“Yesterday the british experienced the most bloody butchery ever recorded in American history in an attack which they made against the Strong lines of Genl. Jackson, where they were entirely Slaughtered,” French consul Louis de Tousard wrote a correspondent on January 9, 1815. He was describing the previous day’s battle outside of New Orleans, which witnessed American forces under the leadership of General Andrew Jackson defeat a numerically superior and battle-hardened British army. As news of the victory spread across the United States, Americans lauded Old Hickory as a second George Washington and proclaimed that he would be immortalized in the annals of the nation’s history.
The triumph at New Orleans came at the end of nearly two years of fighting for Jackson and his soldiers. They spent much of 1813 and 1814 marching through Alabama prosecuting an extensive campaign against the Red Stick Creek Indians, whom U.S. military leaders viewed as British allies. Perceiving that the British were planning a move against New Orleans to give them control of the mouth of the Mississippi River, Jackson took his men to the Crescent City in December 1814.
Smaller engagements in mid- and late December set the stage for the climactic battle on January 8. Jackson’s main force faced its British foe on a plantation north of the Mississippi River, while both sides placed smaller numbers of troops on the other side of the river. Around daybreak, the British attacked Jackson’s position. As one female observer told her friend, “to describe the incessant & tremendous roar of cannon & musketry with which we were awoke before sun rise would be impossible. Imagine claps of thunder, while the echo prolongs the sound undyingly till another clap overpowers the roar of that & continues unceasingly until a third & so on.”
The British assault failed miserably in the face of the American artillery barrage. One New Orleans gentleman wrote shortly after the battle’s conclusion, “Their charge on our strong line was probably the most brilliant and daring thing ever attempted; but great firmness on our part, behind a well fortified breast work, has cut to pieces the flower of the army.” By the time the battle was over, the British army had lost over 2,000 soldiers, including its commanding general, Sir Edward Packenham, while the United States had lost seventy-one. It was an astonishing victory for an American force that faced an army nearly twice its size and filled with veterans of the war against French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte that had raged in Europe for over a decade. In customary fashion, Jackson attributed the triumph to supernatural forces. “If ever there was an occasion on which providence interfered, immediately, in the affairs of men it seems to have been on this,” he told David Holmes, the territorial governor of Mississippi. “What but such an interposition could have saved this country?”
Americans celebrated the victory at New Orleans throughout the early decades of the nineteenth century because it represented a significant milestone in the nation’s growth. A group of Jeffersonian Republicans in Massachusetts told Jackson, “You preserved Louisiana from incalculable distress, delivered our western brethren from a powerful and predatory foe and earned for yourselves & your Country imperishable Glory.” Jackson’s postwar military career continued the United States’ territorial expansion at the expense of Native Americans and set the stage for widespread Indian removal in the 1830s. The opening of the Deep South to cotton production based on slave labor in the 1810s, the acquisition of Spanish Florida in the early 1820s, the United States’ claim on Texas in the 1830s and 1840s – Jackson was responsible for them all. The Battle of New Orleans also proved essential in elevating Jackson to national notoriety and making him a viable presidential candidate. His presidential campaigns in the 1820s leaned heavily on his image as the “Hero of New Orleans.” As one Tennessean toasted during the 1824 election, “The Presidential Chair of the U. States. May A. Jackson, a Tennessee Farmer, and Hero of New Orleans, who conquered Packenhamn and the Invincibles of the Holy Alliance of Europe fill it.” Unquestionably, Jackson never would have won the presidency in 1828 without his success on January 8, 1815.
When Jackson died in 1845, obituaries and eulogies mentioned his leadership at New Orleans. Typical of the friendly tributes was the one conveyed by Pennsylvania minister D. D. Lore:
While Jackson is no longer revered in the same way today, twenty-first-century sensibilities should not diminish his contribution to the nation’s history on that fateful January morning.