HONOR ROLL

WAR OF 1812
Oliver Parmlee 1785-1814
Oliver, Ezra, Nathaniel, Nathaniel, John, John

Erected
to the memory
of
OLIVER PARMLEE,
a native of
New England,
who was killed in the
defense of the city
of New Orleans,
in the battle with
the British army
December 23, 1814,
Æt. 29

 

On Dec. 23, 1814, the day before U.S. and British diplomats signed the Treaty of Ghent to end this war, Oliver was killed in the fight that preceded the Battle of New Orleans.

The seventh of Oliver and Lucretia (Smith) Parmlee's eight children, Oliver was baptized Nov. 27, 1785, in the 2nd Congregational Church of Killingworth, Conn. By 1790 the family had moved to Claremont, N.H., and the children eventually migrated to western New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and, in Oliver's case, to the South.

He became a merchant, an ad of his appearing in the Jan. 2, 1810, edition of the Wilmington (N.C.) Gazette. The following year he'd moved to New Orleans where he went into business with Thomas Whiting.

After British forces defeated an American flotilla Dec. 14, 1814, in a brief engagement known as the Battle of Lake Borgne, they established a garrison on Pea Island, about 30 miles east of New Orleans.

On the morning of Dec. 23, Gen. John Keane and his 1,800 British troops reached the east bank of the Mississippi, about nine miles south of the city. Instead of advancing up an undefended road to attack the city, he encamped at Lacoste's Plantation to await reinforcements. That afternoon, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson learned of his foe's whereabouts: "By the Eternal, they shall not sleep on our soil." He ordered the town ransacked for firearms and every able-bodied man to enroll in a military unit. Oliver was one of the 68 merchants and lawyers who shouldered rifles in Capt. Thomas Beale's New Orleans militia.

That night, Jackson led his 2,100 men in a three-pronged assault on the unsuspecting British forces. About 6 p.m. he maneuvered Brig. Gen. John Coffee's Mounted Rifles, the Mississippi dragoons and Beale's unit on a circuitous route to the edge of a swamp behind the de la Ronde Plantation where they might turn and press the British toward the river. Once the schooner Carolina began to deliver grapeshot from the river into the invaders' camp about 7:30, the American forces were on the move.

Coffee and his forces drove swiftly forward for their positions 1,000 yards from Jackson's command near the woods and swamp and caught the British right flank unaware while the other American units also pushed the invaders back. But as the fighting intensified in the dark, friend and foe became indistinguishable. While Jackson consolidated his forces, Coffee's ran into stiffer resistance and overextended his line which allowed enemy forces to slip through the gaps. The charging British captured nearly half of Beale's unit while the fighting under Coffee crumbled into small skirmishes between bayonet-thrusting British and ax-wielding Tennesseeans. Eventually Coffee's command melded into Jackson's, and by 11 p.m. the British pulled back toward the Villere mansion. Ensuring that New Orleans remained in American hands and not wanting a prolonged battle, Jackson's forces fell back to the de la Ronde Plantation about midnight; four hours later they retreated to the Rodriguez Canal, the position he held that afternoon about nine miles outside of the city.

The Americans suffered 24 killed, 115 wounded and 74 missing; the British tallied 46 killed, 167 wounded and 64 missing. While the British won a tactical victory, an even more cautious Keane delayed his march on New Orleans, thereby buying the Americans more time to prepare their defenses.

Backed with artillery, the bulk of the invading army arrived at the Americans' earthworks on New Year's Day 1815, and commenced firing. Three hours later they ran out of ammunition, and the assault on the city was delayed again.

British preparations for the main attack on Jan. 8 began to fall apart when a canal being dug to enable dozens of small boats to get to the river collapsed and the dam built to divert river water into it failed. Still, the invaders pressed on. And the result was astounding: Within 25 minutes, the British lost 700 killed, 1,400 wounded and 500 taken prisoner (most of whom had pretended to be dead) -- about one-third of the army that took the field that day; the Americans reported 13 killed, 30 wounded and 19 missing. Hostilities would continue through the departure of British forces on Jan. 18.

News of the Christmas Eve peace treaty would take a month to reach North America, and Congress wouldn't ratify it until Feb. 17, days after Oliver's death was announced in the press.

His death notice was printed in the Columbia Centinel of Boston (Feb. 4, 1815), top left; the Gazette of Portland, Maine (Feb. 13, 1815), bottom left; and the Independent Chronicle of Boston (Feb. 6, 1815), among others. The clippings say he was "of Boston," but I have no evidence that he'd lived there.

While the British forces were approaching New Orleans, Oliver wrote a will, below, which named his parents back in New Hampshire as beneficiaries. He was killed eight days later, and buried at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans.

Photo No. xt01-2523