January 8th was the 203rd anniversary of General Andrew Jackson’s historic victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans.
On Sunday, January 8, 1815, General Andrew Jackson led a band of vastly outnumbered Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi state militia, free blacks, local civilians, French pirates, Choctaw and Creole volunteers and some Army regulars and destroyed the most modern and powerful army in the world, while the Orleans Battalion band played Yankee Doodle.
The British military establishment was stunned. How could this happen? They believed that Americans would refuse to fight Britain’s highly-disciplined military force, that Louisianans would throw off their allegiance to the United States and side with the English.
Andrew Jackson’s victory prevented Great Britain and Spain from devouring huge chunks of land that belonged to the United States. For fifty years the victory at the Battle of New Orleans was routinely celebrated throughout the nation with parades and toasts as America’s Second War for Independence.
Indeed, Americans at the time believed that the Eighth of January would be remembered like the Fourth of July as the dates representing our nation’s First and Second Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.
Clearly, the British had little respect for General Jackson’s ragtag army. They called them “dirty shirts.” But within 30 minutes of their assault on the American lines, these “dirty shirts” had destroyed the most powerful army in the world. The British lost 3 generals, 7 colonels, 75 officers, and 2000 men. American losses totaled only 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 captured.
Over the past several decades, foreign powers had treated the United States with outrageous contempt. The British continued the seizure of American ships and the impressment of American sailors. As far as England was concerned, its loss in the first War for Independence was a fluke. Now, it could exact revenge.
Three years after the War of 1812 began, American morale was at its lowest. The American army lost battle after battle in the Northwest and the Eastern coastline. The British burned the White House as the nation’s politicians fled in humiliation.
Great Britain realized that if they could gain control of New Orleans, they would own the Mississippi River, which meant America would be split in two.
The preeminent historian on Andrew Jackson, Robert V. Remini, wrote: “The nations faith and confidence in itself had been restored by General Andrew Jackson. He alone was responsible for giving the country back its self-respect. He had “slaughtered” a magnificent British Army – over 2000 victims, a figure that seemed incredible at the time – and repelled the greatest armada in history.”
- "Jackson’s role in the war of 1812 was absolutely crucial to the future course of American expansion. Not only did he spare the nation and almost certain amputation of territory in the southwest, but he prepared the way for the immediate future growth of the American nation."
General Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans catapulted him to national fame and to two terms as the seventh president of the United States. In his Farewell Address on March 4, 1837, Andrew Jackson said: “I thank God that my life has been spent in a land of liberty, and that He has given me a heart to love my country with the affection of a son.”
Richard Thompson is the president of the Thomas More Law Center.