On the morning of January 8, 1815, British forces attacked American positions outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, resulting in a bloody defeat for the British in the last major battle of the War of 1812.
In the days leading up to January 8, the British and Americans (under Andrew Jackson) had clashed in a series of smaller conflicts, as the British landed in the area to capture New Orleans and continue their campaign to gain a toehold in the Gulf.
In late December, Jackson had his main force dig in south of New Orleans at Chalmette Plantation, building defensive breastworks along a canal that stretched from the Mississippi River to the cypress swamp not far to the east. He also had a smaller force of men man a line across the Mississippi on the west bank.
The British plan was to use their greater number of men to launch an attack on both sides of the river simultaneously, with the British forces on the more heavily defended east bank aiming to hit both the right and left flanks of the American line.
Things didn’t go as planned for the British, however. The smaller group of British troops who were to attack the west bank were delayed, and over on the east bank, the ladders and fascines needed to scale the American defenses failed to arrive when needed. In addition, the bulk of the British forces were commanded to attack the Americans’ left flank on the east bank because it was believed to be weaker, but in reality it was actually more heavily defended.
Intense fire and a stalwart defense from the Americans on the east bank—combined with the British problems mentioned above—resulted in mass casualties for the British, who in most cases failed to even reach the American line on that side of the river. The British commanding general, Edward Pakenham, was killed during the battle, and other high-ranking field officers—as well as a significant number of the officer corps—were also wounded or killed, leaving the British troops on the field essentially leaderless. When the commander of the British reserves found himself unexpectedly in charge of the British attack, seeing his fleeing soldiers and the carnage on the battlefield, he decided to have the troops withdraw.
Over on the west bank, despite the delayed start, the British were successful in routing the Americans and capturing some of their guns. However, their victory came too late to reverse the disaster on the east bank.
Did you have ancestors who fought in the Battle of New Orleans? Tell us about them! Or get started searching or browsing the War of 1812 Collection for more information about the battle.