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The Battle of New Orleans

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The Battle of New Orleans
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Author(s): Zachary F. Smith
Date Published: 2009/05
Page Count: 216
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-675-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-676-2

A great victory and humiliating defeat

The War of 1812 , fought between the emergent United States of America and its former master Britain was a scrappy indecisive affair in which both sides could legitimately claim significant victories. It was overshadowed—so far as the British were concerned—by the struggle to defeat Napoleon's First Empire principally in Europe but in a conflict which had global implications including the real threat of invasion. At the first restoration of the Bourbon monarchy several British regiments—previously part of Wellington's Peninsular Army—were sent to America to continue the fight. The war included an abortive attempt to invade Canada and the burning of Washington, but the American forces under Jackson were by 1815 strongly established in a defensive position before New Orleans. There, as a result of fine leadership and resolution on the part of the Americans and poor generalship but no lack of courage on behalf of the British, Andrew Jackson and his amateur soldiers inflicted a bloody defeat on the assaulting 'professional' redcoats which set—since it was essentially the final major engagement—the tone of the entire war.

General Morgan, commanding the Louisiana militia, was in position on Raquet's old canal site, next to the river. Major Latour, chief of the engineer corps, had been instructed by General Jackson, a week or two before the battle, to proceed across the river and to select on that side a suitable line for defensive works for General Morgan, in case the enemy should attempt a flanking movement on the right bank. Of this mission, Major Latour writes: <br><br>

Agreeable to orders, I waited on General Morgan, and in the presence of Commodore Patterson communicated to him my orders, and told him I was at his disposal. The General seemed not to come to a conclusion, but inclined to make choice of Raquet's line. He then desired that I inspect the different situations myself, and make my report to him. My orders were to assist him, and my opinion was subordinate to his.<br>
I chose for the intended line of defence an intermediate position, nearly at equal distances from Raquet's and Jourdan's canal, where the wood inclines to the river, leaving a space of only about nine hundred yards between the swampy wood and the river. Works occupying this space could not well be turned, without a siege and assault in heavy force by the enemy. I made a rough draft of the intended line, and immediately the overseer set his negroes to execute the work. Returning to the left bank, I made my report to the Commander-in-chief, who approved the disposition made.<br><br>

One thousand men could have guarded a breastwork line here, and half that number would have been sufficient had pieces of cannon been mounted in the intended outworks. That line, defended by the eight hundred troops and the artillery of General Morgan's command, on the 8th, could have defied three or four times the number of British who crossed over to the right bank that day. But these dispositions had been changed by General Morgan, and the negroes ordered to work on the Raquet line.<br>
Major Latour had selected for General Jackson his line of defence on the left bank of the river, and had directed the construction of the breastwork and redoubts to the entire satisfaction of the General. He objected to the Raquet line favoured by General Morgan, as wholly unsuited for defence. The space here from the river to the wood swamp was two thousand yards, or considerably over one mile, a much longer line than Jackson's on the other side. To be effective against an attacking force, the entrenchment and outworks must be extended to cover the entire space. It would require then more than double the number of troops and of pieces of artillery for defence than the situation selected by Latour.<br>
In determining on this change of the line of defence, contrary to the judgment and warning of the chief of the engineer corps, General Morgan seems to have been influenced by one consideration paramount to all others. He was in daily council with Commodore Patterson, and was assured of the powerful aid of his battery on the right bank, which had done such execution in the ranks of the British across the river. Should the enemy attack General Morgan's position at Raquet's line, the Commodore could turn his twelve pieces of cannon in their embrasures, sweep the field, and drive back any reasonable force in range. With this support of his artillery, the few hundred militia of Morgan's command could more successfully repulse an attack at Raquet's line than at the line selected by Latour farther away. This change in the situation and plan of defence is characterized by Latour and other authorities as an unmilitary proceeding, as it abandoned the idea of a fortified line behind which a successful defence could have been made probable, if not certain, for an almost open field subject to the flanking movement of veteran troops against raw militia, with no auxiliary support except a park of artillery with guns turned another way, and of most doubtful use in case of need. General Morgan must not share alone the criticism which has been so freely made of his disposition of forces and changes of strategic plans which resulted in sensational disaster to his command. Commodore Patterson, experienced in military affairs as well as naval, advised with him, and must have approved. This change of line, made some days before the eighth, must have been known, and on the representations of Morgan and Patterson, approved by General Jackson. It is not conceivable that so important a change of plans would have been made by a subordinate officer, affecting seriously the safety of New Orleans, without the consent of the commander-in-chief. The latter seemed always to have held in very high personal esteem these two officers, and to have had confidence in their abilities as commanders.