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Friday Follies: The Battle of New Orleans

Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815
Illustration by Frederick Coffay Yohn  

In today's world of instantaneous communication, it's hard to remember that there was a time when news traveled much more slowly than it does now.  

The War of 1812 is a case in point. The signing of Treaty of Ghent may have ended the war in December of 1814, but it took another month before news of that event reached the United States. So in January, American forces, led by Major General Andrew Jackson, engaged the British down in Louisiana at the Battle of New Orleans.

The Battle of New Orleans was actually a series of battles that were fought between December 14, 1814, and January 18, 1815. But the most famous battle was the one that took place on January 8, when the British tried to push through Jackson’s lines of defense and capture New Orleans.

The British were soundly trounced by Jackson and his forces. In fact, this battle was remarkable both for how long it lasted and the lopsided nature of the casualties.

In his official report to Jackson, Adjutant-General Robert Butler said that the battle lasted approximately 25 minutes. During that span of time, 700 British soldiers were killed, 1,400 were wounded and 500 were taken prisoners, adding up to a total loss of 2,600 men on the British side. Meanwhile, seven Americans were killed and six were wounded.

Also, according to that account, after the battle was over about 500 British soldiers who were lying on the battlefield pretending to be dead got up and surrendered.

But another account* puts the British casualties at 291 killed, 1,262 wounded (many severely) and 484 missing. Americans casualties are listed as 13 dead and 39 wounded.

Whichever account is accurate, it's clear that the British took heavy losses while the Americans came through largely unscathed. 

The Battle of New Orleans was a surprising and decisive victory for the Americans. It also was a huge morale boost for the United States, and it launched the political career of Andrew Jackson (nicknamed “Old Hickory” because he was as tough as a hickory stick), who became a U.S. senator for Tennessee in 1823 and the 7th U.S. president in 1829.

Despite losing that battle, the British kept going – first they tried to take Fort Philip on January 9, and when that failed they set their sights on Alabama. In fact, British forces captured Fort Bowyer in Mobile Bay on February 12 and were getting ready to launch an attack on Mobile when news of the Treaty of Ghent finally reached them, and they called the whole thing off.  

The Battle of New Orleans may have taken place after the war had ended, but it was still a significant victory for the Americans. Among other things, it helped convince the British to abide by the Treaty of Ghent.

And in abiding by the Treaty, the British were forced to abandon their dreams of taking New Orleans or any other part of the 827,000 square miles of land Napoleon sold to Jefferson in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase - a transaction that doubled the size of the U.S. The Treaty's "status quo ante bellum" proviso ensured that both Great Britain and the United States had to revert to their pre-war borders - no land-grabbing allowed.   

For a colorful account of the battle, here is Johnny Horton’s recording of "The Battle of New Orleans," a song written by Jimmy Driftwood. Horton's version hit number 1 on Billboard's "Hot 100" chart in 1959 and won a Grammy award in 1960 for Best Country & Western Recording.

The song describes the battle from the perspective of an American soldier, and this clip has lively images that illustrate the lyrics:

I hope you enjoy it!

* p 101, The War of 1812, World History Series, by Don Nardo, Lucent Books, Inc.,, San Diego, CA, 2000

Image from Wikimedia Commons


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