Swashbuckling Was Real


Today in History, January 8: 1815 – The Battle of New Orleans. American Major General Andrew Jackson’s forces (approximately 4,700) defeat British Major General Edward Pakenham’s forces (8,000). The British were attempting to fight their way into New Orleans but first had to defeat the “Jackson Line” of defensive works lined with artillery, US Army regulars, Kentucky and Tennessee Militia, Freedmen, Native Americans and even the pirate Jean Lafitte and his men. The British were confident of a quick victory, attacking in the morning under the cover of fog. But the fog cleared and Pakenham’s men were cut to pieces by grapeshot (anti-personnel artillery) and the marksmanship of the Americans. Pakenham, a veteran of numerous campaigns worldwide (Brother-in-law to the Duke of Wellington), was knocked from his horse by grapeshot which struck him in the leg, then hit in the arm, and finally, as he climbed on his aide-de-camp’s horse was struck in the spine, wounding him mortally. Most of the British officers were killed and their troops, not knowing whether to charge or retreat, were being decimated in the open field until another general arrived and ordered a retreat. If you have time to read more, the story is fascinating on both sides. The battle was fought approximately 2 weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, initiating the end of the War of 1812, but of course none of the parties in Louisiana knew that. Jackson would ride the fame of the victory into the Executive Mansion.

Jackson had plenty of reason to hate the British.  During the Revolutionary War, when he was 13 and 14, he and his brother were captured by the British, tortured and scarred.  Young Andrew was beaten because he obstinately refused to shine a British Officer’s boots.  Jackson’s brother Robert would die soon after release, his mother would die of Cholera while treating American soldiers injured during the war; he was orphaned as a result. I’m sure his hatred of the Crown contributed to the crushing defeat at New Orleans.

When Jackson was elected President, his supporters literally climbed through the windows and trashed the White House.  He fought continuously with the Washington elite over several issues, most notably the banking system. 

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