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The Battle of New Orleans: Joint Strategic and Operational Planning Lessons Learned

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The Battle of New Orleans: Joint Strategic and Operational Planning Lessons Learned

Nicholas J. Lorusso

Author’s Note - This paper is a modified version of a submission to the Joint and Combined Warfighting School - Hybrid faculty in partial satisfaction of the requirements for Joint Professional Military Education Phase II.  The contents of this submission reflect my original views and are not necessarily endorsed by the Joint Forces Staff College or the Department of Defense.

Background

Three and a half decades after a joint force won independence for the United States at Yorktown in 1781, another joint force ensured the fledgling nation’s continued existence with an improbable victory at the most decisive battle of the War of 1812.

In sugarcane fields and orange orchards on the Plains of Chalmette, along the swampy banks of the Mississippi River a few miles south of New Orleans, all services of the U.S. military fought together against Great Britain in a series of engagements from 14 December 1814 to 19 January 1815, collectively referred to as the Battle of New Orleans.

During the first two years of the War of 1812, British troops repulsed three attempted U.S. invasions of Canada,[1] occupied Washington, D.C. and burned many of its public buildings.[2]  By the end of 1814, Americans had grown very weary of Mr. Madison’s War.  In fact, the war was so unpopular several New England states debated seceding from the Union to end their involvement in the hostilities.[3]

Until the end of 1814, all battles had been fought in the North.  Now the British planned to launch a southern campaign along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to capture New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory, purportedly transferred to the U.S. by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase.  However, the Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800 prohibited Napoleon from transferring the Louisiana Territory to any nation other than Spain, an ally of Britain.  Additionally, Great Britain did not recognize Napoleon as the legitimate French head of state.  Therefore, the British viewed Napoleon’s sale of Louisiana to the U.S. as invalid[4] and the U.S. as “the purchaser of stolen goods from a known highwayman.”[5]  As a result, the British believed the Louisiana Territory was fair for the taking.

Capturing New Orleans would also trap the Americans between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean, making them “prisoners in their own country”[6] and thwarting any westward expansion.  As 1815 approached, the U.S. faced the real possibility of being split in two by its former colonial master.

Moreover, the British had no intention of defeating the American forces in New Orleans, then sailing back home.  Instead, they intended to remain permanently.  In fact, the British invasion fleet carried “civil officers [to] conduct the government of the country to be annexed to His Majesty’s Dominions, [including] revenue collectors, printers, clerks, with printing presses.”[7]

Nullifying the Louisiana Purchase was only part of the overall operational plan. The motto of the invasion force was “beauty and booty.”[8]  The former referred to the attractive women of New Orleans, whom the British service members intended to take as their wives.  The latter referred to the vast stores of merchandise piling up in warehouses due to a war embargo, including $15 million of cotton, which made “a tempting reward for a successful mission in Louisiana.”[9]  To help to abscond with the captured treasure, merchant ships accompanied the British fleet.[10] 

However, the importance of retaining New Orleans was paramount to the United States.  A decade earlier, President Thomas Jefferson recognized the city’s critical strategic value when he noted nearly forty (40%) percent of U.S. produce “must pass [through New Orleans] to market.”[11]  As a result, he described New Orleans as the “one single spot [on the globe], the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy.”[12]  Due to its vital significance for trade, the fate of the nation rested on the defense of New Orleans and control of the Mississippi River.

Although founded in 1718, New Orleans in 1815 was not yet a fully integrated American city.  The State of Louisiana had been admitted to the Union only three years earlier and New Orleans remained more European than American, with most of its inhabitants being of French and Spanish descent.  In fact, the mayor of New Orleans at the time, Nicholas Girod, was born in present-day France and did not speak the English language.  It was unclear whether the citizens of New Orleans would be loyal to the United States or to the European invaders.

British Ruse

After years of fighting, on 8 August 1814 the two belligerents finally commenced peace discussions in the Flemish town of Ghent, Belgium.  The American diplomats included future president John Quincy Adams and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Henry Clay.  However, the British concocted a devious plan to mislead the Americans by having their diplomats negotiate a peace treaty in Ghent, while at the same time a secret British invasion force plowed across the ocean towards New Orleans.  To allow the British fleet sufficient time to reach the Gulf Coast, their diplomats employed dilatory tactics to prolong negotiations as long as possible.

Additionally, the British ensured the terms of the Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, more commonly referred to as the Treaty of Ghent (Treaty), stipulated hostilities would continue, and the war would not end, until both governments formally ratified the Treaty.  Specifically, the Treaty stated in clear and unambiguous terms, the Treaty “shall be binding on both parties [when] ratified on both sides without alteration[.]”[13]  As it would take months to cross the Atlantic Ocean by ship, the British planned to be in possession of New Orleans by the time the Treaty reached Congress for ratification deliberations, which would force the U.S. to choose between two equally poor courses of action.[14]  The U.S. could either: (1) continue the protracted war and try to expel the British from U.S. soil, or (2) ratify the Treaty and forfeit the Louisiana Territory.

As part of the scheme, the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst, issued secret orders to his ground troop commander to ignore any rumors of a peace treaty between the U.S. and Britain.  Specifically, Lord Bathurst instructed, “Hostilities should not be suspended until you shall have official information that The President has actually ratified the Treaty.”[15]  So confident were the British their treacherous plot would succeed, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, known as Lord Castlereagh, stated in December 1814, “I expect at this moment ... we are in possession of New Orleans, and have command of all the rivers of the Mississippi Valley.”[16]

Furthering their scheme, the British diplomats initially required an uti possidetis clause in the Treaty, which would allow each nation to retain all territory under their control at the time the war ended.  Believing New Orleans would be in British hands at the conclusion of the war, the uti possidetis clause would give legal title of New Orleans to Great Britain.  Due to American protests, the uti possidetis clause was abandoned and the British settled on terms providing all “possessions” owned by one nation, but under the control of the opposing nation, would be returned to the original owner.  Because the British did not consider New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory a legal possession of the United States, they agreed to the revised terms of the Treaty, convinced they would capture New Orleans and lawfully retain it in accordance with the terms of the Treaty.

When the U.S. and British diplomats finally signed the Treaty on 24 December 1814, the two nations remained in a state of war.  In fact, the war did not end until President Madison ratified the Treaty on 16 February 1815, more than a month after the Battle of New Orleans concluded.[17] 

Unfortunately, many historians have erroneously asserted the Battle of New Orleans was meaningless because it was fought after the War of 1812 had ended.  Those historians could not be more wrong.  By negligently perpetuating the myth the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the War of 1812 ended, this fascinating conflict has been marginalized to such an extent it is not studied in depth as part of U.S. military history.

However, it is a battle worthy of study. By applying the joint functions, the principles of joint operations and the elements of operational design, a joint U.S. military force achieved a stunning victory over a vastly superior force and saved the nation from disaster.  After more than two hundred years, the lessons learned from the Battle of New Orleans will still benefit joint officers today in conducting strategic and operational planning.

Principles of Joint Operations: Unity of Command[18]

The first lesson learned is all services involved in a joint operation must have a single joint force commander.  To the modern military strategist, it is axiomatic all forces involved in a complex operation must be subordinate to a single, overall commander.  During Operation Neptune, the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, Admiral Bertram Ramsay commanded all Allied naval forces, Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory commanded all Allied air assets and General Bernard Montgomery commanded all Allied ground troops.[19]  However, all three British commanders answered to a single Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Ike’s command was “clear-cut, absolute.”[20]  As a result, the Allies achieved complete unity of command in the European Theater of Operations.

Such was not the case in the joint operations area [JOA] during the Battle of New Orleans.  Prior to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, U.S. joint operations did not mandate a single supreme commander.  As a result, there was no geographic unified combatant command, led by a single combatant commander during the Battle of New Orleans.  To the contrary, in violation of the unity of command principle of joint operations, the ground troops fell under the command and control of the Secretary of War, while the naval forces answered only to the Secretary of the Navy.[21]

To oppose the British invasion, Secretary of War James Monroe selected Major General (MG) Andrew Jackson as commander of the Seventh Military District and all ground forces.  MG Jackson had already gained fame as an Indian fighter, won a significant victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend[22] against the Red Stick Creeks and earned the nickname “Old Hickory” for proving himself as tough as hardwood in battle.[23]  MG Jackson had a burning hatred for the British dating back to the American War of Independence.  At the young age of thirteen, he served as a courier for the Patriots.  As a grown man, MG Jackson still bore the scars on his hand and forehead where a British officer slashed him with a sword for refusing to polish the Redcoat’s boots.  To make matters worse, MG Jackson’s mother and two brothers died as a direct result of the war, resulting in his statement, “I owe to Britain a debt of retaliatory vengeance . . . should our forces meet I trust I shall pay the debt.”[24]

With regard to the naval forces, the Secretary of the Navy previously assigned Commodore (CDRE) Daniel Patterson as commander of the New Orleans Squadron and all naval assets in the JOA.  Accordingly, the overall command of the U.S. forces in New Orleans was only “one of cooperation between the senior component commanders.”[25]  MG Jackson explained the two distinct commands when he wrote, the “navy and military departments in our service [are] totally independent.”[26]

Despite this structural command problem, CDRE Patterson understood the operational environment in the JOA.  Instead of demanding command of all U.S. forces or competing with MG Jackson for resources, CDRE Patterson worked in conjunction with his ground forces counterpart.  He assured MG Jackson, “you shall have my hearty cooperation [and] feel myself honored by serving in conjunction with [you].”[27]  MG Jackson realized the critical importance of the voluntary cooperation provided by CDRE Patterson and expressed his appreciation after the battle.  MG Jackson wrote, “It has afforded me the highest satisfaction [there] existed … so perfect a harmony between land and Naval Forces.”[28]

However, things had not started out so smoothly between the two component commanders.  Prior to the British fleet’s arrival off the coast of Louisiana, MG Jackson erroneously believed the enemy was heading for Mobile.  Consequently, on August 27, 1814 he requested CDRE Patterson send all available naval forces to the Alabama coast.  The Navy commander “politely but firmly turned [MG Jackson] down.”  Fortunately, CDRE Patterson correctly predicted the British were aiming for New Orleans, not Mobile.[29] 

On the other hand, the British naval and land component commanders did not work together in harmony and their failure to do so contributed to the British defeat.  The British naval commander, Vice Admiral (VADM) Alexander Cochrane, arrived first in theater and selected the position from which the British army would launch its attack on New Orleans.  He deposited the British army on the Villeré Plantation, owned by the commander of the Louisiana militia, MG Jacques Villeré.[30] 

The British ground force commander was MG Edward “Ned” M. Pakenham, whose sister, Kitty, was married to the legendary Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.[31] MG Pakenham accompanied the Duke to the Peninsular War as adjutant general, then distinguished himself as a division commander at the Battle of Salamanca.  However, MG Pakenham was not his country’s first choice for the command.  MG Robert Ross was slated to be the commander until an American sniper found his mark at the Battle of North Point.[32] 

Upon arrival in New Orleans on Christmas Day, MG Pakenham was not at all impressed with the position VADM Cochrane selected to bivouac the army and launch the British attack, which hemmed the British in between the Mississippi River and an impenetrable swamp.[33]  In fact, MG Pakenham considered withdrawing the British army and relocating to a more tenable position.  Taking offense, VADM Cochrane responded, “If the army shrinks from the task … the sailors and marines [will] storm the American lines and march to the city [and the] soldiers can then bring up the baggage.”[34]  MG Pakenham seemingly was bullied into maintaining the poor British position instead of challenging the co-equal naval commander and making the strategic adjustments he believed necessary.

If the British had established a unified command structure and granted MG Pakenham supreme command, he would have had the authority to direct the navy to transport the British army to “fight another day at another place.”[35]  Since he did not have such power, the British army remained in the worse possible location to make its advance on New Orleans.

Fortunately for the U.S., the British lacked a unified command and allowed petty inter-service bickering to cloud their commanders’ strategic thinking.  Although the U.S. did not establish a unified command at New Orleans, MG Jackson and CDRE Patterson worked together with such synchronization they established an indomitable de facto unified command. 

Elements of Operational Design: Decisive Points[36]

The second lesson learned is a joint commander must have the vision to locate and control the decisive point of the JOA, just as MG Jackson selected the perfect site to establish his impregnable line.

Towards the end of 1814, intelligence revealed a massive British invasion fleet carrying ten thousand troops was bearing down on the Louisiana Gulf coast.  Leading the amphibious invasion was the 80-gun flagship HMS Tonnant, captured from the French at the 1798 Battle of the Nile.[37]  A few months earlier, Francis Scott Key stood on the deck of the HMS Tonnant as a British detainee and watched the “bombs bursting in air” during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, resulting in his writing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Although MG Jackson and CDRE Patterson knew the British invasion force was heading in their general direction, they could not determine exactly where the British intended to disembark their troops for the assault.  While there were virtually unlimited possible locations for the British to insert their forces by land and sea, MG Jackson and CDRE Patterson lacked both the time to prepare defensive works and the sufficient numbers of troops to guard every possible location.  Potential British routes included the Chef Menteur Road, Bayou St. John, the Mississippi River and the innumerable bayous, lakes, swamps, rivers and canals.[38]

Fortunately, while MG Jackson searched for the decisive point to establish his defensive position, CDRE Patterson’s naval forces provided the critical time to allow additional militia troops to arrive in the JOA. CDRE Patterson deployed Captain (CAPT) Thomas ap Catesby Jones with five Jeffersonian gunboats to Lake Borgne to deny the British entry to the Rigolets Straits, which would allow access to Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John.

CDRE Patterson was not to be eclipsed in eloquence by the fatally wounded CAPT James Lawrence aboard the USS Chesapeake, whose final command to his Sailors on 1 June 1813 was the immortal order, “Don’t give up the ship!”  Regrettably, just eleven minutes after CAPT Lawrence’s death, his crew surrendered their ship to the HMS Shannon.[39]  When deploying CAPT Jones to Lake Borgne, CDRE Patterson’s simple order was, “Sink the enemy or be sunk!”[40]

At the 14 December 1814 Battle of Lake Borgne, tidal currents immobilized CAPT Jones’s gunboats.[41] British Commander Nicholas Lockyer seized the opportunity and attacked with forty-two rowed barges, firing carronades from their bows.  The 1,200 British sailors overpowered the Americans and captured all five gunboats, while the entirety of their crews of 182 Sailors and Marines were killed, wounded or captured.[42]  The British also seized the sloop USS Alligator, while the sloop USS Tickler and the schooner USS Sea Horse were scuttled to avoid capture.

Upon hearing of the loss at Lake Borgne, the Louisiana Legislature panicked and considered surrendering New Orleans to the British to prevent it from being destroyed.  In response, MG Jackson took the drastic measure of declaring martial law, which he later conceded was unconstitutional.[43]  The declaration of martial law suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed MG Jackson to impress men on the streets of New Orleans into service with the U.S. Navy.[44]  In a twist of irony, the impressed Americans fought the British during a war waged to end the British impressment of U.S. Sailors aboard British ships.  To add to the irony, a British soldier reported observing a U.S. Soldier waiving a flag with “Sailors’ Rights” painted on it.[45]

Despite the loss at Lake Borgne, the naval engagement delayed the British advance long enough to allow militia from Kentucky and Tennessee to stream into the JOA.[46]  Additionally, captured Sailors and Marines provided counterintelligence to the British, which convinced VADM Cochrane the “British army needed additional troops before it could proceed against New Orleans.”[47]  The time required to transport additional troops from the British fleet in Lake Borgne to the Plains of Chalmette allowed MG Jackson the “chance he needed to complete the city’s defenses.”[48]

On 23 December 1814 the guessing game was over when the British appeared at the Villeré Plantation, nine miles downriver from New Orleans.  VADM Cochrane oarsmen rowed the British army thirty miles across Lake Borgne from their staging base at Pea Island at the mouth of the Pearl River, then down the unobstructed Bayou Bienvenue.  Contrary to MG Jackson’s orders, and for a reason that remains unknown, Bayou Bienvenue was not blocked or defended.  The failure to do so resulted in the court-martial of the officer tasked with the mission, Major Gabrielle Villeré, son of MG Villeré, upon whose plantation the British were encamped.[49]

When MG Jackson heard the British had landed, he pounded his fists on his table and exclaimed, “By the Eternal, they shall not sleep on our soil!”[50]  He planned to attack immediately and recalled his troops guarding the other possible insertion points throughout the region.  MAJ Jean Baptiste Plauché’s Battalion of Orleans, stationed at Fort St. John at the junction of Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John, ran the ten-mile distance from Fort St. John to the Plains of Chalmette in order to join with MG Jackson in battle against the enemy.

Before the U.S. land forces engaged the enemy, the U.S. Navy prepared the battlefield.  While the British troops warmed by their campfires on the damp and cold winter night, they observed a ship on the Mississippi River silently approaching their position.  The overconfident British assumed it was one of their own vessels, until someone on the deck of the 15-gun schooner USS Carolina shouted, “Give them this for the honor of America!,” which was “instantly followed by the flashes of her guns, and a deadly shower of grape swept down numbers in the [British] camp.”[51] 

After fierce fighting during the inconclusive Night Battle of 23 December 1814, both sides withdrew.  MG Jackson fell back to the Macarty Plantation and established Line Jackson behind the Rodriguez Canal.  He chose this decisive point because, from the British camp to the city, it was the narrowest width of firm ground between the Mississippi River on his right flank and a virtually impassable cypress swamp on his left flank.  MG Jackson had the Rodriguez Canal dug to a ten-foot deep, and used the excess soil to build his rampart, which provided excellent cover for his troops.

To reach New Orleans, the British would be funneled through a narrowing open field, then have to breach the impregnable Line Jackson at the choke point.  MG Jackson chose his decisive point wisely.

Joint Functions — Fires [52]

The third lesson learned is decisive joint fires must be brought to bear on the enemy, just as MG Jackson and CDRE Patterson delivered overwhelming rifle and cannon fire to create a devastating lethal effect on the British invaders.

During the Night Battle, augmenting the USS Carolina was the 16-gun sloop USS Louisiana, whose crew was “comprised of men of all nations, (English excepted) … two-thirds of whom do not understand English.”[53]  The USS Louisiana poured enfilade cannon fire into the British camp as U.S. ground forces delivered withering small arms fire.  The joint fires “knocked the British army off balance,”[54] and delayed an assault on New Orleans long enough to allow MG Jackson time to fortify his defenses.  Even after the British sunk the USS Carolina with hotshot on 27 December 1814, the naval bombardments from the USS Louisiana continued to buy “time for additional troops to flow into New Orleans.”[55]

During the British Reconnaissance in Force of 28 December 1814, an engineer serving with MG Jackson noted with appreciation, “Commodore Patterson, with his usual alacrity, had sent the ship Louisiana to our aid, [which] anchored nearly opposite our line and kept up a brisk, well directed fire until the enemy retreated.”[56]  The American joint fires also carried the day during the Artillery Dual of 1 January 1815, repulsing the British offensive.

The ultimate demonstration of joint fires occurred at Line Jackson during the climactic battle of the campaign on 8 January 1815, when the British launched a frontal assault on the American defensive position.  While Ursuline nuns prayed for an American victory at their convent in front of a statute of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, perhaps the most diverse fighting group ever assembled stood behind the mud parapet of Line Jackson, squarely facing the powerful British army.  Often described as a polyglot force, standing shoulder to shoulder on Line Jackson was one of the most diverse groups ever assembled in war.  Those troops standing with MG Jackson included Louisiana militia units from across the state, Mississippi Dragoons, Tennessee militia under Brigadier General (BG) John Coffee and MG William Carroll, Kentucky militia under BG John Adair, Freemen of Color, French and Spanish Creole volunteers, warriors from the Choctaw Nation, Jean Lafitte’s Baratarian privateers, a detachment of U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy Sailors formerly serving on the USS Carolina and Regular Army units, including the 7th and 44th Infantry Regiments.

Lieutenant (LT) Francis DeBellevue led the fifty-eight Marines while their commander, Major (MAJ) Daniel Carmick, convalesced from a head injury sustained from a Congreve rocket on 28 December 1814.[57]  Also on the line stood one of Napoleon’s former generals, Jean Humbert, in full French regalia.  The battle would be the second time BG Humbert fought MG Pakenham.  The first time was during the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.[58]

Eight artillery batteries along Line Jackson fired relentlessly into the rigid British formations.  Many of the artillery pieces were set on platforms resting on bales of cotton to prevent the heavy guns from sinking into the soft soil,[59] bestowing the nickname “The Cottonbalers” upon the U.S. 7th Infantry Regiment, which it has retained to this day.

Hammering the center of the British formations were the largest guns on the line.  Battery Two fired a 24-pounder and Battery Four fired an even larger 32-pounder, both recovered from the USS Carolina and manned by Sailors from her crew.  Between the two naval guns, Baratarian privateers led by Jean Lafitte’s brother, Dominique You,[60] manned two 24-pounders at Battery Three.[61]  MG Jackson was so confident in You’s fighting ability, he remarked, “If I were ordered to storm the gates of Hell with Captain Dominique as my lieutenant, I would have no misgiving of the result!”[62]

The five remaining batteries fired an additional dozen artillery pieces, ranging in size from 4-pounders to 18-pounders.  Artillery ammunition sent down range on the British consisted mainly of grapeshot and canister, but also included “scrap iron bundled together in a bag” called landidage,[63] which the British considered ungentlemanly.  MG Jackson dismissed the British protest and advised them he thought it was ungentlemanly for the British to invade his country.

In addition to the eight artillery batteries, approximately four thousand riflemen fired on the British from Line Jackson.[64]  Most of the Kentucky and Tennessee militia carried .36 and .40 caliber flintlock Pennsylvania long rifles, with thirty-six to sixty inch barrels.[65]  In the hands of those skilled marksmen, who the British contemptuously referred to as “Dirty Shirts,” the rifles were capable of hitting the enemy from three hundred yards away.  However, when the Kentucky and Tennessee militia arrived in New Orleans, they were short on two key components for their firearms: flints and gunpowder.  Fortunately, Jean Lafitte turned down a bribe from the British to fight for the Crown and provided the American forces with all the flint and gunpowder they could use.

If the cannons and rifles did not present enough problems for the British, MG Jackson had a special weapon waiting for them where the left extreme of Line Jackson entered a cypress swamp.  When the British attempted to reach the American position by infiltrating through the murky marsh at night, warriors from the Choctaw Nation wielding tomahawks chopped them to pieces.[66]

On the other side of the battlefield, most British infantrymen did not carry weapons with rifled barrels, but instead carried the smoothbore East Indian Pattern musket, commonly referred to as the “Brown Bess.”  While the British musket fired a larger .75 caliber ball, the effective range of only one hundred yards was significantly shorter,[67] largely due to the lack of a rifled barrel.  As a result, upon MG Jackson’s command, “Give it to them, boys!”[68] the Americans cut down the British infantry long before the Americans were in range of the British muskets and countless British soldiers “fell by the hands of men they could not see.”[69]

To augment the formidable firepower on Line Jackson, CDRE Patterson established an artillery battery on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just downriver of Line Jackson.[70]  MG Packenham was aware CDRE Patterson’s battery could wreak havoc on the flanks of his troops as they assaulted Line Jackson with enfilade fire.  As a result, MG Packenham sent a contingent of British forces under Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) William Thornton across the Mississippi River to the west bank in order to seize CDRE Patterson’s battery and turn the guns on Line Jackson.

LTC Thornton’s force paddled across the river, fought their way through the American defenses and threatened to overrun CDRE Patterson’s battery.  Fortunately for the Americans, the LTC Thornton was too late and arrived only after CDRE Patterson’s battery had “kept up a well directed and deadly cannonade upon [the British left] flank”[71] during the enemy’s advance towards MG Jackson’s fortified ramparts.  When LTC Thornton finally reach CDRE Patterson’s battery, in order to prevent the British from turning the cannons on his fellow Americans behind Line Jackson, CDRE Patterson hammered spikes in the touch-holes of his artillery pieces and dumped the gunpowder and ammunition in the Mississippi River.[72]  When the British captured CDRE Patterson’s cannons, they regained possession of a 10-inch brass howitzer inscribed, “Taken at the surrender of Yorktown 1781.”[73]  Fortunately, the battle on the east bank had already been won, in large measure due to CDRE Patterson’s fire support. 

After MG Pakenham’s defeat on the east bank, LTC Thornton’s force did not press its attack towards New Orleans, even though there were few American troops on the west bank standing between the British and the city.  Instead, the British troops on the west bank were recalled back across the Mississippi River to join their main force on the east bank in preparation for an anticipated counterattack by MG Jackson, which never occurred because the American forces prudently chose to remain securely behind Line Jackson.[74]

The British clearly did not anticipate the “devastating firepower the Americans would bring to bear.”[75]  An eyewitness account from British LT George Gleig recalled the effect of the joint fires from Line Jackson and lamented the British infantry was “exposed to a sweeping fire, which cut them down by whole companies.”[76]  LT Gleig further described the American joint fires as “musketry, grape, round-shot, and canister … which I have certainly never witnessed any more murderous.”[77]  The mightiest army in the world was simply outgunned.  MG Jackson had paid his debt to Britain in full.

In a last desperate effort to capture the Crescent City, VADM Cochrane sent British warships up the Mississippi River on 9 January 1815, which bombarded Fort St. Phillip, eighty miles downriver from the city.  However, U.S. troops under MAJ William Overton fended off the assault until the British abandoned their efforts on 18 January 1815 and returned to their fleet.[78] 

Meanwhile at the Macarty Plantation, MG Jackson watched for activity in the British camp for several days after 8 January 1815.  Finally, on 18 January 1815 he discovered the British army had vanished.  It had covertly marched through the swamps, re-boarded its ships and sailed home.  The long British campaign to conquer New Orleans finally ended in failure.  With his mission accomplished, MG Jackson wrote to the Secretary of War, “Louisiana is now clear of its enemy.”[79]

Aftermath

The result of the nearly flawless joint operation was a lopsided victory for the Jackson-Patterson contingent.  With the loss of thirteen men killed in action [KIA] on 8 January 1815, the U.S. inflicted over two thousand casualties on the British, including four hundred KIAs.  The British KIAs were reportedly “hastily interred in the rear of Bienvenue’s plantation”[80] in a mass grave, although their remains have never been located.

Among the British lying dead on the battlefield was the thirty-six year old MG Pakenham.  As he encouraged his men with, “Hurrah! Brave Highlander!” while leading on horseback at the head of his troops, grapeshot struck him dead.[81]  His disheartened men packed his body in a barrel of rum and shipped it home to Ireland for burial,[82] resulting in the indecorous comment, “although MG Pakenham lost the battle, at least he went home in good spirits.”[83]  The Iron Duke blamed the death of his dashing young brother-in-law on VADM Cochrane’s poor judgment[84] and believe the entire campaign was ill conceived.

The British second in command, MG Samuel Gibbs, swore he would hang LTC Thomas Mullens from “the highest tree in the swamp”[85] for failing to bring forward the fascines to breach the Rodriguez Canal and ladders to scale the ramparts.  However, MG Gibbs did not live long enough to carry out his threat.[86]  A magnificent marble carving of MG Pakenham and MG Gibbs in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London forever commemorates the two fallen comrades in arms.[87]  Of the remaining British generals, MG John Keane sustained grave wounds, while only MG John Lambert, commander of the reserve forces, survived unscathed.

For the British soldiers who sailed home after the Battle of New Orleans, a well-earned rest did not await them.  Many were redeployed to a small village in Belgium where they joined a coalition opposing Napoleon Bonaparte.  At the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815, the British veterans of the New Orleans campaign had much better fortune than they did on the Plains of Chalmette. 

With regard to other British subjects involved in the Battle of New Orleans, apparently no one blamed VADM Cochrane for the disaster, other than the Duke of Wellington, and he received a promotion to full Admiral.  MG Keane recovered from his wounds, was promoted to Lieutenant General and “elevated to the peerage as Baron Keane.”[88]  MG Lambert fought with distinction at Waterloo[89] and became governor of Jamaica.[90] LT Gleig joined the clergy and became the chaplain-general of the British Army.[91]  LTC Mullins was convicted at a court-martial for dereliction of duty and discharged from the army.  LTC Thornton was eventually promoted to Lieutenant General, knighted and made Lieutenant Governor of Jersey.  Finally, one of the masterminds of the British deception, Lord Castlereagh, eventually went mad and took his own life in 1822.[92]

As for the Americans, MG Villeré, MG Carroll and BG Adair became governors of Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively.[93]  MAJ Carmick died of his wounds in 1816.  The U.S. Marine Corps still honors his service by holding ceremonies at his tomb in New Orleans annually and the U.S. Navy named a destroyer after him.  At Omaha Beach on D-Day, the crew of USS Carmick proved to be as courageous as its namesake.  When they observed U.S. troops pinned down at the Vierville draw, they braved mines, artillery shells and shallow water to blast German gun positions, which finally allowed a breakthrough on the beachhead.[94]  CDRE Patterson went on to command the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,”[95] and CAPT Jones was promoted to commodore and commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet.[96]  Most significantly, the victory propelled MG Jackson to the highest office in the land.  In the 1828 presidential election, he defeated John Quincy Adams, the chief diplomat for negotiating the Treaty, which ended the War of 1812.

Conclusion

Despite overwhelming odds, by skillfully applying joint functions, elements of operational design and principles of joint operations, the motley American force crushed His Majesty’s battle hardened troops and won one of the most meaningful military victories in U.S. history.  If the British had won the Battle of New Orleans and occupied Louisiana, President Madison arguably would have refused to ratify the Treaty of Ghent[97] and the history of the U.S. States would have taken a far different turn.  The improbable triumph was a result of sound planning and execution on the strategic and operational level. The critical lessons learned from the battle are timeless and provide valuable insight to joint leaders even in today’s fluid environment.

Perhaps the greatest outcome of the battle was the fact it marked the last time the United States and Great Britain fired shots at each other in anger.  Afterwards, the two nations fought together as allies and won back-to-back world wars, which liberated millions of people from oppression.  Neither nation could have wished for a greater result.

End Notes


[1] Winston Groom, Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans (New York, NY: Knopf, 2006), 22.

[2] Walter Lord, The Dawn’s Early Light (New York, NY: Norton, 1972), 164-165.

[3] Groom, 61.

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5] Wilburt S. Brown, The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, 1814-1815 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969), 169.

[6] Grace King, New Orleans: The Place and the People (New York, NY: Macmillan Company, 1926), 219; Groom, 7.

[7] Final Report to the United States Congress of the Battle of New Orleans Sesquicentennial Celebration Commission (1965), 84.

[8] Samuel Carter, Blaze of Glory: The Fight for New Orleans 1814-1815 (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1971), 91-92.

[9] Gary Joiner, ed., The Battle of New Orleans: A Bicentennial Tribute (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2015), 39.

[10] King, 219; Groom, 7; Brown, 172.

[11] Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Robert Livingston, U.S. Minister to France (Washington, 1802).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America (Treaty of Ghent), Article the Eleventh.

[14] Ronald J. Drez, The War of 1812 Conflict and Deception: The British Attempt to Seize New Orleans and Nullify the Louisiana Purchase (Baton Rouge, LA:  LSU Press, 2014), 304-313.

[15] Brown, 121; Drez, 222-223.

[16] King, 219; Groom, 7.

[17] Reau E. Folk, Battle of New Orleans, Its Real Meaning: Exposure of Untruth Being Taught Young American Concerning the Second Most Important Military Event in the Life of the Republic (Nashville, TN: Ladies’ Hermitage Association, 1935), 37.

[18] Unity of command means all forces operate under a single commander with the requisite authority to direct all forces employed in pursuit of a common purpose. [Joint Publication 3-0, 17 January 2017, Appendix A, p. A-2]

[19] Stephen F. Ambrose, D-Day June 6, 1944:  The Climactic Battle of World War II (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 69.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Brown, ix.

[22] Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory (New York, NY: Viking, 1999), 13-14.

[23] Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767 – 1821 (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1977), 180.

[24] Remini, The Battle of New Orleans, 15.

[25] Matthew B. Dale, The Staff Ride Handbook for the Battles of New Orleans: 23 December 1814 - 8 January 1815 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2015), 111; Brown, 48.

[26] Arsene LaCarriere Latour, Historical Memoir; or, The War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-1815 (Philadelphia, PA:  Conrad & Co., 1816), Appendix, lxxxv.

[27] Joiner, 47.

[28]  Ibid., 65.

[29] Brown, 47.

[30] Groom, 261.

[31] Groom, 59.

[32] Remini, Andrew Jackson, 266.

[33] Remini, The Battle of New Orleans, 87-89; Brown, 109.

[34] King, 235.

[35] Groom, 248.

[36] A decisive point is a geographic place, specific key event, critical factor, or function that, when acted upon, allows a commander to gain a marked advantage over an adversary or contributes materially to achieving success. [Joint Publication 5-0, 16 June 2017, p. xxii]

[37] Groom, 95.

[38] Ibid, 104-105.

[39] Drez, 3.

[40] Paul E. La Violette, Sink or Be Sunk:  The Naval Battle in the Mississippi Sound That Preceded the Battle of New Orleans. (Waveland, MS:  Annabelle Publishing, 2002), 92.

[41] Ibid., 147; Brown, 78.

[42] Ibid., 154-156.

[43] Matthew Warshauer, Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 118; Brown, 84.

[44] Groom, 114.

[45] William Surtees, Twenty Five Years with the Rifle Brigade (Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood, 1833), 384.

[46] Joiner, 53.

[47] Gene A. Smith, Thomas ap Catesby Jones:  Commodore of Manifest Destiny (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 30.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Groom, 261.

[50] Lord, 328.

[51] George R. Gleig, A Narrative of the Campaigns in the British Army at Washington and New Orleans under Generals Ross, Pakenham, and Lambert in the Years 1814 and 1815 (London: John Murray, 1821), 284.

[54] Drez, 342.

[55] Dale, 28.

[56] John S. Bassett, ed., Major Howell Tatum's Journal While Acting Topographical Engineer (1814) to General Jackson, Commanding the Seventh Military District (Northampton, MA:  Department of History of Smith College, 1922), 117.

[57] Final Report, 49; Brown, 119.

[58] Ned Hémard, “He Fought Pakenham Twice,” New Orleans Bar Association, 2012, 3.

[59] Groom, 146.

[60] Remini, The Battle of New Orleans, 28; Brown, 86.

[61] Joiner, 269-270.

[62] Robert Tallant, The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans (New York, NY: Random House, 1951), 147.

[63] Joiner, 280.

[64] Remini, The Battle of New Orleans, 133.

[65] Joiner, 260.

[66] Groom, 152; Drez, 274; Brown, 109.

[67] Joiner, 254; Brown, 140.

[68] Lord, 335.

[69] Groom, 201.

[70] Dale, 107.

[71] Gleig, 326.

[72] Joiner, 212.

[73] Ibid., 271.

[74] Brown, 156.

[75] John S. Brown, “British Suffer Heavy Losses,” Army Magazine, Vol. 65, Issue 1 (2015): 45.

[76] Gleig, 325-326.

[77] Remini, The Battle of New Orleans, 141.

[78] Brown, 160.

[79] LaTour, Appendix, lviii.

[80] King, 248.

[81] Remini, The Battle of New Orleans, 149.

[82] Ibid., 167.

[83] Hémard, 5.

[84] Groom, 250; Brown, 172.

[85] Remini, The Battle of New Orleans, 143.

[86] Ibid., 150.

[87] Groom, 250.

[88] Dale, 197.

[89] Brown, 19.

[90] Groom, 251.

[91] Ibid., 250-251.

[92] Christopher Hibbert, Wellington: A Personal History. (Reading, MA:  Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1997), 238.

[93] Groom, 252.

[94] William B. Kirkland Jr., Destroyers at Normandy: Naval Gunfire Support at Omaha Beach (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Foundation, 1994), ix.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Smith, 101.

[97] Folk, 37

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About the Author(s)

Colonel Nicholas J. Lorusso, U.S. Army Reserves, most recently served as the commander of the 91st Legal Operations Detachment in Darien, Illinois.  He earned a BA in History from the University of New Orleans, a Masters in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College and a Juris Doctor from LSU Law School.  Previous joint assignments include CJTF 180-Operation Uphold Democracy (Republic of Haiti) and the Office for the Administrative Review of Detained Enemy Combatants (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).  He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army War College, the Brigade Pre-Command Course, the Joint and Combined Warfighting School – Hybrid and the U.S. Army Airborne School.  As a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, COL Lorusso passed legislation creating, and subsequently served on, the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial Commission.