Major General Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans
U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson’s stunning victory over crack British troops at Chalmette plantation on January 8, 1815, was the greatest American land victory of the War of 1812. Commonly called the Battle of New Orleans- the last battle of the last war ever fought between England and the United States- it preserved America’s claim to the Louisiana Territory, prompted a wave of migration and settlement along the Mississippi River, and restored American pride and unity. It also made General Jackson a national hero.
The War of 1812 was fought to vindicate U.S. maritime rights, secure the western frontier from provocative British influence with the Indians, and pave the way for the annexation of Canada. It was pursued half-heartedly by both sides, and with little success for either. England, battling Napoleon’s armies in Europe, could spare few troops to fight in the United States and did little more than help to defend Canada. American victories were few, and these mostly at sea. When England defeated Napoleon in the spring of 1814, the character of the American war changed dramatically. Thousands of battle tested British soldiers sailed for the United States, and invasion thrusts were planned via Lake Champlain, the Chesapeake Bay, and later the Gulf coast.
The first thrust ended when Commodore Thomas MacDonough defeated the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Champlain in September 1814. The second was turned back about the same time at Fort McHenry, the main defense of Baltimore, but not before the British had burned the White House and the Capitol at Washington. The third began in late December when 35 year-old British Major General Sir Edward M. Pakenham led a 10,000-man army overland from Lake Borgne to attack New Orleans. The capture of this important port was Britain’s main hope reaching a favorable peace settlement form the Americans. By controlling the mouth of the Mississippi River, England could seriously threaten the economic well-being of the entire Mississippi Valley and hamper U.S. westward expansion.