Primary Documents of the Battle of New Orleans 1815

Pakenham’s Orders

John R. Grodzinski
Below are four Letters from Earl Bathurst, to Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham, dated 24 October 1814, which provided direction for the expedition against New Orleans.
These documents are reproduced courtesy of Dr John R. Grodzinski and they were originally posted by him in The War of 1812 Magazine, Issue 16: September 2011. See Napoleon Series

Instructions to Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham for the New Orleans Campaign

Below are four Letters from Earl Bathurst, to Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham, dated 24 October 1814, which provided direction for the expedition against New Orleans.

Henry Bathurst (1762-1834), was a British politician who served in a variety of posts. Between 1812 and 1827, he was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Bathurst was one of an inner group of ministers, which included the prime minister and foreign secretary, who determined foreign, military and colonial policy during the latter stages of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Bathurst administered reports and addressed problems from every colonial governor, including campaign plans and coordinating, with various offices, requirements for ordnance, transport, funding and soldiers for overseas service.

Edward Pakenham (1778-1815) joined the British Army at age 16 and served in the West Indies from 1801 to 1803, Copenhagen in 1807, Nova Scotia and in the Martinique expedition of 1809.

In 1809, he joined Wellington’s army in the Iberian Peninsula. Earlier, in 1806, Pakenham’s sister had married Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington. Pakenham became Wellington’s assistant-adjutant general before taking command of a brigade in 1810. Pakenham became a major-general in January 1812 and earned Wellington’s praise for his conduct while commanding the 3rd Division at Salamanca in July 1812. He then served as adjutant-general and later took command of the 6th Division.

Pakenham was not interested serving in the American war, but in October 1814 was selected to take command of the New Orleans expedition following the death of the original commander, Major-General Robert Ross, at Baltimore. The British goal was to gain command of the entrance to the Mississippi River and to challenge the legality of the Louisiana Purchase. Pakenham’s task was complicated by his force being scattered between England and North America. He hoped to arrive at the rendezvous at Jamaica before the troops had gone ashore. This was not to be. Adverse winds delayed Pakenham’s arrival until mid-December and a 5,000 man brigade under Major-General John Keane and the fleet under Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane had departed for New Orleans about two weeks earlier.

Pakenham reached the army on Christmas Day, when it was only nine miles from New Orleans. He then reorganized his command into several brigades. On the 28th, he sent a reconnaissance in strength to probe the American defences, which were found to be formidable. On 1 January 1815, Pakenham attempted to breach the American line with artillery, which proved ineffective. He then decided to conduct a deliberate attack.

Pakenham developed a complicated plan using four brigades. A brigade under Lambert formed the reserve. Another brigade, led by Pakenham’s second-in-command, Major-General Samuel Gibbs, was entrusted with main assault against the centre-left of the American line. At the same time, a force of light troops was to breach the American right, while a brigade under Major-General John Keane, followed to exploit the success against this attack or move against the American centre. Across the Mississippi River, Lieutenant-Colonel William Thornton was to capture an American battery that could fire onto the main British attack and then turn the guns against Jackson’s line. Pakenham fielded some 5,400 men, while the Americans, under Major-General Jackson had 4,000 men in an excellent defensive position. The 650 yards of open ground the British would cross was well covered by fire.

When Pakenham awoke on 8 January he learned that Thornton’s force had been delayed in crossing the river. A much smaller force than originally planned was eventually ferried across the river, landing well below the intended landing but succeeded in taking the guns. Pakenham meanwhile continued with the attack. The American skirmishers were quickly forced back and the British then came under heavy fire from Jackson’s guns. When Pakenham moved forward to encourage the troops, he fell, mortally wounded. Gibbs and Keane were also wounded, along with many other officers. Lambert took over and although portions of the American line had been breached, he called off the action. The British withdrew, re-embarked on the flotilla and moved into the Gulf of Mexico. The war ended in February.

Pakenham’s body was returned to England and was buried in the family vault in Killucan, Westmeath, Ireland.

These letters provide interesting insight into the campaign and come from the National Archives, Kew Garden, War Office (WO) 6/2: 26-29.

About the author

John R. Grodzinski

John R. Grodzinski

Major John R. Grodzinski, CD, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of History/Département d'Histoire
The Royal Military College of Canada/
Collège militaire royal du Canada
PO Box 17000 Stn Forces
Kingston, Ontario
Canada K7K 7B4

Author of Defender of Canada: Sir George Prevost and the War of 1812, University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.