My book, A Bloodless Victory, comes out this fall. Now, the Battle of New Orleans was clearly not bloodless; there were nearly 2,100 people killed and wounded during the engagement. And despite the lopsided nature of the American victory they still suffered roughly 240 casualties. So where did we get the title “A Bloodless Victory”?
The phrase comes from a poem written shortly after the battle by Abraham Redwood Ellery entitled “The Retreat of the English.”
Ellery was a resident of New Orleans and a captain in the Louisiana militia during the British invasion of the Gulf Coast. It’s not entirely clear, but he may have also been an aide on Andrew Jackson’s staff. An annotated copy of Ellery’s poem can be found at the New York Public Library along with some maps he apparently drew of the battlefield.
In many ways, Ellery was a nobody. He was just one more American who moved south after the United States purchased Louisiana, but he also wrote the poem my book is named after so I felt compelled to give him his due.
Ellery was born in Newport, Rhode Island on May 22, 1773. He attended Harvard University and eventually went into law. When the Quasi-War with France broke out in 1799, Ellery accepted a commission as a captain in the United States Army’s Sixteenth Regiment of Infantry. He earned a promotion to Assistant Adjutant General and received his instructions on how to perform that duty from the Inspector of the Army, Alexander Hamilton. He married the New York City native Sarah Charlotte Weissenfels on July 24, 1802, and the couple moved to the Mississippi Territory, near Natchez, in May, 1803.
Ellery had moved to the Gulf Coast to gather information for Hamilton about Louisiana in general and the Mississippi River specifically. Once Ellery completed these hydrographic surveys, Hamilton assisted him in obtaining a license to practice law in New Orleans. Ellery became a frequent pest to the Jefferson administration-appointed governor of Louisiana, William C.C. Claiborne, battling the governor in a number of legal disputes over the architecture of the new Louisiana government. Sometime later, Ellery moved to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi where he died during a yellow fever epidemic in 1820.
Oh, and Ellery asked James Madison in 1802 if Jefferson might see it in his heart to appoint him Counselor to Naples. He used Aaron Burr as a reference. You can guess how that turned out…
What does Ellery’s story mean for the title of my book? Absolutely nothing, which is why you wont find the story in the book. However, Ellery is representative of the many reasonably well-connected middle class Northeasterners who moved to Louisiana once it became clear the United States would purchase the territory. In that sense this random person is remarkable for their unremarkableness.
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