"We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin" - the Battle of New Orleans in 1815

8 January 1815, a larger British force is defeated by Andrew Jackson’s Americans at the Battle of New Orleans, the last major engagement of the War of 1812.
“As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of persons and of property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending.“ (Andrew Jackson)

Edward Percy Moran’s imagination of the 93th Highlanders in Victorian uniforms trying to get a foothold on a parapet with Hickory Jackson leading the defence (1910).

The war was actually over since Christmas Eve 1814, the treaty of Ghent just had to be ratified by the US Government. But neither Major General Jackson, organising the defences of the Territory of Orleans, just purchased from France ten years before, nor Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham and Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane had heard about it, when the British advance guard came upon the well-fortified positions of the roughly 5,000 Americans on the western bank of the Mississippi, five miles south of New Orleans on the grounds of Chalmette Plantation. After a bit of skirmishing, Pakenham decided to wait until the rest of his 11,000 troops arrived from the shores of Lake Borgne. Jackson had all the time he needed to prepare for the advance of the British. Pakenham, an old Peninsula hand, brother-in-law of Wellington and certainly a seasoned campaigner, was all for circumventing Jackson’s position, but was overruled by Cochrane and his own general staff and in the wee hours of January 8th, the two-pronged British assault on “Old Hickory” Jackson’s earthworks began in dense fog, with the regiments advancing in typical European battle formation and the fifes and drums playing.

F.C. Yohn's (1875 -1933) imagination of "Old Hickory" Jackson on the ramparts during the Battle of New Orleans (Illustration for: "The Youth's Companion Historic Milestones")

had blundered, though. The siege equipment, ladders and fascines necessary to force the ramparts, were somehow forgotten and the British ended up facing withering artillery and musket fire from defences they could not climb. Three assaults were bloodily repulsed, Pakenham himself fell during the third, as did his second-in-command Gibbs and senior officers by the dozen, picked off deliberately by American sharpshooters. Finally, General Lambert assumed overall command and ordered a general retreat. The British had suffered about 2,500 casualties during the debacle, Jackson’s men got off with 333, 55 of them dead. Since Cochrane’s ships could not force the entrance of the Mississippi to land troops elsewhere and shoot defences along the river to pieces, the campaign in Louisiana was over and news of the peace agreement reached the combatants soon afterwards. The Peace of Ghent was ratified by the US Government on February 17th, just six weeks after the Battle of New Orleans.

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