Introduction to the Battle of New Orleans
Just over 200 years ago, a British amphibious force sailed for New Orleans. Following the capture of Washington by a “little army” led by Major General Robert Ross in August 1814 when the White House, Capitol and other public buildings were burnt, a low point had been reached in the military fortunes of the USA during the War of 1812.
The financially strapped administration of President James Madison was hanging by a thread and the very future of the Union was in serious jeopardy as northern states considered seceding. The British failure to take Baltimore in September 1814 was considered by many at the time to be but a stay of execution.
Flushed by Ross’s success, the British government trebled his amphibious attacking force and the British people waited with baited breath for news of Ross’s next “dash”. The mood of optimism in Britain was punctured by Ross’s death during the failed attack on Baltimore in September 1814 but preparations proceeded apace for what was expected to be a knock-out blow to the Americans. That New Orleans was the prize target was an open secret.
A British victory at the Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815 was widely anticipated in London, and throughout the USA. What happened next was wholly unexpected – when Andrew Jackson inflicted a catastrophic on the British. To American casualties totalling just 13, the British lost 2,037 men!
The battle had huge implications for the political fortunes of President James Madison at the time, while future president, James Monroe, played his part as Secretary of War. Andrew Jackson, regarded as “Savior of America,” was propelled to the White House as a result of his famous victory.
Not surprisingly, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was commemorated in January 2015 with a wide range of events in the city. The battle has also been the focus of a number of new publications and is the subject of a forthcoming Hollywood movie.
But while the bicentennial commemorations have come and gone, this dramatic episode in world history should not fade from view or from the spotlight of historical research. In the view of historians, Kevin Chambers and John McCavitt, considerable work remains to be done in British archives in particular to help understanding of this hugely important battle which was pivotal for the development of the USA and affected world history since.
As we progress our research, we offer this website to whet the interest of the general public as well as scholars about this dramatic event. The narrative is populated by a range of colourful characters; heroes, spies, traitors, pirates, privateers and deserters. On the British side, the famous explorer of the North West Passage, John Franklin, participated while Sam Houston played his part for the Americans long before the battle for Texas.
The website has sub-sections on the main protagonists: the Americans and British. It also details the experiences of Native and African Americans, some of whom fought on the rival sides. As Jason Wiese of the New Orleans Historical Collection puts it, this is a “multi-national, multicultural and multi-racial” story. The “Battle” of New Orleans is best considered as a campaign. There were a series of engagements before and after the celebrated Battle on 8th January 1815. Our Primary Documents section will feature transcriptions of key records resulting from our research.
We are fascinated by this extraordinary story in world history and we hope that readers not only agree but interact with us on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.