Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Corps of Artillery and the Fight for New Orleans, 1815

By a long shot, I think, the most famous battle of the forgotten War of 1812-15 is the Battle of New Orleans, which took place after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve 1814, but indeed not before the war officially ended with the ratification of the treaty. It birthed a lot of legends, particularly that of the local pirate band led by Jean Laffite offering their services as cannoneers to General Andrew Jackson, and thus playing a vital role in the victory. Likewise, the Tennessee and Kentucky riflemen have edged out their less glamorous counterparts in the Regular Infantry to the point where, in the popular imagination, the Battle of New Orleans pitted lockstepping British redcoats against keen-eyed American sharpshooters, who downed them like fish in a barrel.

The reality, as always, is different but far more interesting. For this article, though, I will confine myself mostly to the subject of the American artillery at the battle. The big guns, indeed, played the decisive role by decimating the dense British columns before they could get within small-arms range of the entrenched American line. Today there is a monument on the battlefield to Lieutenant Samuel Spotts, whose gun on Battery No. 6 was the first to open fire on the British columns.

Here is a breakdown of the American batteries and their armament and men:

Battery No. (From the River) Officer (s) in charge Regiment/ Detachment Armament/ Description
1 Captain Enoch Humphrey Corps of Artillery

St. Geme's Co. Dragoons (manned howitzer)*
2 bronze 12-pounders, 1 6-inch howitzer on field carriages
Redoubt (In front of no. 1)
Lt. Ross, 7th Inf. and Lt. Marant, 44th Inf.**
7th Infantry (picket),
44th Infantry

2 six-pounders
Mortar Battery (behind no. 1) Captain Lefebvre

13-inch mortar
2 Lt. Norris Navy (USS Carolina) 24-pounder naval gun.
3 Dominique You and Renato Beluche Volunteers (Baratarians) 2 24-pounder naval guns
4 Lt. Crawley Navy 1 32-pounder naval gun
5 Lt. Perry and Lt. William Kerr, Corps of Artillery Corps of Artillery 2 6-pounders on field carriages.
6 Lt. Samuel Spotts, Corps of Artillery Corps of Artillery 12-pounder
(fired the first shot of the battle).

7 General Flaujac

1 18-pounder and one 4-pounder
8 Anon. Corps of Artillery corporal

Caroll's militia  small brass carronade

**The redoubt in front of Battery No. 1 was overrun by a column of British troops, who bayoneted most of the small detachment of 7th and 44th Infantry who were posted there. Captain Thomas Beale's Company of Riflemen was posted immediately behind the redoubt, behind the main line. Within a few minutes they had cut down the exposed British soldiers with accurate and point blank fire.

Of the redoubt's commanders, 1st Lt. Andrew Ross survived the battle and the war, only to die of wounds suffered at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp in 1836 during one of the Indian wars in Florida:

1st Lt. Louis de Marans of the 44th Infantry, whose men were serving the guns on the redoubt, also seems to have survived but without getting credit for having served at the hottest point on the American line...

*Major St. Geme's Company of Dragons a Pied (Foot Dragoons, in other words, who were probably armed and trained as light infantrymen) was part of Major Jean Plauche's Battalion of Volunteers from New Orleans.

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