Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"The Battle of New Orleans" ("The 8th of January") - Johnny Horton, 1959 (country/bluegrass)

Well, in eighteen and fourteen we took a little trip
along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans,
And we caught the bloody British near the town of New Orleans.

We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Well, I see'd Mars Jackson walkin down the street
talkin' to a pirate by the name of Jean Lafitte
He gave Jean a drink that he brung from Tennessee
and the pirate said he'd help us drive the British in the sea.

The French said Andrew, you'd better run,
for Packingham's a comin' with a bullet in his gun.
Old Hickory said he didn't give a dang,
he's gonna whip the britches off of Colonel Packingham.

Well, we looked down the river and we see'd the British come,
and there must have been a hundred of 'em beatin' on the drum.
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
while we stood by our cotton bales and didn't say a thing.

Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise
if we didn't fire a musket til we looked 'em in the eyes.
We held our fire til we see'd their faces well,
then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave a yell.

Well, we fired our cannon til the barrel melted down,
so we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round.
We filled his head with cannon balls and powdered his behind,
and when they tetched the powder off, the gator lost his mind.

We'll march back home but we'll never be content
till we make Old Hickory the people's President.
And every time we think about the bacon and the beans,
we'll think about the fun we had way down in New Orleans.

Well, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.
They ran so fast the hounds couldn't catch 'em
down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

This song's original title is "The 8th of January". Traditionally, the tune is recognized as an American fiddle tune - a reel, to be precise. As such it is solely an instrumental tune; however, in 1936 a teacher from Arkansas found that using his guitar to teach history to his students had a profound effect on what they would remember about their lessons. (What a novel idea!) That teacher's name was Jimmy Driftwood. He took that American fiddle tune and wrote lyrics to it that would teach his students a lesson in American history - the war of 1812, specifically, the Battle of New Orleans. In 1959, Johnny Horton sang Jimmy's song and topped the charts with it. It remains at #28 of Billboard Music's All-Time Top 100 Songs and #1 on the Billboard's All-Time Top Country Songs list.

There were three stated causes for the War of 1812: 1.) Britain was at war with France and didn't like that the Americans were trading with the French, so they imposed a series of trade restrictions on the U.S.(which violated international law); 2.) Britain forcibly recruited U.S. citizens to fight France as soldiers of the Royal Navy (we were an independent country by now); and 3.) The British were giving military support to the Indians who offered armed resistance to the U.S.

The fiddle tune is called "The 8th of January" because it was on January 8, 1815 that The Battle of New Orleans. This was to be the final battle in the War of 1812.

To begin, on December 12, 1814, a British fleet had anchored in the Gulf of Mexico and was intent on seizing the city of New Orleans and the western territories. While an American gunboat flotilla prevented the British from accessing Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne, these gunboats were soon overcome by 10,000 British troops in rowboats (each rowboat was equipped with a canon). The American flotilla had been vastly out numbered. Now free to move about the area, British General John Keane assumed command of the troops, and they set up their garrison on Pea Island, which is about 30 miles east of their military target, New Orleans.

On December 22, General Keane lead 1,600 of his men to the east bank of the Mississippi River, which was 12 miles from the city. There he camped, waiting for reinforcements. This was the critical mistake that would cost the British the battle, even before the battle had begun. At that time, the eastern bank of the Mississippi was undefended all the way to New Orleans. Instead of what should have been an ambush, the British decision to camp gave American General Andrew Jackson enough time to develop a plan. General Jackson sent 2,000 men to a position north of the British camp, which thwarted the British advance.

While the British advance was held at bay, the rest of General Jackson's men quickly built an earthworks, which they fortified with heavy artillery. When British General Edward Pakenham arrived on the battlefield, he was outraged to see the position into which his army had been put. He reconnoitered the earthworks, and after a brief meeting with his officers, decided that the only solution was to directly attack the earthworks. The British had expected a rag-tag band of poor, untrained American soldiers. They had also expected to quickly destroy the Americans. All that they really accomplished was to "poke" at what the Americans had affectionately dubbed "Line Jackson". With each British retreat and regroup, the Americans added more earth and more artillery. This lasted until the British guns literally ran out of ammunition, resulting in General Pakenham cancelling the attack. What he didn't know was that General Jackson's entire left line had cut and run; they were shooting at nobody.

On January 1, 1815, the core of the British Army arrived. They should have just stayed home. British General Pakenham ordered a new attack on the Americans: attack the earthworks and attack along the river. What happened next made them a laughing stock.

First, Royal Navy commander Alexander Cochran and his men built a dam in an attempted to divert the river's flow into a canal they had dug. The dam and the canal collapsed. The Mississippi is famous for its mud, perhaps beginning with this battle. The British sailors were forced to carry and tow the assault force boats through knee-deep Mississippi mud. They arrived at the battle 12 hours late.

Second, the British may not be strangers to fog, but when the city you're attacking is six feet below sea level, the fog you'll encounter in New Orleans has nothing to do with weather. The British thought they had gotten a break and advanced under the cover of the early morning fog. However, shortly after sunrise, when the fog dissipated (as is what happens almost daily in low-lying areas) they suddenly found themselves a hail of American gunfire.

Third, call it a minor oversight, but British Lt.-Col. Thomas Mullins forgot to bring the ladders and fascines the British would need to scale the walls of the American bulwarks. Oops.

Because of all these failures, there was much confusion on the battlefield. British army General Pakenham was fatally wounded, which only added to the British chaos. General John Lambert quickly assumed charge and ordered a withdrawal. At the end of the day, the British forces suffered: 278 dead, 1186 wounded, 484 captured or missing. The American casualties amounted to: 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. Even though a train with British reinforcements had arrived, General Lambert assessed his successes and losses of the day and decided that another attack on General Jackson and his earthworks was just too costly. British forces retreated altogether, boarded their ships and headed off for Biloxi, Mississippi.

Even before all of this happened, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed (on December 24). The city of Ghent is located across the Atlantic Ocean in Belgium. This was the treaty that ended the War of 1812; however, news of the treaty was a long time coming to American soil where the war was being fought. News of a peace treaty didn't reach the battle front until February of 1815.

"The Battle of New Orleans" (aka "The 8th of January") - Johnny Horton, 1959

~information reeled in, piece by piece via the Internet (in between power outages)

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