Andrew Jackson, War of 1812, Battle of New Orleans, Tennessee, Creek War
The title Tennesseans at War might lead readers to expect a study of the sixteenth state’s homefront during the War of 1812. Tom Kanon, archivist at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, plans instead to address the state’s social and cultural history in a separate volume. Here he presents a ‘‘military and political history of the Old Southwest’’ (2) that focuses on Tennessee soldiers in Andrew Jackson’s armies during the Creek War and at the Battle of New Orleans. These campaigns deeply influenced Tennessee, Kanon argues, because although no fighting occurred in the state, Tennesseans ‘‘participated in more Southern battles than any other state in the region’’ (6–7).
Beginning with the observation that the nickname ‘‘Volunteer State’’ dates from the War of 1812—not, as popularly believed, the Mexican War—Kanon’s study opens with an assessment of the conditions that encouraged Tennesseans to fight. Both East and ‘‘West’’ Tennessee (the contemporary term for modern Middle Tennessee) stood as frontier societies at the opening of the nineteenth century. Frequent conflicts with Native Americans arose mainly from the settlers’ conviction that Indians were ‘‘wasting’’ (12) valuable lands, but Tennesseans also blamed Great Britain and Spain for inciting Indian attacks to stop American expansion. European hostility likewise threatened access to New Orleans, the crucial port for shipping their produce; and Spanish possession of the Florida [End Page 488] territories, where several southwestern rivers emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, blocked other potential outlets for trade. Kanon finds that westerners sincerely condemned Britain’s violation of American neutral rights in the Atlantic. Mainly, though, they charged Britain with supposedly instigating the Shawnee chief Tecumseh’s efforts to form a hostile alliance of Native nations. With the onset of war, the Indian threat, British insults to American honor, and the need to assert their worth as descendants of their Revolutionary fathers—as well as peer pressure, opportunities for adventure, and an ‘‘inner drive for ‘fame’ ’’ (43)—convinced Tennesseans of the need to fight.
Volunteers expected to participate in an effort to seize Canada, but circumstances instead took them to the southwest. Several themes guide Kanon’s account of the region’s conflict. The sudden abortion of Jackson’s Natchez expedition in late 1812 and early 1813 once again displayed the federal government’s ‘‘utter lack of urgency to western needs’’ and ‘‘encouraged Tennessee to stand on its own when it came to military matters’’ (47). East and West Tennesseans put aside their differences to join forces in the Creek War, though sectional tensions persisted; Jackson eventually ordered the arrest of East Tennessee’s commander, Major General John Cocke, for ‘‘mutinous conduct’’ (95). Shortages of men and supplies constantly plagued Jackson’s efforts, and his army almost dissolved because of confusion over when the volunteers’ terms of service actually expired. The ultimate victory at New Orleans nevertheless confirmed the legend that frontier militiamen and sharpshooters devastated the British army that had defeated Napoleon, though Kanon attributes the result mainly to superior American artillery. ‘‘Regular army soldiers, naval personnel, French Creoles, and Baratarian pirates operated the heavy guns,’’ Kanon concludes, ‘‘and if the Lion’s share of the American victory goes to artillery fire, then these men deserve their just rewards’’ (187).
Other studies have well-covered the southwestern campaigns, most notably Frank L. Owsley, Jr., Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812-1815 (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1981) and Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory (New York, 1999). Still, Kanon’s well-written and thoughtful account offers a fresh perspective. Especially insightful is the author’s use of letters, diaries, and memoirs left by common soldiers, whose observations displayed the human [End Page 489] response of men deeply affected by frontier warfare’s brutality. Moreover, Kanon provides a convincing case for the war...