The battle of New Orleans on January 8th, 1815, was one of the decisive battles in the history of our country. Not only did it save the country, but also it validated our constitutional republic as more than just an experiment. For many years after, the 8th of January was celebrated as a national holiday.
I know Steve Abolt won't mind me using a photo from his website--he visits here often!
The British Army was the most powerful army in the world and just defeated Napoleon, who was also thought of as a military genius. The United States had some victories in the War of 1812, but they were doing badly. The Brits occupied Detroit and were putting the squeeze to the Old Northwest territory. Washington was burned and the government had fled into hiding. The British were starting a campaign in the Gulf of Mexico to put a pincer move on the country that would have controlled commerce and supplies into the United States. It was very similar to what the Union would accomplish during the Civil War by cutting off the Confederacy from the Mississippi and blockading the coast.
Then things started to look up, as the Americans had a few victories where they repulsed the British around some of the important port cities. Fort McHenry's defense prevented the British fleet from entering Baltimore, while at the same time a similar action from Fort Bowyer prevented the British from taking Mobile, Alabama territory. This forced the British to focus on New Orleans.
You can read about the battle from many other sources, but it was a total one-sided victory for the United States in numbers that was totally unexpected by both sides. As a side note, I will mention that the Brits had 500-600 Seminole and Miccosukee warriors with them, but didn't deploy them at battle.
Some people say that the battle of New Orleans was unnecessary because the Treaty of Ghent was signed two weeks earlier. But the treaty was not in effect until the U.S. Senate and the British Parliament ratified it. If the British has won New Orleans, there is a good chance that the U.S. Senate might not have ratified the treaty, nor the British, who would have held the Mississippi and been able to demand their terms from a superior hold on the continent.
Since the British burned Washington, it was up to the military commanders who were on their own. They had to take charge and defeat the British in their theater of operations with little or no support from elsewhere. The world's best army was coming straight at them while they had to forage for supplies.
This is where Andrew Jackson entered the war against the British and reached what some considered his finest hour. Maybe you don't like him because of his presidency, the Indian Removal Act, his crooked land deals, his spoils system and monetary policy that led to the Panic of 1837. Or his war against the Creeks that wiped out whole Creek towns and killed more Indians in one day than anyone else in U.S. history. And then the Treaty of Fort Jackson imposed on the Creeks that punished his allies more than the Red Sticks. I am not justifying that, and we can talk about those at another time.
There are many things in Jackson's life that you can hate, but New Orleans was his finest hour. He was the right man in the right place and right time. And if it weren't for him, the country would not have survived the War of 1812. If there was any American triumph during the War, Jackson did it and emerged the biggest military hero since George Washington until the Civil War.
When people think of great presidents from Washington to Lincoln, it is Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln. You may hate Jackson, but there is no denying his accomplishments. From the many books I have read about Jackson and the War of 1812, he is the most complex character in American history. If you have not read any books on Jackson, I encourage you to do so, and understand this man who was like a raging hurricane to accomplish what he wanted.
If Jackson had lost the battle, you would have never heard from him again. The country would have been broken up and probably become occupied by the Crown Forces. We probably would have eventually gained our freedom again, but would remain as part of the commonwealth. Our status as a country would be the same as Canada, or maybe Australia.
And so, Mexico would be twice as large a country as it is today, and include Texas, California, and everything in between. Florida would remain a Spanish colony, or probably a corrupt banana republic country like Columbia. And in the next century, we would probably not be strong enough to stop Hitler in Europe, or the Japanese in the Pacific. Think of what the world would be like if there were no strong America. Would you today be saying the pledge of allegiance, or paying your respects to the King & Queen? Or would you be speaking Spanish or French? How different would the world be today if we had lost the Battle of New Orleans?