The Battle of New Orleans was a battle fought as the culmination of the War of 1812. The War of 1812 is an interesting conflict in American History because, in many respects, it was an offshoot of the American Revolutionary War in that postwar tensions, as well as the ongoing animosity between France and Great Britain, were its key components. To that point, the War of 1812 has often been styled the “Second War of Independence.” The Napoleonic Wars have been cited as the genesis of the War of 1812.
- The War of 1812 ran from 18 Jun 1812 until 18 Feb 1815.
- The Battle of New Orleans ran from 24 Dec 1814 until 08 Jan 1815.
- The Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium on 24 Dec 1814 and ratified by the U.S. Senate on 18 Feb 1815.
Another key connection between the Revolutionary War and the Battle of New Orleans was General Andrew Jackson! Andrew Jackson had been taken prisoner during the Revolutionary War and was apparently very anxious to give it back to the British; the War of 1812 via the Battle of New Orleans was to provide that venue.
What made the Battle of New Orleans interesting and somewhat of an anomaly was that it actually never should have happened. With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on 24 Dec 1814, the war was officially over; however, the treaty was signed in Ghent, Belgium and not in the U.S. As news of the treaty was not immediate across the world, the Battle of New Orleans took place on U.S. soil before word could arrive of the treaty! They were fighting an unnecessary battle! The Treaty of Ghent was later ratified by the U.S. Senate on 18 Feb 1815.
The Battle of New Orleans was the last battle of the War of 1812 that never needed to take place. It did have some ironic and somewhat fortuitous consequences, though. As previously mentioned, one of those ironic outcomes was that of Andrew Jackson, who, without the Battle of New Orleans, might not have achieved the office of the President of the United States (term: 1829-1837)! It was this battle that made him famous. It was an iconic outcome, you might say.
My ancestor fought under General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans on 08 Jan 1815. Subsequent to the battle, my ancestor lived near Andrew Jackson in Tennessee before moving down to Alabama and settling in Walker County. His eldest son served on the Alabama State Legislature from 1846 until 1876. He was also a member of the Alabama Constitutional Convention in 1875. I suppose his political career might have been an indirect result of the Battle of New Orleans as well.
Andrew Jackson was known as “old hickory” for his resolute toughness! I read a wonderful biography on Andrew Jackson called American Lion by Jon Meacham.
From my understanding of the Battle of New Orleans, the crux of the battle centered around the Mississippi River. The mouth of the Mississippi River drains into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans and therefore was a strategic location where the British chose to try and separate US forces. Skirmishes and battles were taking place prior to the Battle of New Orleans in southern Louisiana and along the Mississippi River in December of 1814 into January of 1815 – one even on New Year’s Day! However, it was the incursion on 08 Jan 1815 that General Andrew Jackson showed his military meddle.
On that day, General Jackson’s men dug a trench that spanned over a mile in width. They dug in and awaited the British under the command of Sir Edward Pakenham. The “dirty shirts,” as the Americans were called by the British during this battle were a rag-tag band of farmers, military men, and even a few pirates thrown in that would save the day. You can’t make this stuff up!
Well, as Sir Pakenham’s troops moved in they underestimated the size, compliment, and will of Jackson’s side. Another major factor was the weather. A fog rolled in early in the morning which the British were hoping to capitalize on for cover; however, by the time the battle commenced, the fog had lifted and Pakenham’s troops were all but sitting ducks, exposed out of their blinds. In barely 30 minutes the British troops were laid waste as their men descended into pandemonium.
“The battle was remarkable for both its brevity and lopsided lethality. In the space of twenty-five minutes, the British lost 700 killed, 1400 wounded and 500 prisoners, a total loss of twenty-six hundred men; American losses were only seven killed and six wounded.”
“From December 25, 1814, to January 26, 1815, British casualties during the Louisiana Campaign, apart from the assault on January 8, were 49 killed, 87 wounded and 4 missing. Thus, British casualties for the entire campaign totaled 2,459: 386 killed, 1,521 wounded, and 552 missing. American casualties for the entire campaign totaled 333: 55 killed, 185 wounded, and 93 missing.”
Sad statistics, but true. They are indeed representative of the severity of this historic battle. No wonder General Andrew Jackson was lauded as a national hero which catapulted him into a political career that landed him in the Oval Office!
Finally, if it weren’t for the War of 1812, we wouldn’t have our National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner. Technically, the Star Spangled Banner was written by Frances Scott Key in 1814 and therefore came before the Battle of New Orleans which took place in 08 Jan 1815; however, the two remain indelibly connected to our nation’s glorious past.
Sources and further reading:
Meacham, Jon. 2008. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. New York: Random House
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