is one of their own ships, allowing it to get within range.

Jackson decides to launch a night attack as fog rolls in, vowing the British “shall not sleep on our soil tonight.” At 7:30 p.m. the Carolina opens up on the British camp, sending the troops scattering in confusion. Next, Jackson’s troops open fire with muskets and rifles, killing several British soldiers. Units on both sides dissolve in the fog and confusion as small groups fight desperate hand-to-hand battles with swords, bayonets, knives, fists and muskets used as clubs.

After the fighting ceases, the Americans discover they have lost 213 killed and wounded, while the British count more than 260 killed and wounded in the nearly four-hour battle.

December 24

On Christmas Eve, British reinforcements arrive before dark by row boats that have traveled 36 miles from Pea Island in Lake Borgne to a strip of land between the bayous, in cold rainy weather. The invasion force now totals nearly 6,000. They have no tents to shield them from the dispiriting weather. Two West Indian regiments without winter clothing lose about 100 men — dead and gravely sick — to the elements. The acting commander, Major General John Keane, decides to wait for the new commander, Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham to arrive. Pakenham finally catches up with his command, the next day, Christmas 1814.

The American army withdraws to a new position about 10 miles from New Orleans on the Mississippi River behind the Rodriguez Canal, a ditch four feet deep and 10 feet wide that runs at a right angle about three-quarters of a mile from the Mississippi to a cypress swamp. Jackson orders his men to dredge and deepen the ditch and use the debris to build a rampart of the side closest to New Orleans. Slaves are sent out from the city o do much of the dirty work and spare the soldiers’ energy for the fighting to come. Like so many civil engineering projects in the early days of the Republic, the defenses of New Orleans rested largely on the labor of men who were not free.

Meanwhile, 4,800 miles (7,725 kilometers) away, British and American peace negotiators have reached agreement on ending the war.  The Treaty of Ghent essentially returns things to how they were before Congress declared war on Britain, the legal term is status quo ante bellum. No mention is made of the impressment of seamen from U.S. ships, on of the key catalysts of the war. The British relinquish their plans for an Indian buffer state between the Old Northwest (today’s Upper Midwest) and British holdings in Canada. The United States did not conquer Canada and Great Britain did not hem in the United States between the Atlantic and the Mississippi.

In the painting below, Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier, the head British negotiator, shakes hands with his opposite number, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Quincy Adams.

A 1914 painting by Amedee Forestier illustrates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent between Great Britain and the United States, Dec. 24, 1814.  (Courtesy Library and Archives Canada-via Parks Canada, Historica Dominion Institute and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

A 1914 painting by Amedee Forestier illustrates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent between Great Britain and the United States, Dec. 24, 1814.
(Courtesy Library and Archives Canada-via Parks Canada, Historica Dominion Institute and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

December 27

Pakenham orders eight cannon and a heavy mortar brought up and emplaced on the riverbank opposite the Carolina, which has continuously bombarded the British . Shortly after 7 a.m., the guns  fire with heated shot to set the pesky schooner afire. Most of the ship’s crew are pirates/smugglers from Jean Lafitte’s stronghold in Barataria Bay east of New Orleans, which is a bit ironic since the Carolina demolished Lafitte’s base in September, when the Americans feared the pirates would join forces with the British.

After two rounds of cannon fire, the Carolina catches fire. The captain orders the crew to abandon ship and at 9:30 a.m. the ship blows up. Built in Charleston, South Carolina and commissioned in June 1813, the Carolina spent her short service years based in New Orleans — patrolling the Gulf against the British and chasing pirates in the Caribbean. Her loss leaves only the smaller U.S.S. Louisiana to block access to New Orleans via the twisting Mississippi.

Jackson orders the Louisiana — farther up river but still within range of the British guns — to be moved, but the wind and current made sailing upriver impossible. So 100 Baratarian pirates rowed out to the stranded vessel, attached hawsers to the Louisiana while under fire and hauled her to safety. Only on cannon ball struck the ship’s deck.

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)


December 22, 2014 at 11:57 pm 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 (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

Older Posts


December 2022


%d bloggers like this: