Anniversary of Battle of New Orleans

The story around this battle is one of the better U.S. examples of reframing history to create a more valiant narrative (see the lyrics to the 1950s Johnny Horton song below).It is true that Jackson did decimate the British troops present on that battleground, but it is also true that that the the treaty had been signed by this point, although not yet ratified by Congress; that happened a little over a month later.  Of course protracted battles even after treaties were not an uncommon occurrence in the days before communication advances like the telegraph could let field troops know what was going on. And this battle – no matter its significance to the war of 1812 –  proved how important the port of New Orleans has always been to the world.

The reenactment crowd has a great time with this day and many New Orleanians go down to Chalmette to view the battle.  Current historians consider the battle a stalemate, but  at the time it was seen as a glorious day for Andrew Jackson and led to his prominence and later election as President. Unfortunately, he may have been one of the most autocratic Presidents of all time and in terms of his treatment of native Americans and of enslaved Americans, he deserves much scorn. He did found the Democratic party, although it’s resemblance to its present platform is slight; in his time, it was the party of slaveholders and state’s rights and helped to create the conditions that led to the Civil War. It wasn’t the party of big government and champion to the downtrodden until the 20th century beginning with William Jennings Bryan’s strategy to draw the Western states to the party, and finally culminating in FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s.

 

In December 1814, as diplomats met in Europe to hammer out a truce in the War of 1812, British forces mobilized for what they hoped would be the campaign’s finishing blow. After defeating Napoleon in Europe earlier that year, Great Britain had redoubled its efforts against its former colonies and launched a three-pronged invasion of the United States. American forces had managed to check two of the incursions at the Battles of Baltimore and Plattsburgh, but now the British planned to invade New Orleans—a vital seaport considered the gateway to the United States’ newly purchased territory in the West. If it could seize the Crescent City, the British Empire would gain dominion over the Mississippi River and hold the trade of the entire American South under its thumb….

…The two sides first came to blows on December 23, when Jackson launched a daring nighttime attack on British forces bivouacked nine miles south of New Orleans. Jackson then fell back to Rodriguez Canal, a ten-foot-wide millrace located near Chalmette Plantation off the Mississippi River. Using local slave labor, he widened the canal into a defensive trench and used the excess dirt to build a seven-foot-tall earthen rampart buttressed with timber. When complete, this “Line Jackson” stretched nearly a mile from the east bank of the Mississippi to a nearly impassable marsh. “Here we shall plant our stakes,” Jackson told his men, “and not abandon them until we drive these red-coat rascals into the river, or the swamp.”

Pakenham put his plan to action at daybreak on January 8.

…The assault on Jackson’s fortifications was a fiasco, costing the British some 2,000 casualties including three generals and seven colonels—all of it in the span of only 30 minutes. Amazingly, Jackson’s ragtag outfit had lost less than 100 men.

…When Congress ratified the agreement on February 16, 1815, the War of 1812 came to an official end. The conflict is now considered to have concluded in a stalemate, but at the time, the victory at New Orleans had elevated national pride to such a level that many Americans chalked it up as a win.

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississippi
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We looked down the river and we seed the British come
And there must have been a hundred of ’em beatin’ on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
We stood behind our cotton bales and didn’t say a thing

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Old Hickory said we could take ’em by surprise
If we didn’t fire our muskets ’till we looked ’em in the eyes
We held our fire ’till we seed their faces well
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and gave ’em
Well, we

Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We fired our cannon ’till the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs ‘n’ powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Hut, hut, three, four
Sound off, three, four
Hut, hut, three, four
Sound off, three, four
Hut, hut, three, four

SONGWRITER: JAMES MORRIS

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About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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