Hero of New Orleans
The official outcome of the Treaty of Ghent is misleading; for America was not the same after the war as it was before. To begin, the nation suffered a crippling economic depression—though it would, in time, recover. More important, withdrawal of British support for its wartime Indian allies greatly weakened the hostile tribes, making the West that much riper for white expansion. Finally, in the world of 1814, trans-Atlantic communication was anything but instantaneous. Word of the Treaty of Ghent did not reach General Andrew Jackson, who, fresh from victory against the “Red Stick” Creek Indians in the South, had moved on to New Orleans to engage 7,500 British veterans under Major General Edward Pakenham sailing from Jamaica to attack the city.
Jackson’s forces consisted of 3,100 Tennessee and Kentucky volunteers, in addition to New Orleans militiamen and a ragtag mob of locals, which Jackson wisely kept well to the rear. Jackson’s inferior forces withstood a fierce artillery bombardment and repulsed two British assaults on their defensive positions. On January 8, 1815, the British, having terrible losses (including the death of Pakenham and his two senior subordinates), withdrew. Although the War of 1812 had actually ended in December 1814, Jackson gave his countrymen their most glorious victory of the war.
To most Americans, it now mattered little that the War of 1812 had been mostly a misery and a disaster. The victory at New Orleans, which made Americans feel like they had won the war, greatly strengthened the bonds of nationhood and made the economic and physical hardships seem worthwhile. This last battle also gave to America a new hero, a “westerner” born and bred far from the traditional seaboard seats of power. As Jefferson had before him, Andrew Jackson would lend his name to an entire era.