Pakenham, Sir Edward Michael (1778–1815), major-general in the British army, was born 19 March 1778 at Langford Lodge, near Belfast, second son among five sons and three daughters of Edward Michael Pakenham, 2nd Baron Longford, and Catherine Pakenham (née Rowley). He had little interest in education and joined the army at the age of 16, becoming a lieutenant on 28 May 1794. Family influence assisted his rise and he was promoted quickly; he became a captain in June 1794 and a major later in the year. During the 1798 rebellion he commanded the 23rd Light Dragoons and fought at Ballinamuck against General Humbert (qv). A period of active service abroad followed when he became lieutenant-colonel of the 64th Regiment of Foot in October 1799. He fought with distinction in the West Indies, but was invalided home after the capture of St Lucia in June 1803. He became a brevet-colonel in 1805 and lieutenant-colonel of the 7th Royal Fusiliers shortly after. In 1807 he fought at the battle of Copenhagen, and at Martinique two years later. His sister, Catherine ‘Kitty’ Pakenham, married Arthur Wellesley (qv), the future duke of Wellington, in 1806. Having Wellington as a brother-in-law did his promotion prospects no harm and he later joined him in the Peninsular campaign as deputy adjutant-general.
Growing frustrated with his administrative responsibilities, he seized the opportunity for front-line action presented by Wellington in 1812. At the battle of Salamanca on 22 July he commanded the entire third division against the French right, shattering Marmont's advance. It was Pakenham's finest hour. Normally too impetuous for his own good, at Salamanca he kept his cool and successfully seized the decisive terrain to ensure victory. Afterwards Wellington commented: ‘Pakenham may not be the brightest genius, but my partiality for him does not lead me astray when I tell you that he is one of the best we have’ (Pakenham, 32). Now a major-general, Pakenham became adjutant-general in 1813 and commanded the sixth division at the battle of the Pyrenees. He was made KB (11 September 1813) and GCB (4 January 1815). With Napoleon seemingly defeated in the summer of 1814, in October Pakenham was sent to command the British forces in America, and arrived at New Orleans on Christmas day. He found his army poorly positioned, and his supply lines threatened, but resolved to attack New Orleans on 8 January 1815. Outmanoeuvred strategically by the American general and future president, Andrew Jackson, Pakenham ordered a disastrous attack at daybreak. The American artillery inflicted heavy losses on the attackers and the assault quickly became a fiasco. Displaying much courage under fire, Pakenham attempted to rally his troops, but to no effect. His horse was shot from under him, and his knee was shattered. Attempting to remount, he was shot in the spine and died almost instantly. The fighting was over in half an hour, with over 2,000 British casualties compared to fewer than twenty dead Americans.
The disaster of New Orleans lost Pakenham the reputation that he had won at Salamanca. Looking back on the battle, Winston Churchill was highly critical of his conduct and blamed him for ‘ordering one of the most unintelligent manoeuvres in British military history’ (quoted in Valerie Pakenham, 32). Pakenham was an excellent second-in-command, but a terrible leader. He lost his life at New Orleans, and with it his reputation.