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The Gathering Storm
Night Action of the Twenty-third of December

"Night Action of the Twenty-third of December"
Library Photograph Collection

On December 15, 1814, the British knocked out the small American naval force on Lake Borgne, allowing the British an entrance to funnel their forces toward New Orleans. A week later, on the afternoon of December 23, Jackson received word at his headquarters that British troops were approaching the city from the south. He immediately ordered Coffee's mounted gunmen and other forces to hurriedly make their way outside the city to meet the British. The subsequent attack, which took place at night, stemmed the tide of the initial British thrust on New Orleans. At the time, many believed Jackson's bold maneuver saved the city. However, the British remained and each side dug in several miles south of New Orleans. The Americans continually shored up their defensive positions on the Chalmette plantation and on the west bank of the Mississippi River. On December 28, 1814, and January 1, 1815, the British conducted two unsuccessful forays against the American position. British forces, under the overall command of Major General Edward Pakenham, numbered approximately 8,000 men while Jackson's American army had about 7,000. The showdown was set for the British to make one final effort to storm "Line Jackson."

William Carroll Describes the Engagements Before the Battle
William Carroll letter

Letter from General William Carroll to General James Winchester, New Orleans, January 3, 1815
James Winchester Papers

On January 3, 1815, William Carroll wrote a letter to James Winchester describing the engagements with the British prior to the Battle of New Orleans:

"The enemy made his appearance on the day of the 23d Decemr. and Genl. Jackson with several Corps of Troops under his Command marched from the city immediately and met him about seven miles below the City of New Orleans and gave him Battle in the night and drove him off his ground. Genl. Jackson's Troops being much exhausted by a rapid March and hard fighting for upwards of two hours & twenty minutes, He did not think proper to pursue the Enemy further. Genl. Jackson has erected a fortified Camp four miles below the city of New Orleans & we have been fighting the Enemy every day since the first Battle. On the 1st Jany. Inst. The Enemy erected Batteries near our works and kept up a tremendous firing of Cannon Balls, Bomb Shells and Congreve Rockets nearly all day, but our loss was small, considering the constancy of their firing.

We have recd. a reinforcement of Kenty. Troops just arrived and with their assistance and our own exertions, we hope to repel this invasion, altho' the Enemy is thought to be Seven or Eight Thousand Strong & are said to be Commanded by Lieut. Genl. Pakenham & Major Generals Gay & Kean.

We Congratulate ourselves on checking the Enemy on his first approach towards this City & hope by the interposition of Heaven and our own exertions to make him willing to retire from our Shores."

Edward M. Pakenham

Engraving of Major General Edward M. Pakenham by Alfred Rosenthal, 1888
Library Photograph Collection


Edward M. Pakenham

Before leading the British forces at New Orleans, Pakenham fought against Napoleon in the Peninsular War (1807-1814), and took part in the Battles of Bussaco, Fuentes de Onoro, and Salamanca. Once the British had driven Napoleon from Spain, he fought at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. In September 1814, Pakenham took over command of the British troops in North America. He was also the brother-in-law of Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, who would later defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815.


Jackson descending the Mississippi to examine the fortifications

"Jackson descending the Mississippi to examine the fortifications"
Library Photograph Collection

Arrival of the British Fleet

"Arrival of the British Fleet"
Library Photograph Collection

Nathan Starr Model 1812-13 Dragoon Saber
Nathan Starr Model 1812-13 Dragoon Saber

Nathan Starr Model 1812-13 Dragoon Saber
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection

The Starr Mill in Middletown, Connecticut, received a government contract to produce swords, pistols, and rifles in 1812. This saber was the standard model used by U.S. Dragoons in the War of 1812 and it was also used by mounted volunteer and militia units.

Jackson's Headquarters

"General Andrew Jackson's Headquarters on the Battle-field of New Orleans," by Bernhardt Wall, 1937
Bernhardt Wall Collection

Battle of New Orleans sheet music

"The Battle of New Orleans" sheet music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1816
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection