Jean Lafitte
Historic Resource Study (Chalmette Unit)
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Even while the battle raged on the river below, the British army under Lambert was making preparations to leave. Following the battle of January 8 the army withdrew one and one-half miles back from Jackson's position, but the American guns, radically elevated, continued their harassing fire. Commander Patterson mounted 12- and 24-pounders at his batteries between the 10th and 13th of January and soon he began erecting levee batteries opposite Lambert's encampment. As Cooke reported:

Thus, night and day, were we harassed by danger against which there was no fortifying ourselves. Of the extreme unpleasantness of our situation it is hardly possible to convey any adequate conception. We never closed our eyes in peace, for we were sure to be awakened before many minutes elapsed, by the splash of a round shot or shell in the mud beside us. Tents we had none, but lay, some in the open air, and some in huts made of boards, or any materials that could be procured. From the first moment of our landing not a man had undressed excepting to bathe; and many had worn the same shirt for weeks together. Besides all this, heavy rains now set in, accompanied with violent storms of thunder and lightning, which lasting during the entire day, usually ceased towards dark, and gave place to keen frosts. Thus were we alternately wet and frozen: wet all day, and frozen all night. With the outposts again there was constant skirmishing. With what view the Americans wished to drive them in I cannot tell; but every day were they attacked, and compelled to maintain their ground by dint of hard fighting. In one word, none but those who happened to belong to this army can form a notion of the hardships which it endured and the fatigue which it underwent. [1]

The British Forty-fourth regiment meanwhile began preparations to retire altogether, including the laying of a fascine-corduroyed road from the head of Villeré's Canal to and along Bayous Mazant and Bienvenue to expedite the passage of troops, ordnance, and equipment over the marshy terrain. This labor was completed by the royal engineers and 300 men. Bridges also had to be built over the numerous subsidiary streams emptying into the principal bayou. On the 11th a rainstorm accompanied by thunder and lighting impeded the work. The road was finished on the night of January 17. Previously, on the 11th the wounded had left, and on the 13th, 14th and 15th the West India regiments, the Forty-fourth regiment, and the Marines departed. During the night of the 14th a party of Americans came through the woods, took some blacks from de la Ronde's, and caused an alarm among the British pickets, but no engagement ensued. [2]

Throughout this post-battle period the British sent a stream of flags into Jackson's line. In some instances the enemy's approaches were unwarranted, and on the 15th Jackson issued strict guidelines affecting future communications with Lamberts' command:

The Major General has observed the irregularity, with which the Guards in front of the line have done their duties, particularly of late when on approach of a flag from the enemy, the officers of the Guards have on different occasions received the flag without the authority or knowledge of the General in Chief. Such proceedings, if not at once removed will produce difficulties and defeat of the Genls view should he have determined not to have received the flags received by the officers of the Guards.

The Major General directs that in future when a flag make its approach it shall be the duty of the officer of the Guard nearest it, to advance and prevent it from approaching too near our line, and wait for one of the Generals Staff officers who will receive any communications—at which time the officer of the Guard will return to his post, and the Guards should not be dismissed untill the departure of said flag. No persons shall be permitted to pass the Guard without leave from the Major General, for the execution of this order the officers of the Guard shall be held responsible. [3]

On January 16, amid the daily American bombardment, Lambert prepared for his imminent departure, reportedly requesting Jackson to care for the seriously wounded British soldiers he was forced to leave behind. On the 17th he and Jackson, through their intermediaries, agreed on provisional articles, shortly ratified, for effecting the release of American prisoners held aboard British ships in exchange for British prisoners held by the Americans. Sixty-three Americans were turned over at the demarcation ditch on the 18th, most of whom had been captured during the night battle of December 23. [4] On the 17th the withdrawal began and by the following night when most of the infantry pulled out the road constructed by the engineers had deteriorated into a muddy recess. "Every step sank us to the knees," wrote one soldier who watched a comrade completely disappear in the muck. [5] Thus, under a dense fog on a dark night Lambert's army stole away, covered by a rear guard of pickets who stayed behind until just before dawn of the 19th. The British had been forced to spike six 18-pounders on the levee that they were unable to transport to the ships. The order of the regiments' withdrawal was as follows: Twenty-first, Fourth, Ninety-third, Eighty-fifth, Ninety-fifth, Forty-third, and Seventh. At the confluence of Villeré's Canal with Bayou Mazant the engineers had erected a redoubt to guard the retreat.

Jackson had no certain knowledge of the British retirement until the fog lifted about 8 o'clock the next morning. He sent detachments of Hinds's cavalry and light troops to watch and report on the enemy movement and to harrass the rear guard. But the British had reached the head of the canal by then and were protected by the swampland as well as by the redoubt on Bayou Mazant. Other works had been erected farther on. At the junction of Bayous Jumonville and Mazant stood an epaulement. Three-quarters of a mile ahead at the confluence of Bayous Mazant and Bienvenue was another breastwork occupied by rear guard pickets. Near the fisherman's huts a mile from Lake Borgne yet another work had been started to contain some 1000 troops. This work was left incomplete. On visiting the vacated British camp, Jackson's staff found numerous damaged cannon as well as the wounded men who were conveyed to New Orleans. [6]

With the British withdrawal there was no further need to keep all of Jackson's men at Rodriguez Canal, and on the 19th the majority moved back closer to New Orleans leaving a picket guard in the old defenses. Next evening a brief action took place on Lake Borgne where a party of American soldiers and seamen succeeded in capturing fifty-four British army and navy personnel. Over the next few days the Americans captured a schooner and several small boats. [7] Despite such inconveniences, Lambert's army continued its withdrawal to the fleet some sixty miles away, finally completing the operation on the 27th. But bad weather kept the British vessels at anchor for more than a week. On February 7 the fleet anchored off Dauphin Island and the army disembarked for a needed recuperation. Shortly the British moved on to Mobile, ending their disastrous southern campaign on a note of success with the capture of Fort Bowyer on Mobile Point, which surrendered February 12. Soon thereafter news of the end of the war arrived and all hostilities between the British and Americans ceased. [8]

With the final withdrawal of the British from before New Orleans an air of celebration gripped the region and city. On January 21 Jackson issued an appreciative address to his forces and two days later a general thanksgiving was held in New Orleans with Jackson feted with parades and festivities for his triumph. [9] The revelry did not signal an end to vigilance and defensive efforts, however. Besides the new breastwork begun on the 10th by Morgan's men across the river on Jourdan's plantation, Jackson had directed Morgan to destroy all homes and fences in his front that potentially could interfere with troop movements should another attack occur. Morgan was also warned to keep his men from ravaging the neighborhood "to the disgrace of our country." [10] On the 14th reinforcements of militia reached the west bank command. Across the river Jackson's men remained in position on Rodriguez Canal, the batteries continuing their daily cannonading of the British encampment. Many American soldiers, having been exposed to the cold wetness for weeks, came down with dysentry and fever and some deaths occurred. To keep his men in a military posture Jackson gave orders against "spiritous liquors" being allowed in camp. [11]

Two days after the British army retired via Bayous Mazant and Bienvenue Jackson began disposing his forces to prevent its return. He directed his officers at Bayou Lafourche, at the Temple in Barataria, and at the junction of Bayou Tigauyon with Lake Pontchartrain to keep alert for signs of the enemy. He placed the Second Louisiana on Villeré's plantation while a detachment of Kentuckians occupied Lacoste's tract. On the 21st most forces were withdrawn from Rodriguez Canal leaving only the Seventh Infantry to guard the artillery and ammunition. Most of the remaining Kentuckians retired to Line Dupré where they assisted in the completion of a battery and parapet. The Tennesseans encamped above the city at Avart's plantation. The field artillery at Rodriguez Canal, except for the two guns in the forward right redoubt, were removed along with the Forty-fourth Infantry to New Orleans. Plauche's volunteer battalion returned to the city, too. Jackson also caused a battery, called Fort Villeré, to be erected at the head of Villeré's Canal and at the junction of Bayous Mazant and Bienvenue. Construction was supervised by Lieutenant Latrobe. Bayou Bienvenue was also to be obstructed. Pickets were stationed in a redoubt at Bayou Phillepon above Piernas Canal near where the Kentucky troops pitched their tents. Still more works were erected on Regio's canal at Terre-aux Boeufs at English Turn and on Bayou Boeuf near Lake Levy. Work on the redoubt at Chef Menteur and Bayou Sauvage continued. Reinforcements of 450 Mississippi volunteers also arrived. On the 22nd a party of Thomas's Kentuckians under Colonel de la Ronde encountered British pickets at Bayous Mazant and Jumonville whose cannon mounted on barges sent grape into them without effect. De la Ronde prudently retired, however. [12]

Still security conscious despite his preparations, Jackson on January 24 directed his engineers, Latour and Tatum, to range over the country and determine "fit points for establishing forts or placing obstructions." [13] Skirmishing with British outposts continued over the next few days and on the 25th one of Hinds's dragoons was killed and two more wounded in an action near Bayou Bienvenue. The defensive precautions lasted into February. Work proceeded on the fortifications on the Chef Menteur Road, near LaBretoniere's plantation, where the ditches had to be deepened. One hundred negro slaves from Orleans Parish were employed in the task, with their owners receiving payment for their labor. One hundred more were recruited to help finish Line Montreuil below the city. [14] In the aftermath of the fall of Fort Bowyer, and with news of the end of the war, however, work on these defenses ceased.

There were several reasons for the American victory at New Orleans. Perhaps the overriding factor was the execution of Jackson's artillery, although this explanation may detract too much from the contributions of his various militia units and especially those from Kentucky and Tennessee. Jackson himself believed that the ultimate victory rested with the night battle of December 23 which impeded the British approach sufficiently to allow him ample time to erect fortifications. "Heaven," he wrote, "interposed on our behalf." [15] Perhaps, too, British mistakes brought on Pakenham's disaster more than did American firepower. Admiral Cochrane specified several contributory problems, including the vast distances over which supplies had to be routed from the ships; the difficulty in obtaining intelligence of the Americans' situation; difficulties in operating over an inhospitable terrain in weather detrimental to success; and a prepared and resourceful enemy who constructed a line impossible to turn. These were the obstacles to British triumph, despite Cochrane's assertion that "there never was an expedition better planned; nor to a certain degree better executed." [16] Strategically, British thinking was sound; tactically, however, it failed, and in British circles controversy over the reasons for the failure swirled vigorously for generations. Why was a frontal attack made against Jackson's line? Why was no greater effort made to turn Jackson's left? And why was the troubled Forty-fourth regiment directed to lead the final, fatal assault? [17] Latour attributed the British loss to their failure to "sacrifice the regularity of their movements to promptitude and celerity." Pakenham's men, he said, should have charged with bayonets rather than marching in step. "It is well known that agility is not the distinctive quality of British troops." [18] In sum, Pakenham's direction of the whole affair drew criticism if not outright condemnation from his own men. "I cannot help saying that I have been disappointed in him," remarked an officer who served under Pakenham and who believed the General should have delayed the attack when it became obvious that Thornton's movement to the west side had been stymied. "I never supposed that any front attack would have commenced till we were firmly fixed on the opposite bank." [19] Finally, it has been suggested that the British troops, having met reversal on two previous occasions, December 28 and January 1, were psychologically prepared for defeat by the time they advanced in earnest on January 8. [20] The conclusion is indeed plausible and could in fact be the single most dominant factor for Pakenham's defeat.

The outcome of the battle had profound implications for Jackson personally and for the country as a whole. As "Hero of New Orleans," Jackson's fame endured and in 1828 he was elected President, largely because of the symbolism he engendered as spiritual embodiment of the nation derived from his New Orleans experience. Though slow to comprehend the evolving military situation around him, Jackson instinctively had melded an army of disparate ethnic and social elements—French, Indians, backwoodsmen, blacks—and set them working toward a shared objective, the defeat of the British. That action and the dissemination of news of the cohesiveness of these groups helped break down the cultural and social barriers that had heretofore affected the region and contributed to a commonality of purpose previously unknown. The event at New Orleans re-inspired the nation with confidence and instilled pride in its arms, lately embarrassed during the British invasion of Maryland and Virginia. [21] All in all, the Battle of New Orleans contributed significantly in directing the course of the United States, both in 1815 and for a long time thereafter.

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Last Updated: 05-Sep-2004