New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
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1814 Andrew Jackson Arrives in New Orleans

Jan. 8, 1815, was the date of the final battle of the famous “Battle of New Orleans.” The first battle was not on land but on water. It proved to be as important, if not more important, than the much-publicized Jan. 8th battle.

Gen. Andrew Jackson arrived in New Orleans on Dec. 1, 1814. After surveying the terrain, he took the necessary steps to secure all possible areas of attack. The least likely to be used by the invading army, and the only area believed to give the Americans a chance for victory, was to the east of the city in St. Bernard Parish.

On Dec. 8, one week after Jackson’s arrival, the mightiest armada ever to approach American shores was close to the Mississippi delta. The armada consisted of 50 ships with firepower of 1,000 guns. Upon learning of this, Gen. Jackson, as a slowdown tactic, sent five gun boats to Lake Borgne to join two ships already there. This was, as one witness explained, like expecting a handful of minnows to block the passage of a whale.

The American naval men knew why they were there and were ready and willing to do their duty. They firmly believed they could carry out an effective delay tactic and give Jackson’s forces the necessary time to prepare their defenses against an assault by land.

Two hundred and four men on seven ships with 23 guns were ready to do whatever was necessary to serve their country. On Dec. 12, British Admiral Cochrane anchored his command ship at Chandeleur Island. The next day, upon learning that five large cutters armed with six heavy guns each were spotted at the entrance to Lake Borgne, he gave the order to “clear the lake.” Cochrane felt it was impossible to move troops until this flotilla, which he classified as puny, was either captured or destroyed.

Without delay, 45 barges carrying 1,500 troops and sailors were on their way. Instead of a unified assault on the Americans, they would pick off the gun boats one by one, like wolves descending on a flock of sheep.

Upon seeing the tactics used by the British admiral, American commander, Lieutenant “Tac” Jones, began to fall back. Luck was against him. His vessel ran aground. Should he blow his ship up to keep it out of the enemy’s hands or make a suicidal stand? He chose the latter. Jones became a prisoner of war.

On Dec. 14, seven barges trapped the American ship “Seahorse” against the shoreline. What the British didn’t know was behind the “Seahorse” was Fort St. Louis. Together the ship and the fort inflicted heavy damages and were successful in driving the British back.

The other ships were not as fortunate to have Fort St. Louis behind them. One by one they were boarded. During the next days, hand-to-hand fighting was fierce. The decks were strewn with dead and wounded. As each American vessel was captured, its guns were turned and fired upon another American ship as the American flag flew from the mast of each vessel.

It is true that Americans lost this battle, but, when considering their objective was to slow the enemy down to give Jackson time to set up defenses, they were decisive winners. It took nine precious days to clear the lake of what Admiral Cochrane called “a puny flotilla.”

Jones’ greatest contribution to the ultimate winning of the Battle of New Orleans was done not at the Battle of the Barges but the day after. On that day, the British Admiral questioned Jones about the Americans’ defenses. In a gentlemanly fashion, much appreciated by the admiral, Jones told him of impregnable areas with thousands of troops and heavy firepower, with the plains of Chalmette being the only unprotected area. With this erroneous information, Cochrane chose to land the British troops on the west shore of Lake Borgne. That was the one place of all possible areas of attack where the Americans had a chance to win.

On Dec. 25, 1814, when Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham, Commander in Chief of the British forces, arrived on the battle site selected by the admiral, he was in total shock. The battlefield was narrow, flat and consisted of soft mud. Soldiers sank up to their ankles as they walked. On his right flank was a swamp, on his left the river. Enemy guns were on the opposite bank of the river, and a gun boat was able to move up and down the river. Supplies were some 40 miles to the rear over rough terrain.

If that wasn’t bad enough, facing him was a rampart with a canal in front. Worst of all, behind the rampart was an army with incredible accuracy. As quoted by his quartermaster, “Better shots either with artillery and small arms do not exist than the Americans.”

Source: Buddy Stall at http://clarionherald.org/20000525/stall.htm