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On January 8th, 1815, Andrew Jackson provided America with its greatest land victory of the War of 1812, secured the United States’ most significant port, and ensured American control of the Mississippi River. Although it has been almost two hundred years since the Battle of New Orleans, as time has passed, the knowledge and understanding of the subject has consistently improved. This should be attributed to the constantly improving availability of primary documents due to technology, combined with a growing passion for the topic, with Alexander Walker, son of famous whiskey distiller Johnny Walker, was the first author to compose a focused work on the subject in his book Jackson and New Orleans 1856. Walker was born in Great Britain and inherited his fathers company the year directly after his book was published in 1857. Throughout his book, Walker provides multiple facts, which he claims to have gathered from interviews with British survivors of the battle. He lists no other sources for his work, but being the closest author to the actual event, modern historians liberally cite him. Walker makes several significant contributions to the subject and he fills in numerous gray areas regarding the tactics and command decisions of the British. Although modern scholars utilize Jackson and New Orleans as a foundation for their work, Walker’s information has been impossible to verify based on his method of research. Instead of breaking down Walker’s blatant faults in research and obvious bias, it is more sufficient for this essay to analyze and connect modern works on the subject.

Charles Brooks’ The Siege of New Orleans (1961) is the first story of the battle since Alexander Walker’s Jackson and New Orleans, written in 1857. His research consists of secondary works and well-known primary documents. Despite this, Brooks provides no new research on the subject. He acknowledges libraries, librarians, two professors from San Diego State College, and he notes a special debt to a professor from the University of California. Considering the technology at the time, Brooks was most likely limited to what resources he was able to acquire on the subject. He makes no remarks in the preface of any travels to Universities in the region and doesn’t list any professors who would be experts on the subject. The preface foreshadows the narrative-like content of the book. Accordingly, the style of Brooks’ content becomes immediately evident, “Thus the British Empire flexed its muscles and grinned across the ocean at the mistress of the Mississippi”[1]. The way Brooks combines his words to produce flamboyant and irrelevant sentences suggests that his goal was to entertain his audience rather than make a significant historical contribution to the subject. Being the first work written on the battle in the twentieth century, Brooks perhaps smartly saw a financial opportunity. Overall he produced a very entertaining retelling of the battle, but he shows no passion for the subject unlike the other scholars mentioned in this essay.

Wilburt Brown was a Major General in the United States Marine Corps when he began work on The Struggle for Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812-1815 (1969). Brown served in World War 1, World War 2, and the Korean War. After thirty-three years of service Brown became a professor of military history at the University of Alabama. Notably, he was the first scholar to refer to the battle of New Orleans as an “amphibious campaign”. This points to his affiliation with the Marine Corps, which is a navy based faction of the military. At the time Brown’s work was published, it was seen as the most complete account of the battle of New Orleans. Brown’s research on the subject is more thorough than any other attempted previous work. Unlike Charles Brooks, Brown utilized papers from the Library of Congress, American and British government archives, and read every surviving eyewitness account of the battle. His work should be considered a military history of the subject, as the author tends to avoid social and political aspects of the time. Brown examines the military strategy, tactics, and intelligence relative to both the Americans and British armies. He concludes that the immeasurable leadership of Andrew Jackson combined with poor support from the British government, ultimately led to the demise of the competent, but unlucky British commanders. Charles Brooks, who’s previous work The Siege of New Orleans was widely criticized, praised Browns book in 1970 stating, ” To gather the facts, he utilized the Jackson and Mason papers of the Library of Congress and British and American archives as well as published eyewitness accounts and later histories”[2]. Brooks did not apply these resources in his previous narrative and did not hesitate to appreciate Brown’s extensive research. Nicknamed “Big Foot” by his military buddies, Brown undoubtedly set the tone for aspiring scholars of the subject. The general passed away before his work was published.

Frank Owsley Jr.’s The Struggle for Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans (1980), was the first work published on the subject prior to General Brown’s praised text. In 1970, Owsley Jr, a professor at the University of Florida, critically reviewed the late General Brown’s book. Owsley, like Brooks, also applauded the Generals work stating, “he has used far more of the British manuscript materials than any other historian so far”[3]. Owsley Jr. seemed to be inspired by Brown’s work ethic towards new research. Accordingly when he released his own work on the subject in 1980, Owsley Jr. included more sources and research than any other work previously written on the subject. In his acknowledgments, the author thanks countless National archive directors along with the University libraries of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, South Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana State, and Oklahoma. The most notable acknowledgments however, are the author’s thanks to the historians John K. Mahon and Robert V. Remini. Both men are experts on the subject and ironically, each of them have works reviewed in this particular essay. Perhaps a product of his research, Owsley Jr. produces several new aspects and ideas on the outcome of the battle that previous historians have neglected to analyze. He predicts that without the Indian Creek War, the British would not have been drawn to the gulf theater and that New Orleans may have remained unchallenged. Owsley’s knowledge and views on the Indians relating to the British effort against New Orleans and the Gulf also surpass any previous related text. He also cites the low British morale as a factor that led to the end result while he credits Andrew Jackson with the “perfect” defense of New Orleans. Owsley’s dedication to the subject combined with the constantly improving technology of the time allowed him to procure the research necessary to produce this outstanding work.

The most recent account of the subject to date is Robert V. Remini’s The Battle of New Orleans written in 1999. It is the most specific explanation of the actual battle of New Orleans. He does not include the background information regarding the influence of Indians unlike the previous works discussed. Instead, Remini focuses primarily on the military history and tactics of the British and American armies at New Orleans. An obsessive scholar of the subject, John K. Mahon categorizes Remini’s work as, “the most detailed, best documented, and most interesting account that I have read of the battle”[4]. Mahon’s compliments should be taken with great appreciation from the author as he has written numerous articles on the subject, and a full history of the War of 1812. It should be noted that Remini did not publish his work through a University unlike the previous texts discussed, instead his book was published by the well-known Penguin Group. His lack of affiliation with a University did not hinder his research whatsoever. His footnotes include each work previously mentioned in this essay along with new research made possible by the National archives of the United States, Britain and Scotland. Lastly, Remini categorizes the battle of New Orleans as “one of the great turning points in American history”[5], and recognizes the victory as “a defining moment in the national character”.

Minus Walker, each author aforementioned has written reviews on each other’s books mentioned in this essay. Although one might predict a competitive nature between the scholars of this topic, these specific authors all assisted each other with their respective works and were not negative in their reviews. The fact that in some cases these scholars worked jointly together points to their ultimate infatuation with the battle of New Orleans. No work has been written since Remini’s in 1999, which suggests that the technology used by scholars to review documents has temporarily reached a plateau. Remini’s The Battle of New Orleans best compliments the topic and proves that it’s improved understanding truly has been a gradual process.

Bibliography

Brooks, Charles. The Siege of New Orleans. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1961.

Brown, Wilburt. The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans. University of Alabama Press, 1969.

Brooks, Charles. Review of The Amphibious Campaign for Florida and Louisiana 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans at the University of Alabama, by Wilburt Brown. 1969.

Mahon, John K. Review of The Battle of New Orleans, by Robert Remini. 1999

Owsley Jr., Frank. The Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1980.

Owsley Jr., Frank. Review of The Amphibious Campaign for Florida and Louisiana 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans at the University of Alabama, by Wilburt Brown. 1969.

Remini, Robert. The Battle of New Orleans. New York: Viking, 1999.

Walker, Alexander. Jackson and New Orleans. New York: J.C. Derby, 1856


[1] Brooks, Charles. The Siege of New Orleans. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1961), 27

[2] Brooks, Charles. Review of The Amphibious Campaign for Florida and Louisiana 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans at the University of Alabama, by Wilburt Brown. 1969.

[3] Brooks, Charles. Review of The Amphibious Campaign for Florida and Louisiana 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans at the University of Alabama, by Wilburt Brown. 1969.

[4] Mahon, John K. Review of The Battle of New Orleans, by Robert Remini. 1999

[5] Remini, Robert. The Battle of New Orleans. (New York: Viking, 1999) 195.

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On the morning of January 8th, 1815, the British Army clashed with a small American force led by Major General Andrew Jackson on the outskirts of New Orleans on the Chalmette Plantation. At the end of the day, the British suffered over 2,000 men killed, wounded or missing, while the victorious Americans lost only 13 dead. The men of the U.S. 7th Infantry Regiment stood alongside Kentucky militiamen, slaves, Louisiana locals, freed blacks and Baratarian pirates as they repelled the British assault. Andrew Jackson provided America with its greatest land victory of the War of 1812, secured the United States’ most significant port, and ensured American control of the Mississippi River. Numerous aspects of the events leading up to and during the Battle of New Orleans should be seen as critical to the eventual lopsided outcome. Poor British command decisions combined with Andrew Jackson’s perfectly constructed defense of the city led to the favorable American outcome.

At the beginning of the year of 1814, the British Empire had completely dedicated itself to destroying Napoleon’s army. British General Sir Arthur Wellesley was on the verge of defeating the petite leader and finally on April 14th, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the Island of Elba. This significant victory for the British meant that they could ultimately avert soldiers and military resources to the much smaller conflict taking place in the United States. These soldiers and resources were accompanied with a new military strategy. The British Parliament agreed on a three pronged attack which focused their forces in Southern Canada, the center of the Atlantic coastline, and the Gulf of Mexico. The largest field army ever assembled by the British in North America (eighteen thousand men) was poised to sweep into the northern United States in the late summer of 1814. Their advance was thwarted in an Ameican naval victory near Plattsburg at Lake Champlain, resulting in the retreat of all eighteen thousand men back to Canada. The second prong which was meant as a diversion for the northern campaign, was initially successful as the British landed unopposed in the Chesapeake Bay. Undermanned, they were able to raid and burn the American capitol of Washington and briefly enter Baltimore, before they were forced to return to their ships. These failed forays ultimately convinced British commanders to thrust the third prong of their plan at the Gulf of Mexico.

Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane was appointed commander of the North American station on April 1st of 1814. He immediately recommended to his government an invasion of the United States through the Gulf of Mexico, specifically New Orleans and the Mississippi Valley. Before he was able to embark upon this campaign, Cochrane oversaw the British invasion of Washington which was led by Major General Robert Ross with a force of thirty two hundred men. After the burning of Washington, Cochrane urged Ross to make an unorganized advance upon Baltimore. Charles Brooks in his book, The Siege of New Orleans 1961 stated that, “some felt that the fruitless attack upon Baltimore had been inspired by Admiral Cochrane’s greed”. General Ross was killed by American marksmen as he and his army approached Baltimore. Ross’ second in command recommended to Cochrane that they withdraw but the Admiral “glared so disapprovingly that he marched his army on towards Baltimore”. Cochrane’s selfish leadership and poor judgement first surfaces during this specific campaign. His best General was killed and his forces retreated back to their fleet eventually sailing to the West Indies.

The British War Office eagerly sent Major General John Keane with reinforcements to the aid of General Ross when they learned of his overwhelming success at Washington. Ironically, the order was given on the same day Ross was pointlessly slain at Baltimore on September 12th. When news reached London of Ross’ death on October 17th, the disappointed War Office decided to continue with plans to send ten thousand men and two more Generals to aid in Cochrane’s effort against the Americans. Due to  this generous addition to his command, Admiral Cochrane determined that the support of Indians and the slave population would no longer be necessary to take New Orleans. The Admiral had previously proposed to Parliament that he would be able to easily overthrow New Orleans with a force of three thousand British troops, Indians, and French or Spanish locals. Famous British historian Sir John Fortescue called Cochrane’s initial plan “a piece of folly so childish that it ought to have warned the British ministers against listening to any of his projects”. Cochrane’s consistent underestimation of American troops is evident throughout his preparation for the New Orleans campaign.

The senior General the British Parliament determined to replace Ross with was Sir Edward Pakenham, son of the Earl of Longford and brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Wellesley. This would be the General’s first independent command and unfortunately for him, the structure of the campaign was solidified prior to his arrival. This left Admiral Cochrane and General Keane responsible for selecting the invasion route of New Orleans. Cochrane had previously asserted that Indian support would no longer be needed therefore a direct ship to shore route would be selected. As Cochrane and Keane narrowed their options of assault, the Bay of Barataria was strongly considered. The Island of Grand Terre located in the Bay was the settlement of Jean Lafitte and his followers which undoubtably provided the British with their best approach to New Orleans. Cochrane intended to ally with Lafitte which would enhance his knowledge of the terrain and provide even more military support. Unfortunately for the British, Lafitte saw Cochrane’s attempt to befriend him as “overbearing”. The Baratarians ultimately sided with Andrew Jackson and his dismal force of Americans. Cochrane’s haughty attitude again resulted in a factor that would eventually lead to his army’s defeat.

The Admiral’s tactical and political mistakes are thought to have been a product of his extraordinary taste for plunder. This was first evident when Cochrane needlessly advanced toward Baltimore solely, “because of the loot known to be there”. General Sir Arthur Wellesley shared the same opinion in regards of Cochrane’s aspirations at New Orleans, “plunder was its object,” and “the Admiral took care to be attended by a sufficient number of Sharks to carry the plunder off from a place in which he knew well that he could not remain”. Although Wellesley most likely never intended for these lines from his letter to be made public, it gives crucial insight into Cochrane’s reputation among his most respected counterparts. The previously critical historian Sir John Fortescue also commented on the intentions of Cochrane, his heritage and the agenda of the Royal Navy. In 1899 Fortescue ascertained regarding New Orleans, “prize money had for nearly two centuries been the motive for all amphibious operations recommended by the Navy” and “if any naval officers had shown stronger lust for prizes than others, they were the Scots; and all three of the Admirals engaged in this expedition were Scotsmen.” No matter Cochrane’s nationality, the evidence supplied agrees with the Admiral’s greedy ways.

The British command determined that the best route to New Orleans would be via Lake Borgne to the east of the city. The advance body of the expedition moved to Pea Island, in the mouth of the Pearl River, near which Cochrane considered a vulnerable shore. From there the British force penetrated the Bayou Bienvenu waterway which led them to a good road which ran adjacent to the Mississippi River. General Keane had his doubts about this approach to the city and when he expressed them to the Admiral, Cochrane “browbeat” him into the final decision. At this point General Pakenham finally arrived to assume command of his infantry on the outskirts of New Orleans. Historian Alexander Walker claimed that Pakenham was unhappy with the position of his troops and considered a withdrawal. Walker again claims, using actual dialogue, that Cochrane shamed Pakenham into not retreating and said the sailors would take the city while, “the soldiers brought up the baggage”. The young Pakenham whom most likely wanted to preserve his honor in the eyes of the aged Admiral, decided to continue with Cochrane’s plan of assault.

General Andrew Jackson’s defense of New Orleans has been deemed as perfect among scholars of the subject. His men defended earthworks extending from the Mississippi River to the edge of a dense swamp. Jackson extended his defensive line further towards the cypress swamp moments before the British assault. Famous Baratarian pirate leader Jean Lafitte originally recommended this move to Jackson as he foresaw a potential British sneak attack.  Had there not been American soldiers there to repel this faction of the British assault, their defensive line could have been outflanked and eventually overwhelmed. This one aspect of the battle is the only facet which the Americans could have possibly made their one blunder. Luckily for Jackson, troop placement was the largest tactical decision he had to make. The actual defense was very straightforward and it seemed that any unorganized band of men would have been able to thwart the British assault that day. Accordingly, British General Pakenham was killed, General Keane was severely wounded, two Major Generals were killed along with, eight colonels, six majors, eighteen captains, and fifty four lieutenants.

The defeat of the British at the battle of New Orleans was strategically and geographically inevitable. Rushed and rash decisions made by Admiral Cochrane severely deflated any chance of a British victory. It is more prudent to examine British faults than American success. Andrew Jackson’s plan was very straightforward, while the British had multiple options leading up to the battle. This moment in American history should be seen as a turning point and some scholars classify it as a defining moment of national character.

John K. Mahon, British Command Decisions Relative to the Battle of New Orleans, Louisiana, (Winter 1965) 53-73.

2 Charles B. Brooks, The Siege of New Orleans (1961). 104

3 Charles B. Brooks, The Siege of New Orleans (1961). 56

Sir John Fortescue, A History of the British Army (13 vols., London, 1899-

1930), X, 150-51

5 John K. Mahon, British Command Decisions Relative to the Battle of New Orleans, Louisiana, (Winter 1965) 70

6 Charles B. Brooks, The Siege of New Orleans (1961). 104

7 Wellington to Longford, May 22, 1815, Louisiana Historical Quarterly, IX

(January, 1926), 8

8 Sir John Fortescue, A History of the British Army (13 vols., London, 1899-

1930), X, 150-51

9 Charles B. Brooks, The Siege of New Orleans (1961). 203

10 Alexander Walker, Jackson and New Orleans, 212

John K. Mahon, British Command Decisions Relative to the Battle of New Orleans, Louisiana, (Winter 1965) 70

Bibliography

Brooks, Charles. The Siege of New Orleans. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1961.

Brown, Wilburt. The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans. University of Alabama Press, 1969.

Brooks, Charles. Review of The Amphibious Campaign for Florida and Louisiana 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans at the University of Alabama, by Wilburt Brown. 1969.

George R. Gleig, The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans 1814-1815 (London, 1827)

Mahon, John K. British Command Decisions Relative to the Battle of New Orleans. Louisiana, (Winter 1965)

Mahon, John K. Review of The Battle of New Orleans, by Robert Remini. 1999

Owsley Jr., Frank. The Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1980.

Owsley Jr., Frank. Review of The Amphibious Campaign for Florida and Louisiana 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans at the University of Alabama, by Wilburt Brown. 1969.

Remini, Robert. The Battle of New Orleans. New York: Viking, 1999.

Walker, Alexander. Jackson and New Orleans. New York: J.C. Derby, 1856

Wellington to Longford, May 22, 1815, Louisiana Historical Quarterly, IX

(January, 1926)


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