Sold – Eyewitness Account of the Battle of New Orleans as Experienced by the City’s People, Written the Very Day After It Ended, Apparently Unpublished

We can find no other account written this close to the battle reaching the market in at least 40 years. A long detailed description from Benjamin Latrobe's daughter, who saw Andrew Jackson.

This document has been sold. Contact Us

After burning Washington in August, 1814, the British were emboldened to make their next foray an ambitious plan to take New Orleans and use that as a base to seize the land obtained by the Americans in the Louisiana Purchase. A fleet with some 9,000 British troops arrived off Lake Borgne by...

Read More

Sold – Eyewitness Account of the Battle of New Orleans as Experienced by the City’s People, Written the Very Day After It Ended, Apparently Unpublished

We can find no other account written this close to the battle reaching the market in at least 40 years. A long detailed description from Benjamin Latrobe's daughter, who saw Andrew Jackson.

After burning Washington in August, 1814, the British were emboldened to make their next foray an ambitious plan to take New Orleans and use that as a base to seize the land obtained by the Americans in the Louisiana Purchase. A fleet with some 9,000 British troops arrived off Lake Borgne by New Orleans on December 12. Cochrane sent naval forces forward to sweep American gunboats from Lake Borgne on December 12. Attacking with 42 armed longboats, they overwhelmed Thomas ap Catesby Jones’ force on the lake. With the lake open, British army forces landed on Pea Island and established a British garrison. Pushing forward, 1,800 of their men reached the east bank of the Mississippi River on December 23 and encamped on the Villeré Plantation.

In New Orleans, the defense of city was tasked to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, commanding the Seventh Military District. Working frantically, Jackson assembled around 4,000 men which mainly included the 7th US Infantry, the Tennessee and Kentucky militia, and local men of all stripes. Unwilling to tolerate British troop on American soil unchallenged, Jackson sortied from the city and launched a three-pronged attack. In a sharp fight, American forces bloodied the British and put them off balance, causing them to delay their advance on the city. Using this time well, Jackson’s men continued building fortifications.  As the main British force arrived on January 1, 1815, a severe artillery duel began between the opposing forces. On January 8 the British moved onto the Chalmette plain and went on the attack. Seeing the British columns before their line, columns of men who were veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, Jackson’s inexperienced men opened an intense artillery and rifle fire upon the enemy. The British were unable to make inroads, and soon the entirety of British senior command on the field was killed or wounded. Their losses were such that they were forced to give up their entire strategy.

The victory at New Orleans on January 8 cost Jackson around 13 killed, 58 wounded, and 30 captured for a total of 101. The British reported their losses as 291 killed, 1,262 wounded, and 484 captured/missing for a total of 2,037. A stunningly one-sided victory, the Battle of New Orleans was the signature American land victory of the war, securing the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, solidifying American independence and awakening a strong sense of national identity in the young country. For Jackson personally, the victory was the first step along a path that eventually led to the White House.

Jean Baptiste Florian Jolly de Pontcadeuc was born in 1767 to an aristocratic family in Brittany as the cloud of the French Revolution loomed over French society. He and his wife Marguerite, also an aristocrat, were almost guillotined. He escaped the mob in June 1793 by climbing out the upper back window of his chateau, clambering down by an almost-too-short ladder. Marguerite escaped by disguising herself as a peasant, carrying her babies to the coast in panniers on a donkey. Florian decided to seek fortune and safety in America, specifically Louisiana, with its many French émigrés. He and his family came to New Orleans were they were well known. Laura Eugenie Florian was a daughter of this family, and she was in the city during the Battle of New Orleans and its prelude.

Benjamin Latrobe was America’s first great architect, designing the United States Capitol, and pioneering water works in Philadelphia and New Orleans. Latrobe saw great potential for growth in New Orleans, situated at the mouth of the Mississippi River, with the advent of the steamboat and great interest in steamboat technology. His first project in that city was in 1807, and he and his family became familiar with it and made many friends there. His son Henry lived in New Orleans during the War of 1812, and his daughter Lydia became friends with Laura Florian. Lydia was a dynamo noted for her independence and spirt, and she was the wife of Nicholas Roosevelt. As such she was the great aunt of President Theodore Roosevelt.

The day after the Battle of New Orleans, with her experiences fresh in her mind, Laura Florian wrote Lydia Roosevelt that her brother Henry was safe, and describing what she had seen, heard and felt during that momentous time. Autograph letter signed, New Orleans, January 9, 1815.  “What a moment is this my sweetest Mrs. Roosevelt for your distant friends! An invading enemy at our gates seeking admission and our hitherto peaceable citizens uninured to the hardships of war now exposed to all its horrors in defense of all they hold most dear – their lives, their families and property. You must doubtlessly ere this have learnt the untoward events which have taken place and which render our very existence precarious. The anxiety you cannot but feel for a beloved brother under such circumstances is too readily conceived, and to sure you of his continued welfare is my present chief inducement in writing, for I readily acknowledge that did no such inducement exist, did not the idea of the suspense and uneasiness the uncertainty of his fate must create in your mind, separated by distance, with a report of danger is always magnified tenfold, strongly urge me to resume my pen. I had hardly found time or courage and Mr. Latrobe’s moments must be too constantly engaged to enable him to give news of himself.

“The enemy have now been nearly a month in this quarter. They entered by the lakes in barges built for the purpose and attacked half a dozen gunboats stationed at the Bay St. Louis. A most noble resistance was made but the in equity of numbers was so great – 200 against 2500 – that they’re making any at all may be considered an act of desperation. They were all young men who had never yet had an opportunity of standing fire, and now when their courage was first put to the test were firmly determined not to cede even to a superior enemy or sell their lives as dearly as possible. The last gunboat which surrendered was commanded by a Capt. Jones who behaved like a perfect hero – with one arm fractured and a wound in his breast he still disputed every inch of plank, calling on his men to fight on, till overpowered by numbers and loss of blood he sunk and was necessitated to order the flag to be lowered. The consternation and distress spread in town by this fatal loss you may readily conceive. We are still ignorant of the names of those who fell in the engagement, as the flag of truce sent with proper attendance for the wounded has been detained. Mrs. Dr. Claiborne whom you may remember in Natchez behaved most courageously on the occasion. She had been sometime at the Bay for health, for she has been these four years in decline and from her appearance you would suppose the slightest breath would annihilate her very existence, and now while the cannon balls were whistling around her was unconscious or rather insensible to the danger. She was carrying cartridges to those who were firing from the shores. A dead calm succeeded this first storm which however continued in our apprehensions when the week following we were once more aroused by the news of the British having entered by a bayou leading from Lake Borgne and were then 6 miles below town. The confusion this created, I should vainly attempt to describe, but on this as all other occasions it was chiefly caused by the women. This agitation and fear would have restrained all inclination to gaiety, you could not have refrained from laughing at the site of the old mulattos, and orange and apple sellers, running with their baskets on their heads, their countenances distorted with fright, yelling as if the whole circle of infernal gods were at their heels.

“Gen. Jackson whom we may regard as the savior of Louisiana, who alone has possessed talents to unite the jarring interests of the different sects and nations which compose our population, and oppose an enemy formed of regular troops long experienced in the fatigues, the preparations and above all the art of war, soon joined [confronted] the invaders at the head of all the militia and of the few Tennesseans who had then arrived to our assistance. An engagement took place the same evening and such was the undaunted courage of our men that it was impossible to prevent their throwing themselves into the thickest of the battle, and many particularly the riflemen finding themselves in the very heart of the enemy without means of retreating, were made prisoners. It lasted not more than two hours but the firing was so incessant that some of our British prisoners who have served in the continental war in Spain aver they never experienced anything equal to it; while the darkness which pervaded rendering the objects so indistinct that they were sometimes uncertain whether wrestling with friends or foes created additional horror. It is said that the enemy had been then three days onshore making their way through the swamps and that very same night where to have marched up and taken quiet possession of the city. And this they might easily have effected had they not fortunately for us attempted to seize the son of Gen. Villere, mistaking him for his father, who was seated writing when they entered and made him prisoner. He escaped and concealed himself among the sugar canes, and one of his Negroes witnessing what was passing immediately came up and gave the alarm, too late to prevent their landing but time enough to save the town. Had British gold and British interest not found its way among the inhabitants of Lake Borgne who are chiefly composed of fisherman, it would have been utterly impossible for any enemy in the world to have penetrated through the woods and swamps to the banks of the river. Several Spaniards it is also supposed have aided them in their enterprise. Both sides now for a few days remained within their entrenchments, until the enemy’s troops becoming impatient at the delay (as we have been informed by deservers from their camp)  they attacked our lines. On the first fire from our rifleman they turned their backs and fled like lightning. They were however rallied and returned to the charge but were eventually completely repulsed. It is supposed that there are flight was merely ruse da guerre to entice our troops within some battery concealed in the woods where they might have played on them with some effect, and it required all the power of the General to restrain them from following. The Caroline one of the two vessels which were stationed in the river and had been firing on the enemy was blown up with red hot shot and then sunk. There were two men killed on board and five wounded. You would be astonished at the account  of the few who are killed on our side notwithstanding the desperate manner in which they exposed their lives. The Tennesseans particularly have inspired the Creoles and indeed all the inhabitants here with such an idea of their valor that I believe they will live long in their memory. As for the troops under the command of Gen. Coffee, the British vow they are devils and not men and that had Washington been defended by such, the Americans had never severed such a disgrace there.

“Yesterday was witness to the next and last engagement – to describe the incessant and tremendous roar of cannon and musketry with which we were awoke before dawn would be impossible. Imagine claps of thunder, while the echo prolongs the sound undyingly till another clap overpowers the roar of that and continues increasingly till a third and so on. Or rather fancy the grating of an immense wheel – but no I can convey no idea to you which can in the smallest degree give an accurate conception of the sound with which our ears were assailed. The carnage was indeed terrible. The enemy advancing on the plain were cut off by dozens, while those who first attempted entering within our entrenchments were made prisoners. Pirogues and carts have since yesterday morning been incessantly employed in bringing in the wounded prisoners and have not yet concluded the painful task. There are 900 already in the hospital and Arsenal. The prisons have been emptied of those who had been taken before and sent to Natchez on their parole, in order to make room for others and still the number is so great that the General has been compelled to retain some at the camp for there is in town neither place to put them nor men sufficient to guard them. It is calculated that the British must have lost yesterday 2000 while the utmost extent of ours did not exceed 8 or 10 killed and 30 wounded. This is almost incredible but when we reflect on the eminent disadvantages under which they fought, immediately under the fire of our batteries, our men protected by these batteries, the account does not appear so entirely improbable. Do not suppose that between the engagements we enjoyed near perfect quiet, for the batteries from the two camps and one we have or rather had on the opposite bank of the river (yesterday it was partly destroyed), and the Louisiana stationed there also kept up an almost daily sufficient firing to keep our fears awake.

“Yesterday week in particular was a most awful day. Without coming to any actual engagement balls, bullets, bombs etc. whistled without ceasing for several hours. I’m afraid you will explain why Laura, is this the way you undertake to alleviate my uneasiness? In truth for those exposed to the fire of the enemy, you cannot but experience the utmost dread, though such has been the good fortune which has attended our arms that not half a dozen of our citizens have fallen victim to the war, and your brother employed in building fortifications is certain less exposed than any other. We are still in ignorance of the number of the invaders. Some suppose that they are not more than 7000 strong, others imagine they have at least 10,000. Our troops increase daily in number – we have about 12,000 and expect more. Jackson has displayed hitherto as much prudence as courage, forbearing to attack the enemy, rightly considering that the lives of so may citizens, and each important  to his family, were not carelessly and desperately to be hazarded. It is said that he is now waiting for a reinforcement of regulars to attack in turn. I am conscious that in this bungling account of the proceedings here, I can give you but a poor idea of things as they really are and unless you possess as much curiosity as Mr. Talcott attributes to us you will hardly have patience to go through. But women, you know, notwithstanding all their queries and inquiries are generally left in the dark as to the true state of affairs. The town is as quiet and tranquil as if inhabited by shades and specters instead of man. You would take it for a second Herculaneum. We are busy since the commencement of the war here making lint [fabric] for the wounded, shirts, pantaloons and blanket coats for the Kentuckians and Tennesseans who may almost literally be called sans-culottes. One of the Negro girls is this moment returned from the Garrison where she has been…from Mama for the wounded, crying and sobbing as of her heart would break at the state of wounded who were brought in yesterday. Blankets, mattresses, pillows have been sent from almost every house for their use, and I assure you if the bravery of our men is to be commended, the humanity of the ladies deserves no less praise. I speak not this from ostentation for Heaven knows I have nothing to give but the labor of my hands, and while I can help to make shirts and pantaloons (which by the bye is to me quite a new accomplishment), I judge not others but better they have to bestow.

“Your former acquaintance Mrs. Livingston has been acting a much conspicuous part since the arrival of Gen. Jackson, but as she cannot act without over acting, she has rather made herself an object of ridicule than admiration. The whole tribe have been endeavoring to make themselves popular but notwithstanding all their attempts will not, I believe, succeed this time. The batture is the distant goal of their intrigues. Mrs. L. visited the camp last week for the second time and walking through the ranks, condescendingly offered her hand to the Tennesseans and Kentuckians, calling them the preservers of our country and thanking them in the name of all the ladies for the courage and valor they displayed. My hand absently aches with holding my pencil so I must without further preamble wish you adieu for the present. However, I must add the British have sent to demand an armistice of three days, but Jackson only accorded them till today to bury their dead.”

Original, manuscript eyewitness accounts of New Orleans and its citizens, before and during the battle, in the immediate wake of the experience, are rarer than rare. We cannot find any that have come onto the private marketplace in the last 40 years. More likely this is the first previously unknown letter from New Orleans on January 9, 1815 to surface since the 19th century.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services