The Battle of New Orleans
Today is the anniversary of the start of the 10-day Battle of New Orleans (1815). Technically, the battle occurred after the Treaty of Ghent had already concluded the War of 1812, so its outcome, a glorious victory for the young America, was tactically meaningless, rather like a sporting event (granted, one in which people died). Still it was a brilliant military achievement. The Americans were badly outnumbered, the forces composed mostly of amateur militia men, fighting against the trained, experienced professional British army, a precision killing machine feared throughout the world. The battle made a hero — and a President — of its commander, Major General Andrew Jackson.
I have written how I am one of the billion ripples of World War II; the war brought my grandfather and his family north from Tennessee to Rhode Island, where the Quonset Naval Base was. Likewise, I believe the War of 1812 had similar repercussions on my dad’s side of the family. Six generations of my ancestors lived in the area around Fayetteville, Tennessee. Fayetteville was a mustering place for several battles in that war, including the Battle of New Orleans, and several Indian fights (several tribes were aligned with the English). I believe at some of my great-great-great-grandfathers initially came to Fayetteville in this way from the earlier settlements in northern and northeastern Tennessee (still need to prove it out; many of them served, and the timing is right).
The easiest, cheesiest way to learn about the battle is through the popular song “The Battle of New Orleans”, written and recorded by Arkansas school principal Jimmy Driftwood in 1958, set to the traditional American fiddle tune “The 8th of January”. The best known version is of course, Johnny Horton’s, which went all the way to #1 the following year. Here is Horton’s version, totally show biz, on the Ed Sullivan show, complete with drill teams, which I defy you to get out of your head after a single play (though the audio on the clip is pretty terrible). And here is the original Driftwood version, notable for several additional verses (thus better history) and a couple of swear words. Several others, including Johnny Cash, recorded the song as ell.