The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America's First Military Victory

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9780670885510: The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America's First Military Victory

The first cannon-fire filled narrative of a defining moment in American history--from "the foremost Jacksonian scholar of our time" (The New York Times)

Only Robert Remini--whose "majestic biography" (The New Yorker) of Andrew Jackson won the National Book Award--could have brought to life this famous, pivotal, but almost forgotten battle. In 1815, Britain's crack troops, fresh from victories against Napoleon, were stunningly defeated near New Orleans by a rag-tag army of citizen soldiers under the fledgling commander they dubbed "Old Hickory." It was this battle that defined the United States as a military power to be reckoned with, and an independent democracy here to stay.

A happenstance coalition of Militiamen, regulars, untrained frontiersmen, free blacks, pirates, Indians, and townspeople--marching to "Yankee Doodle" and "La Marseillaise"--pepper The Battle of New Orleans with a rich array of characters and scenes. Swashbuckling Jean Lafitte and his privateers. The proud, reckless British General Pakenham, and his miserable men ferried across a Louisiana lake in a Gulf storm. Partying Creoles who drew the line at blacking out their street lamps. The agile Choctaw and Tennessee "dirty shirt" sharpshooters, who made a sport of picking off redcoat sentries by night. And Jackson himself--tall, gaunt, shrewd, by turns gentle and furious, declaring "I will smash them, so help me God!" His improbable victory, uniting a rainbow of dissident groups, finally proved the United States' sovereignty to the world. It was a battle that catapulted a once-poor, uneducated, orphan boy into the White House and forged a collection of ex-colonies into a true nation.

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The United States and Britain had already negotiated an end to the War of 1812 when their troops met on the Plains of Chalmette near New Orleans in 1815. Word of the peace had not yet reached that far west, so a group of professional British soldiers clashed with a rag-tag band of about 4,000 "frontiersmen, militiamen, regular soldiers, free men of color, Indians, pirates, and townspeople" along the banks of the Mississippi River. These were "citizen-soldiers" in the finest sense, writes Robert V. Remini, the acclaimed biographer of Andrew Jackson, and they were commanded by a man whose military experience had commenced only two years earlier. Yet the battle "was one of the great turning points in American history" because it "produced a President and an enduring belief in the military ability of free people to protect and preserve their society and their way of life." Remini may oversell the battle's importance, but not by much. His enthusiasm is the mark of a historian in love with his subject. The Battle of New Orleans (and the War of 1812 in general) has tended to suffer more from neglect than from too much attention. This concise book, full of workmanlike prose, is a fine introduction to what Remini calls "America's first military victory" (he downplays Saratoga and Yorktown as "simply surrenders, nothing more"). Military history buffs won't want to miss it. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Robert V. Remini, whose three-volume biography, Andrew Jackson, won the National Book Award and was reissued in 1998 as a Main Selection of the History Book Club, is also the author of biographies of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. He is professor emeritus of history and research professor emeritus of humanities at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lives in Wilmette, Illinois.

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