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Essay: The Battle of New Orleans – the Second Battle of Independence

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  • Published: 15 September 2019*
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Robert Remini, an American author was in 1987 Belgium, the signing of the Treaty of Ghent was being celebrated as it marked the 175th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. In the midst of the celebration, a European official asked an American what they did to commemorate one of the most significant battles, The Battle of New Orleans, to which the American embarrassingly responded saying “nothing…absolutely nothing”. The official was in utter disbelief. But what was so special about the Battle of New Orleans? Its importance starts over two hundred years ago in the early 1800’s as the U.S., a young and growing nation was entering war with Britain, a highly regarded and dominating force in the world. With insignificant results and conclusions, the War of 1812 ended on neutral terms with American and British representatives signing the Treaty of Ghent in Belgium. Despite this, thousands of miles across the world, people were getting ready to fight because the news of the treaty wouldn’t reach them until months later. What was unforeseen was that people were preparing to go into one of the most significant battles of the war: the Battle of New Orleans. Despite its label as the ‘forgotten’ battle in the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans is an underrated and significant event to American history because it shaped American nationalism, strengthened America’s reputation to other nations, and lead to the popularity of one of the most influential presidents, Andrew Jackson.

Due to the chronology of events, the Battle of New Orleans seemed unnecessary and irrelevant to the outcome of the war. If the battle occured after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, was it significant to the outcome of the war? The battle did not change the terms of the treaty or drastically altered the course of the war, however what people don’t realize is how the battle’s military insignificance overlooked the bigger picture, which was how it ignited change in how Americans saw themselves and how other nations viewed them. The battle was much more than an American battle victory. The battle was a disregarded turning point where America reaffirmed its independence and started a new course in its history.

American nationalism post-war was exemplified by the victory at the Battle of New Orleans. During the battle, a sense of pride and strength of the American army was forming which can be seen through Jackson’s depiction of his troops after their victory: “early in the morning of the 8th, the enemy after throwing a heavy shower of bombs and congreve rockets, advanced their columns on my right and left, to storm my entrenchments. I cannot speak sufficiently in praise of the firmness and deliberation with which my whole line received their approach—more could not have been expected from veterans inured to war” (“Andrew Jackson”). Jackson’s depiction of his troops as well as the praise and pride he had for them can be broadened to the rest of the U.S. towards their nation. The American army was composed of amateurs, an ill-equipped army consisting of free blacks, French, natives, Spanish (Hickey) who decided to come together to fight against one of the strongest armies in the world. To put up the fight, and to have Jackson, their leader, declare that he could not have expected more from them shows how Jackson’s view on the battle was similar to most others in the sense that this victory put an enormous amount of pride as a nation.

In addition, The date of the battle, January 8th, became a federal holiday as a result of the abundance of national pride Americans had. The day January the 8th became a day celebrated as a much as July 4th (“Today in History-”). In America, the celebrations includes dances and songs commemorating the battle and Andrew Jackson and throughout the course of history new songs were being made to commemorate the battle. January 8th would be remembered and celebrated as much as July fourth because “both dates represented the nation’s first and second declaration of independence from Great Britain”( Remini 193). Although less popular today, this holiday was the result of the overwhelming amount of pride that the Americans had, and a day where they could unified to celebrate themselves. What the battle of New orleans did for Americans can be brilliantly summed up by saying “probably no more divided or less competent administration ever entered into war, but the united States emerged from it with the first awakening knowledge of nationhood” (Reilly 346).

In addition to the growth from within, the U.S. created a new reputation of strength to the old world. Post American Revolution, the newly created U.S. was viewed as a weak and inferior nation that was struggling to make a presence in the world. Decades later, the U.S. went into the War of 1812 to secure and declare the American rights that were being violated by other nations; “foreign powers had treated the United States at times with outrageous contempt, like the British in particular, starting with the Jay Treaty and continuing with the seizure of American ships and impressment of American sailors” (Remini 195). An example of this view was held by George Grieg, a U.K.-born Scottish soldier in who fought in the Battle of New Orleans who said, “we have long been habituated to despise the Americans, as an enemy unworthy of serious regard” (Gleig 384). Thus, it wasn’t surprising to the world how Jackson gathered a group of ammatuer volunteers to fight against the highly regarded British military. However, during the battle that lasted less than 30 minutes (Heidler), the reports in the newspaper post-battle declared that “ After this affair took place a flag of truce was sent to us by the British…to demand a suspension of arms, which General Jackson refused listening to…” (“Great News”). The news that the U.S., the nation “unworthy of serious regard”, defeated the British in a speedy battle was an unexpected turn of events that shocked the world. The combination of the attitudes on the U.S. before the battle as well pivotal moment when Andrew Jackson rejection of truce ignited change in the thoughts of the capability of the U.S.

Arguably more shocking were the statistics on the casualties during the battle: 300 british soldiers were dead including the British general, Edward Pakenham, along with 1,262 British soldiers injured/wounded. In comparison, only 6 american soldiers lead by Jackson were killed and 7 were wounded (Heidler and Heidler). The statistics were an embarrassment to the British, but remarkable and surprising to the rest of the world because the Americans had triumphed in spite of the British military’s reputation, size, and overall intimidating presence. After the war, it came to the attention of the old world that “a new and potentially powerful force had entered international affairs, no longer a poor relation of dubiously mixed partranage but a nation capable of defending its rights and commanding respect” (Reilly 346).

Andrew Jackson emerged as a strong reliable leader in the midst of a difficult situation. Being the general in any battle was not easy and the Battle of New Orleans was no exception. In describing the situation Jackson was given British writer Robin Reilly stated that “the plan of attack for January 8 suffered from its complexity. Its success depended on a series of difficult movements each of which was vulnerable to unforeseen obstacles or human error.” (Reilly 341).  With the hard circumstances, Jackson’s success in the battle played a significant role in the legacy of the battle as well as the achievements he would receive after the battle. In spite of the harsh circumstances, “Jackson’s presence in fact revived and resuscitated everyone he met. His boundless energy and apparent confidence and his ruthless removal of obstacles and obstructionists commanded respect and immediate obedience. He spent the better part of two days in the saddle inspecting, planning, encouraging, and issuing a steady stream of precise and succinct orders” (Reilly 211). Faced with difficult task, the general managed to succeed and defeat the British and the contrast between the problems he was faced with and the unforeseen success only increased Jackson’s popularity. Artists have captured the battle in many aspects, and in 1910, one of the most popular paintings by an American artist, E. Percy Moran, Jackson is the focal point with the light shining on him in the battle. Jackson is strong, victorious, elevated, and the epitome of an American leader portrayed by his stance and position in the image. The painting indicates how Jackson was remembered as a hero. Jackson’s reputation and recognition was formed because of the battle; “People everywhere wanted to meet and honor the new hero whose efforts had left Americans in control of the Southeast…” (Tye). This battle alone made Jackson an idol and because of the battle he was able to be a candidate for presidency, and a popular one too.

Along with Jackson’s leadership and popularity resulting from the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson presented a new image of what a common American man could achieve. When comparing former presidents to Jackson, historian Robert Remini stated “Certainly Andrew Jackson in his trousers hardly looked like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or Benjamin Franklin in their silk stockings and powdered wigs…Old Hickory did not talk or sound like an Englishman…nothing about him was European” (Remini 197). Jackson’s presidency emerges this detachment from European influence and new image of an American president. Jackson’s typical upbringing and humble background made his election into the highest role of government an unexpected occasion in the trend of presidents before him, and one of the most contributing causes was his popularity post-battle. This was a significant change in American history where a common man could rise to the top. Jackson Gave America a new identity and started his own period, Jacksonian democracy where white male suffrage was extended to “the common man”. The Battle of New Orleans was the foundation that allowed Jackson to accomplish this. Whether or not Jackson should be regarded as a hero, he went on to do important things as president, and this was prompted by his leadership in the Battle of New Orleans.

When looking back on the history of of the U.S. and the world as a whole, the Battle of New Orleans seemed like an insignificant minor victory that accomplished nothing due to the bigger scope of the war which ended on neutral terms. In this overlooked moment of U.S. History, the U.S. showed the world its capability and started its success to being on of the strongest nations in the world today. This battle aided a relatively new nation giving it the morale boost it needed to create and American identity and pride as well as show off to the other nations its capability. Finally, without the battle of New Orleans the Age of Jacksonian democracy would not exist with its influential stance in History. This battle made Andrew Jackson able to become the highest level in government, and today his significance is proven as he is on the twenty dollar bill. This tragedy for British is forgotten, but this triumphant event inevitably changed America and lead them on a course to where they are today.

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