On this day two hundred years ago, the Battle of New Orleans started. Oh my, but don’t we make a big deal out of it! I went to New Orleans when I was a kid and you could barely walk for all the monuments to it. And we as a nation love to talk about it, because it is the one part of the War of 1812 that wasn’t humiliating. This was the war that included the burning of Washington and President Madison having to flee the White House. It’s very likely we would have lost the war right then if it hadn’t been for a hurricane that blew through.
The thing about the Battle of New Orleans is that it happened two weeks after the British and Americans had ended the war with the Treaty of Ghent. The thing is, we always want to glorify war. And so we pick and choose those things that make it all sound glorious, when it was just a rotten war with lots of people killed and wounded with the result being that nothing changed.
On the other hand, we do have Johnny Horton’s song, “Battle of New Orleans.” It makes it sounds like we just destroyed the British. But that isn’t really true. The main thing is that the British were invading and the American forces had intelligence of the coming attack and so set up very good defenses. But in total, less than 400 British soldiers were killed out of 11,000 total troops. Roughly 50 Americans wee killed out of 5,000 troops. Yes, it was a clear victory for the Americans. But it was in no way a defeat that would have broke the backs of the British military.
This is a point of some annoyance to me. People think of war in very romantic terms. “If one side is just or has the will to fight, they can win the day!” Not really. There are cases where errors are made like the British getting bunched up at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. But when a seemingly weaker side wins, there is always a clear reason, like the use of the longbow at the Battle of Agincourt. Americans tend to think there was something special about the Texans at the Battle of the Alamo, but it wasn’t that; it was that they occupied the Alamo Mission. And as it turned out, the Mexicans didn’t lose that many men in taking it anyway.
If people understood just how systematic war is, I don’t think they would be so keen on it. But the power elite love wars. And that’s why they provide myths like the romantic heroes at the Battle of New Orleans, when it was just a stupid battle that cost hundreds of lives in a war that was effectively over.