Anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans
Battle of New Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans 200 years ago this week effectively ended British influence in America. In an absorbing feature, Scots-Irish author BILLY KENNEDY recalls how the two generals from opposite US and British sides had Co Antrim family connections, with one educated at Armagh Royal School

Thursday, January 8, 2015, marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, the last significant engagement on United States soil between the American and British armies.

The famed battle, with victory for the Americans, had an Ulster connection, with General Andrew Jackson leading the US troops and General Edward Packenham the Redcoat British brigades.

Jackson, later to become United States President over two terms (1828-36), was born in the Carolinas in March 1767 of parents Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson, who emigrated from Carrickfergus, Co Antrim in 1765.

Packenham was of an aristocratic British Anglo-Irish family background, with connections to Crumlin in Co Antrim. The Packenhams owned large swathes of land in the mid-Co Antrim area.

The battle had an uneven match with 6,500 highly trained British soldiers pitched against 4,500 US militia-type troops, but it was over in under an hour, with victory establishing Andrew Jackson as a national hero.

The Treaty of Ghent, ending the long-drawn-out War of 1812 between the British and Americans, was signed two weeks before the battle, but news had not yet crossed the Atlantic.

The British had 2,042 casualties at New Orleans: 291 killed (including General Packenham), 1,267 wounded and 484 captured or missing. The Americans remarkably had only 71 casualties: 13 dead; 39 wounded, and 19 missing.

In May 1814, General Jackson, affectionately known as ‘Old Hickory’, was ordered to defend the Gulf coast region of the United States against an expected British invasion.

For despite losing the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s/1780s, the British had still not given up hope of regaining American territory.

After seizing the key port of Pensacola, Jackson marched his men to New Orleans, where on the morning of January 8, 1815, he routed the British in a battle that has become immortalised in the annals of American history.

Jackson’s army consisted of Tennesseans, Kentuckians, African Americans, Native American Indians and Creoles from the Louisiana swamplands, and when heavy British artillery fire failed to dislodge them from their location at the dried-up Rodriguez River, Red Coat General Edward Packenham ordered his 6,500 Crown soldiers to attack head-on. It was the most defining battle between the Americans and the British for 100 years.

In the following month, the American Senate ratified a treaty of peace between the two sides and, effectively, the United States was firmly established as a nation “from sea to shining sea” - from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

President Theodore Roosevelt, in his Book Naval War of 1812, said that the American soldiers deserved great credit for doing so well at the Battle of New Orleans. Roosevelt said: “Greater credit still belongs to Andrew Jackson, who, with cool head and quick eye, stout heart and strong hand, stands out in history as the ablest general the United States has produced from the Revolution.”

Jackson won acclaim throughout the fledgling American nation, and to many, he was a great hero - second only to General George Washington, the first US President.

‘Old Hickory’ became an icon of American courage, skill and righteousness. He was hailed a great military leader, who had raised and trained an effective fighting force that very roundly defeated every enemy he faced. America’s military honour and self-respect was upheld by Jackson’s triumphs as the nation moved to expand its territorial land borders. The Belfast News Letter, founded in September 1737, commented on Andrew Jackson’s military achievements in an edition in 1829, his first year as President. “Andrew Jackson’s exploits at New Orleans are fresh in most people’s memory. When Jackson entered New Orleans on January 23, 1815, he was hailed as saviour of his country, and a laurel placed on his head,” said the News Letter.

For his efforts, Andrew Jackson earned 5,000 dollars a year plus expenses as US army general. Later, Jackson successfully negotiated land treaties in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky, with Cherokee, Chocktaw and Chickasaw Indians. From army conquests, he moved to Washington.

* Three Men of Destiny by Billy Kennedy. Published by Ambassador International.