Wednesday, April 6, 2016
TIME MACHINE: Battle of New Orleans
TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS
January 8 marked the 200th anniversary of the last of a series of engagements that marked the Battle of New Orleans. This battle marked the last one of the conflict between the United States and Great Britain, known as the War of 1812.
The Battle of New Orleans consisted of a series of engagements fought between December 24, 1814 and January 8, 1815. The two countries had been at war since June 1812 - for two-and-a-half years. With the end of the Napoleonic War (before it was briefly renewed, thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte's escape in early 1815), Great Britain was finally able to focus its full attention upon the war against the United States. The British military decided to focus its strategy upon capturing the port of New Orleans, Louisiana, which had been under American control for eleven years. Capture of the city would give the British control of the Mississippi River and sever the Americans' vital commerce route to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Capture of the city would also allow full control of the agriculture industries that dominated the lower Mississippi River Valley region - namely sugar and especially cotton.
The British Army began gathering its invasion force in the summer of 1814. The army's defeat at Fort Bowyer prevented it from capturing Mobile, Alabama in September 1814. Alerted, the U.S. government dispatched a frantic message to General Andrew Jackson to immediately proceed to New Orleans and defend it. Jackson marched his army from present-day Alabama to New Orleans and arrived in the city on December 2, 1814. Ten days later, a large British fleet under the command of Sir Alexander Cochrane with more than 8,000 soldiers and sailors aboard, anchored in the Gulf of Mexico to the east of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. At Lake Borgne, the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy engaged in a battle on December 14, 1814 that left the British victors, but heavily battered. Although the British won control of the two lakes, the battle gave Jackson enough time to strengthen his defenses around New Orleans.
By December 23, 1814; a British Army vanguard of 1,800 troops under Lieutenant-General John Keane reached the east bank of the Mississippi River, nine miles south of New Orleans. When Jackson learn of Keane's presence, who was awaiting reinforcements at Lacoste's Plantation, he led a brief three-pronged assault on the unsuspecting British troops, who were resting in their camp. Then Jackson pulled his forces back to the Rodriguez Canal, about four miles south of the city. The unexpected attack made Keane even more cautious and he made no effort to advance. As a consequence, the Americans were given time to begin the transformation of the canal into a heavily fortified earthwork. The main body of the British Army under Major-General Edward Pakenham arrived on January 1, 1815. The army attacked the earthworks using their artillery. An exchange of artillery fire lasted for three hours. Several of the American guns were destroyed or knocked out and some damage was done to the earthworks. The British guns ran out of ammunition, which led Pakenham to cancel the attack. Unknown at the moment to Pakenham, the Americans on the left of Line Jackson near the swamp had broken and run from the position. Pakenham decided to wait for his entire force of over 8,000 men to assemble before launching his attack on the city.
Pakenham finally ordered a two-pronged assault against Jackson's position during the early morning hours of January 8, 1814. The attack began under darkness and a heavy fog, but as the British neared the main enemy line the fog lifted, exposing them to withering artillery fire and musket fire. Poor leadership of the British forces, confusion on the battlefield, the swampy terrain and American tenacity combined to create a debacle for the British, as they tried to overcome the parapet that served as the Americans' defense position. Two large assaults on the Americans were made. Only a handful of British troops made it to the top, but they were either killed or captured. The only British success was on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where a brigade under William Thornton, which comprised of the 85th Regiment and detachments from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, attacked and overwhelmed the American line. Since Pakenham was dead and both Keane and Major-General Samuel Gibbs were wounded, command of the British forces fell upon Major-General John Lambert. Lambert decided not to renew the attack and withdrew his forces.
In the battle's aftermath, the Royal Navy attacked Fort St. Philip on the following day, January 9, 1815. The British laid siege to the fort for ten days before its ships withdrew on January 18, 1815. On February 4, 1815, the British fleet, with troops aboard, set sail toward Mobile Bay, Alabama. The British army then attacked and captured Fort Bowyer at the mouth of Mobile Bay on February 12, 1815. The following day, the British army began making preparations to attack Mobile, when news arrived of the Treaty of Ghent. The treaty, which officially ended the War of 1812, had been signed on December 24, 1814; in the city of Ghent, Belgium. The British abandoned Fort Bowyer and sailed toward the West Indies. Although the Battle of New Orleans had no influence on the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, the defeat at New Orleans did compel Britain to abide by the treaty.
For more detailed information on the Battle of New Orleans, I recommend the following books:
*"Battle of New Orleans, The: 'But for a Piece of Wood'" (1814) by Ron Chapman
*"The War of 1812, Conflict and Deception: The British Attempt to Seize New Orleans and Nullify the Louisiana Purchase" (1814) by Ronald J. Drez