Thursday, January 8, 2009

Anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans

Today marks the 194th anniversary of one of the greatest military accomplishments in American history.

It was on this day in 1815 that General Andrew Jackson and his hastily assembled army defeated the last British invasion of the United States at the Battle of New Orleans.

Although we barely remember January 8th today, it was once a major American holiday. What Jackson's forces did at New Orleans put the United States on the world stage. From 1815 until the time of the Civil War, January 8th was marked as a day of celebration across the country.

Like so many men of his era, Andrew Jackson has become a controversial figure in this modern time of revisionist history, but what he accomplished on the plains of Chalmette below New Orleans will stand for itself as long as Americans still study their past.

Arriving in New Orleans in the fall of 1814 as the city faced invasion by a powerful force of British regulars fresh from their defeat of Napoleon, Jackson mobilized the city like few American cities have ever been mobilized. When the British landed in the swamps south of the city, Jackson moved against them with an outnumbered army of U.S. regulars, volunteers, militiamen, free African Americans, pirates and Choctaw warriors. With his famous words "By the Eternal!" Jackson launched a daring night attack on the assembling British army during December of 1814 that let them know they were in for a fight.

The Battle of New Orleans actually raged for more than two weeks, but the most dramatic moment came on January 8, 1815, when thousands of red-coated British regulars formed ranks and marched forward across the open ground in a direct assault on Jackson's men, who had built an embankment of mud stretching from the Mississippi River on the west to a large swamp on the east.

When the smoke cleared, the battlefield was littered with the bodies of 2,037 dead, dying, wounded or missing British soldiers. Jackson had lost only 13 men killed and 39 wounded in one of the most overwhelming military victories of all time.

The news of the victory prompted celebrations and thanksgiving as it spread across the United States. The fact that the battle was fought after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent was of no consequence. Neither side knew that the war had ended and Andrew Jackson punctuated the arrival of the peace with a battlefield victory that would ultimately send him to the White House.

The site of the Battle of New Orleans is now preserved at the Chalmette Battlefield unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Please click here to visit the official National Park Service website.

(Credit: The photo above is from the National Park Service.)

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