On January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson and his band of “half-horse, half-alligator” men whipped the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the last major battle of the War of 1812.
General Jackson, known to his troops as “Old Hickory” because of his toughness, had been placed in charge of defending the port city. As the British approached, he frantically threw up earthworks and assembled an extraordinary army of some 5,000 men. He had volunteers from New Orleans, including Creole aristocrats, tradesmen, and laborers. His forces also counted Tennessee and Kentucky militia, as well as Free Negroes, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italians, and Indians.
Jackson even had help from Jean Lafitte, the infamous, French-born gentleman pirate. The British had offered Lafitte money and a command in the Royal Navy if he would help them attack New Orleans. Lafitte turned them down and offered his pirates to the American side. Jackson, needing every man he could get, said yes.
The British, who ridiculed the American defenders as “dirty shirts,” came at Old Hickory at daybreak with more than 8,000 troops. As the main attack began, they fired a rocket. Old Hickory remained calm. “Don’t mind those rockets,” he said. “They are mere toys to amuse children.”
As the redcoats advanced, the Americans took aim with rifles and artillery. “Boys, elevate them guns a little lower!” Jackson ordered as he directed cannon fire.
The battle turned into a rout. About 2,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. The American toll was just 13 dead and 58 wounded or missing.
Several weeks later, news arrived that American and British negotiators had signed a peace treaty in Ghent, Belgium, two weeks before the battle. Still, the victory electrified Americans, filled them with confidence, and gave them a hero who would go on to become the nation’s seventh president.