“In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississipp. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans. And we fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.”

It’s a stirring folk song, perfect to stoke the patriotic fires of a young nation back in 1814, and stir the patriotic heart of a young Buzzkiller like yours truly back in the early 1960s. But did the Battle of New Orleans really take place after the War of 1812 was technically over, as the legend has it? Keep your powder dry, Buzzkillers, because you’re about to find out!

It’s a story you often hear around New Year’s, or whenever the old folk song, “The Battle of New Orleans,” made famous by Johnny Horton in 1959, comes on an oldies radio station. The story goes like this. The Battle of New Orleans was fought in Louisiana between the British and the Americans (commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson) during January 1815. Little did they know that the war had ended when Britain and the United States signed a peace treaty in London on December 24, 1814. But the pace of trans-Atlantic communication was so slow that the Americans and British fighting in North American didn’t find out until February 14, 1815, when the ship with the treaty and the news arrived in Washington DC.

It’s a good story that combines the sorrow and pity of a futile battle and lost lives, as well as an object lesson about the importance of clear and swift communication. But it’s a myth.

The Treaty of Ghent was signed in The Netherlands by representatives of both the British government and the US government on 24 December 1814. But the Treaty stipulated that both countries had to ratify it before hostilities would cease. The British parliament ratified the treaty and King George IV signed it on December 30, 1814.

But the treaty didn’t arrive in Washington DC until February 14, 1815. It was approved unanimously by the Senate on February 16, and President Madison signed it the same day. On February 17th, representatives of the two governments exchanged signed copies of the Treaty, which brought the war to an end nearly six weeks after the Battle of New Orleans.

It’s still a great song, Buzzkillers!

The Battle of New Orleans by Jimmy Driftwood (1959)

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississippi
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

We looked down the river and we seed the British come
And there must have been a hundred of ’em beatin’ on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
We stood behind our cotton bales and didn’t say a thing.

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Old Hickory said we could take ’em by surprise
If we didn’t fire our muskets ’till we looked ’em in the eyes
We held our fire ’till we seed their faces well
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and gave ’em…

…Well, we…

Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

We fired our cannon ’till the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs ‘n’ powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind.

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

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