Andrew Jackson, War of 1812, Battle of New Orleans, Creek War, Creek Indians, Native Americans, Gulf Coast
As 2015 was the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, it is only appropriate that Donald Hickey should have written a very accessible and straightforward—even breezy—account of a myth-shrouded battle and the commander most associated with its outcome, Andrew Jackson. While this feat has been attempted before, most notably by the late Robert V. Remini in The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory (New York, 1999), Hickey’s concise effort efficiently distills dozens of recent monographs and new research on the battle, the War of 1812, the Creek Indians, Andrew Jackson, and the late Napoleonic Wars into an extremely readable account that delivers a tremendous amount of material very quickly.
Why does this well-trodden ground deserve another look? Hickey argues that part of the need arises from the fact that the battle continues to be remembered incorrectly, as merely the superfluous lop-sided battle that did not count at the end of a war that did not matter all that much. Instead, Hickey contends, the battle, as it came together in the fall of 1814, would likely “determine the fate of New Orleans and the Southwest and fundamentally alter the course of American history” (5). Moreover, the “Glorious Victory” achieved on January 8, 1815, helped Americans craft a post-Revolutionary identity, became the main enduring memory of the War of 1812 itself, cemented the defeat and decline of the Creek and Southwestern Indian tribes, and established an unshakeable foundation for the political aspirations of Andrew Jackson. [End Page 832]
Hickey does what few others have attempted in so little space—sum up everything at stake in the War of 1812, biographically sketch out Jackson’s career and character, and then provide three engrossing chapters about Jackson’s War of 1812. The last two thirds of the book follows Jackson’s every move from the Creek War through the Treaty of Ghent because, as Hickey correctly states, “For 15 months beginning in late 1813, [Jackson] actively campaigned against the nation’s enemies. Those 15 months fundamentally transformed his life and had a profound impact on the future of the nation” (44). The War of 1812, outside of the eastern seaboard and the corridor of territory stretching between modern day Buffalo, New York, and Montreal, was mostly an Indian war between the United States and various tribes stretching from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the Gulf of Mexico (and between some of those very same tribes against one another). Hickey efficiently and clearly argues that there is no understanding the broader war, or Jackson (then or later in his life), without understanding and exploring the war against the Red Sticks faction of the Creek Indians.
While almost any amateur historian is familiar now with the importance of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the subsequent punitive Treaty of Fort Jackson, Hickey also reminds us of the lesser known Creek victory at Burnt Corn Creek and Jackson’s near-disaster at the Battle of Enotachopco Creek. Like Robert M. Owens in Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy (Norman, OK, 2011) and Colin G. Calloway in The Victory with No Name: The Native American Defeat of the First American Army (New York, 2015), Hickey makes the case for two fundamentally important realities if we are going to be witnesses to this period of American history: 1) that American relations with powerful Indian neighbors dominated the early history of the republic in ways it is too easy to forget, and 2) away from mass population centers, the contests between Americans and Indians were not one-sided exhibition matches, but serious and devastating encounters that both belligerents saw as existentially important. The harrowing experience of the Creek campaign, Hickey forcefully argues, “played an indispensable role in setting up the successful military operations that followed against the Spanish...