The Last Battle of the War of 1812
The Battle of New Orleans was the last major battle of the War of 1812. It happened on January 8, 1815, although it was preceded by smaller skirmishes. Under the command of General Andrew Jackson, American forces successfully repelled the invading British army (led by General Edward Pakenham). From defensive earthwork positions, the rag-tag American army won a decisive victory despite being outnumbered by a ratio of 2:1. Many people think the Battle of New Orleans ended the War of 1812, but this is not the case. A peace treaty, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed before the battle started, but news of the treaty did not arrive in America until after the battle was fought. Because the decisive victory was followed shortly afterward by news of a peace treaty, many Americans at the time mistakenly believed the Battle of New Orleans had won the war. The Battle of New Orleans is also important because it propelled Andrew Jackson to fame as a war hero.
Background: War of 1812
The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and Great Britain between 1812 and 1815. It was fought over a number of complex issues, including British impressment of American sailors, British support of Native American raids against Americans, trade restrictions and disputed territory. Major fighting took place at sea on the Atlantic Ocean, along the American-Canadian border, along the Gulf of Mexico and in the mid-Atlantic region. The most dramatic moment of the War of 1812 occurred when British troops invaded Washington, D.C. and burned down the White House. The shelling of Fort McHenry was also an important event in the War of 1812 because it was during this battle that Francis Scott Key penned the American national anthem. Over the course of the war, both the Americans and the British won important battles. With both sides war-weary and neither making much progress, the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814. The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812 and restored boundaries to their pre-war status. The War of 1812 basically ended as a draw.
The Battle of New Orleans
So the War of 1812 officially ended in December 1814. Remember, however, that it took a long time for news to travel across the Atlantic Ocean. When the Battle of New Orleans began on January 8, 1815, news of the treaty had not yet reached America.
There were a few skirmishes that led up to the Battle of New Orleans. Some historians and textbooks include these skirmishes as part of the Battle of New Orleans, while others do not. It is probably best to think of the Battle of New Orleans as being a one-day battle that took place on January 8, 1815. That said, let's look at what happened leading up to the battle.
In mid-December 1814, Sir Alexander Cochrane anchored his British fleet in the Gulf of Mexico. With him were thousands of British troops. After winning the Battle of Lake Borgne, Cochrane unloaded his men on Pea Island and prepared to assault the defensive position of New Orleans. On the evening of December 23, General Andrew Jackson and 2,000 men launched a sneak-attack against the British and then quickly pulled back to the Rodriguez Canal. This attack caused significant psychological damage to the British. They became fearful and hesitant.
Reluctance to strike back at the Americans gave General Jackson and his men time to build defensive earthwork positions on the grounds of the Chalmette Plantation. Finally, on the morning of January 8, British General Edward Pakenham ordered an attack. American sharpshooters quickly picked off the British officers leading the attack, including General Pakenham. After two unsuccessful thrusts against the American position, the British were defeated. The British suffered enormous casualties compared to their American counterparts.
As leader of American forces, General Andrew Jackson emerged from the Battle of New Orleans as a national celebrity. His popularity was almost unparalleled. Many historians believe that without his winning the Battle of New Orleans, he never could have been elected President of the United States. Although the War of 1812 technically ended as a draw, Jackson's victory at New Orleans gave Americans much to be proud of. Because the news of the Treaty of Ghent quickly followed the Battle of New Orleans, many Americans mistakenly believed they had won the war.
The Battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815 between British troops led by General Edward Pakenham and American forces led by General Andrew Jackson. Despite being outnumbered 2:1, the Americans, who had constructed sophisticated earthworks, won a decisive victory against the British assault. The major fighting took place on the grounds of the Chalmette Plantation. Andrew Jackson emerged from the battle as a popular war hero. Because news of the Treaty of Ghent reached America shortly after the battle, many Americans believed the battle won the war.
General Andrew Jackson commanded the American troops.
General Edward Pakenham commanded the British troops.
Francis Scott Key penned the national anthem.
Sir Alexander Cochrane commanded the British Navy troops.
While learning about the Battle of New Orleans, you'll be building your capacity to:
- Summarize the events that took place prior to and during the Battle of New Orleans
- Provide background information on the War of 1812
- Describe the aftermath of the battle
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Writing Prompts for the Battle of New Orleans:
Writing Prompt 1:
Imagine you are a young "war hawk" in the U.S. Congress in 1812. You desire a war with Great Britain to right what you believe are many injustices. Many of your colleagues, however, do not agree. Write a brief speech to persuade them to your side. You should outline what you believe are the key reasons that war with Great Britain was necessary.
Writing Prompt 2:
Imagine you are a soldier attached to Andrew Jackson's army in New Orleans. Write a letter home describing your experience in during the Battle of New Orleans. Your family would be interested in who you fought alongside, who you fought against, your impressions of General Jackson, and any experiences you felt during and after the battle.
Writing Prompt 3:
Develop a timeline of major events from of the War of 1812 from its beginning until its conclusion in early 1815. For each event, provide a brief annotation noting its location, its notable participants, and its significance.
Additional Questions for Consideration:
Who was Francis Scott Key? What is his connection with the War of 1812?
Why, if the Treaty of Ghent (signed December 1814) ended the war, did the Battle of New Orleans (January 1815) occur at all?
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