Tomorrow will mark the 196th anniversary of a significant battle in our nation’s history. The Battle of New Orleans, fought on January 8, 1815, ended the War of 1812 with a bang….
The war was drawing to a close. While American commissioners and British parliament battled over a peace treaty in Europe, conflict continued to permeate the New World. The young republic had surprised their adversaries throughout the war with some decisive victories, while the British had almost nothing to show for their effort. However, the British had one final chance to rectify their defeats and humiliations of the last three years.
America’s commerce was new, but it was flourishing. The Mississippi River, which flowed into New Orleans, played a crucial role in that success. New Orleans was America’s main port; at the time of the battle, the city supposedly contained 15 million dollars worth of cotton, tobacco, and whisky. The British wanted Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley, but most of all, they wanted New Orleans. If they could secure that city, they could control half the commerce coming out of the new world.
Sir Edward Pakenham was placed in charge of this endeavor. He sailed into New Orleans carrying a commission instating him as governor of Louisiana. He also had secret orders that if rumors of a peace treaty emerged, he was to ignore them until the battle was won.
America wasn’t willing to give up the very heart of her territory and center of her trade. She had a plan of her own, one which included General Andrew Jackson. “Old Hickory” had proven his heroism from the time he was a boy, defying the British during the Revolutionary War. He had served his nation well, and there was no one better suited for the job of defending New Orleans.
Skirmishes began in late December, and Pakenham discovered that the Americans were once again more than they had reckoned them to be. Troops from Tennessee and Kentucky poured in to join “Old Hickory.” Even Jean Lafitte and his command of pirates fought alongside the Americans, despite British efforts to allure them to their side.
While the British planned their main assault for January 8, the strong, but still outnumbered American forces labored, digging trenches and solidifying earthworks for their defense. Five-thousand patriots prepared to face 8,000 British troops, and they were ready.
At midnight on the eighth, Pakenham’s plan was put into action. One hour later, Jackson awoke to the knowledge that the attack had begun. He declared that his army had slept enough, and prepared to defend.
British tactics were no match for American rifles, and by the time the marching lobster-backs were 300 yards from the trenches, the real assault began. The Americans stood in four lines of 150 men. After expertly aiming and firing, they would move to the back of the line to reload. Sharpshooters (namely Kentuckians) picked them off one by one. Whole regiments were razed to the ground in a matter of seconds. Strategically sighting the officers first, the Americans incited much confusion among the British, whose leadership was decreasing faster than one could blink.
Pakenham looked on as his battle-plan dissipated. Desperately he rushed onto the battlefield to lead the men himself. A cannonball struck his horse, killing it and badly wounding his knee. He got up and pressed on until two bullets concurrently ended his life. Only one field-grade officer remained alive, and as he frantically attempted to rally the men, he too fell under the fatal aim of the American riflemen.
By the end of the battle, the British had suffered approximately 2,000 casualties, while American losses tallied in at fewer than 20.
Although it was later discovered that a peace treaty had been signed two weeks previous, the victory at New Orleans was essential to the morale of young America. The entire nation swelled with pride and self-respect as they ecstatically celebrated the gallant close of the war. The new republic had also earned its reputation among the other nations of the world, and Great Britain finally gave them the respect they deserved.
Today we may not face 8,000 redcoat troops in the dead of night, but we face adversaries of many different kinds. We can learn from “Old Hickory” and his 5,000 men. They were outnumbered. They were underestimated. But they were determined. No matter what you are called to defend today, be it your nation’s founding principles or your own personal values, remember the Battle of New Orleans, and fight with determination.
Liberty Davidson is a homeschooled senior in high school.
She resides in Collinsville, Texas and enjoys writing, basketball and keeping up with current events as they affect our