200 Years Ago Today: The Battle of New Orleans

On January 8, 1815, the final engagement in the Battle of New Orleans took place. This battle was a huge victory for the United States, even if the War of 1812 was technically over while it was being fought. This battle, more than any other in U.S. History, was responsible for not only developing a national identity, but in establishing the United States as a power to be reckoned with.

The War of 1812 was the second (and last) major war between the United States and Great Britain, and went on to show that the American Revolution was not a fluke. The U.S. could hold its own against a major global power. The Battle of New Orleans, one of the most remembered of that war, was a key battle that prevented the British from taking New Orleans, a strategic point (among other things, it would have allowed them to move forces further inland by way of the Mississippi River). It was imperative that the U.S. forces held it. And they did.

You see, the British commander was a man named Edward Pakenham, and he led what is and was considered to be one of the most elite forces in the world at that time. His troops were battle-hardened veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. See, when Napoleon abdicated, Britain brought over the veterans and, because of the influx of troops, were able to start new offensive operations, like the one in New Orleans (this is despite rampant war debt and war fatigue). Pakenham himself served previously with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Wellington (that guy that won Waterloo).

His enemies were led by a ragtag militia group led by some man named Andrew Jackson (yes, the future president – more on that below). This would have been a no-brainer of a battle except for a terrible decision that was possibly based on little to no knowledge of the local terrain: They landed in what is now lower St. Bernard Parish. For those of you who, like Pakenham, are unfamiliar with the geography, that is some pretty swampy land, and they had to haul all their supplies nearly 20 miles through the swamp.

Now, add to that some tremendous bungling of the actual battle itself. A canal collapsed fog lifted and exposed a British unit to cannon fire, and one of the units forgot its ladders. This spectacular collapse of the British and the overwhelming …read more    

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