New Orleans, LA

Five Myths about the Battle of New Orleans

Curtis Macken
British Library/Unsplash

NEW ORLEANS, LA -- #Myth 1: The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the formal end of the War of 1812.

The United Kingdom and the United States were still technically at war when they met in New Orleans, contrary to common opinion. On Christmas Eve in 1814, as British and American diplomats were negotiating in Ghent, Belgium, they agreed to a peace treaty that stated, "Orders shall be conveyed to the troops, squadrons, officers, subjects, and citizens of the two countries to stop from all hostilities” only “after the ratifications of this treaty by both parties.”

On February 16, 1815, the United States Senate unanimously ratified the treaty, and President James Madison, who had been evacuated from the White House after it was burned by the British, signed it in his temporary residence, the Octagon House. More than a month after the Battle of New Orleans, the War of 1812 came to an end with the exchange of ratified copies between the two countries.

#Myth 2: The Battle of New Orleans was the final military engagement of the War of 1812.

While Jackson's surprise victory marked the end of the War of 1812's main battles, it wasn't the last time British and American soldiers exchanged fire. After being driven out of New Orleans, the British navy headed east along the Gulf of Mexico coast, launching an amphibious attack on Fort Bowyer, which defended Mobile Bay's entrance. The fort's American forces had successfully repelled a smaller British attack in September 1814, but they were unable to withstand the greater assault that began on February 8, 1815. Three days later, the fort's commander surrendered. Thirteen Redcoats and one American were killed in the conflict. When word of the peace deal arrived, British intentions to conquer the port city of Mobile were shelved.

#Myth 3: The Battle of New Orleans was a one-day conflict.

The battle for New Orleans was a protracted one that lasted more than a month. On December 14, 1814, British ships and American gunboats clashed for the first time on Lake Borgne near New Orleans. British troops landed on the east bank of the Mississippi River three days before Christmas, and Jackson ambushed the Redcoats in their camp the next evening. Before British General Edward Pakenham launched an all-out assault on Jackson's heavily entrenched position along the Rodriguez Canal on January 8, 1815, the two forces engaged in multiple battles. For more than a week, the British bombarded Fort St. Philip near the Mississippi River's mouth, and did not leave the New Orleans area until January 18.

#Myth 4: The Battle of New Orleans was only fought on land.

The importance of the fleets in the Battle of New Orleans was eclipsed by Jackson's heroics. The battle in southern Louisiana was ultimately for control of the Mississippi River, the North American interior's economic lifeline, and the campaign against New Orleans was led by the Royal Navy under British Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane. The Redcoats were able to stage an amphibious landing after the British win on Lake Borgne, which caused fear in New Orleans and drove Jackson to declare martial law in the city.

#Myth 5: Pirate Jean Lafitte was a battlefield hero.

In the early 1800s, the French-born pirate and privateer Jean Lafitte roamed the seas of Barataria Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and he is still honored in New Orleans. Lafitte, who had been courted by the British, instead offered his services and weaponry to Jackson in exchange for pardons for some of his men who had been arrested by the US. In the aftermath of the war, Lafitte was acclaimed as a hero, yet there is no proof that he was on the front lines fighting alongside his soldiers during the major conflict.

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