Ask Historyguy.com: Coptic French Troops and the Battle of New Orleans

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Dear history guy

I am interested in the background of the soldiers that fought with General Jackson in Louisiana. Were there any coptic soldiers that would have arrived with General Lafayette from France?

This is a two-part question: with one part asking about who fought under General Andrew Jackson in the final major battle of the War of 1812, and the second question asking if any “coptic" troops were with Jackson.

Let’s take the question about the Coptic troops first.

This reader is asking about a group of Egyptian Christians who are referred to by the name of their church. The Coptic Church in Egypt is one of the oldest Christian denominations in the world, and somewhere between 10 and 20% of modern Egypt’s population are Coptic Christians.

The question about Coptic soldiers points to the French invasion of Egypt in 1798, which was led by General Napoleon Bonaparte. France invaded Egypt, which was then ruled by the Ottoman Empire. During the French occupation of Egypt (which lasted until 1801 when the Ottoman and their British allies defeated the French in Egypt), the Coptic Egyptians were recruited and formed a French-led force known as the Coptic Legion.

NOTE: the French war in Egypt was as much a part of the many Anglo-French Wars as it was about actually taking over Egypt. At that time, in the late 1790s, France was fighting Britain and many other foes in what are now known as the French Revolutionary Wars.

When the French left Egypt in 1801, the Coptic Legion went with them to France, and many of the Egyptian Christian troops went on to fight in many of Napoleon’s European battles. The Coptic Legion was disbanded in 1814, following Napoleon’s defeat. Thus, in partial answer to the question: The French Coptic Legion never made it to America, and was not part of General Jackson’s army, though there WERE some Frenchmen who took part in that battle. Plus, looking at the chronological timeline, General Lafayette arrived in America in the 1777 to aid General Washington in the American Revolutionary War, but this was nearly two decades prior to Napoleon’s recruitment of Egyptians into French military service.

Now, about General Jackson and who made up his forces in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, which was the last major battle of the War of 1812

On Sunday, January 8, 1815, the British Army of Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, met the American Army commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson (who later, of course, became America’s seventh President) outside of New Orleans, which had only become part of the United States some 9 years earlier with the completion of the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon’s France.

Jackson at New Orleans
Jackson at New Orleans

Jackson’s force included a total of 4,732 men made up of:

  • 968 United States Army regulars
  • 58 United States Marines (at the center of the American line)
  • 106 sailors of the United States Naval Battalion
  • 1,060 Louisiana militia and volunteers (including 462 “free people of color," which is a term used then and at that location, to describe mixed-race free blacks who had been in New Orleans and formed part of the local militia going back to the days of Spanish and French rule. Not be confused with American-born or raised U.S. slaves who had somehow acquired legal freedom.)
  • 1,352 Tennessee militia
  • 986 Kentucky militia
  • 150 Mississippi militia
  • 52 Choctaw warriors
  • Pirates from Jean Lafitte’s pirate ships (Lafitte made a deal with Jackson to help fight in exchange for a legal pardon for his men)

So, in the hodge-podge of Jackson’s army at New Orleans, we see Louisiana militia, many of whom would have been of French descent, along with the French Pirate, Jean Lafitte and his pirate crews, but no Coptic French troops originally out of Egypt.

This was an interesting question from one of the visitors to the Historyguy.com website. If you have any historical questions you would like to ask, please feel free to write to: historyguy.email@gmail.com.

 

 

Sources:

Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity