The Road to New Orleans

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans and Seventh President of the United States. Jackson spent time in what would become Newton County after his return from the Battle of New Orleans.

The battle of New Orleans is remembered for two reasons: (1) it was fought well after peace had been signed officially ending the War of 1812 on December 24, 1814, and (2) it was one of the most decisive victories in military history. According to one account, 1.941 British were reported killed, wounded or missing and 45 of like categories of American, a ratio of 29 to 1.1

Actually, the Battle of New Orleans should be more appropriately called the Battle of Chalmette Plantation, as this was the location of that battle.

Andrew Jackson was in Pensacola when he heard that British ships were in the Mississippi Gulf. He hastily made his way to Mobile, then to New Orleans, where he put together a rag-tag army that included 600 Free Men of Color, Baratarians, Choctaw Indians, and convicts, along with regular militia from several Southern states.

By the time Jackson and his men arrived in New Orleans, the British forces had already landed and had worked their way ashore through a series of bayous and canals leading from Lake Borgne in eastern New Orleans, first destroying five American gunboats that blocked their way. Jackson took time to get a haircut and organize his forces; then attacked the British encampment at Villere’ Plantation on December 23, 1814, but later withdrew, the results of the battle indecisive. Otherwise, the British wandered aimlessly for the better part of a month, harassing plantation owners and fighting a local Louisiana militia, which included none other than the sometimes pirate Jean Lafitte, and otherwise contending with the swampy terrain with its share of bogs, thick foliage, and bayous.

Jackson and his men prepared for battle some 9 miles downriver from New Orleans Chalmette Plantation. There they set up cotton bales and dirt and wood fortifications along Rodriquez Canal that led from a cypress swamp to the Mississippi River in anticipation of the battle that would follow. To their left flank and at the edge of the cypress swamp were Choctaw Indians troops who had joined the fight and who were under the command of Pierre Juzan of Chunky Chitto. Pierre Juzan, or Jugeant, as he is sometimes referred to in military records, was remembered for being a Frenchman fluent in English, Choctaw and French and who had a Choctaw wife. The British would later recall that the Choctaws were among the most hellish adversaries that they faced on that day.

January 8, 1815 was the day of reckoning. There was an early fog, but it would soon lift as the battle began. The British had 10,000 troops, the Americans 2,000, but the Americans had also brought cannons. The British only had muskets that had to be reloaded after each firing. The British, under the command of General Edward Packenham, prepared for battle in the traditional European military style, their troops lining up in rows and advancing and firing in stages while their comrades were reloading. It was a method which employed gentleman’s rules of fighting but which had long outlived its usefulness. The Americans simply hunkered down behind their fortifications and waited for the British advance without exposing themselves.

Row after row of British soldiers marched forward across the open field, their muskets aimed at the Americans. With their red coats brightly shining like signal flags, row after row of Redcoats went down under the American’s fire. After less than three hours, by one account, more than 2,000 British had fallen, and their commander, General Edward Packenham, lay dead on the field. Not long afterward, the second in command. General Samuel Gibbs was mortally wounded. Their surrender came quickly.

In the days that followed, Andrew Jackson had to figure the best way to get his men home. They boarded a ferry that carried them across Lake Pontchartrain to the north shore near Slidell. There they found no established road, but merely a series of meandering Indian trails that led northward.

With the Choctaw Indians in advance as guides, Jackson’s men worked their way northward along paths so narrow that the soldiers often had to walk single file. They had brought 16 heavy cannons and other equipment to New Orleans, and now this artillery and other field equipment had to be literally dragged through the swamps and river crossings. Additionally, they had other elements to contend with including briers and bad weather.

With Pierre Juzan in charge of the Choctaw scouts, it was no accident that the return route carried Jackson’s men through the land that would later become Newton County, a route that Juzan had used often in his trading ventures to New Orleans. Jackson’s men would encamp overnight near the Potterchitto Creek, advancing the next day through the Indian village of Chunky Chitto and by Juzan’s Trading Post.  History does not record whether there was a celebration that day at Chunky Chitto, although such was earned. Andrew Jackson, we do know, was a strict disciplinarian and earned the nickname “Old Hickory” for close adherence to duty and probably ordered the soldiers to keep marching.

With his men safely home, Andrew Jackson made a trip to Washington, D. C. There he told Congress that our nation needed a road to New Orleans that would better provide for its defense in the future. By 1817 that road was being built. It was called the Jackson Military Road and led from Nashville to New Orleans. Not quite by accident, it would pass by Chunky Chitto, Juzan’s Trading Post, and across the Potterchitto. Remnants of that road are still in use today. The construction of that road? Now that’s a story for another day.

Harold Graham

Notes

1. John K. Mahon, The War of 1812, University of Florida, Gainesville, 1972, p. 368.

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