In 1814 I Took a Little Trip– Guns from The Battle of New Orleans

The glorious 8th of January is upon us! Why is the 8th of January a glorious day you may ask? Why that is the day we fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans 200 hundred years ago! And sent them running through the briars and brambles where a rabbit wouldn’t go! Ok, so there is a bit of embellishment in the classic Jimmy Driftwood song, but the sentiment is there.

The War of 1812 is really the war that solidified our independence from England. There isn’t room to go into a full history of the war, its causes, effects and whatnot here, but we need a basic understanding of why the Battle of New Orleans was so important.

Took a Little Bacon and Took a Little Beans

Long story short, we got our asses kicked in just about every military engagement during the War of 1812. We were fighting the best army in the world at the time and the only reason they didn’t completely wipe us out (although they did burn Washington D.C.) was because they were also busy fighting the French. They eventually kicked Napoleon’s ass, too, at the Battle of Waterloo.

Down The Mighty Mississip

Old Hickory rallies the troops!

Old Hickory rallies the troops!

In late 1814 the British were threatening New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. New Orleans was the most important trade center and port in the Untied States and it had to be protected. Enter Andrew Jackson. He assembled a rag tag Army to stop the British Invasion. This army he created is one of the most culturally diverse in all of American history. There were regular army units like the 7th US Infantry, volunteer companies form Kentucky and Tennessee, local Louisiana units with French and Spanish heritage, Native Americans and Free Men of Color. There were even pirates! This army held its ground and roundly beat one of the best veteran armies in the world, some of whom, less than 6 years later, would kick Napoleon’s ass at Waterloo.  They didn’t really run through the briars and brambles when they retreated, either. Most of them retreated in formation, like the seasoned professional soldiers they were. But we still kicked their asses! This was very important to the moral of the American people at the time.

5 Guns from the Battle of New Orleans

So without further ado, here are 5 guns that played an important roll on the battlefield 200 years ago.

1. The Brown Bess

The Brown Bess was the primary arm of the British Army for over 100 years.

The Brown Bess was the primary arm of the British Army for over 100 years.

This is the primary musket of the British Army at the time. There were also a number of them in the hands of the Americans on the 8th of January. The Brown Bess was everywhere at the time, you can think of it as the AK of its day. Brown Bess is actually a nickname; they were officially called Land Pattern Muskets. These were 55 inches long and weighed about 10 pounds. They were flintlocks and slung a .75 caliber lead ball. Like all smooth-bore muskets, the Brown Bess was not the most accurate of firearms. But hundreds of them being fired in volley could, and did, cause a lot of damage, and in the hands of the well trained and disciplined British Army they were feared.

2. The 1795 Springfield

The 1795 Springfield was the American version of the French military musket.

The 1795 Springfield was the American version of the French military musket.

This is the official US musket of the War of 1812. It is really an updated version of the French Charleville Musket that was imported during the Revolutionary War. Heck, there were some Charlevilles at New Orleans as well.   This is also a smoothbore flintlock musket. Its biggest difference from the Brown Bess was caliber. The 1795 was .69 caliber and had a slight range advantage over the Bess. The lighter, flatter trajectory bullet debate is nothing new!  Speaking of flints, one of the biggest contributions the pirates made to the cause were hundreds of rifle flints which the American forces were in desperate need of.



3. Artillery

Reenactors loading a cannon on the actual site of the Battle of New Orleans.  They are dressed in the uniform of the US Navy.

Reenactors loading a cannon on the actual site of the Battle of New Orleans. They are dressed in the uniform of the US Navy.

Lets talk American Artillery. The cannons and their crews are a great example of the Army that Jackson assembled for the defense of New Orleans. The guns themselves were diverse with some being regular army field pieces, Naval guns and even some odd ball ones left over from with the Spanish owned Louisiana Territory. Regular Army units, local units that used French commands, free blacks and pirates, manned these guns. The Bartitarians, those are the pirates, manned big 24 and 32 pound guns on the 8th. Oh, and there were sailors from the USS Carolina working some guns on land that day too.  No alligators had their heads filled with cannon balls or behinds powdered.



4. The Baker Rifle

The British Baker Rifle was carried on the 8th of January by the 95th Rifles.

The British Baker Rifle was carried on the 8th of January by the 95th Rifles.

These rifles were in the hands of the British 95th Rifles on the 8 th of January 1815. The Baker was primarily a result from the experience the British had during the American Revolution. That experience of being on the receiving end of well-aimed rifle fire! The Baker was intended to be accurate to around 400 yards although there are some accounts of it being deadly all the way out to 800. That is some fine shooting with a flintlock and iron sights. The Baker had a .625 inch bore that fired a cloth or paper patched round ball. As with all rifles of the time, it loaded slower than the muskets. The Brown Bess could fire 3 rounds a minute where the Baker could possibly get off 2 in the hands of a well trained and drilled rifleman.

Kentucky style hunting rifle that has provenance to the Battle of New Orleans.

Kentucky style hunting rifle that has provenance to the Battle of New Orleans.

5. The Squirrel Rifle

The Americans had rifles too. Of all shapes, sizes and calibers! These were primarily in the hands of the “Dirty Shirt” volunteers from Tennessee and Kentucky. These rifles were not military issue like the Baker. The rifles in the hands of the Americans were made in countless blacksmith shops all over the country. Some of them were had fancy stocks with inlays and some were a lot more pedestrian. But the important part is that they worked and the men who carried them knew how to use them. They should have too, these are the guns they used to defend there home and put food on the table and when they were called upon they used them to defend their country from a foreign invader!

So there we go. These are but some guns that were used to defend the US 200 years ago. But the most important part is the men who made the 8 of January glorious. These are the people from a multitude of cultures who came together to defend their country.

Also, enjoy this video of Johnny Horton!

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  • Jay March 18, 2016, 8:24 am

    One thing that brought the British troops grief was their pipe-clayed load bearing gear. The whitened shoulder straps crossed their bodies high on the chest. The predominate target of American shooting matches was a piece of paper (and/or leather, bark or whatever else was handy) cut into a shape of the letter “V” with the object to hit close to the bottom of the “V”. Many British casualties were found on the field just there. It was as if the went into battle quite literally with targets on their chests. The broken terrain was also not charitable to mass formation attacks slowing their advance allowing time for more destruction.

    As for Johnny Horton’s song, it is one of my all time favorites along with “Sink the Bismark” and “You Fought All the Way, Johnny Reb”

  • Martin B January 18, 2015, 4:36 pm

    I found out recently that I was related closely both to General Packenham (British commander) and the Iron Duke of Wellington (he married Kitty Packenham, who was descended from the Rowley Langford line, my ancestors). Packenham was a solid if not spectacular staff officer with Wellington in Spain, and was sent to America to sort out the rowdy ex-colonials. He was also one of his few Anglo-Irish relations that Wellington did not utterly despise. As a result he was the last British general to die leading his troops in a battle which was completely unnecessary, an armistace having been declared some days earlier.
    I live near the city of Wellington in New Zealand.
    Langford Lodge was given as a dowry to the Packenham family (Lords Longford) by Viscount Langford. It was later used as a US Army Air Force base in WWII, and is currently the site for Martin Baker, who make ejector seats.
    And Summerhill House, the Langford seat and the largest private house built in Ireland, was destroyed by the IRA in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, to prevent the British using it, and because it lay atop a small hill.
    And before you ask, I wasn’t born into money. The Langfords abandoned my Great x 3 grandmother, and she was raised as a ward of the Duchess of Pembroke, then married to an Australian doctor at 16, and sent off to live on sheep farm in New Zealand. My grandfather cut grass and sheared sheep for a living. He won the national lottery, but my grandmother, a strict Methodist, refused to allow any gambling money in the house. He died a year later, having spread joy to all his friends in every pub in the Wairarapa. If only…

  • Brent Brentzel January 13, 2015, 1:44 pm

    That video is priceless!

  • Bob Johnston January 12, 2015, 8:16 pm

    Good story. The incredibly inept attempt at writing by Sam Trisler leads me to believe is quite a brave man. He doesn’t know the proper use of tense or sentence construction nor does he allow a few missing words to stop the delivery of a truly patriotic and inspiring story. I love his style as it is akin to my own. I look forward to more from him.

  • davidc January 12, 2015, 2:28 pm

    That’s true about the treaty, but if the British had won the battle they would have had physical control of the port of New Orleans !

  • Todd Inman January 12, 2015, 12:29 pm

    My Great-Great-Great Grandfather and his neighbors from Tennessee fought in the battle along-side Old Hickory. Jackson’s home in Nashville “the Hermitage” has free admission every year on the anniversary. Thank you for remembering this great moment in our history.

  • WayneM January 12, 2015, 11:09 am

    The American victory was really sealed at the Battle of Plattsburgh in early September. The Brittish had surrendered by the time the Battle of New Orleans took place, but due to communication systems of the day, combatants of both sides didn’t know it.

    • Sam Trisler January 12, 2015, 5:00 pm

      Surrendered? No. The treaty had been signed to end the war but neither side had ratified it. If the British had taken control of New Orleans, as they were under orders to do even if they got word of there being a treaty, that would have allowed them to argue the validity of the sale of the Louisiana Purchase to the US from France and possibly try to return the land to Spain. Napoleon really didn’t have the legal right to sell Louisiana to the US and England and Spain were allies at this time.

  • Tim January 12, 2015, 9:38 am

    Johnny Horton had the air-play hit of the song. Also known for “North to Alaska” and “Sink the Bismarck”.

  • Keith Rockefeller January 12, 2015, 9:23 am

    Wellington barely avoided being wiped out at Waterloo. If the Prussians under Blucher had not arrived Napoleon would have finished the British and Dutch off.

    • Martin B January 18, 2015, 4:41 pm

      True, but he chose his terrain very carefully (he attended a military academy not far from there), and this helped protect his troops from French cannon and musket fire. He was also in communication with Blucher, so knew he was in the vicinity. His main problem was that he didn’t know how fast Napolean was approaching. There was a light screening force to give some early warning, otherwise Napolean would have ridden through Brussels and retaken Europe. Indeed a “close run thing”. But Wellington had never lost a battle, and he didn’t know how to.

  • John January 12, 2015, 8:34 am

    I don’t remember the Raiders song at all, not to say they didn’t have one, but I do remember The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version.

  • Roger V. Tranfaglia January 9, 2015, 8:41 pm

    Okay showing my age here……
    Paul Revere and The Raiders did their version of Horton’s song,which played on a show called Hulla Ballou.
    (Hullaballu?) 1960\61…. B/W! Correct me if I’m wrong,the Raiders version got more airplay!

    • Thomas Proctor January 12, 2015, 10:16 am

      Johnny Horton’s version was, by far, the most popular version of this song.

      • 2WarAbnVet January 12, 2015, 12:45 pm

        In my youth, I was fond of the Johnny Horton song. Much later I learned there actually was a song called. “The Hunters of Kentucky” that was Andrew Jackson’s Presidential campaign song.

    • Steve Porter January 12, 2015, 1:19 pm

      The song was written and first recorded by Jimmy Driftwood, a school principal in Arkansas who set an account of the battle to music in an attempt to get students interested in learning history. Driftwood became well known in the region and was eventually given a recording contract by RCA, for whom he recorded 12 songs in 1958, including “The Battle of New Orleans”. Johnny Horton recorded the song in 1959, with this version becoming the most popular and widely played cover of the song. Horton’s version was named the number 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. Paul Revere and the Raiders had a song entitled “New Orleans” which they did on Hulla Ballou in 1966, but it had noting to do with the Battle of New Orleans song. The group “The Royal Guardsmen” did “Battle of New Orleans” on Hulla Balou in 1966 after release of the song in their rock-novelty style on their 1966 Album Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. That version was occasionally played on “rock and roll” stations, but not as often as many other songs they recorded, and never as much as Johnny Hortons version from 7 years earlier. Ya, I know, too much information, but as a 1950s-through-1980s disk-jockey, its a hobby of mine!

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