In the Battle of New Orleans, a city was saved, a hero born and a country validated
The final major battle of the War of 1812 — waged between the United States and Britain in what was essentially a sequel to the American Revolution — was also the most important battle in New Orleans’ history. With future president Andrew Jackson commanding a motley crew of militia, volunteers, free men of color, Indians and pirates, the underdog Americans routed the better-equipped, better-trained British troops in a skirmish waged from Jan. 8 to 18, 1815.
In addition to having a statue erected in Jackson’s honor and the city’s central square renamed after him, the battle site — just downriver from the city — is enshrined at Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, a part of Jean Lafitte National Park in Chalmette. A visitor center operates at the site, which is open daily.
- The battle is remembered as the most lopsided skirmish in the War of 1812, and the numbers back it up. When the dust cleared, the total number of British casualties stood at 2,057. For the American side, it was just 71.
- As the battled began, Ursuline nuns in the city held a vigil in their chapel, praying to Our Lady of Prompt Succor for a miracle in the form of an American victory. They got it and to this day remember that miracle every Jan. 8 with a special Mass.
- For some 50 years after the battle, Americans celebrated the victory at New Orleans on Jan. 8 with fireworks and parades, similar to how we mark the Fourth of July today.
- In 1938, Cecil B. DeMille directed “The Buccaneer,” a heavily fictionalized accounting of celebrated pirate Jean Lafitte’s role in the battle. In 1958, it was remade with Charlton Heston portraying Andrew Jackson and Yul Brynner as Lafitte.
- In 1959, Johnny Horton recorded the song “The Battle of New Orleans,” written by Jimmy Driftwood and telling of the battle from the view of an American soldier. Horton’s recording went on to become Billboard’s No. 1-ranked song of the year.
- Although he had previously served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, Jackson’s victory at New Orleans is what made his a household name, helping propel him to the presidency in 1829.
- In 2015, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp commemorating the battle.
Given that the Treaty of Ghent ending the war was signed weeks before the battle, New Orleans schoolchildren have long been taught the battle was a needless one. To the contrary, historians have lately theorized that had the British won, they would have promptly torn up the treaty up and seized the city, and with it control of the Mississippi River and much of the interior lands of the Louisiana Purchase.