Victory in the End

Just as declarations of war seldom mark the moment conflict begins, peace treaties seldom mark the end. One of the most famous examples of a battle fought after a war had ended occurred 200 years ago during the Battle of New Orleans.[1] The war had been unpopular in the United States and victory on the battlefield scarce.[2] Pressure had been mounting to settle the war even without clear victory having been achieved. On December 24, 1814 a diplomatic contingent agreed to the Treaty of Ghent. The objectives for having gone to war had not been met, but the United States had proven to itself and the world that it could wage a war without the assistance of outside nations.

Four days after the treaty was signed, the Battle of New Orleans would commence. Under the command of Andrew Jackson, militia numbing around 4,700 faced off against 5,300 British army regulars who were supported by naval contingents. In the end, the British would suffer 2,400 casualties, the Americans only 70.[3] Having occurred after the peace negotiations had concluded, the Battle of New Orleans would have no effect on the end of the war but would have a lasting effect on the American psyche.[4] In 1959 Johnny Horton recorded the song Battle of New Orleans and the song reached number one on the charts. Albeit a humorous version of the battle, the song would reintroduce the public to a war often overlooked in U.S. history; a war that had solidified the independence hard won a generation prior. The Battle of New Orleans may not have ended the War of 1812, but it did end questions of U.S. independence, viability, and sovereignty.

The War of 1812 often gets overlooked, but the little war is the stuff of legends. From the burning of Washington, to the battle to save Baltimore, and finally to the Battle of New Orleans, the War of 1812 changed the United States. Diplomatically and militarily, the United States proved it could to fight and survive without the aid of Europe. In the end, it mattered little that the victory of New Orleans occurred after peace negotiations had technically ended the war. In the end, it mattered little that the war as a whole had been a stalemate. In the end, what mattered was that victory had been possible, and decisive victory on the battlefield had been achieved. Rag-tagged or not, a nation set upon survival and independence had not been defeated. In the end, that was victory.

Endnotes

[1] (December 28, 1814 – January 8, 1815)

[2] George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 128.

[3] John Whiteclay Chambers, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 496-497.

[4] Herring, 132.

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