On 8 January 1815, U.S. forces under Major General Andrew Jackson crushed an invading British army on the banks of the Mississippi River five miles below the City of New Orleans. It was a stunning and humiliating defeat for the British whose men were better-trained, better-equipped, and heavily outnumbered their Yankee foe. News of Jackson’s victory, achieved against such great odds, electrified the nation and catapulted the Tennessee general to fame as a military hero. Thirteen years later “Old Hickory” would use the acclaim he acquired as the savior of New Orleans to campaign for and win the U.S. presidency.
While Andrew Jackson’s name has become synonymous with the Battle of New Orleans, the role of his naval counterpart, Daniel Todd Patterson, in successfully defending the Crescent City is less well-remembered. This is regrettable as Patterson’s contributions to the achievement of American victory at New Orleans were significant and deserve recognition. In the estimation of historian and Jackson biographer Robert Remini, Patterson was “one of the most important and valuable figures in the defense of New Orleans.”
Daniel Patterson entered the Navy in 1799 at the age of thirteen. By the time he arrived on the New Orleans Station in 1807, the native New Yorker had seen active service in both the Quasi and Barbary Wars. In October 1813, Secretary of the Navy Jones appointed Patterson commandant of the New Orleans Station. Although he lacked adequate resources to defend the coastline and waters within the limits of his command, Patterson executed his duties with energy and diligence. In October of 1814, he commanded American naval forces in a successful joint operation against the Baratarian pirates, temporarily eliminating a significant threat to U.S. commerce in Gulf waters.
In the weeks leading up to the Battle of New Orleans, Patterson demonstrated his ability to conduct and coordinate joint operations with the army effectively. His gunboats provided Jackson’s army with logistical support, protected its coastal lines of communication, and supplied it with intelligence on enemy movements. Once the British invasion force had established itself on the east bank of the Mississippi, Patterson and his sailors provided Jackson’s army with close combat support, directing counter-battery fire on British lines from ships in the river and from shore batteries erected by Patterson on the west bank of the river. On the day of the battle, while Patterson commanded naval batteries on the west bank of the Mississippi, contingents of his Sailors and Marines fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Jackson’s polyglot force of regulars, militiamen, and volunteers on the opposite bank.
Patterson’s services in the defense of New Orleans earned him high praise from Jackson who complemented that officer on his bravery and spirit of cooperation. His conduct also earned him the gratitude of Congress and promotion to the rank of captain. Patterson continued to serve with distinction in the Navy for another twenty-four years. His later assignments included command of USS Constitution, service on the Navy Board of Commissioners, command of the Mediterranean Squadron, and command of the Washington Navy Yard. Three Navy ships have been named for Daniel Todd Patterson: DD-36, DD-392, and DE/FF-1061.