On This Day

battle of new orleans, andrew jackson new orleans, Edward Percy Moran
Library of Congress
“The Battle of New Orleans,” a 1910 painting by Edward Percy Moran.

On This Day: American Forces Defeat British at the Battle of New Orleans

January 08, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 8, 1815, Gen. Andrew Jackson led American troops to victory in the last major conflict of the War of 1812, two weeks after both nations had signed a peace treaty. Jackson’s military success would later propel him to the presidency.

U.S. Forces Victorious in New Orleans

On Dec. 24, 1814, the United States and Britain signed, but did not ratify, the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812 and restoring pre-war relations. However, because the treaty was signed in present-day Belgium, news of the peace agreement did not reach America for about two weeks.

Thus, when Gen. Andrew Jackson’s men confronted a force of about 10,000 British troops in the swampy lands surrounding New Orleans, La., no one knew that the War of 1812 had already ended.

In December 1814, British troops led by Gen. Edward Pakenham had arrived in Louisiana with the intention of seizing New Orleans. Jackson, who had arrived in New Orleans on Dec. 2, launched a surprise attack on the British on the night of Dec. 23. The attack inflicted little damage, though it did halt the British advance on New Orleans. The U.S. troops fell back to the city and built mile-long defensive earthworks.

Jackson’s men were outnumbered and outgunned by the British, who were poised to take control of the Mississippi and cut off America’s trade routes to the Gulf of Mexico. In the dark and foggy morning hours of Jan. 8, the British began moving on the U.S. forces through swampy terrain.

Pakenham's assault was doomed from the beginning,” writes A. Wilson Green of the Chalmette National Historical Park. “His men made perfect targets as they marched precisely across a quarter mile of open ground. … Both of Pakenham's senior generals were shot early in the battle, and the commander himself suffered two wounds before a shell severed an artery in his leg, killing him in minutes.”

The British surrendered within an hour of the battle’s beginning, having suffered about 2,000 killed, captured or wounded. The Americans lost under a hundred men.

Though the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the peace treaty had been signed, it was a significant victory in that the U.S. maintained control of the Mississippi River. Jackson spoke of the battle’s possible consequences in an 1837 conversation with a congressman.

“If General Pakenham and his ten thousand matchless veterans could have annihilated my little army,” said Jackson, “he would have captured New Orleans and sentried all the contiguous territory, though technically the war was over … Great Britain would have immediately abrogated the Treaty of Ghent and would have ignored Jefferson’s transaction with Napoleon.”

Detailed Accounts of the Battle

The Chalmette National Historical Park gives a detailed account of the Battle of New Orleans and other fighting in Louisiana during the war of 1812 in a 1958 handbook.

The University of Chicago hosts an account of the battle from John Kendall’s 1922 book “History of New Orleans.”

Theodore Roosevelt writes about the battle in Chapter X of his 1882 work “Naval War of 1812.”

Background: The War of 1812

The War of 1812 lasted from 1812 to 1815, and sprang from Britain’s continuing military engagements with the French under Napoleon. The British, seeking more naval forces, began forcing American sailors to serve in the Royal Navy. They had also imposed restrictions on American trade with the French, which the United States considered illegal.

By 1814, the war was dragging on and had cost both countries massive amounts of resources. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on Dec. 24, 1814, officially ending the war and restoring status quo ante bellum, referring to relations before the war.

The American public so closely followed the victory at New Orleans that “the war as a whole was popularly regarded in the United States as a great victory,” according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History. “Yet at best it was a draw. American strategy had centered on the conquest of Canada and the harassment of British shipping; but the land campaign failed, and during most of the war the Navy was bottled up behind a tight British blockade of the North American coast.”

Key Player: Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was a Revolutionary War veteran and former representative and senator from Tennessee. His actions at the Battle of New Orleans made him a national hero and help catapult him to the presidency in 1824.

“He strengthened the power of the presidency, defended the Union, gained new respect for the United States in foreign affairs, and extended democracy to more citizens,” writes to the Hermitage Museum.

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