Military Subjects:  War of 1812


 

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 16: September 2011

Documents, Artifacts, and Imagery

Instructions to Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham for the New Orleans Campaign

Below are four Letters from Earl Bathurst, to Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham, dated 24 October 1814, which provided direction for the expedition against New Orleans.

Henry Bathurst (1762-1834), was a British politician who served in a variety of posts. Between 1812 and 1827, he was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Bathurst was one of an inner group of ministers, which included the prime minister and foreign secretary, who determined foreign, military and colonial policy during the latter stages of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Bathurst administered reports and addressed problems from every colonial governor, including campaign plans and coordinating, with various offices, requirements for ordnance, transport, funding and soldiers for overseas service.

Edward Pakenham (1778-1815) joined the British Army at age 16 and served in the West Indies from 1801 to 1803, Copenhagen in 1807, Nova Scotia and in the Martinique expedition of 1809.

In 1809, he joined Wellington’s army in the Iberian Peninsula. Earlier, in 1806, Pakenham’s sister had married Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington. Pakenham became Wellington’s assistant-adjutant general before taking command of a brigade in 1810. Pakenham became a major-general in January 1812 and earned Wellington’s praise for his conduct while commanding the 3rd Division at Salamanca in July 1812. He then served as adjutant-general and later took command of the 6th Division.

Pakenham was not interested serving in the American war, but in October 1814 was selected to take command of the New Orleans expedition following the death of the original commander, Major-General Robert Ross, at Baltimore. The British goal was to gain command of the entrance to the Mississippi River and to challenge the legality of the Louisiana Purchase. Pakenham’s task was complicated by his force being scattered between England and North America. He hoped to arrive at the rendezvous at Jamaica before the troops had gone ashore. This was not to be. Adverse winds delayed Pakenham’s arrival until mid-December and a 5,000 man brigade under Major-General John Keane and the fleet under Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane had departed for New Orleans about two weeks earlier.

Pakenham reached the army on Christmas Day, when it was only nine miles from New Orleans. He then reorganized his command into several brigades. On the 28th, he sent a reconnaissance in strength to probe the American defences, which were found to be formidable. On 1 January 1815, Pakenham attempted to breach the American line with artillery, which proved ineffective. He then decided to conduct a deliberate attack.

Pakenham developed a complicated plan using four brigades. A brigade under Lambert formed the reserve. Another brigade, led by Pakenham’s second-in-command, Major-General Samuel Gibbs, was entrusted with main assault against the centre-left of the American line. At the same time, a force of light troops was to breach the American right, while a brigade under Major-General John Keane, followed to exploit the success against this attack or move against the American centre. Across the Mississippi River, Lieutenant-Colonel William Thornton was to capture an American battery that could fire onto the main British attack and then turn the guns against Jackson’s line. Pakenham fielded some 5,400 men, while the Americans, under Major-General Jackson had 4,000 men in an excellent defensive position. The 650 yards of open ground the British would cross was well covered by fire.

When Pakenham awoke on 8 January he learned that Thornton’s force had been delayed in crossing the river. A much smaller force than originally planned was eventually ferried across the river, landing well below the intended landing but succeeded in taking the guns. Pakenham meanwhile continued with the attack. The American skirmishers were quickly forced back and the British then came under heavy fire from Jackson’s guns. When Pakenham moved forward to encourage the troops, he fell, mortally wounded. Gibbs and Keane were also wounded, along with many other officers. Lambert took over and although portions of the American line had been breached, he called off the action. The British withdrew, re-embarked on the flotilla and moved into the Gulf of Mexico. The war ended in February.

Pakenham’s body was returned to England and was buried in the family vault in Killucan, Westmeath, Ireland.

These letters provide interesting insight into the campaign and come from the National Archives, Kew Garden, War Office (WO) 6/2: 26-29.

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London 24th Octr 1814

M. Genl. The Hon

Sir T. Pakenham

Sir:

The Prince Regent having been pleased to confer upon you the Command of all the Troops operating with His Majesty’s Fleets upon the Coasts of the United States of America, I have received His Royal Highness’ Commands to desire that you would proceed forthwith to join Sir Alexander Cochrane, and to assume the command of the Forces which are ordered to assemble at a fixed point of Rendezvous.

The troops which have been employed in the Chesapeake under the late Major General Ross are the 41st, 44th and 85th Regiments with two Companies of Artillery. A strong Body of Marines has been incorporated with that Division.

The 93rd Regiment, part of the 95 Rifle Corps, a company of Artillery and a Corps of Sappers and Miners together with a Squadron of the dismounted Light Dragoons under the orders of Major General Keane sailed from England last month, and will probably unite with the former Corps in the latter end of November. The Command of the whole will dissolve upon Major General Keane, who will be reinforced at the same time by the 5th West India Regiment and 200 Black Pioneers.

It is probable that this force will have proceeded from the approximated Rendezvous before your arrival there, in order to carry into execution the Plans contemplated by Sir Alexander Cochrane.

You will be followed immediately by the 7th and 43rd Regiments with another  squadron of dismounted Dragoons, which are embarked at Plymouth under Major General Lambert, and by the – Regiment from Cork. The 2nd West India Regiment has also been ordered to join you from Barbadoes.

I enclose herewith for your information copies of all Instructions which have been addressed to Major General Ross, Keane and Lambert. Those to General Ross explain so fully the views and Intentions of His Majesty’s Government that I consider it unnecessary to do more than request your attention to the points upon which these instructions bear, and your adherence to the Principles which are there laid down.

I am persuaded that you will preserve the best understanding between the Military and Naval Forces of His Majesty employed upon this service; and I beg to assure you that you possess the full confidence of His Majesty’s Government, and that you may rely upon any constant support and upon the readiest attention being paid to your ideas and suggestions.

I have etc

Bathurst.

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Downing Street 24th Octr 1814

M Genl

Sir T. Pakenham

Secret

Sir,

In my instructions to Major General Ross of the 6th September, I explained the conduct which it would be fit to pursue, if the inhabitants of New Orleans and part adjacent should be disposed to take an open part against the Government of the United States, either with a view of establishing their own Independence, or of again placing themselves under the Spanish Government.

As you are not however authorized to enter into any Engagements on the part of Great Britain on this subject, it is not perhaps to be expected that the Inhabitants will be willing to take any active part against a Government to which on the Signature of a Peace between Great Britain and the United States, they might afterwards be obliged to submit, but it is probable that a general disposition may exist, peaceably to acquiesce in our Possession of the Country during the War.

You will give every encouragement to such a Disposition; and you will for that purpose cause the force under your command, to observer the strictest Discipline; to respect the Lives and the Property of all those inclined to a peaceable deportment and by no means to excite the Black Population to rise against their Masters. There is nothing so calculated to unite the Inhabitants against you as an attempt of this description, while the apprehension of your being obliged to resort to such a measure for your own protection may be made to act as an additional inducement with them to make no resistance to His Majesty’s Forces.

I have etc

Bathurst

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War Department

24th October 1814

M Genl The Hon

Sir T. Pakenham

Secret

Sir:

It has occurred to me that one case may arise affecting your situation upon the Coasts of America for which the Instructions addressed to the late Major General Ross have not provided.

You may possibly hear whilst engaged in active operations that the Preliminaries of Peace between His Majesty and the United States have been signed in Europe and that they have been sent to America in order to receive the Ratification of The President.

As the Treaty would not be binding until it shall have received such Ratification in which we may be disappointed by the refusal of the Government of the United States, it is advisable that Hostilities should not be suspended until you shall have official information that The President has actually ratified the Treaty and a Person will be duly authorized to apprise you of this event.

As during this interval, judging form the experience we have had, the termination of the war must be considered as doubtful, you will regulate your proceedings accordingly, neither omitting an opportunity of obtaining signal success, nor exposing the troops to hazard or serious loss for an inconsiderable advantage. And you will take special care not so to act under the expectation of hearing that the Treaty of Peace has been ratified, as to endanger the safety of His Majesty’s Forces, should that expectation be unhappily disappointed.

I have etc.

Bathurst

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Downing Street 26th Octr 1814

M Genl The Hon

Sir T. Pakenham

Sir,

Having taken into consideration that instructions which may arise in consequence of the Booty or Prize Money made by His Majesty’s Naval and Land Forces on the Coasts of America, I consider it to be expedient to intimate to you that this Booty and Prize Money so taken should be brought to condemnation as in other cases of conjoint expenditures and that it would be desirable that such Proceedings should be had in all cases which should admit it, in the High Court of Admiralty, and that proper agents be appointed in England to manage the business and protect the interests of the Captors.

It may be advisable  that the Naval and Military Commander should jointly propose a plan of distribution to be submitted to the Prince Regent in Council.

I have etc

Bathurst

 



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