Book Review: The Battle Of New Orleans

The Battle Of New Orleans:  Andrew Jackson And America’s First Military Victory, by Robert V. Remini

By and large I found this to be a deeply thoughtful and detailed and enjoyable read in the genre of military history of the early American Republic.  The one real problem I have with this book is one of framing.  The author considered Great Britain to have been the one real enemy of the United States and lamented the hostility between the United States and France during Adams’ administration, which makes him a decidedly Anglophobic historian.  Additionally, the author seems to be a bit of a homer for Andrew Jackson (himself a deeply controversial man [1]), and this book expresses the unfortunate belief that New Orleans was the first military victory of the United States, which is untrue on all kinds of levels, whether one looks at America’s colonial warfare alongside Great Britain, America’s striking victories in the American Revolution, or the previous victories in the War of 1812, on land as well as on sea.  Beyond these faults of framing, though, and they are likely to be pervasive in the author’s writing, the book as a whole is an enjoyable narrative of a victory by a complex, polyglot force over military professionals who profoundly underestimated their opponents.

The book itself is about 200 pages long or so and begins with a narrative that sets the context for New Orleans in Jackson’s successful moves on Mobile and Pensacola after winning the Creek War (1), before looking at the state of New Orleans on the eve of the battle (2).  After this the author looks at the beginning of the invasion (3) and Jackson’s indecisive night attack that blunted the British initiative (4).  A thoughtful discussion of a little-remembered artillery duel (5) precedes a discussion of the final preparations for a battle everyone knew was coming (6).  After this the author spends a significant portion of time discussing the main engagement on January 8th that led to the death of many soldiers and general officers among the British expeditionary force (7) before discussing the final assault that failed to break Jackson’s defenses (8).  The book then closes with a discussion of the repercussions of New Orleans for the confidence of the young republic and the reputation Jackson gained as a result of his famous victory.  After this there are notes, a bibliography, and an index that provide some additional sources and commentary for the interested reader.

There are at least a few notable qualities of this book.  For one, the author appears to be greatly fond of Jacksonian democracy, and so he tries to whitewash the racism that Jackson and the 19th century Democratic party is so (rightly) associated with.  He also appears to have a strong agenda in pointing to the capacity of the United States to form a cohesive identity out of disparate elements, and the complex bedlam of ethnicities and cultures in New Orleans certainly allows him the chance to show the heroism and canny pragmatism of Jackson and the other men of Tennessee and Kentucky, pirates like the Lafitte brothers, and other vagabonds and exiles that made up New Orleans’ population.  Remini tends to be a historian who is hostile to the New England WASPs of which I claim a fair amount of my own ancestry and background and one wonders if this is history or merely some kind of cheerleading for populism in elegant and narrative disguise.  This book is a classic example of a work which can be greatly enjoyed by a reader but whose perspective makes it impossible to trust the author’s integrity in the purpose of his writing and in the larger ideological aims he appears to be aiming unsuccessfully at.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/18/book-review-the-birth-of-modern-politics/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/11/a-wave-of-populism/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/09/book-review-a-country-of-vast-designs/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/09/15/on-soldiers-and-democracy/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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