I have found myself taking an interest in American history since I have moved down to New Orleans. I never really had much before, perhaps because the history books made it seem dull and distant. Walking the streets of the French Quarter everyday, history is never distant. In fact it trips your feet on a daily basis. In the Quarter very little has changed, not just the grand old structures but the souls who still dwell here. When I was working as a painter at the Pontalba Building I could literally turn around and see the statue of General Andrew Jackson tipping his hat to me. I found myself going on line to learn more about this stern looking man who was watching me work all day.
The War of 1812 was just some bit of history that seemed irrelevant and detached from anything that I knew. After studying up on it a bit, I now realize that I am standing in the middle of one of the prominent places in American history, which eventually changed the course of world history in the long run. Even 200 years later, as much as our nation has changed, (perhaps not for the better) things in the French Quarter might not be that different. At least the people haven't changed much, let me explain.
The War of 1812 was never certain for America, the British were a super power of the world at that time. They were the best trained, most disciplined, best equipped, best funded and most victorious military in the the world of their day. They had just kicked Napoleon's ass, they ruled most of the world at that time and were fierce about keeping it that way. Like the proverbial bully, they had been abusing and humiliating the young United States by going after our shipping and forced inscription of our merchant sailors. Once we had declared war on them, the British made it a point to try and put the young upstart nation it's it's place. We got our asses kicked from Canada on down the East coast.
Washington D.C. had been invaded by the Limies who burned the city to the ground after all of the pussy politicians fled. Some might say our first victory was at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. That was not so much a decisive victory as a stalemate. Really the only thing that came out of that battle is a national anthem that very few people can sing very well. If we had waited, the national anthem might have been written down here in New Orleans. Not only would it have probably have been a much better song, but we could have been able to dance to it.
The British knew the war was drawing to a close and desperately wanted to control New Orleans by war's end. That would have meant that they controlled the Mississippi River and about forty percent of America's commerce. Wars are always about money. Enter Andrew Jackson, orphaned as a child when his family were killed by the British, he had a grudge to settle. Jackson was a bad ass muthafucka, always looking for a fight and quick to start a duel with anyone who looked at him the wrong way. If there ever was a Dirty Harry in U.S. history, it was Jackson.
As bad ass as Jackson was, he would need help, he enlisted QUARTER RATS. Of course in 1814 there was only the French Quarter and like today it was inhabited by the most diverse group of misfits, criminals and cut throats in the nation. Jackson was charismatic enough to enlist everyone who could hold a gun, when there weren't enough guns the rest were given farm implements. The only real professional soldiers were regular militia from Tennessee and Mississippi, some Marines and Navy, but the majority were made up of what at best could be called "rag tag." Frontiersman with muskets who were the homeless of their day, free men of color who were given equal pay and standing, Pirates, Indians, Creole farmers and shop keepers from New Orleans all stood along side Cajuns, and the French to protect our liberty.
Jean Lafitte is still highly regarded in the French Quarter. An enterprising privateer who was as much a politician as a pirate. Lafitte had spent a better part of his time eluding the British and Americans in the Barataria swamps while pillaging Spanish merchant vessels. When the war came to his city of New Orleans Lafitte sided with the Americans offering his men and looted Spanish munitions for a price and a pardon. His offer had nothing to do with patriotism, he was betting on who he believed would win and who he thought would allow him to continue his plundering. A true mercenary and the start of the military industrial complex in the Americas. Men of his character can still be found operating in the French Quarter.
The British were appalled by the hit and run tactics employed by the Americans. Choctaw Indians and "dirty shirts" conducted gorilla warfare against the Red Coats which was unimaginable by those who fought in the well ordered ranks of Napoleonic battles. Snipers in trees taking out officers had a demoralizing effect on troops.
Long story short, the strongest Army of the most powerful nation on Earth got it's balls kicked by the highly out numbered Quarter Rats.