Battle of New Orleans – 1815

Battle of New Orleans

Tomb of Maunsel White, veteran of the Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans – 1825

On the evening of January 7, 1815, the Ursuline sisters gathered in the church attached to their convent on Rue Chartres in the French Quarter, along with a number of local residents. They began to pray, in particular to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, that their city, New Orleans, be spared from the ravages of the British Army which was camped a few miles down the Mississippi River near the Chalmette Plantation. The next morning, January 8, Father William Dubourg said Mass at the convent and the Prioress, Mother Ste. Marie Olivier de Vezin, promised to have a Mass sung annually in thanksgiving if the city would be spared. The church next to the Old Ursuline Convent is now St. Mary’s Italian Church, and they do indeed sing that Mass every year.

The Campaign

Battle of New Orleans

The 93rd Highlanders are repulsed from the American positions in this (very innaccurate and highly romanticized) 1910 painting of the Battle of New Orleans by Edward Percy Moran (Wikimedia Commons)

Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane of the Royal Navy was not able to deliver on his boast that he would spend Christmas, 1814, in New Orleans. By New Year’s, he was still on his flagship in Lake Borgne, as Sir Edward Pakenham planned to advance from Chalmette onto the city of New Orleans. To get there, though, Pakenham and his force of over 7,400 soldiers and 1,500 Royal Marines would have to get past the Rodriguez Canal, where Major General Andrew Jackson, U.S. Army, and over 4,000 men waited for them.

Jackson knew his force of Army regulars, volunteers, and pirates was vastly outnumbered, but he had geography and marksmanship on his side. Pakenham ordered his force to advance, under the cover of fog. As the sun rose, however, the fog burned off, offering the British lines as juicy targets to American artillery.

Battle of New Orleans

Positions of the American and British forces on the morning of January 8, 1815 (USMA map, Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

Costly Errors

Then the mistakes compounded themselves. The 44th Foot (East Essex) forgot the ladders they would need to cross the Rodriguez Canal and the rampart behind which the American forces were firing. The 85th Foot (Bucks Volunteers), reinforced by other troops, had crossed the Mississippi down river from the battlefield, but was now unable to cross back to the east bank to support the main advance.

Grapeshot from the cannon behind the American redoubt killed even more of the British. While the American riflemen played a part, chainshot and grapeshot decimated the British officers. The British suffered a serious command-and-control breakdown. Americans killed over twenty senior British officers, including Major General Samuel Gibbs, commander of the inland column. The American line wounded Major General John Keane, commander of the second column. This slowed the advance along the river. The command breakdown cost the British dearly. The 93rd Highlanders, whose light company actually broke through to the redoubt on the left (inland) flank of the American forces, were ordered to cross the main battlefield. Their commander, Lt. Col. Dale, was killed during this movement.

With no officers able to take the initiative, the Americans mowed down the regiment. Many of the 291 British killed at Chalmette were Highlanders. Unlike Edward Percy Moran’s depiction of the attack of the 93rd, the Highlanders never got that close to the redoubt.

Death of Ned Pakenham

Battle of New Orleans

Title: Death of Pakenham at the Battle of New Orleans/F.O.C. Darley. Image date: ca. 1860.

Then came the most severe blow to the British advance: Grapeshot from the American guns struck Sir Edward in the knee. He fell off his horse. A musket ball then struck him in the arm as he re-mounted. Mortally wounded, Pakenham’s last words were orders for Maj. Gen. Lambert to bring up his reserves. The reserves advanced, too little, too late. The 85th, stuck on the west bank, fired on the battlefield with little success. Lambert’s staff advised they needed 2,000 men to defend Thornton’s position. Lambert withdrew, faced with heavy losses on both sides of the river.

Aftermath

Cochrane and Lambert allowed a planned attack on Fort St. Philip, just north of the mouth of the Mississippi River, to proceed on January 9. The Royal Navy bombarded the fort unsuccessfully for ten days, before withdrawing on January 18. Lambert concluded that continuing the attack on New Orleans would be too costly, so the fleet left the area on February 5, 1815.The British mounted a successful attack on Fort Bowyer in Mobile Bay on February 12, but withdrew from there once they received word of the Treaty of Ghent, ending hostilities in the War of 1812.

Major General Jackson returned to the city a hero, along with his ragtag force. Praises of their deeds and valor on January 8, 1815, are still sung to this day.

And Catholics still give thanks to Notre Dame de Bon Secours.