Almost 200 years ago, on January 8, 1815, Major General Andrew Jackson and his outnumbered American defenders overwhelmed veteran British troops at the Battle of New Orleans. The battle took place five miles downriver from New Orleans in Chalmette, Louisiana, where the British hoped to take control of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, the brother-in-law of the Duke of Wellington, commanded more than 10,000 British troops and launched an offensive early in the morning of January 8th. Jackson's forces included soldiers and sailors, as well as state militia from Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. African Americans, Cherokee Indians and Jean Lafitte’s Baratarian pirates also served under Jackson. The Americans defended with deadly artillery and rifles, resulting in British casualties of more than 2,500 (about 700 dead) in contrast to 71 American casualties (about 13 dead).
Andrew Jackson praised his combined troops:
Natives of different states, acting together, for the first time in this camp; differing in habits and language, instead of viewing in these circumstances, the germ of distrust and division, you have made them the source of an honourable emulation, and from the seeds of discord itself, have reaped the fruits of an honourable union . . .
January 8 was the final in a series of four land engagements between General Jackson’s forces and British forces, led by Major General Edward Pakenham. Andrew Jackson defended the city against these seasoned troops who had fought the French under the Duke of Wellington.
General Jackson described the battle as fierce and deadly:
Early on the morning of the 8th, the enemy having been actively employed the two preceding days, in making preparations for a storm, advanced in two strong columns on my right and left. They were received however with a firmness which it seems they little expected, and which defeated all their hopes. My men, undisturbed by their approach, which indeed they long anxiously wished for, opened upon them a fire, so deliberate and certain, as rendered their scaling ladders and fascines, as well as their more direct implements of warfare, perfectly useless. For upwards of an hour it was continued with a briskness of which there have been but few instances, perhaps, in any country. In justice to the enemy, it must be said, they withstood it as long as could be expected, from the most determined bravery. At length, however, when all prospect of success became hopeless, they fled in confusion from the field, leaving it covered with their dead and wounded. Their loss was immense.
The decisive battle took place early in the morning of January 8, 1815. Ironically, the battle occurred after the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, but well before the treaty was ratified by the United States. Article 11 stated that the treaty “shall be binding on both parties” only after both sides ratified the treaty and “the ratifications mutually exchanged.” Furthermore, the official news of the peace treaty did not reach New Orleans until March 1815.
Among the British officers killed in the Battle were Major General Pakenham and General Samuel Gibbs. The Battle of New Orleans was a resounding victory for the Americans because the British had intended to capture New Orleans and control the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The National Park Service is entrusted with the care of the Chalmette Battlefield, which is part of Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve. This mobile tour has been created by the University of New Orleans and the Louisiana State Museum, and it focuses on locations in the French Quarter relating to the battle, either through legend or fact.
To learn more about the Chalmette Battlefield, visit the National Park Service Chalmette Battlefield/The Battle of New Orleans website, which includes a link to the American troop rosters and muster lists for the New Orleans campaign.