of New Orleans - The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny (2018)
79 - 49 in the House. For the last twenty-nine years since the Revolutionary War, Britain had not respected US sovereignty, and President James Madison and a majority in both houses had reached the end of their limits. But the reality was that the US was an incredible long shot to prevail in a conflict against Britain in that there was no real national army, and France would not be of any assistance this time. So many Americans were in opposition to the war that the fragile national unity that had formed since the Revolution might fracture.
As far as Andrew Jackson was concerned, the British attack on the USS Chesapeake in 1807 demanded a military response. Those in the West such as Jackson fumed at the inability of the national government to address the troubles on the frontier with the Natives and Spain. Jackson saw the War of 1812 as a way to not only serve his nation, but also to address his long-standing desire for revenge against the British (during the Revolution in North Carolina, Jackson and other members of his family were taken prisoner and beaten).
At the age of 21, Jackson took a job as a public prosecutor in the western region of North Carolina, which took him west of the Appalachians into what would become Tennessee. Jackson made an immediate impression in Nashville, and the reputations of both Jackson and Nashville would grow over the years (when Jackson married Rachel Donelson, he married into one of the founding families of Nashville). When Tennessee became a state in 1796, Jackson was selected to attend the constitutional convention, and then served as TN’s first representative in the House before being selected to the Senate. But too little was accomplished in Washington, D.C. for Jackson’s liking, and he soon discovered that the legislative life was not for him.
Jackson accepted an appointment to the TN supreme court in February 1802, and shortly thereafter he was elected major general of the TN state militia, which was administered/maintained by TN, not DC. Jackson was able to serve his state in command of fellow Tennessee men with the freedom to do what he felt was best. Jackson kept winning re-election as a major general and his bond with his men deepened. As the War of !812 began, Jackson was one of the very few Americans in a position of power that saw the strategic importance of New Orleans.
In the early stages of the War of 1812, Madison simply received terrible advice, such as Henry Clay saying it would be easy to take Canada; even Thomas Jefferson wrote Madison that taking Canada was a sure thing. Madison ignored Jackson’s request to command in the East, and soon enough Jackson had more than enough evidence to show that incompetence was the norm in terms of prosecuting the war in the East and in Canada. In Canada, in short order, the US lost Fort Detroit and Fort Niagara, and the defeat at Lake Champlain ended the first effort to invade Canada. The result was that too few US troops were left to defend cities such as DC and Baltimore, and a divided Congress refused to fund the war (right before the war, the National Bank’s charter was not renewed by Congress, so in essence, the US fought the War of 1812 without a national bank).
On 3 July 1812, Jackson let it be known that he was ready to deal with Natives supported by the British, such as the Creek Nation. But Jackson’s offer to lead 2500 men to do so was not acknowledged by Madison or the War Department. Frustrated, Jackson waited for months at his home (the Hermitage) to hear from the government. Finally during November 1812, Jackson received indirect authorization to protect the territory of the Mississippi River Valley, which meant that DC was finally recognizing the importance (and the needs) of the West. Jackson assembled his force and headed to New Orleans. Jackson called for volunteers in Nashville, and a deluge of men was the response . . . soon enough these men would refer to themselves as Volunteers.
Jackson wondered who would defend New Orleans if he turned back, and what of the other strategic locations in the Gulf Coast such as Mobile Bay. Worse yet, Armstrong had ordered Jackson to gather his men’s weapons and to turn them over to regular US Army general James Wilkinson, the overall commander of the West (the duplicitous Wilkinson had, at least in previous years, in the employ of Spain as a spy). Jackson faced a dilemma in that the mere action of heading back to Nashville would be dangerous, in that DC hadn’t authorized any money or supplies for the trek back. Jackson refused to abandon his men, since he knew they would be easy prey for Native warriors if they scattered after reaching Natchez. Jackson decided to lead his men back to Nashville himself.
In the Spring of 1813, even though his men still had months left on their year-long commitment as a volunteer, Jackson sent them home, and he went back to the Hermitage and Rachel. In 1813, two events would alter Jackson’s life, with one almost killing him, and the other accelerating his rise to American Hero. During June 1813, Jackson was asked to be a second in a duel at the request of one of his officers, William Carroll, who was getting ready to duel Jesse Benton, the younger brother of another officer, Thomas Hart Benton. Jackson tried to avoid participation, seeing nothing but downside, but Jackson was present at the duel, which wound up with Jesse Benton getting shot in the buttocks, which was a sign of cowardice to many since it meant that he had turned his back. Both Bentons publicly blamed Jackson, who had been in charge of making sure the duel was fair. Jackson let it be known that he would horsewhip Thomas Hart Benton the next time he saw him.
A courier brought Jackson news of a massacre at Fort Mims, 400 miles away. Over 300 had been killed by the Red Sticks, including women and children. Jackson, coming out of his delirium from his wound, saw the news as a call-to-action, and soon enough the TN governor and Madison ordered Jackson to deal with the Red Sticks. Jackson knew that Fort Mims was in the general vicinity of New Orleans, which also pleased him. Even though Jackson wasn’t close to being fully recovered, he issued an order on 24 September 1813 for his Volunteers to assemble, and in two weeks he had over 2000 men on hand.
Even though Jackson was unable to use his left arm for some time to come, he let it be known that he would lead his men. A month after Jackson was shot, the first wave of Volunteers headed South, and Jackson would follow three days later. During November 1813, Jackson took personal command in the field in Creek country, and while he distrusted Natives, Jackson used intelligence from Choctaws, Creeks, and Cherokees who had no love for the Red Sticks. At Tallushatchee (Jackson was not present) 900 Volunteers attacked Red Stick warriors, and among the 900 was Davy Crockett; 186 Red Stick warriors were killed, and Jackson (who showed up in time to sort out the aftermath) had avenged Fort Mims.
There was also a deadline that Jackson had to face, in that on 10 December 1813 the year enlistment for his Volunteers was up. But since he had dismissed them for the summer, Jackson believed that the men still had a few more months to serve . . . there was little Jackson could do to force those whose enlistments were up to stay, and he allowed them to leave. Jackson was not in the best of health and he still could not move his left arm, and he was now down to only 130 effectives. To make matters worse, word had come that the British had landed at
Pensacola, which could only mean that the British were ready to make their move on New Orleans. Jackson’s immediate concern was Red Eagle (William Weatherford), the leader of the Red Sticks, who had proven to be very elusive and was still at large, and Jackson looked forward to the day where he would be the one dealing with the Creek chief.
Soon word reached Jackson that a thousand Red Sticks had gathered about 100 miles away on the Tallapoosa River, and Jackson was determined to make this the last battle. Scouts, among them Davy Crockett, told Jackson that the Red Sticks were at Horseshoe Bend, using the U-shaped bend in the river as a way to protect themselves with water on three sides. Also, Jackson was told that the Red Sticks had erected breastworks to protect their open end, which was 8 feet tall and 350 yards wide, featuring portholes for the Red Sticks to shoot from . . . Jackson was impressed. Jackson outnumbered the Red Sticks, but he knew he would be in essence conquering a fort. But Jackson possessed uncanny battlefield instincts that helped make up for his lack of experience. On 27 March 1814, Jackson ordered part of his force to position themselves south across the river from the bend in order to deal with any Red Sticks that tried to escape. Jackson marched the rest of his army directly to the breastworks, but called a halt so his artillery could ready their two cannon, and at 10:30 am, the first cannon fired . . .
Addendum: The Battle at Horseshoe Bend and Ghent (Belgium)