Question: In what year did the Battle of New Orleans, the last major battle of the War of 1812, take place?
Hint: The song of the same name begins with: In 1814 we took a little trip . . .
Answer: In 1815, on the 8th of January.
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the famous battle, in which Colonel Andrew Jackson—with the help of the pirate Jean Lafitte—defeated the British invaders only to learn afterward that a peace treaty had been signed on Dec. 24.
The renowned battle gained notoriety due to the lopsided nature of the conflict—first, that the British far outnumbered the ragtag band of volunteers from Tennessee and Kentucky, and, second, that the Americans suffered just 13 casualties compared to nearly 2,300 for the British.
Mountain man James Clyman lamented in his journal some years later that no one bothered to commemorate the historic event any longer—at one time public events and parades had been held:
This day the anaversary of battle of N. Orleans appears to be allmsot forgotten no firing salutes the rising day no gay parties of pleasure
Clyman would no doubt be pleased that the battle has been immortalized in music, first with the fiddle tune Jackson’s Victory—which became known as the 8th of January after Jackson fell out of favor following his scandal-ridden presidency—and in the 1950s, when Jimmy Driftwood wrote the song The Battle of New Orleans to the fiddle-tune melody. Johnny Horton turned the song into a chart-topper with his 1959 recording.
A year earlier the battle had appeared on the silver screen for the second time in Cecil B. DeMille’s remake of The Buccaneer, starring Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson and Yul Brenner as Jean Lafitte.
In the movie, at a party on the night before the battle, Jackson says to the band leader, “If you’ll play Possum Up a Gum Stump, Rachel and I will dance.” (As best I can recollect.) Rachel was Jackson’s “scandalous” mistress.
Clyman—noted for sewing Jedediah’s Smith scalp back on after a grizzly bear had swiped it off—also would doubtless be pleased that the event is being commemorated this year with the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial.
So tune up those fiddles, loosen up the vocal chords, and join in the celebration . . .
Jimmie Driftwood wrote many verses to the song, but most recordings leave several of them out. Here are the lyrics as sung by Driftwood and others:
8th of January (tune history)
8th of January (transcription)