Britain’s ongoing wars with France had drained and divided English resources. After Napoleon abdicated in 1814, the British were able to focus their military attention on the Americans. From a foreign policy viewpoint, the British never recognized Napoleon as a legitimate ruler. As such, his sale of the vast Louisiana territory to the US was considered to be invalid. If the sale was not valid, then Louisiana must be returned to the its rightful owner before Napoleon took possession, Spain (who just happened to be an ally of Britain). If it turned out that Spain did not have the resources or will to administer this territory, the British would take it over. The British planned to take New Orleans and then head up river to meet up with other British troops coming down from Canada. This would effectively surround and close off the entire US supply chain. This pincer move would likely force the young country back into the hands of the British Empire and would effectively quash the outlandish idea of a democratically elected government, the only one of its kind in the world.
The British were fatally overconfident over what they considered to be the foregone conclusion of the war (but seemingly with good reason). Britain was so certain that they would triumph that they took the liberty of sending a group of administrators with the fleet in order to put the new government into action once the war was over. Following the money, British speculators sent commercial ships to carry away the booty of New Orleans, estimated to be worth 14 million dollars.
It is a common misconception that the final battle of the War of 1812 was the one at New Orleans. Popular legends abound (historical accuracy aside, I especially enjoy the 1959 hit song “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton). It was there on January 8, 1815 that, against all odds, General Andrew Jackson and his ragtag army of Tennessee militia, slaves, Native-Americans, and Jean Lafitte’s pirates (along with two warships and five gunboats), outnumbered and outgunned, defeated crack British naval and ground forces under the command of Major General Edward Pakenham, an experienced and capable officer. What should have been a British rout of US forces turned out to be, conversely, a lopsided victory for the Americans. When the smoke cleared, Pakenham was dead, the British had lost over 2,000 killed and wounded while the Americans incurred around 350 casualties.
An interesting fact about the battle was that it occurred after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed in December of 1814. However, it took two months for news of the agreement to reach the troops. During the time, fighting continued unabated.
Signing the Treaty of Ghent
The last battle of the War of 1812 actually took place at Fort Bowyer on Mobile Bay. Fort Bowyer stood on the site where the later Fort Morgan would stand.
In 1803, the US claimed Mobile and the bay as part of Louisiana Purchase. In 1813, on orders from President James Madison, the fort was seized by Regular US soldiers under the command of Major General James Wilkinson and militia under Colonel John Bowyer, extending the Mississippi Territory to include Mobile Bay.
In September 1814, the British had attacked Fort Bowyer, but were rebuffed. They changed their strategy and attacked New Orleans. After their embarrassing defeat in January, 1815, the British fled New Orleans and tried to take Fort Bowyer once again as a conciliation prize. With thirty-eight warships and 1,400 troops, British forces under General John Lambert attacked the fort and built siege works. To prevent needless bloodshed, Major William Lawrence surrendered with 360 men after withstanding the siege for five days. The British victory was short-lived. By the time word of the peace accord reached Mobile, the British had held the fort only for a short while. The fort was turned back over to the Americans, resulting in Mobile being the only additional land acquired in War of 1812.
This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.
–E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.
Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.