The Battle of New Orleans was comprised of a series of military confrontations between British and American forces at the end of the War of 1812, culminating in the battle fought on January 8, 1815. Though the peace treaty ending the war had already been signed a couple of weeks earlier, Major General Andrew Jackson defended the city against an attack by the British Army under Major General Sir Edward Pakenham. The Battle of New Orleans is remembered as one of the most lopsided victories in modern military history, with the Americans suffering approximately 330 casualties, while there were over 2,000 dead and wounded on the British side. Though this conflict has erroneously been named the “second war of American Independence,” nonetheless, for most of the first half of the 19th century, people throughout the United States celebrated January 8 as a major holiday. The eventual outcome of the war was all but inevitable, yet it is no exaggeration to say that the history of both New Orleans and Louisiana would have been very different had the British won this battle. Although Jackson is remembered for having engineered the “miracle” of saving the city, before the outcome of this battle, he considered the expedient of retreating from New Orleans, and, if necessary, burning it down beforehand to prevent the British from obtaining supplies or any other advantage from occupying New Orleans. Another significant aspect of this military engagement was the coordination of many different groups on the American side: in addition to regular Army troops, Marines, and sailors, volunteers and militiamen from Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana joined the fray, including hundreds of African-American soldiers and over 50 Choctaw warriors.
The Villeré family’s involvement in the Battle of New Orleans is a significant one, even if by happenstance. Sidney Villeré recounts the telling of the events around the Villere Plantation at Christmastime 1814 by Eualie Villeré Lanaux, the granddaughter of Major Gabriel Villeré, Jacques Philippe’s oldest son, which she memorialized in writing in 1924. She wrote that Major Villeré, who was a major of one of the local regimens in the Battle of New Orleans, was at Conseil, his father’s plantation home in Chalmette on the morning of December 23, 1814. He was standing in the front hall conversing pleasantly with one of his neighbors when a servant came to announce that some men in red coats wanted to speak to him. Major Villeré, advancing on the porch, was confronted by several British officers. “We mean no harm to the French, nor to the Spaniards“ remarked one of the officers, addressing Major Villeré. “But I am an American” replied the Major. “Then you are my prisoner”, said the officer, presenting the Major with a paper which he quickly struck from the British officer’s outstretched hand, then made a rapid escape through a window in the house, and began running at full speed under a volley of musketry. Meeting the stableman along his way, the Major ordered him to bring his horse to the outskirts of the woods, which he mounted and then penetrated the dense thicket for a distance of two miles or more. Fearing that his trail might be discovered by the pursuing soldiers rapidly closing in upon him, he climbed a tree for concealment. But his fine dog to which he was greatly attached had followed him, and began to bark appealingly to his master hiding in the moss-draped tree. The major was compelled to climb back down to the ground and kill the faithful animal for fear of exposing his presence, then bounded back up into the tree. He then crossed the river in a skiff, took a horse and was soon at Jackson’s headquarters in the city, where he informed General Jackson of the British have a landed at Conseil, making their entry through Lake Pontchartrain via the great canal which then extended from the Rigolets to the Mississippi.
The bravery and actions of Major Gabriel Villeré were critical in the victory in the Battle of New Orleans, as his alerting Andrew Jackson made it possible for the defending troops to assemble quickly and confront the British invaders. During the decisive struggle at Chalmette, both Villeré and Jumonville plantations were used as British field hospitals, and many British fatalities were buried in the gardens.
Major General Jacques Philippe Villeré, as well as his two sons, Major Gabriel Villeré and the 17-year-old Caliste, we are directly involved in the momentous events surrounding the Battle of New Orleans. Caliste, who had been unable to escape from Conseil Plantation with his elder brother, remained a prisoner of the British from December 23, 1814 to January 8, 1815. Major Villeré served in several capacities during the Battle of New Orleans as a member of the Louisiana militia, and his father Jacques Philippe was the Major General in command of the entire Louisiana Militia. The Villeré family’s contribution to Jackson’s victory at Chalmette were many, and as the final tally was to show, no one family suffered more property losses then did they.
The entirety of the Villeré family’s role at the Battle of New Orleans is well-documented throughout Louisiana history, most notably in Sidney Villere’s book which appears in flipbook form on this site.