Kentucky Regiments & the Battle of New Orleans
From: Kentucky in the War of 1812, Ch. 10, pp. 134-149, “The Battle of New Orleans,”
Author: Quisenberry, Anderson Chenault
Publication: Baltimore [Maryland]: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1969
Repository: Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah Call Number: 976.9 M25q
Note: Originally published in book form by The Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, 1915.
“On October 14th, 1814, (Kentucky) Governor Shelby issued a call for men for the New Orleans campaign, and under that call three regiments of Kentucky Detached Militia were brought into the field and organized for that campaign, namely:
1. Slaughter’s Regiment…
2. Gray’s Regiment, organized November 10, 1814, and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Presley Gray, who resigned and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Davis. The Majors were James Johnson, William Walker and Zeba Holt. The regiment had ten companies, with a total strength of seven hundred and twenty-one officers and enlisted men.
3. Mitchusson’s Regiment…
“These troops were commanded by Major General John Thomas, with Brigadier General John Adair as his Adjutant General. The total strength of the Kentucky militia raised for the New Orleans campaign was two thousand two hundred and fifty-six. To these must be added the officers and men of the Seventh Regiment of United States Infantry (who were recruited in Kentucky), at that time four hundred and sixty-five strong, bringing the grand total of Kentucky troops up to two thousand seven hundred and twenty-one. Of these troops sixteen hundred and forty were on the firing line, and engaged in the Battle of New Orleans. One thousand and eighty-one of the Kentucky militia did not take part in the battle because they could not be furnished with arms.
“The Honorable Z. T. Smith, in his ‘Battle of New Orleans,’ says: ‘When the militia of Kentucky was called for, Governor Shelby was assured that a United States quartermaster would furnish transportation for the troops to New Orleans; but no such officer presented himself and no relief came from Washington. The men had rendezvoused on the banks of the Ohio in waiting, and here the expedition must have ended had not Colonel Richard Taylor, of Frankfort, the quartermaster of the State militia borrowed a sum sufficient to meet the immediate emergency. With this he purchased such boats as he could, some of which were unfit for the passage. Camp equipage could not be had in time, and about thirty pots and kettles were bought at Louisville – one to each company of eighty men. At the mouth of the Cumberland River they were detained eight days, with their axes and frows riving boards with which to patch up their old boats. From this point they started with a half supply of rations, to which they added as they could on their way down the Mississippi River. The men knew there was due them an advance of two months’ pay when ordered out of the State. The United States quartermaster distributed this pay to the Tennessee troops who had preceded them, but withheld it from the Kentuckians. Believing that they would be furnished suitable clothing or pay, blankets, tents, arms and munitions, with reasonable promptness, they left home with little else than the one suit of clothing they wore, usually of homespun jeans. As a writer has said, “Rarely, if ever, has it been known of such a body of men leaving their homes, unprovided as they were, and risking a difficult passage of fifteen hundred miles in the crudest of barges to meet an enemy. They could have been prompted alone by a love of country and defiance to its enemies…”‘
“[When] the long-delayed Kentucky militia reached New Orleans, they were commanded by Brigadier General John Adair, on account of the illness of Major General John Thomas. It was in the midst of an unusually severe winter, in a a season of almost daily rainfalls, when the troops reached New Orleans. They went into camp, says a writer on the subject, without tents or blankets, or bedding of straw, on the open and miry alluvial soil, with the temperature at times at the freezing point. The legislature of Louisiana, then in session, promptly voted six thousand dollars for relief, to which the generous citizens of Louisiana added by subscription ten thousand dollars more. With these funds materials were purchased. The noble women of New Orleans, almost without exception, devoted themselves day and night to making up these materials into suitable garments and bedding and distributing them as they were most needed. In one week’s time the destitute soldiers were supplied and made comfortable.
“In speaking, in an official report, of the condition of the Kentucky militia upon their arrival at New Orleans, General Jackson said: ‘ Not one man in ten was well armed, and only one man in three had any arms at all.’ It is the business of a government to arm its soldiers, but such arms as the Kentuckians took to New Orleans were their own private property. The Secretary of War had promised to send arms and munitions down the Mississippi River for the supply of the Kentucky militia, but through the incompetency of the quartermaster at Pittsburg, whence the arms were to be shipped, these supplies were much delayed in starting, and had gotten only as far on the way as the mouth of the Ohio River on the day when the Kentuckians reached New Orleans, and did not get to that city until many days after all need for them was past. However, the citizens of New Orleans contributed enough of their own private and personal guns and rifles to arm Slaughter’s regiment, about seven hundred men fit for duty, and the three hundred and five men of Major Reuben Harrison’s battalion of Mitchusson’s regiment. These one thousand and five armed Kentuckians were marched at once to the firing line.
“After the arrival of the Kentucky militia, Jackson’s forces for the defense of New Orleans were as follows:
Seventh Regiment, United States Infantry………………….465
Forty-fourth Regiment, United States Infantry………………331
Detachment of artillery, regulars………………………………….22
Marines, United States Navy……………………………………..66
Plauche’s Battalion, New Orleans Militia…………………….287
Beal’s Orleans Rifle Company…………………………………… 62
Lafitte’s Baratarians (Artillerists) Captains You
D’Aquin’s Battalion San Domingo Free Men of Color…….210
Choctaw Indians, Captain Jugeant……………………………..18
Tennessee Volunteers and Militia…………………………..1,063
Kentucky Detached Militia…………………………………….2,256
Hind’s Mississippi Dragoons……………………………………..107
Louisiana Militia (in addition to those noted above)……1,317
Total 6, 504
“Of this little force all but the eight hundred and eighty-four regulars were raw militia. Opposed to them, altogether, stood about eighteen thousand men, nearly all of whom were regulars of the British army, or marines of the British navy — the best trained troops then on the globe.
“…The Kentuckians who bore so distinguished a part in this brilliant victory [the great Battle of New Orleans, on the left bank of the Mississippi] were Colonel Gabriel Slaughter’s regiment of seven hundred men, and Major Reuben Harrison’s battalion of three hundred and five men from Mitchusson’s regiment, all under the command of Brigadier-General John Adair. These were all of the Kentuckians for whom arms could be found, except the small detachment that went across the river. In the rear entrenchments stood at least a thousand other Kentuckians who could not go into the battle because arms were not furnished for them… ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’
“On the right bank of the river matters did not turn out so favorably. Morgan’s forces there consisted of about seventeen hundred men, composed of fourteen hundred and fifty Louisiana militia, and sixty-six marines under Commodore Patterson; the remainder being one hundred and seventy poorly-armed raw Kentucky militiamen from Colonel John Davis’ regiment, who had been hastily equipped the night before with such odds and ends of old guns as could still be collected from the citizens of New Orleans. These Kentuckians, after a sleepless night spent in marching fruitlessly here and there about the city, were sent across the river near the dawn of January 8th, and were placed in position about a mile in front of Morgan’s fortified line, and were directed to hold a frontage of a mile in extent, for the defense of which a thousand well-armed men would have scarcely sufficed. Some distance in front of them were posted two hundred Louisiana militia, of Arnaud’s battalion, under command of Major Tessier.
“On the same morning Colonel Thornton, somewhat delayed, crossed the river with more than a thousand British regulars. After landing and forming, these advanced under cover of some field pieces and attacked Tessier’s two hundred men, who fled without firing a gun. These were the first troops who set the ‘example’ of ‘ingloriously’ flying in that fight.
“Thornton next charged the one hundred and seventy Kentuckians, who stood their ground long enough to load and fire four volleys, and to lose thirty men in killed and wounded; and this, by the way, was about all the fighting that was done on that side of the river that day by Americans. Being outnumbered nearly six to one, flanked on the right, and unsupported by reinforcements – which might readily have been sent by General Morgan – they, too, were compelled to retreat, which they did in disorder. Tessier’s two hundred having already ‘ingloriously fled,’ the other Louisiana militia and the marines, numbering altogether nearly fourteen hundred men, then retreated precipitately from their strong position behind the entrenchments, and that, too, before the enemy could come up to attack them. Commodore Patterson, in command of the artillery, spiked his guns, and, together with his marines, joined in the disorderly rout before ever they had even seen the enemy.
“General Jackson, in his official report to the Secretary of War on the Battle of New Orleans, in referring to this part of it said: ‘The Kentucky reinforcements, of whom so much was expected, ingloriously fled, drawing after them, by their example, the remainder of the forces.’ Commodore Patterson, in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, stigmatized that handful of Kentuckians in still more offensive terms…
“Colonel John Davis, the commander of the handful of Kentuckians who had been so unjustly stigmatized, demanded a court of inquiry, which was granted, and before which the facts were proven as set forth above. The court, however, merely pronounced the Kentuckians ‘excusable,’ and that did not satisfy General Adair, who again pressed the matter on General Jackson, and at length received a dry and reluctant admission from him that the retreat of the Kentuckians was ‘justifiable.’
“The matter did not end there. Adair was not satisfied with even that admission of Jackson’s, and for two years after the close of the war there was a spirited correspondence between them on the subject, which finally grew so intensely bitter as to make the issue personal…
“In an open letter published in the newspapers in 1828, General Jackson made a full retraction of his stigmatization of those one hundred and seventy Kentuckians on the west bank of the river, and gave all due credit to the one thousand Kentuckians on the east bank for their distinguished service in the battle of New Orleans.
“…A curious thing about that great battle is the fact that it was fought after the treaty of peace between the two countries had been signed by their commissioners at Ghent, and ratified by the Prince Regent of Great Britain. It was not ratified by the Senate of the United States, however, until February 17, 1815, nearly six weeks after the battle was fought.
“General Jackson retained all his troops around New Orleans not only until the ratification of the treaty of peace by the Senate, but until the British had departed from our shores…
“The Tennessee and Kentucky troops, says McAfee, commenced their return to their respective States on March 18, 1815. They had a long, painful and fatiguing journey to perform, and were almost destitute of transportation for their baggage and provisions; but of provisions, they had only a scant supply on many parts of their journey. The Kentucky troops reached home about the first of May, after having suffered incredible hardships from disease and fatigue. Their sufferings and losses from disease after the termination of the war were much greater than those they experienced from the toils and dangers of the tented field…”