Saturday, January 9, 2010

O' The Hunters Of Kentucky...............

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the 1815 battle of New Orleans.

The War of 1812 has to be one of the strangest wars that America was ever involved in. On the face of it, America was justified in going to war. England was using the natives as proxy warriors on the western American frontier to attempt to stop American expansion. The British who were engaged in a world war with the French and their allies who were led by Napoleon, were blockading most of Europe forbidding American trade with anyone other than England. The British Navy, always short of manpower, made it a habit of "pressing" seamen from American flagged ships to fill up their crews. So there was reasons for the war. However, I think that the war could have been avoided if enough people hadn't wanted to fight it.

For the most part, I think that both sides wanted a war and would have done almost anything to fight it. The English wanted revenge for the war that had lost America, the Revolution. There were some in England who could not swallow the fact that they were bested by the colonial yokels. (Even though the Americans didn't win the war as much as the English lost it) They also saw America as a very powerful and dangerous enemy in the world of trade. The America merchant fleet was young, vibrant and actively and aggressively looking for new markets for American goods, thus hitting England in the pocketbook.

The Americans on the other hand wanted to prove to the world that the revolution wasn't a fluke, that they had bested "John Bull" once and could do it again. The War Hawks, (Congress members who supported war) wanted to stop British influence among the western Indian tribes to allow western expansion and even wanted to invade Canada to try to make it a part of the U.S.

That is not to say that all Americans were in favor of the war, there were protest, riots ("Light Horse" Harry Lee, father of Robert E. Lee was almost beaten to death by a mob in Baltimore because he opposed a war with England) and at one time, the New England states (who's merchant ships were being affected by the English blockade) very seriously contemplated seceding from the union to negotiate a separate peace with England.

The war it's self was pretty much a tie. England troops were tied up in Europe fighting the French and it's navy was spread pretty thin so it was as if England was fighting the war with one hand tied behind it's back. Even with these handicaps the British managed to keep Canada safe, burn our capital in Washington and pretty much go where they wanted to up and down the east coast thanks to the British navy and it's blockade of our ports. The Americans did manage to win a few stunning victories, particularly at sea with our young navy. So when the treaty was signed in Ghent, Belgium in December 1814, everything was placed pretty much like it was before the start of the war. Status quo ante bellum as the term goes.

Which in my long winded way brings us to January 8th 1815. Notice the date? 1815, after the treaty had been signed. Information didn't travel as fast as it does today so both side thought the war was still on. The English having extra troops just finished fighting Napoleon brought them over to humble "Brother Johnathan" (They even asked Wellington to command, which he refused. No fool that man) They made plans to assault the city of New Orleans. For not only the loot that would be found there, but also to control the Mississippi River and also control the American frontier. They had what they thought would be a overwhelming force, 11,000 men in the expedition, 8000-9000 in the assault. Against this force, what did the Americans have to match it with? A thrown together mixture of U.S. Army regulars, Navy sailors and Marines, Militia from Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana, Free Men of Color, Choctaw Indians and even Baratarian Pirates. All in all, anywhere from 3500 to 4500 men.

The battle didn't last long and when the smoke cleared, The British had suffered 2055 killed and wounded and captured, while the Americans only suffered 101 killed, wounded and captured. The British were attacking the Americans in fixed defensive positions across open land. They also made several errors in coordinating the attack and they very much underestimated the Americans. But I would say that the biggest contributing factor to the American victory was the American commander, Andrew Jackson.

Jackson was a man of the frontier. He led from the front and was trusted by his men. He had the common touch and he was the kind of man you felt you could split a jug with.

He also had a almost pathological hatred of the British. You see, Jackson was a hard man and never forgave or forget an insult or injury, no matter how small. Jackson and his brothers had served in the American Revolution as scouts and spies. Being captured, Jackson was ordered to clean the boots of a British Officer. Jackson refused, and was slashed in the face with the officer's sword. He bore the scars for the rest of his life. Jackson's brothers had died from illnesses they had caught in British P.O.W. camps, and Jackson's mother had also died while attempting to nurse her sons back to health. So in Jackson's mind, the English had taken away every thing good and stable in his life and he was burning for revenge. On the killing field of Chalmette Plantation, Jackson obtained at least a small bit of satisfaction on the English.

So we have a battle which was fought after the war was over. So what effect did it have? None on the war, but much on the psyche of American people. Since the war was a tie, the battle built up the self-esteem of the people. After all, we showed those Redcoats. It also ushered in the age of the common man. The public made heroes of Jackson's "Dirty-Shirts", the long hunters of Kentucky. The fiddle tune, The 8th of January was written to commemorate their service and a bit later, another was written, The Hunters of Kentucky. As for Jackson, the victory at New Orleans was one of the major factors that landed him in the White House.

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