[January 8, 2021] Of the many American battles to study, the Battle of New Orleans ranks right up there with the best. Lessons from the battle are many. The battle was one of the last and the most bloody of the War of 1812. This war was what many Americans saw as the “Second War of Independence.”1
By late 1814, the British had invaded the U.S., burned the White House, driven out the President, all in an attempt to bring the county back under British control. The United Kingdom and its allies had a sound strategy, attacking three critical locations in America to bring it to heal. Unfortunately, the Americans were better tactically and possessed superior fighting skills.
The hero of the War of 1812 was brevet Major General Andrew Jackson.2 By December 1814, the British were going to attack New Orleans as part of their three-pronged strategy. But Jackson was having none of it. He hated the British. At age 12, Jackson was struck in the head with a British officer’s sword when Jackson refused to polish the officer’s boots. During the Revolutionary War, Jackson was a prisoner of war.
When General Jackson heard about the British plan to take New Orleans, he rushed to its defense. Picking up volunteers along the way, the American force became a ragtag group, a mixture of militia fighters, frontiersmen, slaves, Indians, smugglers, and even pirates. His army expanded to a 4,500-strong patchwork.
At daybreak on January 8, British General Sir Edward Pakenham sent his nearly 8,000 seasoned troops in a complicated two-part frontal assault. Immediately, things did not go well for the British. The fog quickly disappeared, giving Jackson’s troops many British targets of opportunity. Jackson was reported to say, “Give it to them, my boys! Let us finish the business today!” Old Hickory’s army caught the British exposed and crushed the attack within 30 minutes.
Before the battle, the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, between Great Britain and the United States. The treaty restored relations between the two parties to status quo by restoring the prewar borders of June 1812. It was to take effect the following February. The battle for New Orleans was on.
While the war was considered a stalemate, the Battle of New Orleans was a clear victory. The impact would be far lasting. And lessons not forgotten.
For example, most American Indians had allied with the British but had been defeated, allowing a continued expansion westward. It proved the power of the new United States by defeating the British in a major battle, just as Britain had defeated Napoleon and now a world power. The victory by Jackson established him as a national hero and helped launch his political career that eventually vaulted him into the Presidency in 1828.
Read more about the life of Andrew Jackson in the many Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies. If you only have time to read one, perhaps “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House” by Jon Meacham (2008).
- The man is hated today by many leftists because he owned slaves and expanded his slave holdings throughout his lifetime. Historians agree that Jackson’s wealth is attributed to the fact he owned slaves.