On January 8, 1815, the United States achieved its greatest battlefield victory of the War of 1812 at New Orleans. The Battle of New Orleans thwarted a British effort to gain control of a critical American port and elevated Major General Andrew Jackson to national fame.
Since Napoleon’s defeat in the spring of 1814, the British were free to concentrate on their war in America. With a strategic focus on coastal regions and American trade and transportation, a British army attacked and burned Washington in August, 1814. Although unable to take Baltimore the following month, the British nonetheless moved forward with a plan to attack New Orleans.
Apprised of a possible invasion on the Gulf Coast, the commander of the U.S. Seventh Military District, Andrew Jackson, left Mobile, Alabama for New Orleans on November 22. Recently promoted to Major General in the Regular Army for his successful campaign against the Creek Indians, Jackson reached the city on December 1. He began to familiarize himself with the surrounding countryside. Jackson also began the task of assembling an army which eventually consisted of Tennessee and Kentucky frontiersmen, Louisiana militia, New Orleans businessmen, Free Men of Color, Choctaw Indians, pirates, sailors, Marines and United States Troops.
Cochrane's fleet arrived near Ship Island, some 60 miles east of New Orleans, on December 8. After disposing of an American flotilla on Lake Borgne, Cochrane and the temporary army commander, Maj. Gen. John Keane decided to ferry the British infantry through the nearby bayous and approach the city from the south. The British landed below New Orleans on the morning of December 23. When he received word of the landing, Jackson gambled and boldly marched out to meet the enemy. In a daring night time assault, the Americans struck the British camp. A sharp but inconclusive fight ensued and after several hours, Jackson disengaged and withdrew two miles north to the Rodriguez Canal. The Americans immediately began construction on an earthwork, later known as Line Jackson. It ran perpendicular from the Mississippi for three quarters of a mile to a cypress swamp. A Marine Battery was established on the right bank of the river.
On Christmas Day, General Sir Edward Pakenham, a brother-in-law to the Duke of Wellington, arrived and assumed command of the British expeditionary force. Annoyed by his subordinates' inability to defeat Jackson and capture New Orleans, Pakenham moved his army to the Chalmette Plantation on December 27. Over the course of the next five days, Pakenham made two attempts to breach Line Jackson. Both were turned back by the Americans. Left with few options and buoyed by the arrival of reinforcements, Pakenham decided to launch a major assault on the morning of January 8, 1815.
The British attack got underway before sunrise on the morning of January 8, 1815. On the British left, Keane's infantry penetrated an unfinished redoubt, only to be brought to a grinding halt in front of the New Orleans Rifles and the 7th U.S. Infantry. Maj. Gen. Samuel Gibbs's column advanced against the American left center where his ranks were decimated by Tennessee and Kentucky militia. Gibbs was mortally wounded in the attack. Attempting to rally his men, Pakenham rode forward with his staff, only to fall before an American volley. He was carried from the field and later succumbed to his wounds. Of the 3,000 men under Gibbs and Keane, 2,000 became casualties in less than thirty minutes. Devastated in front of Line Jackson, the remnants of the British force withdrew to beyond range of the American guns. Despite the limited success of Col. William Thornton's attack against the Marine Battery on the right bank, Pakenham's successor, Maj. Gen. John Lambert was unable to salvage the British effort and recalled Thornton's force. Unwilling to test Line Jackson again, Lambert began a slow withdrawal to reach the fleet on January 18.
Jackson's triumph set him on a road that ended in the White House thirteen years later. The battle gave birth to the Age of the Common Man and for the next half century, his victory on the Eighth of January was marked by celebrations across the United States.