The Immortal Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans

Andrew Jackson with the Tennessee forces on the Hickory GroundsAndrew Jackson with the Tennessee forces on the Hickory Grounds. (Photo: Library of Congress)

“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?”

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans

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:

Never did the glory of a victory more exclusively belong to a general than did the victory at New Orleans to General Jackson. And here is “glory enough.” We need trace the military victory of General Jackson no further. We need not add another leaf to the wreath of victory that binds his brow! The fame of the hero of New Orleans is imperishable.

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.

About the Author

Mark R. Cheathem

Mark R. Cheathem is an associate professor of history at Cumberland University. His books include Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democrats (due out in March 2015) and Andrew Jackson, Southerner, which won the 2013 Tennessee History Book Award. He is currently completing a new book entitled The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign of 1840: Politics as Entertainment in Antebellum America.

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6 Comments

  1. I’ve always felt that this is one of the most important battles in US history. Americans flexed their muscle to the world and eliminated the threat of British intervention in the west. It’s also a turning point in Native American history. A number of Native nations lost their most powerful ally. As president, Jackson pursued Indian removal with a zealous tenacity and formalized the reservation system. Great job of laying out what was at stake in the battle.

    I also enjoy the fact that the battle took place after the treaty had been signed, not that any of the commanders in Louisiana knew.

  2. Although I haven’t read it yet, there’s a new book by Ron Drez that reinforces how important the battle was.

    From the press release: “Concealing preparations for this strike by engaging in negotiations in Ghent, Britain meanwhile secretly issued orders to seize New Orleans and wrest control of the Mississippi and the lands west of the river. They further instructed British commander Gen. Edward Pakenham not to cease his attack if he heard rumors of a peace treaty. Great Britain even covertly installed government officials within military units with the intention of immediately taking over administrative control once the territory was conquered.” http://www.lsu.edu/ur/ocur/lsunews/MediaCenter/News/2014/11/item73829.html

    1. Well, THAT’s cool! I always kind of thought the battle was largely unimportant because the war was over, but I guess that’s dead wrong. Maybe I’ll have to upgrade Jackson just a tad from my usual dislike of him (sorry, Mark!).

      1. Fascinating. But does that information really warrant an upgrade for Jackson? In hindsight, we know that the victory may have saved America from a continuation of war. But Jackson’s goal was not necessarily to save America; his goal was to win the battle. We can’t give him too much credit for doing his job as a general. Especially since we know that many of his actual plans (when he had a say in them) were far from noble.

  3. Just a follow-up: I talked to Don Hickey yesterday at The Hermitage (#historianhumblebrag), and he said that while he hasn’t read Drez’s book, the order didn’t affect the Ghent negotiations while they were ongoing and wouldn’t have made a difference if New Orelans had fallen to the British.

    So, even more reason for interested historians to read the Drez book and see if it really changes the narrative about the war.

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