On the first of January 1815, British batteries totaling about thirty naval and field guns, howitzers, mortars, and Congreve rockets opened fire. One British battery concentrated its fire at the guns on the high road on the American right, while another fired from behind the Chalmette house at Louisiana. In conjunction with rockets, batteries of howitzers shelled the right and center of the U.S. line, and a grand battery of light field guns positioned astride the road provided support for the main infantry effort.
The cannonade surprised the Americans. The Macarty house, where Jackson and his staff maintained their headquarters, sustained over one hundred hits, but most rounds overshot the U.S. positions and landed harmlessly in the fields beyond. Those rounds that struck the parapet tended to bounce harmlessly off the improved earthworks. After determining the range to the British positions, U.S. artillerists responded with effective counterbattery fire from Line Jackson, joined by Patterson’s naval batteries across the river. They inflicted great damage and destroyed and disabled many of the less-well-protected British pieces. While the artillery exchange continued, a British column advanced against the left of Line Jackson to exploit the weakness observed during the earlier reconnaissance, but Coffee’s Tennessee volunteers easily repulsed the probe. Off in the swamp, Colonel Rennie’s light infantry again advanced to within one hundred yards of the American left, where the men took cover and waited for a signal to attack. They received a recall order instead.
After a three-and-one-half-hour cannonade with no significant effect, Pakenham ordered the artillery to cease fire. The British fell back to their positions near the de la Ronde house, leaving a quantity of ammunition and a number of guns on the battlefield—some to be captured by U.S. patrols. The action convinced British commanders that only a simultaneous attack on both sides of the Mississippi would break the defenses and clear the way to New Orleans. British losses for the day numbered thirty killed and forty wounded. The Americans suffered eleven killed and thirty-three wounded, with casualties disproportionally heavy among those in the rear bringing ammunition forward to the batteries.