Night battle – 23 December 1814
Anchored off Cat Island, the British had to row their troops to a staging post at Pea Island, before being transported another 30 miles to Bayou Bienvenu on Lake Borgne. In purely human terms, this was to be a prodigious feat by the sailors of the Royal Navy.
British reconnaissance identified a route via Fishermen’s Village to the Villeré Plantation and the banks of the Mississippi – an ideal advance staging post just ten miles from New Orleans.
Several thousand British troops commanded by Major General John Keane secured their landing on 23 December. The British had achieved almost complete surprise and had Keane taken the initiative with the troops he had to hand he could have marched unopposed to New Orleans. Unlike his intrepidly daring predecessor in command of the expeditionary force, Major General Robert Ross, Keane was not prepared to run the risk of attacking before additional troops could be landed and made camp instead. This hesitancy proved fatal to the British chances of taking New Orleans with relative ease.
Alerted to the British landing, Andrew Jackson vowed to “smash them” that very night – and he proved good to his word to some extent advancing to a night attack with several thousand men supported by a schooner, USS Carolina. At 7.30pm, the Carolina opened the attack by firing on the unsuspecting British. American infantry advanced supported by artillery fire.
In the ensuing desperate struggle in the dark, there were a number of instances when both sides confused comrades as the enemy. Having been stunned by the ferocity of the American attacks, the British regular troops eventually drove off their assailants.
In later years Andrew Jackson was noted for his graceful bowing on social occasions – to which skill he attributed to ducking British bullets on the night attack of 23 December, according to historian Robert Remini. Crucially, Jackson had given the British a bloody nose, inclining them to hesitate further – giving him time to hastily erect fortifications to impede a British advance.