Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Battle of New Orleans

In the early 1800s, New Orleans was populated by French, Spanish, African, Anglo and Creole people, pursuing economic gain and a joyous life.

In 1803, Great Britain became embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars with France.

Since the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the Americans had been irritated by the failure of the British to withdraw from their territory and declared war on the British Empire in June of 1812.

It would later be called "The War of 1812."

In 1812 and 1813, the United States had suffered several defeats.

In August of 1812, General William Hull surrendered Detroit to the British.

In October of 1812, U.S. Forces lost the Battle of Queenston Heights.

In November of 1812, U.S. forces withdrew from Lake Champlain.

In 1813, U.S. Forces were unsuccessful in a standoff at Niagara.

Finally, in October of 1813, British Forces were overtaken by U.S. Forces under the command of William Henry Harrison. The War of 1812 raged on.

In 1814, the Great Britain defeated Napoleon's France and began to transfer a large number of ships and troops to America. The British plan of attack called for operations in three areas -- New York along the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, in Chesapeake Bay (as a diversion), and at New Orleans to block the Mississippi River, considered to be a vital strategic location.

To capture New Orleans, the British Navy sent 50 ships with 10,000 troops.

In the fall of 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson, also know as "Old Hickory," arrived in New Orleans and immediately prepared to defend the Crescent City by forming a militia. One of those who volunteered his services in the militia was Jean Lafitte, a local pirate, and his band of outlaws. In addition to some regular U.S. Army units, Jackson also filled his militia forces with a sizable number of Haitians (former black slaves) and frontiersmen from Tennessee and Kentucky with long rifles.

On January 7, 1815, the Battle of New Orleans would take place on the Plains of Chalmette, an easy one-day march south of New Orleans.

Jackson's Forces consisted of 4,000 men -- the British Forces were more than twice that number.

In 1959, the song of the year at the Grammy Awards was "The Battle of New Orleans" -- written by Jimmy Driftwood and performed by Johnny Horton (1929 - 1960). It was a historical ballad, memorializing this major turning point in American history.

"In 1814 we took a little trip...
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip....
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans...
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans."
(lyrics by Jimmy Driftwood)

On the Chalmette Plantation, Jackson's Forces built a fortified mud rampart about a half mile long. On one side was the Mississippi River and the other side was a cypress swamp. As the portions of the British Force were making their way north, Jackson launched a nighttime surprise attack. This caused the British to delay their advance until they could gather more troops from the ships, allowing Jackson's men more time to fortify their position at Chalmette.

"We looked down the river and we see'd the British come...
And there must have been a hundred of'em beatin' on the drum...
They stepped so high and they made the bugles ring...
We stood by our cotton bales and didn't say a thing."
(lyrics by Jimmy Driftwood)

After the surprise attack, Jackson's ambushers retreated three miles back to the Chalmette fortification and waited to defend their position. The main assault began at dawn on January 8, 1815. British Forces marched toward the rampart. When they were within 100 yards, militia muskets were readied. At 50 yards, some 3,000 long rifles and squirrel guns exploded.

"Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise...
If we didn't fire our muskets 'til we looked 'em in the eye...
We held our fire 'til we see'd their faces well....
Then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave 'em hell."
(lyrics by Jimmy Driftwood)

The rampart fortification was built to form a natural bottleneck whereby the enemy would be forced to charge or retreat. After the first volley of gunfire from the militia, the British charged into a hailstorm of bullets often tripping over those who had fallen before them.

"We fired our cannon 'til the barrel melted down...
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round...
We filled his head with cannon balls, and powdered his behind...
And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind."
(lyrics by Jimmy Driftwood)

Soon, the British gallantry waned.

"Yeah, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles...
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go...
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em...
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico."
lyrics by Jimmy Driftwood)

Ironically, the War of 1812 had officially ended when the Treaty of Ghant had been signed in Europe weeks earlier. It was the last war between the United States and Great Britain, who soon resumed normal trading relations and later became allied in subsequent major conflicts.

American casualties -- 8 killed, 13 wounded.
British casualties -- estimated at 2,000 killed or wounded

Don't mess with the Big Easy.

"We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin...
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago...
We fired once more and they began to runnin'...
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico."
(lyrics by Jimmy Driftwood)

Andrew Jackson (1767 - 1845), the commander of American Forces at the Battle of New Orleans, became the seventh President of the United States.

He is the only president in U.S. history to have paid off the national debt.

A hero is someone who understands his personal responsibility in life and acts accordingly.

Quote for the Day -- "Elevate those guns a little lower." Old Hickory

Bret Burquest is the author of 7 books, including THE REALITY OF THE ILLUSION OF REALITY and ORB OF WOUNDED SOULS (available on Amazon). He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where hickory nuts don't fall too far from the hickory tree.

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