STATE SOLDIERS PLAYED LARGE ROLE IN WAR OF 1812'S BATTLE FOR NEW ORLEANS
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
We all know that the
State of Tennessee was nicknamed "The Volunteer State" because
of the many volunteers in the War of 1812. At this time we shall insert
a description of the Battle for New Orleans which depicts action upon
the part of the Tennesseans.
(December 1814 - January 1815)
After leaving a sizable
portion of his army to occupy the various garrisons throughout the Mississippi
Territory, Jackson arrived in New Orleans in early December to conduct
the defense of the city that was to be the prize of Great Britain's
southern campaign. Located above the mouth of the Mississippi River,
New Orleans' strategic location and accumulated wealth offered a tempting
prize to a British army fresh from its victory over Napoleon in Europe.
Elite English forces faced Jackson's polyglot army of militia, frontier
volunteers, U.S. regulars, pirates, free blacks, Creoles, and Choctaws.
Although the famous Battle of New Orleans
has been noted in song and celebration, the British assault on New Orleans
was actually composed of several different engagements:
23 December 1814
Often referred to as the "night battle,"
this was the initial engagement between the British and American land
forces at New Orleans. On the afternoon of 23 December, Jackson learned
that a British force had made its way through the bayous to a plantation
several miles south of the city. Jackson mobilized his forces and launched
a daring attack at 8:00 p.m., leading the right wing (the 7th and 44th
U.S. Infantry) while General John Coffee led his brigade of Tennessee
mounted men on the left. The darkness of the night turned the fight
into mass confusion, as friendly troops fired on each other and combat
became hand-to-hand. By 11:00 p.m. the British gave ground but Jackson's
forces did not pursue, as neither side could ascertain the other's strength.
American losses were 24 killed and 115 wounded while the British suffered
46 killed and 145 wounded.
28 December 1814
The skirmish of the 23rd December had
the effect of stemming the initial tide of the assaulting British forces
and gave Jackson time to entrench his army. He established a line of
defense along the Rodriguez Canal between the Macarte and Chalmette
plantations. The line extended from the east bank of the Mississippi
River more than a half-mile to a cypress swamp. On 28 December the British,
under the overall command of Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, conducted
a "reconnaissance in force" to test the strengths and weaknesses
of what became known as Line Jackson. A combined force of artillery
and infantry probed the American defenses and found that the left wing
of Line Jackson was the most vulnerable. This portion of the line was
manned by Major General William Carroll's Tennessee militia and volunteers,
as well as Coffee's brigade. The inability of the English to mobilize
heavier guns to the front put a halt to the attack. There were seven
killed and eight wounded on the American side.
1 January 1815
As a result of the 28 December attack,
Jackson fortified the left wing of his line and extended it into the
woods of the cypress swamp, thus increasing its length to about a mile.
Coffee's men, along with a detachment of Choctaw Indians, held the extreme
left of the line. On the first day of January 1815, Pakenham once again
gave orders to assault Line Jackson. The British planned to use their
heavy artillery to make a breach in the line and put the American cannons
out of commission. However, American batteries, some manned by crews
of Jean Lafitte's pirates, proved to be more effective than the artillery
of the British. In addition, English gunners ran short of ammunition
(a problem that plagued them throughout the campaign at New Orleans).
British infantry units attacked the extreme left of Jackson's line,
but were repulsed by Coffee's brigade. The Americans lost eleven killed
and twenty-three wounded.
8 January 1815
The morning of 8 January was cold and
foggy. Before the sun could burn off the mist that lingered on the fields
of Chalmette, a British signal rocket burst in the air and massed columns
of English soldiers advanced toward the American lines. The American
forces, about 4,000 on the line, opened up with their artillery and
followed with a devastating volley of musket and rifle fire. The advance
columns of the British army, aimed at the right flank of Line Jackson
near the river and the left flank commanded by Major General William
Carroll, were shattered and quickly routed. In less than two hours the
battle was over. On the field lay about 1,500 dead and wounded British
soldiers (another 500 were taken prisoner), including General Pakenham.
American losses amounted to thirteen killed and thirty-nine wounded.
How did this catastrophe for the British
occur? British operations faltered from the beginning. Plans to cross
the Mississippi and capture the American artillery on the west bank
of the river were delayed and the attack on the main line had failed
by the time the west-bank mission was accomplished. The assault on Line
Jackson was uncoordinated and rife with mistakes, perhaps the biggest
being the British underestimation of the abilities of the American militia
to withstand a bayonet charge. The initial success of the British on
the extreme right of Line Jackson was not supported and reinforcements
were diverted to an abortive attack on the center of Jackson's fortifications.
Tennesseans, many of whom had seen action in the Creek War, repulsed
the British regulars with a deliberate coolness and confidence hitherto
not encountered by attacking British forces. Deadly American artillery
fire, combined with the rifle and musketry, proved too much for the
exposed English troops marching across the plains of Chalmette.
Much has been made of the fact that the
Battle of New Orleans was fought after the Treaty of Ghent was signed
(24 December 1814). However, the treaty had not yet been ratified and
a British victory could have complicated the peace agreement. The enormity
of the victory was a huge boost to the morale of the United States,
giving the impression that America had won the War of 1812, when, in
fact, it could be said that the war ended in a draw.
As for Jackson and
his Tennesseans, they lingered in the camps at New Orleans until March
1815. Ironically, hundreds of Tennesseans who survived the rigors of
battle succumbed to the deadly illnesses that permeated the camps of
New Orleans after the battle. Jackson was proclaimed a national hero
and embarked on a political career that eventually took him to the White
House in 1828.
The War of 1812 showed the world that
the United States was becoming a power to be reckoned with, and Tennessee
was instrumental in this transition. The state amassed an impressive
record of service to the country's cause through the collected effort
of its citizens, as well as distinct individual efforts. The advances
made by Tennesseans, however, came at a huge price paid by the ever-diminishing
Native Americans of the southeast.
(Much of the preceding material used for this article was submitted
with permission by the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Author,
Campbell County was formed in 1806 and
therefore I cannot find a roster list of the County participants in
the War of 1812. However, I did find a brief portion of the 1st Regiment
East Tennessee Volunteer Militia in which some captains are mentioned,
along with a brief history of the militia.
COL. SAMUEL WEAR
DESIGNATION: 1st Regiment East Tennessee Volunteer Militia
DATES: September 1813 - December 1813
MEN MOSTLY FROM: Knox, Sevier, Blount, Washington, Anderson, Campbell,
Carter and Jefferson counties
CAPTAINS: John Bayless, Samuel Bowman, Joseph Calloway, John Chiles,
Jesse Cole, Robert Doak, James Gillespie, William Mitchell, Rufus Morgan,
Simeon Perry, Daniel Price, Jehu Stephens, James Tedford.
BRIEF HISTORY: Muster rolls show this regiment at Fort Strother in early
November 1813, and at Fort Armstrong in late November of the same year.
The regiment, in the brigade commanded by General James White, helped
attack a tribe of Creek Indians known as the Hillabees in 18 November
1813, where sixty-eight Creeks were killed and about 250 taken prisoner.
Unbeknownst to the Americans, the Hillabees had sued Jackson for peace
the day before the attack. Actually, a detachment of Cherokees friendly
to the United States did most of the fighting - there were no American