Most of us think we know something about The Battle of New Orleans and how Major General Andrew Jackson defeated the British in the War of 1812; but, do we really? Most Americans even those immediately after the battle think that it was an unnecessary war. This article will be in two parts and it will explore certain aspects of the Battle, The Treaty of Ghent and how the terms of the treaty unknowingly played into the battle, and the composition of the forces under Major General Andrew Jackson. The first part will describe the Battle of New Orleans, and The Treaty of Ghent. The second part will examine the composition of the American force.
The Battle of New Orleans was a series of military engagements fought from 23 December 1814 to 18 January 1815 when all British forces withdrew from the area. The major battle was fought in the early morning hours of 8 January 1815 at the present site of Jean Lafitte Park, New Orleans. In those early morning hours British Commander General Edward Pakenham ordered his forces to attack the American redoubts (fortifications) in a two pronged attack. His forces consisted of some of the best in the British Army. Many of his regiments had just defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in Continental Europe. Others were elite West Indian regiments of African origin. In addition, he had the cream of the Royal Navy’s Marines at his disposal. In a little more than half an hour the attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties for the British including the deaths of General Pakenham and his second in command Major General Samuel Gibbs: 291 killed, 1,267 wounded, and 484 captured or missing1. In contrast, the Americans suffered 13 dead, 39 wounded and 19 missing2.
A major factor contributing to the British casualties was the American tactic of targeting officers and senior enlisted men first. This resulted in the British regiments standing leaderless in the open neither advancing nor retreating until a surviving Senior British Officer ordered them to retreat. The consequence was a lethal combination of musket balls and grapeshot poured into the static red line of the British regiments.
THE TREATY OF GHENT
In article one of the treaty it stated that ” … All territory, places and possessions whatsoever, taken by either party from the other during the war, which may be taken after the signing of this treaty, excepting only the islands hereinafter mentioned, shall be restored without delay, and without causing any destruction or carrying away any of the artillery or other public property originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty, or any slaves or other private property…”3
What this meant was that if the British had captured New Orleans they would have had to return the city to the United States. How long that would have taken is a matter of debate. Early in the negotiations the British demanded that a British sponsored Indian state be established in the “Old Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin), and that the British would get transit rights to the Mississippi River. Both were rejected outright by the Americans. The Treaty was signed on Christmas Eve 1814, and not ratified until 30 December 1814 by the British Parliament and on 18 February 1815 by the US Senate. What might have happened if the British had captured New Orleans is a subject for “armchair” strategists to debate. It is well known fact in the military that having possession of a strategic piece of property is better than relying on the good nature of your previous opponent to return it.
It is the author’s opinion that the Battle of New Orleans was not in vain; but a vital component for the future peace of the United States and Great Britain. Just how important was New Orleans can be seen by the Union Army and Navy operation to capture it on 1 May 1862 during the American Civil War.
- Quimby, Robert S. (1997), The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: an operational and command study, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, ISBN 0-87013-441-8.
- James, William (1818), A full and correct account of the military occurrences of the late war between Great Britain and the United States of America; with an appendix, and plates. Volume II, London: Printed for the author and distributed by Black et al., ISBN 0-665-35743-5, OCLC 2226903. http://www.archive.org/stream/fullcorrectaccou01jame/fullcorrectaccou01jame_djvu.txt
- John Quincy Adams, et. al., “The Treaty of Ghent,” transcription, War of 1812-1814 (http://war1812.tripod.com/treaty.html : accessed 30 December 2014).