Andrew Jackson’s Pirate Army

“The Battle of New Orleans”, a 1910 painting by Edward Percy Moran (Wikimedia Commons)

It was the final year of the War of 1812 (1812-1815), and Andrew Jackson found himself in big trouble. A redcoat detachment 11,000-strong was marching toward New Orleans, and Jackson, a major general stationed in the city, was tasked with defending it. Defend New Orleans he did, and he owed a lot of the resulting success to his freaking pirate army. 

When news of the redcoat invasion first broke, Jackson was pitifully outnumbered; his tiny force of 500 men and seven gunboats could be “annihilate[d] in five minutes” by one Royal Navy frigate. Jackson needed more men, and fast. He managed to rally together a motley assortment of 3,000 free lacks, militiamen and Choctaw Indians; while the numbers helped somewhat, they were not nearly enough to stem the tide.

Jackson needed all the help he could get, so he approached pirate Jean Lafitte for help. A blacksmith by trade, Lafitte was the leader of a notorious privateering ring who often hijacked slave ships. Lafitte and his crew had been jailed for their crimes, so Jackson offered to pardon them in exchange for their service. Lafitte accepted the offer; to sweeten the deal, his crew brought eight artillery batteries salvaged from old warships. With the pirates on board, Jackson’s forces swelled to 4000; after building a defensive wall lined with said cannons, Old Hickory and his pirate army lay in wait for the British.

When the 11,000 redcoats did come on January 8, 1815, Jackson and his men were ready. As soon as the redcoats came within range, all hell broke loose. A blazing wall of musket balls and grapeshot ripped into the advancing redcoat lines. As cannon tore gaping holes in the British formation, Jackson’s men stood on the wall picking off individual soldiers. The assault was unrelenting; as one man stepped down to reload, another took his place. One observer described the scene as “constant rolling fire, whose tremendous noise resembled rattling peals of thunder.” 

The fighting was over in only 30 minutes. Sources differ on the body count, but what is clear is that Old Hickory’s forces killed a stupidly large amount of enemy soldiers, while sustaining stupidly small losses in return. According to the National Park Service, the Americans killed 2600 redcoats, for a loss of only seven of their own men*; 371 redcoats died for every fallen militiaman. The few redcoats that survived beat a quick retreat. New Orleans had been saved.

The Battle of New Orleans entered the history books as a resounding success. Jackson’s awesomely lopsided victory helped cement his reputation as a victorious general, and eventually, helped him secure the presidency.

And the best part? The battle occured 15 days after the war officially ended.

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