The Last Battle of the War of 1812

by Daniel Russ on September 20, 2009

British Regulars Under Pakenham Charge Andrew Jackson's Line British Regulars Under General Edward Pakenham Charge Andrew Jackson’s Line

 

In 1781, while the Revolutionary War was raging, the British expanded the theatre of operations into the South where there were more loyalists and fewer Colonial regulars to face. Two couriers working for the Continental Army were the Jackson brothers, living in Waxhaw North Carolina. Andrew and Robert were hiding in their cabin attic when two British officers showed up looking for Colonial sympathizers. The British did not know yet that the war as over and the Treaty of Ghent had been signed such were communications in the Revolutionary War. One of them decided to humiliate the boys and told Andrew to clean his boots. Andrew, sassy and defiant refused. “I am a POW,” he insisted. The officer drew his saber and struck Jackson, cutting his hand and scarring his face. The scar healed, leaving a mark not just on the outside, but on the inside. He hated the British with every breath he took and the sword slice across his face would not be revenged until January 8th, 1815.

He was taken prisoner, with his brother Robert, and his mother, Elizabeth, went to British commanders and demanded their release. Both boys were released and both were sick with Chicken Pox. Robert died a few days later and Andrew’s mother died not long after. Andrew was sent to live in a relative’s home and faced life as a difficult and bitter youth. He drank. He smoked. He fought. He gambled. Jackson tossed off his juvenile delinquency and went to school to become an attorney. Later he moved to Nashville where he was appointed a prosecutor by a Superior Court judge. Insulted by a rival, he had challenged someone to a duel but reneged and both men had settled the argument and decided to fire into the air instead of each other.

In Nashville he became a Representative, married a woman named Rachel Donaldson Robards, a married woman who had moved away from her actual husband. This would haunt Jackson for the rest of his life.

Jackson was a populist who despised the effete rich of the North, and felt a tremendous empathy for the common man. Today he would be compared to John Edwards; a man who warred with a Congress in the thrall of lobbyists and corporations, and one whose reputation would tainted by an affair. During his long and illustrious career, he learned how to lead troops. He learned strategy and he had a testing ground when he fought Indians in the area we now called Alabama, at the time it as the Mississippi Territory. He fought a group of Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminoles and Creek Indians who had banded together a rebellion called the Redstick War, so characterized by their red clubs. One of the men who fought under Jackson would later die at the Alamo, Sam Houston. Jackson defeated a Redstick garrison as it were on the Tallapoosa River where Indians built formidable earthworks and walls. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend would lend credibility to Jackson as a military leader. The Redsticks war was in some ways an Indian Civil War. Not all the Indians were unhappy with their lot and decided to fight against the rebellion. Jackson used this to his advantage and sympathetic Indians, who felt Jackson would leave them alone of they aided him in his battles fought against their own brethren.

Choctaws Fought For Jackson, Only To Be Later Forced Onto The Trails of Tears By Jackson Choctaws

In a duel with a man named Charles Dickinson, a racehorse enthusiast, Jackson took a bullet to his thoracic region and it stayed in him until he died in 1845. In turn, his shot killed Dickinson.

The War of 1812 was still raging, the British had invaded the United States and burned the capital and occupied Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Having secured the northeast, the British were looking to take New Orleans, control the Mississippi and send that force to meet the Northern British garrison in a pincer maneuver and cut the country off from the west. It might have worked and most felt we were losing the war. As one historian put it we were about to see if this little experiment in democracy would survive at all.

That said, President James Monroe commanded Jackson to head to New Orleans and secure the port, because a huge British contingent was on the way there under the command of a blooded British General Edward Pakenham in charge of ground forces and Admiral Alexander Cochrane who ran the riverboat flotilla. Some 10,000 British regulars were working their way into New Orleans from the canals and waterways. Jackson led only 2000 ragtag militiamen, and a few hundred army regulars. He managed to gather another 2000 freed slaves, Indians, creoles and even pirates to help. He had everything a commander could want except for large cannons and enough powder to fight for days. That he bought from the famous pirate John la Fitte.

Pakenham had 1800 British troops assembled on the 23rd of December, enough men to march into New Orleans and take it outright, but in a bad decision that only history can judge, he waited for the rest of his troops to gather who were being ferried up the river or marching on their own. That night, while the British were encamped, Jackson sent a small guerilla band to attack, and in the pitch black of night, a melee ensued. “The Americans suffered a reported 24 killed, 115 wounded, and 74 missing or captured, while the British reported their losses as 46 killed, 167 wounded, and 64 missing or captured.” The British sent a note Jackson complaining that the method warfare was ungentlemanly. Jackson sent back a note noting that so was invading their home soil.

On the Rodriguez Canal, Jackson had his men build a line known as the Line Jackson. Jackson’s ragtag group of fighters began building earthworks, digging not only a wall, but also a moat separating them and the British. On the 28th of December 1814, the British began a three-hour cannon bombardment that took out some of Jackson’s cannons, but after the Brits ran out of ammunition and powder the bombardment ended. Pakenham waited for the rest of his 8000 man contingent to make it to the British line, and this interval gave Jackson the chance to rearm, bolster his defenses and rest. This would not be an offensive battle for Jackson. He had at most 4000 men against 10,000 British troops, many of these men had been on the battlefield during the Peninsular Campaign.

On January 8th, 1815, with the rest of the 8000 man invading army in place the British began a bombardment with rockets and heavy cannons, followed by an infantry charge up the middle. Several things went wrong for the British. First, the cannonade did little to the hard defensive line Jackson’s troops created. The counter fire from Jackson’s heavy cannons found their targets in barrels of sugar the British put up as their own defense. The cannon balls went through the sugar, killed men behind it, and melted the sugar and sprayed it all over the British guns where it clogged breeches. Forces under British Colonel Rennie, the Scottish Higlanders managed to capture a redoubt on Jackson’s right but they didn’t have enough men to keep it. Jackson sent the American 7th Infantry to counterattack and they did indeed, killing almost all the Highlanders. Next, the British literally forgot to bring ladders to climb the walls and cross the moat that Jackson’s men built. While Jackson’s artillery gave as good as they got, the Pirateers and the cannons they manned were unusually accurate and inflicted significant casualties among the British defenders. Finally, Jackson had his men wait to fire until the British infantry was almost upon them. The result of the enfilading gunfire killed thousands of British troops, wounded thousands more, and basically sent them packing.

By the time the rest of the country had heard the news that the British were unable to take New Orleans, they also heard about the treaty of Ghent and Jackson was credited with not just winning the Battle of New Orleans but also the war itself.

The War of 1812 was finally over.

Jackson went on to win the Presidency. He also forced the Cherokee, the Creek, the Choctaw and the Seminoles onto the trail of tears. He was a strange mixture to Americans. A hero. A bigamist. A populist. An attorney. A war criminal. Whatever the judgment, the Union stands because of this one great battle.

Andrew Jackson, Winner of the Battle of New Orleans

 

Andrew Jackson, Winner of the Battle of New Orleans

Sources: Reilly, Robin (1974), The British at the gates – the New Orleans campaign in the War of 1812, New York: Putnam

The History Channel

The Battle Of New Orleans- an account by Theodore Roosevelt

Share

Related Posts:

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary July 31, 2010 at 7:53 am

Dear Sir,

I was rather surprised to read the line which said:

“He had at most 4000 men against 10,000 British troops, many of these men had been on the battlefield at Waterloo the previous June and had seen the ultimate defeat of Napolean [sic].”

May I remind you that the battle of Waterloo occurred on the 18th June 1815, a full five months after the battle of New Orleans? I think you were referring to the veterans who have been sent from the Peninsular theatre in Spain, which indeed ended the first Napoleonic War in 1814 when Napoleon was forced to abdicate. But Waterloo did not happen until the ‘Hundred Days’ campaign when Napoleon escaped from Elba…

Best,

Gary

Gary July 31, 2010 at 7:58 am

Also the number of casualties were incorrect. The British suffered not ‘thousands dead’ but rather 386 killed, 1,521 wounded, and 552 missing. A still considerable amount to be sure. However Jackson did not ‘win the war’, as the Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 1814, which already formally ended the conflict. Due to the slowness of sailing vessels, the news took too long to arrive to prevent the totally unnecessary battle from taking place.

Daniel Russ July 31, 2010 at 11:21 am

Fixed the reference to the Peninsular Campaign.

Thanks.

I know better.

Checking sources, there were over 2,800 dead.

I still argue that the battle of New Orleans would have convinced the Royal Court that winning land battles in America were just too expensive

Matt August 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm

@ Gary

The Battle of New Orleans actually was vital and still within the war. There is a large misconception about the Treaty of Ghent. It had not been ratified by Parliament until after news of the battle. Without ratification by the government, the Treaty means nothing.

Had America lost the Battle of New Orleans, the battle would have continued (seeing as how the British Empire would have controlled the entire south and all trade to the states) or the terms of the treaty would have been dictated by the British.

Keep in mind, the British established a blockade in the north east and controlled Maine, parts of New York, and a good deal of the Great Lakes. They threatened to also invade Boston.

Paul October 4, 2010 at 10:52 am

The last battle of the war of 1812 was actually won by the British at Fort Bowyer at Mobile in Alabama a few weeks after New Orleans and a day before news of the Treaty of Ghent came through. A little fact that Americans seem to not realise or choose to forget.

stephanie December 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm

it was not a saber, it was a small hand knife

Brent Brentzel February 3, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Dude, Sam Houston did not die at the Alamo.

Dean May 11, 2011 at 5:56 pm

to make one thing clear about “By the time the rest of the country had heard the news that the British were unable to take New Orleans, they also heard about the treaty of Ghent and Jackson was credited with not just winning the Battle of New Orleans but also the war itself.” winning the war itself is false. The Americnas were the ones who declared war. If the US would have won Canada would not be Canada, it would be the US. Therefore Britain won the war

Amos November 2, 2012 at 4:41 am

Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Cheers

Daniel Russ November 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm

If you mean link back to my blog, then certainly and thanks!

I don’t think you have to ask permission for that, btw.

Daniel Catfish Russ

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: