The General, the Pirate, and the Pop Chart!

Johnny_Horton_New_Orleans_singleIn 1959, balladeer Johnny Horton made it to number 27 on the pop charts with his hit “The Battle of New Orleans”.  The song, replete with catchy melody and march pace rhythm, commemorated the final battle between British and American forces in the War of 1812. While the battle had absolutely no effect on the outcome of the war, the Treaty of Ghent already having been signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, it is one of the most celebrated victories in American military history. This week is the battle’s 200th anniversary.


Between December 23, 1814 and January 8, 1815, General Andrew Jackson of the Tennessee Militia, Old Hickory to his men, and 4,500 rough frontier fighters prepared to defend the city of New Orleans against the 7,500 man British expeditionary army of Sir Edward Pakenham. Jackson, fresh from his unauthorized Florida victory, inadvertently allowed Pakenham’s forces to advance to within a few miles of the city. Pakenham failed to take advantage of the upper hand this gave him, but Jackson was never one to falter twice. Jean-LafitteJackson arrived in New Orleans to find the city without defenses. Reaching an understanding of mutual aid with local pirates led by Jean Lafitte, Jackson promptly set to having earthworks built across a strategic neck of land between the Mississippi River and a swamp.

Lafitte’s knowledge of the area and his men’s nautical and fighting skills were soon to prove invaluable. Lafitte and his Baratarians engaged the British on several occasions between December 23 and January 8, impressing Jackson with their sharpshooting, bravery, and calm in the face of superior forces.

On January 8, the British advanced in close order, a tactic that worked reasonably well on the open fields of Europe against foes also using the strategy. Against the less traditionally trained frontiersmen, more accustomed to practical fighting, it proved disastrous. Battle-New-Orleans (1)Jackson’s far fewer numbers crouched behind the earthworks, laying their rifle barrels in the spaces between cotton bales. From this vantage, they mowed down the British lines as their rows advanced one after another until the British finally turned and retreated to their ships.

Jackson’s hodgepodge force of frontiersmen, militia, and pirates found their marks with a lethal accuracy honed by life dependent upon economy. British officers surveying the damage to their lines reported many men felled with a single shot to the head. The final tally: Pakenham killed and more than 2000 British officers and men killed or wounded, including the second and third generals in command. Estimates of American losses vary, but range between thirteen and thirty nine killed and twenty five and fifty or so wounded.

During the final engagement on January 8, Lafitte and his pirates again proved their worth and were praised by their military commanders for their skill and bravery. Jackson requested clemency regarding pending criminal charges against Lafitte and his men based on their service to the nation. The government granted the pirates a full pardon on February 6.

The Battle of New Orleans may not have impacted the outcome of the War of 1812, but Jackson’s resounding victory reconfirmed the young nation’s confidence in its ability to determine its own destiny and elevated the importance of the western frontiersmen in national events.

Crowd awaiting the reception after Jackson's first inauguration.

Crowd awaiting the reception after Jackson’s first inauguration.


An ebullient nationalism grew out of this final, definitive break from Great Britain’s grasp and set its greatest proponent, Andrew Jackson, on the road to the White House.





And now for the pure fun of it, here is Johnny Horton singing “The Battle of New Orleans.”

Things seem to have come full circle for our 7th president. A billboard in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee proclaims Andrew Jackson: President. Hero. Rock Star. For the latest news, look here: