By Mike Ryan, Fort Jackson Strategic PlannerJanuary 12, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Mention the city of New Orleans and instantly images of Mardi Gras, the NFL's Saints or the destructive power of Hurricane Katrina come to mind. Few people think back to the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans, a battle that decisively changed the course of American history and made Andrew Jackson the most revered general since George Washington. This past Sunday marked the 197th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.
The first years of the War of 1812 did not go well for the Americans. The nation's capital and White House lay in ruins, and the government was forced to flee to Virginia. By the fall of 1814, the British were preparing to launch a massive invasion in the Gulf of Mexico to destroy the American Army.
It was during this same timeframe that Maj. Gen. Jackson, commander of troops, executed two superb strategic actions in Pensacola, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., which ultimately dictated that New Orleans would become the focal point of the British invasion.
On Dec. 1, 1814, an armada of British ships carrying approximately 12,000 troops sailed from Jamaica and landed in the vicinity of New Orleans 12 days later. Through a series of fortunate events that favored the Americans and extreme cautiousness exercised by the British leadership, the stage was set for the final, culminating battle of the war on Jan. 8, 1815. The Americans, led by Jackson or "Old Hickory" as his beloved troops called him, occupied a formidable defensive position anchored by the Mississippi River on one side and the Cypress Woods swamp on the other.
Because of these natural obstacles, the British could not maneuver and were forced to conduct an intimidating frontal attack. Although the British were heralded veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, they were unable to accomplish this daunting task and were decisively defeated by the Americans.
Despite the battle lasting only two hours, the carnage it inflicted on the British Army was devastating. The British suffered more than 2,000 casualties compared to fewer than 100 for the Americans. This incredible victory at New Orleans proved that the United States could protect its sovereignty and command the respect of the rest of the world.
It also helped propel Jackson into the White House in 1829 as our seventh president.
Although this battle was fought nearly 200 years ago, there are many lessons that leaders can apply to the training that is conducted here at Fort Jackson. Leadership, rifle marksmanship and the Army values of duty and courage are a few great examples.
For a more in-depth review of this battle and the life of Andrew Jackson, I would recommend the following two books: The Life of Andrew Jackson, by Robert V. Remini and American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham.