New Orleans

8 January 1815

Map of battle

With Christmas of 1814 barely a month away, a British expeditionary force arrived off the coast near New Orleans.

The British went ashore on 13 December and moved towards New Orleans, getting to within 12 kilometres of their target before running into a defensive line hastily put together by General Andrew Jackson.

Jackson's 5000 defenders included regular soldiers, militia, Indians, black troops and even pirates. They were in strong defensive works of logs and cotton bales and had a clear field of fire across the ground the British had to advance over.

His opponent was General Sir Edward Pakenham, who led 7500 men - a large number of them experienced veterans from the Peninsular War.

While a solid and brave second-in-command, any command talent must have left Pakenham before the battle as his plan of attack was unimaginative and deadly.

Advancing, the British were hit with an overpowering rain of cannon and musket fire but continued their attack. Less experienced troops would have broken and fled, but the redcoats continued on through the terrible fire.

Courage got them to the American lines and then, finally, a foothold - but the deaths of several of their commanders threw them into confusion and the attack lost momentum.

Taking charge of the crucial attack in person, Pakenham was wounded in the knee and then, as he tried to remount his horse, was hit in the arm. Seconds later came a mortal wound.

A British major, whose men had finally made defenders withdraw, was said to have turned with a victory shout only to see the recoats retreating as well.

New Orleans was an unfortunate tragedy for the British as it was an unnecessary battle. Peace with America had been signed with the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, but the combatants did not learn of it until after the clash.

In two fateful hours, more than 2000 British troops - including two senior generals - had been killed, wounded or captured. Jackson lost eight killed and 13 injured.




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