Pakenham's first concern was to get rid of the Carolina and the Louisiana. Heavy guns were with great labor hauled from the fleet, and on December 27 the Carolina's crew were forced to abandon her, and the Louisiana was with difficulty got out of range; but meanwhile Commodore Patterson had mounted a battery across the river which in a measure made up for the ships.
On the 28th, Pakenham advanced with his whole army, but retired, without making any assault, to await the residt of an artillery duel. This was fought on New Year's day, 1815. The British used at least twenty-four guns, throwing some three hundred and fifty pounds of metal; the Americans, fifteen guns, throwing two hundred and twenty-four pounds. On both sides novel defences were employed, - cotton bales by the Americans, barrels of sugar by the British. The bales quickly caught fire, and from that time were discarded; the barrels proved as useless as if they had been empty. The result of the action would have been utterly surprising but for the discovery already made in Canada that Americans were better marksmen than British regulars. Three American guns were damaged; every one of the British batteries was silenced and abandoned. The American loss was thirty-four killed and wounded; the British, somewhat heavier.
Pakenham waited a week for General Lambert to come up with two of his regiments, and then made his supreme effort. His plan was to advance on both sides of the river. During the night of January 7, Colonel Thornton, with 1200 men, was thrown across to the left bank, where General David Morgan had 450 Louisiana militia, reinforced at the last moment by four hundred Kentuckians. Both British divisions were to attack before dawn. But the dawn came before Thornton was ready. He was, however, successful in his part of the programme. Morgan was driven back, his guns taken, and the British on the west bank passed up the river a mile beyond Jackson's line. Jackson never forgave the Kentuckians, although military critics incline to think they did all that should have been expected.
But on the east bank it was a different story. At six o'clock the main body of the British rushed upon the American lines. General Gibbs, with 2200, sought to pierce the defenses near the swamp. General Keane led 1200 along the river bank. General Lambert, with the reserve, brought up the rear. The whole force engaged was over 5000. Gibbs first came under the American fire. The head of his division melted before it. Gibbs himself fell, mortally wounded. Pakenham, dashing forward to rally the column, was killed three hundred yards from the lines. Keane, on the British left, was wounded and carried from the field. Nowhere did the enemy pierce or break the line of defense. A brave major did indeed cross the ditch and lift his head above the breastworks; but he lived only long enough to send back word that he died on the parapet like an English soldier. In truth, Pak-enham's assault was a desperate venture, such as British commanders, relying on the valor of their men, have been too often led to make. At eight o'clock Jackson walked from end to end of his works, and not a British soldier was anywhere to be seen in an attitude of offence. The smoke of the artillery, clearing, discovered the enemy far distant, in full retreat to his camp, and the battlefield littered with piles of dead and wounded. "I saw," said Jackson, "more than five hundred Britons emerging from the heaps of their dead comrades, all over the plain, rising up, and still more distinctly visible as the field became clearer, coming forward and surrendering to our soldiers."
Here was revenge, indeed, for the sufferings of little Andy in the Waxhaws, for the sabre cut on his head, for his brothers, for his mother. But it is not known that any low word of vengeance passed his lips at the awful sight before him. The British dead were seven hundred, their wounded twice as many, and five hundred were taken. In the American lines on that side of the river eight were killed and thirteen wounded. Such a victory, so cheaply bought, is not paralleled in the warfare of civilized men. Lambert, succeeding Pakenham, recalled Thornton and gave up the important advantage the British won on the western bank. For ten days the armies lay as they were, and then the enemy withdrew as he had come. A few days later, Fort Bowyer, on Mobile Point, was taken, and then the fighting ceased.
During the closing weeks of January, by the slow methods of travel prevalent in those days, three messengers were hastening to Washington with tidings which the wearied President awaited with eagerness or fear according to the quarter from which they came. From Hartford, Conn., where the convention of New England malcontents had sat, he was to learn what demands were made by Americans who chose a time of war to change and weaken, if not indeed to destroy, the constitution of their country. From the American commissioners at Ghent he hoped against hope for news of a peace. To the Southwest he looked with dread, for few had dared to believe that New Orleans could be defended. The three messages arrived almost together, and all three were to stick in men's minds for years to come, and to mould men's thoughts about their country. From Ghent came tidings of a peace, not, indeed, glorious, or such as we had gone to war to win, but better than we had a right to expect. From New Orleans, tidings of a victory so splendid that it stirred the blood and brightened the eyes of every true American, and made it hard to remember that the war had not been altogether glorious. The threatening message from Hartford lost its terrors. In the great balance of the sections, the Northeast sank, the Southwest rose. When men recalled the war with shame, it was because of Hartford; when they spoke of it with pride, as in time they came to do, it was because they saw, on the parapet of New Orleans, looking out over heaps of British dead, the thin, tall figure of the horseman in Lafayette Square. True, the victory might seem worthless, for the peace was made before the battle was fought; but the victor had won for his countrymen something dearer than anything set forth in treaties. He had won them back their good opinion of themselves. In the prosperous years that were to follow, Andrew Jackson, the man of the Southwest, was to stand as no other man could for the American's faith in his country against the world.
But the victorious general was still the same Andrew Jackson; he did not leave New Orleans without exhibiting some of the characteristics that were so well known in Tennessee. Relaxing none of his vigilance, he kept the city under martial law after the British had sailed, and even after the British admiral had sent him word of the peace. Many New Orleans people protested, and certain of them claimed exemption from the work of defense on the ground that they were citizens of France. All such he ordered out of the city. Mr. Louaillier, a leading citizen, published a protest, and Jackson promptly arrested him. Judge Hall, of the United States District Court, issued a writ of habeas corpus for the prisoner, and Jackson as promptly arrested the judge himself, and did not release him until, early in March, official notice of the peace was received. The judge fined the general a thousand dollars for contempt of court, and nearly thirty years afterwards the American Congress voted money enough to repay the sum with interest. Between the battle and the news of peace, Jackson also signed the order for the execution of six militiamen whom a court-martial had found guilty of mutiny and desertion. There were circumstances which seemed to recommend these men to mercy, and in after years the order was cited along with other things to prove that Jackson was a cruel and arbitrary commander.
However, the War Department gave him only the mildest of reproofs for his treatment of the civil authorities at New Orleans, and when he returned to Tennessee it was to a welcome even more heartfelt and stirring than the one he got on his return from the Creek war. In the autumn he was called to Washington to consult with his superiors about putting the army on a peace footing, and on the journey and at the capital he was universally received as the hero of the war. The army was reduced to ten thousand men, and distributed into a northern and a southern department. The command of the northern department was given to General Jacob Brown; Jackson got the southern department.
It was about this time that Governor Alston, of South Carolina, got a letter from his father-in-law, Aaron Burr, of New York, concerning the approaching presidential election. Burr thought Monroe, the leading candidate and the man preferred by President Madison, too weak a man for the great office. He wanted a man of firmness and decision, and he added, " that man is Andrew Jackson." But as yet Jackson himself had no such ambition. As late as 1821, in fact, he said, in reply to a suggestion that he might be President: " No, sir: I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way; but I am not fit to be President." He cordially supported Monroe in 1816, and after his election wrote to him and made a few suggestions about his administration. One of these suggestions was to appoint a Federalist, Colonel William Drayton, Secretary of War. Jackson declared that, had he been in command in New England, he would have hanged the leaders of the Hartford Convention; but he was in favor of recognizing the loyalty of such Federalists as had served the country faithfully during the war. That letter to Monroe was "copied" for the general by his neighbor and friend, William B. Lewis, as were hundreds of others. The general himself was a poor writer, and Major Lewis was a skilful man with a pen. He was also an exceedingly clever politician, and he showed his cleverness by keeping a second copy of the letter to Monroe for future use. In the course of the correspondence, Monroe let Jackson know that he himself might be Secretary of War if he chose; but Jackson was content with his command.