man got the better of Napoleon
of the most esteemed generals of his age, Edward Michael
Pakenham, the second son of the Earl of Longford, was born
at Tullynally Castle near Castlepollard on March 19, 1778
and seemed destined to follow in the paths of his famous
brother-in-law, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington,
but for his untimely death at the Battle of New Orleans
in January 1815.
It was all such a waste of effort and ultimately of life.
The Battle of New Orleans was a great victory for General
Andrew Jackson, later to become the 7th President of the
United States. But news of the Treaty of Ghent, signed on
Christmas Eve 1814, which brought a three year war between
America and Britain to an end, did not reach either party
On the decisive day January 8, 1815 over 2,000 British troops
were routed by Jacksons army, which in turn lost just eight
men. It was a sad end to a distinguished career and a man
regarded as one of the finest generals of his day less than
three months before his 37th birthday.
Edward Pakenham joined the military in his early teens and
attained the rank of major in the Ulster Light Dragoons
before reaching his seventeenth birthday. He saw action
in the wars which followed the French Revolution. He served
in the West Indies and was part of the expedition which
captured the island of St. Lucia in 1803 where he received
a serious neck wound.
With the reputation of a gentleman soldier he was held in
high esteem by his fellow officers and his image was further
enhanced when Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington,
married his sister, Kitty in 1806. Though at the ceremony
Wellesley, is reported to have said of his wife, who was
afflicted by smallpox since he first sought her hand in
marriage: She has grown ugly by Jove.
From 1810 on he served with distinction with his brother-in-law
who rewarded him with the command of a brigade in the Peninsular
Campaign against Napoleon. The following year the quality
of his leadership in battle earned him the rank of Major
Pakenham acquitted himself with distinction at the Siege
of Bajadoz in April 1812, when taking command of the 3rd
Division after General Picton was wounded. Three months
later at The Battle of Salamanca, regarded as one of Wellingtons
most impressive military successes, he further enhanced
For three days the armies faced each other in parallel lines.
But on noticing that a gap had opened up between the leading
French divisions and those at the rear, Wellington is reputed
to have said to his brother-in-law; Nows your time,
Pakenham made the decisive break and Wellesley promoted
him to be his Adjutant-General the following year. His performance
at the Battle of the Pyrennes in July1813 further cemented
his reputation and led to his knighthood at the age of 35.
Britain and France had been at war since 1792 and in June
18, 1812 US President James Madison declared war on Britain
provoked by their policy of attacking American ships and
press ganging sailors into the navy.
By late 1814, the conflict was in stalemate and when General
Ross was killed at the Battle of Bladensburg, Pakenham was
appointed as Commander of the British troops in North America
even though he was opposed to the war.
Possession of New Orleans would have given Britain control
of trade on the mighty Mississippi, an important commercial
highway. Pakenham arrived in Louisiana in December only
to find his troops billeted in the malaria infested swamps.
Though outnumbered General Jackson hastily assembled a defence
of the city with 5,000 men including regular soldiers, militia,
Indians, coloured soldiers and even pirates. They built
strong defensive works of logs and cotton bales and had
a clear field of fire over the ground the British had to
advance over. Mud ramparts were constructed to cushion the
effect of cannon fire.
The British forces included American slaves, who escaped
to the British side in the hope of winning their freedom.
Pakenham opted to attack New Orleans from the east and the
US side suffered an early setback with the loss of five
gunboats in the first battle for the city in late December.
A second battle on Christmas Eve ended in stalemate with
heavy casualties on both sides, but significantly diminished
the British morale. Locals rallied behind Jackson. Slaves
and citizens helped widen canals. The legendary Baratarian
pirates offered their services to both sides, but Jacksons
promise of an amnesty for previous offences saw them throw
their lot in with the home side.
On January 8, believing the heavy fog would give him an
advantage, Pakenham led a final two pronged assault on the
Americans positioned on both sides of the Mississippi. His
failure to hold back his final assault until Colonel Thornton
had taken their opponents guns ultimately led to his demise.
He was hopelessly outgunned. The American cannon were larger
and better placed and their rifles were superior to the
muskets of the regular British troops. In an attempt to
rally his troops who had begun to retreat, he took charge
of the final assault shouting encouragement to his men.
Close to the enemy line he was knocked from his horse by
a cannonball, but quickly took an aides mount and
as he charged forward, he was hit twice by bullets, once
in the chest and then in the throat.
Brought to the rear, he issued an final order sending in
the reserves under Major General John Lambert. Moments later
he died after uttering his last words, lost for lack of
Andrew Jackson, whose toughness earned him the nickname
Old Hickory , later served the 7th President of the United
States from 1829 to 1837. Since the Battle of New Orleans,
no foreign army had attacked the US mainland.
Legend has that his heart was buried on the battlefield
before his body was brought back to England in a cask of
rum. There is another story which claims that the body was
placed in a cask of wine which was diverted to South Carolina
where contents were later served at a celebration dinner.
Other claims that the contents of the cask were consumed
by the soldiers returning to England are also probably false.
As the bodies of many prominent people were placed in alcohol
for preservation before the advent of refrigeration, it
is not surprising that many stories of people deliberately
or unwittingly consuming the contents have emerged.
What is true is that the phrase tapping the Admiral meant
surreptitious drinking in Royal Navy slang. Though its origins
cannot be linked to a specific incident, there is no indication
that the phrase was used prior to 1805. Therefore its origin
is likely to connected with the return of Admiral Horatio
Nelson s body and the half empty barrel found thereafter.
General Sir Edward Michael Pakenham was buried in St. Pauls
Cathedral, London, where a life-sized statue was erected
in his honour in the South Transept. He was not the most
brilliant of generals, but for his achievements as an able
commander in Spain, the war against Napoleon might have
turned out differently for his distinguished brother-in-law,
who later as Prime Minister oversaw Catholic Emancipation.
Taken from Maroon & White 2003