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A Critical Analysis of British Tactical Failure at The Battle of New Orleans by Captain Bobbie L. Ragsdale

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The battlefield today in 2008. 32 pounder from the Carolina.

The rampart was reconstructed in 1964.


On the 23d of December, 1814, at half past 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the sentry at the door of General Jackson's headquarters on Royal street in New Orleans, announced the arrival of three visitors who had just come galloping down the street in great haste, and desired an immediate  audience with the General. These visitors were Major Gabriel, Colonel De la Ronde  and Mr. Dussau de la Croix. They brought the stirring news of the  approach of the vanguard of the British army, which was at that hour encamped on the Villere plantation, nine miles below the city. These troops included many seasoned units of the Duke of Wellington's army, considered the best in the world. Jackson was astounded the British could reach so far without discovery. What Jackson would do next would decide not just the fate of New Orleans, but that of the war and quite possibly the continued existence of America.


The War of 1812, with the British blockade and American embargo had been an economic and military disaster for the Americans. Goods were rotting on the wharves and the government had defaulted on its debt. States in New England were openly discussing succession and making a separate peace with the British. American invasions of Canada had been repulsed and far from annexing Canada now large parts of Maine were under British control. Even Washington had been taken and burned. 



View of the American rampart or parapet and the Beauregard

mansion, built in the 1840's. Jackson's headquarters was in the MaCarty house

(where the present day Chalmette Slip is now), behind the rampart.



Miracle on the Mississippi: The Battle of New Orleans




The Possible Consequences if the British took New Orleans


The British never recognized Napoleon as a legitimate ruler and deemed the sale of the vast Louisiana territory to the United States to be fraudulent. Louisiana must be returned to Britain's ally Spain, the former owner, or if Spain was too weak after the European conflict to administer it, be given the Britain .  After taking New Orleans, the British planned to head up the Mississippi Valley to join troops coming down from Canada . Then, the Americans would be surrounded and as Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary and the architect of the Louisiana invasion, put it , would be "...little better than prisoners in their own country." This would probably bring about the end of the fledgling 30 year old republic with its outlandish idea of a democratically elected government, the only one of its kind in the world.


Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822)

British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs


Lord Castlereagh,  who was banqueting in Paris at the time the news of the burning of Washington was received, exultingly and openly  boasted that it would not be long before Louisiana and the  Mississippi River would become the conquered province of Great Britain ! So certain were the British of success that a small army of administrators were sent along with the fleet. British speculators had brought ships to carry away the booty of New Orleans, estimated to be worth 14 million dollars.

Latour Historical memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15 .


The British knew the New Orleans invasion was in the works when its commissioners left for Ghent to meet with the Americans for peace negotiations. A victory such as the one anticipated would allow the British to dictate peace terms. A neutral Indian state buffer was to be created and territory in the Great Lakes were to be added to Canada. Perhaps a new British colony could be established in Louisiana or New Orleans at least could be detached to the empire, giving the British a stranglehold on the Mississippi. The price of peace could have been ceding the Louisiana Purchase territory to the British, setting up a Louisiana "India."




"Mr. Clay, one of the Commissioners of the Treaty of  Ghent, had but little faith in the honor of the British Government, knowing that its treaty obligations were never  respected whenever conflicting with its interest and policy.  He is said to have expressed the belief that, if General Jackson had been defeated at New Orleans, with the Mississippi  River in possession of the British fleet, England would no  more have hesitated to nullify the Treaty of Ghent than she  did the Treaty of Amiens with Bonaparte. It is fair to presume, therefore, from the great effort that England made for the conquest of Louisiana, that if the British flag had ever once  floated over New Orleans it would never have been hauled  down without a struggle." The history of the wonderful battle of the brig-of-war General Armstrong with a British squadron, at Fayal, 1814  Samuel Reid, 1893


The Battle of New Orleans was the last major battle of the War of 1812, which was declared on June 16, 1812.  The decisive American victory at New Orleans restored American confidence in their new republic after the burning of Washington and other defeats in the war. It made Jackson a popular hero and made him the first populist president. The battle is largely forgotten in England, a sideshow overshadowed by the Napoleonic Wars.


The British did not really accept the fact of American independence and felt if it weren't for the threat of Napoleon, would had dealt with the upstart republic already. The British were also irritated that the Americans did not join them in the war against Napoleon, and viewed the Americans as cowardly and greedy war profiteers. Stopping and searching American ships to impress English sailors ( and sometimes Americans as well ), a major cause of the war,  showed the contempt for which they held the Americans.


A share of the booty from the rich city of New Orleans could set an officer up with a nice estate and soldiers could count on a nice payday as well. This lure made the British put up with awful conditions: a long 36 hour, 60 mile row from the fleet, camping out in cold, wet conditions and bravely marching into a maelstrom of withering fire. The women of New Orleans took to carrying daggers after hearing the tales of looting and raping that occurred after battles in such places as Hampton, Virginia on June 26, 1813 by British soldiers.


The Battle of New Orleans on Jan 8, 1815 was a major British defeat in which a British army of around 10,000 with around 8,000 deployed was repulsed by an American force of around 3,000. The Battle left nearly 300 British dead and 13 Americans killed. This was a small battle compared to those in the Napoleonic Wars, but large for North America at the time.


The British were making objections at the negotiations to drag the process out out, counting on a victory at New Orleans . A British victory might even tip the New England states into succeeding, perhaps even ending the American 'experiment and bring the colonies back into the English fold.Louisiana was sold by Napoleon to the United States in 1803 for $15 million.


In 1812, it became the 18th state admitted to the Union. Barely a month after admission, President James Madison declared war against the British. The embargo and subsequent British blockade made smugglers such as Jean Lafitte rich, but there was little action till the British planned to invade in 1814. The war had been a disaster for the Americans up to this point. The embargo and blockade wrecked the economy, the invasions of Canada had failed and Washington itself had been invaded and the White House burned . New England states were threatening succession .




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