Comments on the battle of New Orleans, 8 January 1815:
‘…our troops encountered such a murderous fire at the edge of the ditch that they fell back without crossing it and in fifteen minutes about 1800 men were puy ‘hors de combat.’ -Robert Atchison, A British Eyewitness at the Battle of New Orleans, 65. From 1812 War With America by Jon Latimer: ‘Gibb’s column marched almost directly towards an 18-pounder battery and was raked by others from both sides, together with fire from the American infantry.’-383 ‘At the word ‘Forward!’ the two lines approached the ditch under a murderous discharge of musketry; but crossing the ditch and scaling the parapet were found impossible without ladders.’-Sgt John Cooper, 7th Foot, 383. ‘…within 150 yards of the American lines ‘a most destructive and murderous fire was opened on our column of round, grape, musketry, rifle and buckshot wlong the whole course and length of their line in front, as well as on our left flank. Not daunted, however, we continued our advance which in one minute would have carried us into their ditch, when we received a peremptory order to halt-this was indeed the moment of trial. The officers and men being as it were mowed down by ranks.’’-Lt. HC Gordon, 93d Foot, 385. ‘…great damage was caused by the guns…for five hours the enemy plied us with grape and roundshot.’-386. ‘Sgt Cooper recalled that the man on his right ‘was smashed to pieces by a cannonball. I felt something strike my cap; I took it off and found sticking to it a portion of his brains, about the size of a marble. A young man on my left got a wound on the top of his head, and ran to the surgeon behind us; he was dressed and sent into his place again. Close to him, another man had his arm so badly fractured neat the shoulder that it was taken out of the cup. A few yards behind sat a black man, with all the lower part of his face shot away; his eyes were gone and the bones of his brow all jagged and dripping blood. Near him, in a ditch, lay one of the 43d, trying to hold in his bowels.’’-386.
From Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812: ‘Gibbs now advanced obliquely toward the wooded swamp, with the 44th in front, followed by the 21st and 4th, terribly pelted by the storm that came from batteries Numbers 6, 7, and 8…These batteries poured round and grape shot incessantly into Gibbs’ line, making lanes through it, and producing some confusion…Whole platoons were prostrated, when their places were instantly filled by others, and the columns pressed on, without pause or recoil, toward the batteries on the left, and the long and weaker line covered by the Tenneseeans and Kentuckians.’-1045. ‘They were terribly scourged by the enfilading fire of the American batteries as they strode across the plain.’-1046. From the Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15 by Arsene Lacarriere Latour: ‘Batteries Nos. 6, 7, and 8, now opened an incessant fire on the column, which continued to advance in pretty good order, until, in a few minutes, the musketry of the troops of Tennessee and Kentucky, joining their fire with that of the artillery, began to make an impression on it, which soon threw it into confusion. It was at that moment that was heard that constant rolling fire, whose tremendous noise resembled rattling peals of thunder. For some time the British officers succeeded in animating the courage of their troops, and making them advance, obliqueing to the left, to avoid the fire of battery No. 7, from which every discharge opened the column, and mowed down whole files, which were almost instantaneously replaced by new troops coming up close after the first: but these also shared the same fate, until at last, after twenty-five minutes continual firing, through which a few platoons advanced to the edge of the ditch, the column entirely broke, and part of the troops dispersed, and ran to take shelter among the bushes on the right. The rest retired to the ditch where they had been when first perceived, four hundred yards from our lines.’-108-109. ‘…for the second time, the column, recruited with the troops that formed the rear, advanced. Again it was received with the same rolling fire of musketry and artillery, till having advanced without much order very near our lines, it at last broke again, and retired in the utmost confusion.’-109.
‘Some of the enemy’s troops had advanced into the woods towards the extremity of our line, to make a false attack, or to ascertain whether a real one was practicable. These the troops under general Coffee no sooner perceived, than they opened on them a brisk fire with their rifles, which quickly made them retire. The greater part of those who, on the column’s being repulsed, had taken shelter in the thickets, only escaped our batteries to be killed by our musketry. During the whole hour that the attack lasted, our fire did not slacken for a single moment; and it seemed as though the artillery and musketry vied with each other in vivacity.’-109-110. ‘Colonel Renee, followed by two other officers of high rank, had begun to mount the breastwork, when the gallant volunteer riflemen under captain Beale, who defended the head of the line, made them all find their graves in that redoubt which they had mastered with so much gallantry. Meanwhile, captain Humphreys’ battery No. 1, lieutenant Norris’ No. 2, and the 7th regiment, which was the only one within musket shot, kept up a tremendous fire on that column, which like that on the left, was obliged to fall back in disorder, leaving the road, the levee, and the brink of the river, strewed with dead and wounded.’-110. From Amateurs, To Arms! By John Elting: ‘American artillery fire raked and buffeted Gibbs’ column, shredding it before it got within musket range.’-306. ‘…Keane led them against Jackson’s center, into a cross-raking blaze of artillery and musket fire.’-307. ‘Though New Orleans has come down in American tradition as a victory of the Kentucky rifle, it was the American artillery that did most to crush the British attack. Next the smooth-bore musket with which regulars and most of the Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee militia were armed. Coffee’s riflemen, being on the far left flank, were not heavily engaged. In fact, the musket’s higher rate of fire made it superior to the rifle for such firing.’-308
The American artillery definitely could have inflicted the greater majority of the casualties in the amount of time the British assault lasted-and the American artillerymen were skilled and had outshot and outfought the British artillery under Dickson on 1 January 1815.
From Robert Quimby's The US Army in the War of 1812, page 916: 'Another question that has again in recent years been a source of controversy is whether the British repulse was due primarily to the fire of American artillery or of small arms. It is quite clear that the most exaggerated claims by the advocates of small fire are myths. These refer to the slaughter as being the result of the unerring aim of eagle-eyed riflemen from Tennessee and Kentucky. The only riflemen to see any considerable action were Beale's New Orleans riflemen on the American right, and Coffee's men who repulsed Jones' attack through the woods in a brief action on the extreme left. It is possible that some of those composing Coffee's right might have been in range to get in some fire on Gibb's column. The troops that repulsed Gibbs were Carroll's Tennesseans supported by Adair's Kentuckians. They were armed principally with muskets.' 'Ritchie's refutation of the rifle fire's toll is correct but beside the point. It was musketry that was involved, and American testimony is to the effect that it was continuous, the men being in three ranks and alternately firing and loading. If one accepts the idea of a five-minute battle, then one would have difficulty in accounting for heavy casualties from musketry, but that would apply also to artillery.' Regarding artillery, on the same page: 'One particular discharge, in which the 32-pounder was loaded practically to the muzzle with musket balls and anything that could be crammed in, tore into the British column and cut a swath completely through it. It alone accounted for scores of killed and wounded. This discharge is mentioned by both sides...' There are at least three strength figures for the Americans in line on 8 January (again from Quimby, pages 889-891: Latour gives the US strength on the firing line as 3519. Brown's figures are 4356. Jackson's figures are 4045. The best guestimate is probably between 4200 and 4400. From The British at the Gates by Robin Reilly: US artillery fire: ‘Analysis of the British casualties on January 8 does much to support claims that it was the American artillery which won the battle and goes some way toward justifying Lambert’s precipitate decision to abandon the right bank and order a general retreat. Losses among regiments out of range of rifle or musket fire were disproportionately high-the 44th Regiment, which led Gibbs’ column, suffered less than the 4th, which was last in line of march-and almost every British account stresses the effect of heavy gunfire. It is particularly noticeable that the 95th Regiment, extended in skirmish order in front of Gibbs’ brigade and offering the most difficult target to artillery, lost only 11 killed, the same number as the 43d Regiment, which was (apart from the light company) in reserve, and less than a quarter the number of any other assault regiment. This does not support the later stories of deadly musket fire from the American breastwork. Indeed, it is clear from all accounts that Coffee’s division of excellent marksmen scarcely fired a shot, and according to Latour the battalions of Plauche, Adquin, Lacoste, with three-quarters of the 44th US Infantry did not fire at all. The best-trained men could not load and fire the muskets of the period at much better than two shots a minute, and it is plain from Dickson’s account that the British assault brigades were within musket range for little more than five minutes.’ (Note: Dickson was the British artillery commander)-329 Description of the wounds on the British dead: ‘The wounds were horrifying, even to those accustomed to warfare in the Peninsula, ‘there was not a vital part of a man in which I did not observe a mortal wound, in many bodies there were three or four such, some without heads.’ Young Lieutenant Gleig had ridden out, ‘prompted by curiousity.’ But soon turned his horse’s head and galloped back to camp: ‘Of all the sights I ever witnessed, that which met me there was beyond comparison theh most shocking and the most humiliating. Within the compass of a few hundred yards were gathered nearly a thousand bodies, all of them arrayed in British uniforms.’-332 4 January 1815: ‘…Jackson was reinforced by 2,368 Kentuckians under Major General Thomas. Only a third of their number was armed. Jackson could not believe it: ‘I have never in my life,’ he is reported to have said, ‘seen a Kentuckian without a gun, a pack of cards and a jug of whiskey.’ He stripped of their muskets four companies of militia left in the city and armed 400 more Kentuckians, but more than half of Thomas’ force had to be left with unarmed Louisiana militia on the second line at Dupre’s.’-305 To sum up, it does appear that 'riflemen' were armed with muskets, that the overwhelming majority of British casualties were caused by artillery fire (muskets and rifles to not inflict dismembering wounds), and that Coffee's command was not instrumental in the British defeat (look at their position on the maps of the battle-they face the swamp, not the British assaulting columns). The rifle was superior in range and accuracy, there is no doubt about that. But the inherent weaknesses of the rifle (slow to load, no bayonet, etc.) gave the musket advantages over the rifle. Too many times artillery has been overlooked as a people-killer on the battlefields of 1792-1815. Artillery proved itself at New Orleans in 1815 as the biggest killer and it was the artillery that broke the British assault.
According to Robin Reilly in his The British at the Gates, by nightfall on 31 December 1814 the Americans had one 32-pounder, three 24-pounders, one long 18-pounder, three 12-pounders, three 6-pounders and a 6-inch howitzer-twelve pieces emplaced in seven batteries (taken from Latour's account-Jackson's chief engineer). On the morning of 8 January, the American artillery consisted of 13 pieces of ordnance mounted in eight batteries-five 6-pounders, three 12-pounders, one 6.5-inch howitzer, one 24-pounder, one 32-pounder, one long 18-pounder, and a brass carronade. These were emplaced from the river to the inverted redoubt, about 900 yards of front (about 980 meters). With the calibers present and the rate of fire, and opening at about 1000 yards, I can see no problem with firing enough rounds down range to inflict very heavy losses on troops attacking in columns of companies. Round shot would carry through the ranks, especially the heavier calibers. 12-pounders and larger had a sustained rate of fire of 1 round per minute. The smaller calibers had a sustained rate of two rounds per minute. In an emergency, however, as this certainly was, the gun crews would fire as fast as they could (if you had to you'd fire until the gun tube melted). So, for a twenty-five minute engagement, at say 2-3 rounds per minute on average, that would be 26-39 rounds per gun, for a total of between 338-507 rounds going down range. It is more than possible for just the artillery to knock down about 2,000 men in that time period.
Another British eyewitness, Major CR Forrest of the 34th Foot stated that 'The enemy's line was short, strongly posted and not possible to be turned, the flank fire from his batteries exposed us to severe loss whenever we should advance beyond the protection of our own.'-from Forrest's Journal, page 43.
The following references for New Orleans are useful and none of them mention that the rifle had a major effect on casualties inflicted on the British army: -The US Army in the War of 1812, 2 volumes, by Robert Quimby. -Amateurs, To Arms by John Elting. -The War of 1812 by Henry Adams. -The Battle of New Orleans: A British View-The Journal of Major CR Forrest -Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-1815 with an Atlas by Arsene Lacarriere Latour. -Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars by Kevin F. Kiley. -The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812 by Robin Reilly. -A British Eyewitness at the Battle of New Orleans: The Memoir of royal Navy Admiral Robert Atchison 1808-1827.
From the Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 by David Heidler and Jeanne Heidler:
On page 381 in right hand column it reads in part: 'Exposed to Jackson, as well as to Patterson's still-ssecure batteries on the west bank, this British column was cut to pieces. The greatest damage to the British lines, however, was probably done by Jackson's artillery on the east bank and the rifle and musket wielding infantrymen. Waiting steadily as the British came resolutely within range, they opened up with volley after volley of murderous fire. The debate about the relative effectiveness of Jackson's riflemen versus the muskets of the average infantryman in the US lines may never be settled, but it misses the larger point in any event. Most of Jackson's force was probably armed with muskets, but that did not matter. The combined firepower of artillery, rifles, and muskets turned the plain before the Rodriguez Canal into a charnel pen.'
'To the credit of the US gunners, they ignored the Royal Artillery's counterbattery fire during the attack on 8 January and concentrated their own fire on the British infantry with canister and grape. Despite the long-cherished belief in the performance of the Americans' rifles that day, many historians now agree it was primarily artillery fire that mauled the attacking troops. An analysis of British casualties does much to support the claim. Some regiments, such as the 4th Foot, were out of rifle range, yet suffered disproportionately higher casualties than regiments such as the 44th, which led General Samuel Gibbs's column. The Rifle Brigade, which covered Gibb's front with a skirmish line, suffered only 11 killed. This was because a widely spread skirmish line was among the most difficult of targets for artillery to engage. Finally, George Gleig and other British eyewitnesses have described the mangled condition of the troops who died in the assault. That only could have been the work of artillery.'-20.