By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield
After Britain’s defeat at Fort McHenry and the birth of the “Star-Spangled Banner” (see September 16th “The American Spirit”), Britain moved toward an armistice. This news hadn’t reached Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham of the British army. His regiment steadily marched to New Orleans, seeking control of this Crescent City’s valuable seaport.
This seaport was a gateway to the United States Louisiana Purchase territory to the West. If the British army could seize this port, then Britain could gain dominion over the Mississippi River and hold the trade of the entire American South and the West hostage!
While diplomats met in Europe that December to negotiate a truce and the Treaty of Ghent, some 8,000 British regulars were confidently marching toward what Lt. General Pakenham believed was a certain victory.
Learning of the marching army, Major General Andrew Jackson said to his wife, “I owe to Britain a debt of retaliatory vengeance, should our forces meet I trust I shall pay the debt.” (See reference to Battle of New Orleans and subsequent dialogue below.) He rushed to New Orleans with his regulars.
Andrew Jackson had learned of Britain’s cruelty firsthand when he spent time as their prisoner during the Revolutionary War.
Jackson, or “Old Hickory” as most of his colleagues knew him, had acquired his legendary toughness by subduing hostile Creek Indians in Alabama and harassing the redcoats’ operations along the Gulf Coast. Reaching New Orleans, he declared martial law immediately. He ordered every able-bodied man to take up arms and fight for the city’s defense.
Jackson’s army included 4,500 army regulars, frontier militiamen, free Blacks, New Orleans aristocrats, and Choctaw tribesmen. Striding into the humbug, the dashing and well-known pirate Jean Lafitte promised his support. Jackson hesitated. Lafitte’s confidence overrode Jackson’s concerns of what the townspeople would think. Jackson needed every able-bodied man he could attain. Lafitte said his pirates would behave themselves. He had cannons that would prove valuable in the battle. And so, the pirates joined this ragtag bunch of Americans—and became one himself.
The townspeople feared the worst—not from the British, but from Old Hickory, whom they suspected would burn the town down around their heads rather than surrender to the British. And then there were the pirates!
Jackson put everyone to work. He widened the canal into a defensive trench, and using the excess dirt, he built a seven-foot-tall rampart buttressed with timber. Completed, this Line Jackson, as it was called, stretched almost a mile from the east bank of the Mississippi to an impassable marsh. “Here we shall plant our stakes,” Jackson said, “and not abandon them until we drive these red-coat rascals into the river or the swamp.”
Lt. General Pakenham wasn’t worried. He’d easily smash these “dirty shirts” as the British called the Americans. He was confident these Americans “would wilt before the might of a British army in formation.” (See Battle of New Orleans.)
Following a skirmish on December 28 and a massive New Year’s Day conflict, Pakenham devised a scheme of a two-part frontal assault. A small force would charge the west bank of the Mississippi and seize an American battery. At the same time, a larger army of some 5,000 men would charge forward in two columns and crush the American line.
On January 8, daybreak, the Congreve rocket whistled through the air. The redcoats cheered and advanced confidently toward the American line. British opened up a mass of gunpower and met with Jackson’s 24 artillery pieces, manned by Jean Lafitte’s pirates.
British Colonel Robert Rennie’s small group of troops advanced along the riverbank and overwhelmed and scattered its American soldiers. Rennie yelled “Hurrah, boys, the day is ours!” then he was shot dead by a ripple of rifle fire from Line Jackson. Their commander lost, the men panicked and retreated and were cut down in a hail of musket balls and grapeshot (small caliber round shots packed inside canvas).
Pakenham had hoped to advance under cover of the morning mist, but the fog hadn’t remained—it had risen with the sun and gave the trusting-in-a-benevolent-God Americans a clear view of the oncoming army. American cannon fire cut gaping holes in the British line, sending men and equipment flying.
The British troops continued their advance, only to have their ranks plummeted with musket shots. “Give it to them, my boys! Let us finish the business today!” General Jackson said. Old Hickory’s militiamen, who were skilled marksmen from hunting in the woods, fired with frenzied precision.
A British officer later described the scene as “a row of fiery furnaces.”
Pakenham had delegated a unit to carry ladders in order to scale the Line Jackson, but they were lagging behind. Pakenham decided to lead his outfit, his main formation now had been cut to ribbons. The 93rd Highlanders Regiment rushed to their aid, and American troops sent out a maelstrom of fire that felled more than half the unit, including their leader. Pakenham and his soldiers were laced with grapeshot and the British commander died minutes later.
With the majority of their leaders dead, everything turned to bedlam. Pakenham’s secondary assault on Jackson’s battery across the river met with more success, but it was too little, too late.
The assault cost the British some 2,000 casualties, their generals, and seven colonels—all the fighting taking a span of 30 minutes.
After the battle, Jackson hailed their “undaunted courage” in saving their country from invasion, saying, “Native of different states, acting together, for the first time in this camp…have reaped the fruits of an honorable union.”
Jackson’s ragtag outfit lost fewer than 100 men. Future President James Monroe later praised Old Hickory saying, “History records no example of so glorious a victory obtained with so little bloodshed on the part of the victorious.”
The following month, when news reached them about the Treaty of Ghent, Congress ratified the agreement on February 16, 1815, and the War of 1812 came to an official end. Jackson became a celebrity and rode on his accomplishment all the way to the White House!
The War of 1812 had a far-reaching impact. Americans had proven indisputably they could battle against the well-trained armies of a world power. The war marked the end of the Federalist Party which had been accused of being unpatriotic for their antiwar stance. With the Indians now at peace, the frontier doors spread wide and invitingly for the fur trappers, explorers, and missionaries.
America’s thirst for adventure caused their restless feet to travel beyond the foothills. They yearned to make a fortune, see the unknown—and save souls from the fiery blaze of eternity. Unrestrained and free to do so, they would travel where no white man or woman had ever trod before.
Missionaries set forth upon the sea of the unknown to reach those who were unaware of the God who saved—and of Jesus Christ the Son of God who could save both body and soul from eternal damnation.
With the birth of the Second Great Awakening, God’s Spirit moved dramatically upon the galloping hooves of the circuit rider across America. And the undaunted American spirit rang throughout the hills.
As dawn’s early light glowed upon Fort McHenry, so had it done on New Orleans. And the words of the “Star-Spangled Banner” rang with God’s truth again. “Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land praise the power that hath made and preserv’ us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto— ‘In God is our Trust.”’
Wilted Dandelions: Spinster Rachael Rothburn is eager to leave her life of luxury in Boston to share the gospel with Native Americans in the West. The only problem is the missionary alliance won’t let her go unless she’s married. When Dr. Jonathan Wheaton learns about the restrictions, he offers Rachael a marriage of convenience. The pair sets off for Oregon to share Jesus with the natives, but in the process, they discover God doesn’t create coincidences—He designs possibilities.
“…one gripping, compelling read. Wilted Dandelions… had me eagerly turning pages and sighing over the love story premise as well as taking comfort in the spiritual message…” ES
“My readers are my encouragers and God's Word is my inspiration!”
Catherine is an award-winning author of the inspirational historical romance Wilted Dandelions, and Destiny Series, Swept into Destiny, Destiny’s Whirlwind, Destiny of Heart and Waltz with Destiny. Her newest book is the inspirational Amish futuristic romance, Love's Final Sunrise.
She is a longtime Michigan resident. Catherine lives with her husband of 51 years, and has two adult children, and four grandchildren.
See https://www.CatherineUlrichBrakefield.com for more information about her books.
https://www.history.com/topics/19th-century/battle-of-new-orleans Battle of New Orleans Begins