Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Since 1804 the Marine Corps maintained a presence in city of New Orleans to cooperate with both Naval and land forces that would come and go in that geopolitically pivotal location. By 1814 the Marine presence there was second in size only to the Marines stationed at Sackets Harbor NY on Lake Ontario. A distant post with little hope of aid, the Marine Corps Commanding officer at New Orleans, Major Daniel Carmick, was given a lot of leeway to recruit, enlist and retain Marines. By mid-December 1814, as the British closed in on New Orleans, Major Carmick’s command comprised of 170 Marines.
Upon General Andrew Jackson’s arrival in the city Major Carmick began immediate cooperation and became a part of the eclectic army comprised of Army regulars, Choctaw warriors, militia from Kentucky and Tennessee and New Orleans and, eventually, Jean Lafitte's Baratarian pirates (Whose island hideouts, south of the city, were recently attacked and destroyed by the US Navy, Marine Corps and US Army.) That cooperation included, upon request from Jackson, the loaning of thirty stands of USMC arms for distribution among the militia who often arrived without muskets of their own. Then it was only a matter of waiting for the enemy to arrive.
Upon their arrival it was soon evident that the British avenue of attack would be through Lake Borgne. In their way was a small flotilla of five US Navy gunboats. Aboard those gunboats were thirty-five Marines and one hundred-fifty sailors. To attack these gunboats, on December 14, the British sent forty barges with over a thousand men. The overwhelming numbers overcame the determined American resistance. As a result, three Marines had been killed and two wounded while the remaining thirty were delivered to the British fleet as prisoners. Though defeated the stand of the gunboats gave General Jackson more precious time to prepare.
Soon advanced elements of the British army landed and made their way southward through the bayous and swamps and encamped on the northern bank of the Mississippi about eight miles below the city of New Orleans. On December 23, determined to further impede British preparations, General Jackson launched a determined assault on the British camp. The battle began with the USS CAROLINA drifting down river on the current. On board was her Sergeant’s Guard of 15 Marines. Upon coming abreast of the British camp she opened with a broadside of cannon and musketry.
At the opening of fire from the CAROLINA, Jackson’s army formed in a line with the river levee on his right and moved in. Along the levee road three pieces of artillery, supported by fifty-five Marines led by Lt. Francis de Bellevue, soon engaged and poured iron and lead into the confused, but forming lines of British. It wasn’t long until the disciplined veterans of the British army formed and made a bold attempt to seize the artillery. The fifty-five Marines in support of the artillery, though maintaining an incessant rate of fire, were numerically over matched and began to “recoil” in the face of the advancing mass of the enemy. Before the pressure became too much support by detachment of the 7th Infantry, led by Jackson himself, who exhorted the Marines to, "Save the guns boys! At all costs!." The position strengthened the British were halted and remained without their prizes.
Major Carmick, the ranking Marine Corps officer was also engaged, but was not leading his Marines. Carmick, a veteran, accomplished and cool under fire officer, was assigned to lead battalion of New Orleans Volunteers known as Plauche’s Battalion. Carmick would lead Plauche’s Battalion to the aid of the 44th Infantry which was absorbed a major counterattack.
With casualties mounting on both sides, each decided to retire to their camps. Though Jackson did not drive the invaders from American soil as he had hoped, he caused the British to call upon and wait for greater numbers advancing from their fleet. This period allowed Jackson to retire and complete his main defensive lines on the plains of Chalmette, about a mile closer to the city. By all accounts, the “Night Battle” on December 23 was as ferocious as most men would ever see. The Marines suffered one killed and three wounded, including Lt. de Bellevue.
Paradoxically, on December 24, nearly five thousand miles away in Ghent, Belgium, the representatives of the United States and Great Britain signed a peace treaty, which upon ratification by the respective governments, would bring an end to the war. But due to the inherent slowness of communications at this time the armies and navies of the countries would not know about the peace for weeks, some in months and in one case, as late as June of 1815. So, in New Orleans, the war continued.
On December 28, the British, now reinforced, made a probing attack against the American line. An artillery and rocket barrage ensued as British units pushed forward to test the line. In that line were sixty-six Marines, again under Lt. Bellevue. Major Carmick was again assisting in leading Plauche’s Battalion and as acting as an aide to Jackson. Major Carmick, while on horseback delivering orders to the different commanders, was nearly directly struck by a rocket. The explosion killed the horse, tore off Carmick’s left thumb and sent shrapnel into his body. As the British attack slackened as American fire held them off, Carmick was collected and brought back to his quarters in New Orleans to convalesce. Over time his health stabilized but he would never truly recover. In the fall of 1816 his health took a turn for the worse and he would die November 6 from lingering effects of his wounds.
On January 1, 1815, the British took aim once again at the American positions with a larger artillery and rocket salvo, but their guns were soon silenced from superiority aimed American counter-battery fire. Finally, on January 8, the British made their main assault on the American defenses at Rodriguez Canal. The Marines, under direct command Lt. de Bellevue, were in the center of the American line to the right of Battery 7. The frontal assault made by the British was first met with murderous artillery fire. Then, as the distance closed, rifle fire and then musket fire torn into the advancing ranks. In minutes British casualties littered the ground but an intrepid few bore down. Some made it into the advanced redoubt on the American right and others made it to the ditch in front of the American works directly in front of the Marines and others. Unable to scale the high mud walls the British soldiers had no where to go but to retire. All along the American line the British were entirely repulsed were and in a short amount of time, suffered nearly fifteen-hundred casualties while the Americans casualties numbered about fifty; none of them Marines.
During the nearly month long, active defense of New Orleans the Marines took part in all the major events. For their part in the campaign, serving afloat and ashore, and lending their professionalism, competence and leadership when and where needed the Marines received thanks and praise from General Jackson and an official statement of gratification from Congress.
Marine Corps Casualties from the New Orleans Campaign:
Lake Borgne Dec 15, 1814
Lawrence Collins KIA
James Vansbinder KIA
James Robinson KIA
Cpl. Marine WIA
Pvt. Marine WIA
Night Battle Dec 23, 1814
John Ward KIA
Michael McCarthy WIA/Died of wounds
Lt F. B. de Bellevue WIA
Lt. G. Thompson WIA
British Sortie Dec 28, 1814
Capt Daniel Carmick WIA Died Nov 6, 1816 from wounds
Daniel Carmick Grave at St. Louis Cemetery No. 2