The Battle of New Orleans, fought on January 8th, 1815, was the last battle of the War of 1812.
What was the War of 1812?
Many historians refer to the War of 1812 as America’s “Second War of Independence.” Since the Revolutionary War, relations between the United States and Great Britain remained tense. British agitation of Native Americans, interference with American international trade, and impressment of sailors on American ships, forced the United States to declare war on Britain in June of 1812.
At the time of the conflict, the United States was a young country, without international ranking. The U.S. victory after the war changed this opinion among European nations because the war developed the American identity. It was Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812, that idealized the flag now recognized by the American public. During this war Uncle Sam became a full-fledged character. It was also during the war that First Lady Dolly Madison courageously saved the portrait of George Washington as British troops burned Washington D.C., the nation’s capital.
Andrew Jackson owes much of his political success to the reputation he developed during the war. The War of 1812 defined American patriotism. The U.S. victory at the Battle of New Orleans ushered in a renewed sense of pride on the part of Americans. Until the Civil War, Americans celebrated January 9th, the anniversary of the Battle, with as much national significance as the 4th of July today.
Who fought in the Battle?
The Battle of New Orleans was a successful collaboration of diverse people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, economic standings, and places of origin. Native Louisianans, who referred to themselves as Creoles, formed a large part of the militia and the fighting force. Volunteer riflemen from Kentucky and Tennessee traveled South with General Jackson to assist in the war effort. Because of these soldiers, Tennessee’s slogan is ‘the volunteer state.’ American citizens fought to defend their new Louisiana homeland, achieving statehood in 1812.
Many free men of color, recent immigrants from the Haitian revolution, formed an African American battalion. For the first time, African American soldiers earned the same wages as their white counterparts.
Andrew Jackson, the commanding General at the Battle, was successful in securing the allegiance of Jean Lafitte and his Baratarians, the famous privateers stationed south of New Orleans. The men and munitions brought by Lafitte were instrumental in the American victory. In early 1814, there were many French soldiers and officers who served under Napoleon and exiled after his initial defeat. These soldiers chose to immigrate to French-speaking New Orleans, and they assisted the American forces. Some Frenchmen even lead troops and advised Jackson.
Native Americans were important to the war effort as well. Choctaw Indians assisted in New Orleans, and Caddo Indians, from North Louisiana, defended the Louisiana-Texas border from invasions originating in Spanish controlled Texas.
Women and slaves assisted in the war effort by sewing uniforms, nursing the sick, and building fortifications to hold off the British
Altogether, Creoles, Kentucky and Tennessee riflemen, free men of color, slaves, Choctaw and Caddo Indians, Jean Lafitte and his men, French exiles, and women helped with the war effort. This incredible unity and multiculturalism is often heralded as the lesson of the Battle of New Orleans and the reason for this victory.
Why is the Battle relevant to Shreveport?
Jackson’s troops in New Orleans were sorely undersupplied. Many of the Kentucky and Tennessee men did not have guns. Jackson wrote frantically to then Secretary of War, James Monroe, begging desperately for supplies. In late 1814, Monroe ordered several shipments of munitions to leave Brownsville, Pennsylvania and travel downriver to New Orleans. One of those shipments was carried on the steamship Enterprise, captained by Henry Miller Shreve.
Shreve had never captained a steamboat before the Enterprise. Due to his familiarity with the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from his years as a keelboat captain, Shreve was chosen to take the boat from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Shreve departed Pittsburgh on December 21, 1814 and arrived in New Orleans on January 9, 1815, the day after the battle. After arriving in New Orleans, Shreve and the Enterprise were pressed into service by General Jackson. In the months after the battle, the Enterprise traveled to and from Natchez several times. Jackson also ordered Shreve and the Enterprise to carry several of his soldiers up the Red River. This is supposedly Shreve’s first encounter with the Great Raft. After the suspension of martial law, Shreve departed New Orleans in the first two weeks of May 1815. He arrived in Louisville, Kentucky on June 1st, and back in the Enterprises’ homeport of Brownsville on July 30th, 1815. Shreve’s successful northward navigation up the Ohio and Mississippi rivers helped to inaugurate the age of the steamboat. This was the first time a steamboat was able to pass the falls at Louisville and successfully reach Pittsburgh from New Orleans.
- The timeline above, produced by LSEM staff, can be downloaded here: LSEM- Battle of New Orleans- Time line
- This coloring and activity book follows the LSEM exhibit on the Battle of New Orleans: LSEM- Battle of New Orleans Coloring Book- LSEM 2014
- The Historic New Orleans Collection has a splendid set of Lesson Plans revolving around the Battle of New Orleans.
- The National Parks Service has published two timelines on it’s Chalmette Battlefield site, one on the War of 1812 and one on the Battle itself. Both are useful resources for anyone interested in Military history.
- As described aboce, the Battle included people from many walks of life and demographics. This online exhibit from the Louisiana State Museum outlines several of those people. Also, PBS has a good video on African American soldiers and sailors in the battle.
- The article “Brownsville’s Steamboat Enterprize and Pittsburgh’s Supply of General Jackson’s Army” by Alred Maass, published in 1994 in the Pittsburgh History journal, is useful for anyone researching Henry Miller Shreve’s involvement with the Battle of New Orleans.
Banner photo: “Battle of New Orleans” by J. Van. Part of the LSEM historic mural collection.