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Remembering Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

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A national debate has emerged over who should grace our national currency.

One of the recent presidents that has been discussed being removed from the front of the United States bill is Andrew Jackson. As President in the 1830s, he held now-unacceptable views on slavery and the Native American, and for these reasons it was suggested that he be the President to be nixed from the front of a bill.

Perhaps there might be questions regarding why Jackson was initially picked to be the face of the twenty-dollar bill. Jackson did accomplish many staggering feats that made America what it is today: fighting against the British in the Revolutionary War, defending America’s largest land purchase (The Louisiana Purchase), and his military accomplishment at the Battle of New Orleans. Americans should not forget “Old Hickory’s” astonishing feat of arms in New Orleans, where he put together a winning force. Below is an excerpt on the Battle of New Orleans from the Turner book, A Patriot’s A to Z of America:

Motley Crew: The Wild Battle of New Orleans

In December 1814, the British invaders of Louisiana had every advantage. They were supported by over 50 ships of the unbeatable Royal Navy. Their land force of roughly 8,000 professional soldiers had just helped defeat the mighty Grand Armée of Napoleonic France. In fact, its commander, Major General Pakenham, was the brother-in-law of Napoleon’s conqueror, the Duke of Wellington.

The defending American force was only half as big, and as motley as any ever fielded. It was made up of civilians from New Orleans, Choctaw Indians, African-Americans called “free men of color,” and Kentucky and Tennessee riflemen, and a lone U.S. Army regiment. 

The War of 1812 was not going well. In August 1814, British invaders had sacked Washington, D.C. Now London sought to seize New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, crippling America’s coastal trade. When the U.S. commander, Gen. Andrew Jackson, arrived in New Orleans on December 1, the city was close to panic from the approaching enemy host. And citizens of that sophisticated town, brought into the U.S. via the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, were unhappy at the behavior of the rough-hewn Americans. Some soldiers treated the city boulevards as latrines, while others were court-martialed for leaving sentry posts to sample the town’s notorious homes of ill repute.

On December 12, a flotilla of British longboats attacked and captured a group of U.S. gunboats on Lake Borgne, next to Lake Ponchartrain just east of the city. The British were an easy march from New Orleans.

Right Man, Right Time, Rough Place

But bringing order from chaos was the willful Jackson. Jackson added to his troops’ strength by recruiting pirates headed by French privateer Jean Lafitte, who for years had been seizing U.S. ships and smuggling contraband out of New Orleans.

Just three months before, off the coast of southern Louisiana, a small American fleet had defeated one of Lafitte’s. But the pirates felt they could smuggle more easily under the Americans than the Brits.

Jackson, despite terming the privateers “hellish banditti,” needed fighters,  so he pledged Lafitte and his men pardons if they fought for his side. Lafitte, figuring  the smuggling would be better under the Americans, agreed.

On a bottleneck of land leading to New Orleans, Jackson’s army built a tall, thousand-yard-long earthwork facing a shallow canal, which was anchored by an impassable swamp on one end and the Mississippi River to its west.

Into the Valley of Death

On January 8, 1815, the confident British attacked, in broad daylight, their bright red coats supplying inviting targets. From on high, the Americans poured musket, rifle, grapeshot, and cannon fire, the latter from 32-pound guns to 6-inch howitzers. Recalled one American soldier: “Our men did not seem to apprehend any danger, but would load and fire as fast as they could, talking, swearing, and joking all the time.” On reaching the rampart, the British looked around for assault ladders— but an officer had forgotten them. Gen. Pakenham and his second-in-command were both shot dead off their horses. The remaining attackers halted, crawled, desperately looked for cover.

By late morning, the battered British withdrew. A U.S. soldier observed that the “ground, extending from the ditch of our lines to that on which the enemy drew up his troops, 250 yards in length by about 200 in breadth, was literally covered with men, either dead or severely wounded.”

The casualty toll revealed to be one of the most lopsided of significant battles in history. The British suffered 484 captured or missing, 291 killed, and 1,267 wounded: in all, 2,042 casualties. The Americans, in contrast: 71 casualties, only 13 dead.

News of the battle electrified a country seemingly poised for defeat. Jackson, a national hero, went on to win the presidency in 1828. 

You can read more about A Patriot's A to Z of America here