So very much was at stake in this battle. First the British had never fully accepted the legitimacy of the Louisiana Purchase. A victory just may have allowed the British to hand Louisiana back over to Spain, now their ally. Spain had always felt cheated because Napoleon took Louisiana without the promised compensation. Louisiana was stolen property.
The warehouses of New Orleans were packed with millions of dollars of accumulated wealth trapped by the British blockade of the Mississippi River. Admiral Cochrane had brought commercial transports to seize this wealth as his “prize”.
The British also saw the opportunity of uniting the invading British army in Louisiana with British forces in Canada to divide the United States and open a second front. This would allow the British to attack from the west in combination with attacks from the east and north, thus winning the War of 1812.
The industrial revolution began in England based upon the production of woven cloth. Since the invention of the Cotton Gin, fabric made of this new material had become especially valuable. Control over Louisiana and Arkansas cotton production would break the monopoly the America was gaining over this important commodity. A victory in Chalmette had the potential of placing this production in English hands.
Finally, no one can question the value of controlling the port of New Orleans. With this asset firmly in its hands, England could dominate all trade west of the Appalachian Mountains that had to pass through this city. The potential wealth was unimaginable.
Had Jackson’s forces failed to defend New Orleans, the history of the United States would be decidedly different.
Some may argue that this is nonsense. After all, the Treaty of Ghent has been signed on December 24th, fifteen days BEFORE the decisive January 8th battle. However, this is not correct. The treaty had been initialed by the designated negotiators in Belgium, but had not been signed by the President of the United States, approved by the U.S. Senate, nor had it been signed by King of England.
The Senate ratified the Treaty on February 16th ( some sources cite the 17th) and the negotiators were attending a dinner party hosted by the city council of Ghent in the Throne Room on January8th, the day of the famous battle in Chalmette. The actual documents were not in the possession anyone capable of ratifying them before that time. No twitters, faxes, emails, or airmail back then.
Therefore, the treaty was not ratified and might have been considered useless paper in the event of a significant strategic change of conditions on the battlefield. In fact, Britain had a history of negotiating while launching invasions that could alter treaties. The expedition against New Orleans was planned while engaged in talks. This says much about their strategy.
Furthermore, is it reasonable to assume that Great Britain would simply hand back the city after achieving a major victory at such cost? Of course, the answer to that question will never be known.
The Battle of New Orleans is one of the most important events in American history, yet it never seems to gain the attention it deserves.
St. Bernard Parish is home to this famous event. Take time this weekend to attend some of the functions that are being orchestrated by the National Park Service. Learn about this most important campaign to defend America. Because, as most historians argue, the War of 1812 was the second American Revolution, and final victory occurred right here in Chalmette.
Ron Chapman is an award winning columnist and is teaching at Nunez Community College in Chalmette.