How Vital Was Reid’s Victory?

May 2017

Did the Battle of Fayal really have an impact on the Battle of New Orleans 3,000 miles away?

Historians disagree about how crucial the battle of Fayal was to Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. Those of the nineteenth century, among them Benson Lossing, generally agreed with Jackson’s sentiments, quoted at the beginning of Mr. Baker’s article. Among more recent writers who have taken the same point of view is the late Fletcher Pratt, who in The Compact History of the United States Navy wrote :

The victory [at New Orleans] belonged to Andrew Jackson … but here also the Navy and the privateers had a part … and one single privateer [the (General Armstrong] delayed the whole expedition by three weeks, which were invaluable to Jackson. That key event took place … in the Azores, where the British battleship Plantagenet, 74, the frigate Rota. 38, and sloop Carnation, 18, put in for water, while carrying all the artillery and some of the men for the Louisiana expedition. … The attack on that one little privateer cost England more [casualties] than any frigate battle of the war; one hundred seventy-three according to Lloyd’s own admission, who did not overstate matters and who forbade his officers to write home about it.

Among those who argue that Reid’s battle made little difference is C.S. Forester, author of The Age of Fighting Sail and many other factual and fictional works dealing with the British and American sailing navies. Mr. Forester says:

I’m very much afraid that Reid’s action at Fayal did not have any effect in delaying the attack on New Orleans. It took place on September 26 and 27; the British attacking force for New Orleans did not appear in American waters until December 8; the British ships at Fayal … were not essential to Cochrane’s force (I can find no basis whatever for Fletcher Pratt’s assertion that they carried essential stores); and the British losses [at Fayal], though heavy, were minute in proportion to the whole force that Cochrane employed. But Reid’s action was extremely gallant and brilliant.