Battle of New Orleans

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For other uses of the name, see Battle of New Orleans (disambiguation)

Battle of New Orleans

Andrew Jackson commanding American troops
Engraving by H. B. Hall after W. Momberger
Conflict: War of 1812
Date: January 8, 1815
Place: Chalmette, Louisiana
Outcome: American victory
United Kingdom United States
Edward Pakenham
John Lambert
Andrew Jackson
11,000–14,500 4,000–6,000
2,036 71
American South
Creek WarPensacolaNew Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans, also known as the Battle of Chalmette Plantation, took place on January 8, 1815, during the War of 1812, when the United States forces defeated the British. The Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war, had been signed over two weeks earlier, but the news had not yet reached the battle-front.

In December of 1814, British forces under Major General Sir Edward Pakenham landed along the lower Mississippi River. At first, they met with only minor resistance. The Americans, led by Colonel Andrew Jackson, set up defensive positions at Chalmette, Louisiana, some five miles (8 km) downriver from the city of New Orleans. The first British troops reached the American position on January 1, and in an exchange of artillery fire, the Americans held their ground. Packenham decided to wait for his entire force of over 10,000 men (which included native American members of the Hitchiti tribe, led by Kinache, and several hundred black soldiers from the British East Indies colonies) to assemble, before launching an attack. On the 8th of January, Packenham ordered three large, direct-assaults on the American positions; all of his attacks were cut down by American fire. Pakenham himself was mortally wounded in the third attack. The British had fought extremely bravely, but had suffered defeat because ladders needed to scale the earthworks defended by the Americans, were never brought forward to the soldiers. All the British infantry could do, was to stand out in the open and be shot by the Americans, who had been stationed behind defenses that the British could not assault. General John Lambert, who assumed command upon Pakenham's death, ordered the British withdrawal, despite the fact that Pakenham, before dying, ordered Lambert to continue the battle. The British had suffered a loss of some 700 dead and 2000 wounded or taken prisoner; while the Americans only had 13 dead, with 58 wounded.

Throughout the battle, the Americans were greatly aided by Jean Lafitte and his group of pirates. Lafitte's men fought alongside the Americans, their pirating in the seas south of Louisiana having been largely-ignored by the US government; as the pirates, as a rule, attacked only the Spanish and other pirates. It is an interesting side-note that Lafitte's men wore red shirts as their uniform, which caused much confusion in the British ranks, who were also clothed in red. Some daring pirates came down from Gen. Jackson's ramparts and merged with the British ranks, thus allowing them to kill small pockets of isolated troops, before the British realized there was an intruder. Also aiding the Americans were quite a few liberated Haitian slaves, a "black regiment" recruited from New Orleans, "several" Choctaws, and a group of men from the mountains of Kentucky, wielding long rifles, which they used to deadly effect.

Analysis of British defeat

The British were defeated at the Battle of New Orleans because of a lack of preparation. It had been planned to bring ladders to mount the American rampart, which was an excellent plan. Unfortunately, in the actual battle itself, the British made a tactical mistake of great cost: they did not bring their ladders. It is believed that they were simply forgotten, or that nobody was put in charge of ladder distribution.

Contributing to the defeat was a lack of communication. Had the British troops been able to notify the entire attacking group that they did not have the ladders, the battle may have been salvageable, or, at the very least, a less costly retreat. However, the troops in the rear of the formation were waiting for the Americans to be chased off their rampart, at which point they would engage them. However, each small group of soldiers fought on its own. It was reported (though disputed) that a group was actually seen which had forgotten its weapons.

The last factor was weather, or rather a misjudgement of the weather. The British were stationed not only near a large swamp, but also at a much lower position. In the swamp, dense fog had made visibility low, and the British planned to use this to their advantage. They would be concealed in fog, while the Americans on the rampart above were exposed. On the day of the battle, Pakenham and his men stormed out of the swamp and up to the American rampart, only to discover that there was no fog where they were. Pakenham also waited too late in the day to attack, and any of the fog there may have been was gone.

This defeat for the British was, historically, quite embarassing. Pakenham, normally an excellent military strategist and tactician, simply made too many mistakes. Even one of Britain's top officers fell to poor planning.


Unknown to both parties, an end to the war had been negotiated with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. However, by the terms of the treaty, the war was not officially over until ratifications were exchanged on February 17, 1815 and proclaimed the following day. Hence the battle may not have been completely pointless. It has been speculated that had the British been in control of the key port of New Orleans, they would have attempted to use this to seek additional concessions from the United States. The victory was celebrated with great enthusiasm in the United States, and gave Andrew Jackson the reputation of a war hero (by defeating the top military force in the world, the regular British army), which later propelled him to the presidency.

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