The Battle of New Orleans
Map of the position of the Armies
Night Before the Battle: Early Evening January 7, 1815Major General Edward Pakenham is greatly disturbed with the beating his artillery has taken from the American guns. The cannon protecting Jackson's line have proven far more effective than his own, throughout the numerous exchanges over the past few days. Of greater concern is the battery of guns Jackson has placed on the west side of the Mississippi River, which are positioned to fire directly into a British advance on the American line. But Pakenham is confident that the plan he and his officers have put into motion will solve this problem, and Jackson's men will soon be on the run.
Pakenham's plan is a brilliant, in theory. He has ordered his men to extend the Villere Canal by breaking through the levee along the riverbank so that it meets the Mississippi. This way, the British can move by water all the way from the Bayou Bienvenu to the river. Under the cover of darkness, this first wave of 1500 will land on the west bank of the river and seize the American guns. After this is accomplished, the cannon can then be turned on the Americans and used to support the 5000-strong assault on Jackson's line by the main army who will have moved forward, obscured by the morning fog.
The intrepid Colonel Thornton, who will lead the early morning attack on the west bank, oversees the slow process of loading equipment onto his shallow boats. Due to long days of backbreaking labour by the regulars, there are now over forty vessels assembled in the new portion of the canal. Most of the men have had no sleep in the past days. The cold and damp are taking their toll as sickness creeps through the camp. They have been here too long; like Thornton, a number of the men believe they missed a chance to seize New Orleans after they first took the Villere Plantation.
Only a short distance away, also suffering from a lingering fever, Andrew Jackson surveys his defenses and wonders if they will be enough to stop a massive, well-trained British Army. For the past twelve days the Americans have been working to fortify this position along the north side of the Rodriguez Canal. Jackson has commandeered as many as 900 black slaves from local plantations to construct the massive earthen breastwork that runs 1000 yards from the dense swampy forest to the banks of the Mississippi. These same men are now completing a second line of defense a mile and a half back in case the Americans have to retreat.
Anchored on the great river to Jackson's right rest the big vessels, the Carolina and the Louisiana, recently outfitted as ships of war. Both have been useful in keeping the British active dodging their cannonballs over the past few days. Having caught wind of a possible British attack on the batteries on the river's west bank, Jackson has had to transfer cannon from the Louisiana, along with an additional 400 militia under General David B. Morgan, to strengthen that position. Even this small drain of men away from Jackson's main line makes him anxious.
Jackson's greatest fear over is whether or not he has enough men to stop the British. Reports about their numbers have been high, perhaps as many as 12,000. The American general still harbours worries about the British invading the city from the north, so he has had to move men to the banks Lake Pontchartrain to prevent a possible disaster. This has left him with less than 4000 men lining the Rodriguez Canal, many of them sparsely trained and poorly armed volunteers.
Shivering on this damp patch of Louisiana terrain, neither army has any way of knowing that a treaty of peace was finalized two weeks earlier in the quiet Chartreux convent in Ghent, Belgium. Barely two months ago, the British government was so sure of Pakenham's success at New Orleans that they sent him off with a document which officially recognizes him as Louisiana's governor, and lists the members of the joint British-Spanish civil government that would be set up in that territory. Edward Pakenham has no idea that the sunset he watches melt into the Mississippi, will be his last.