Patriotic Fire




Those of you who are my age (roughly 53) will appreciate this story. When my wife was younger (under 10), one of her favorite songs was the Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton. Nobody knows why she liked it, but she and her parents all claim that she wore out several records playing that song! She used to march around her room singing it!

This is another one that I listened to on books on tape from Simply AudioBooks. I find it difficult at times to listen to historical books on tape as it is hard to get mental pictures of the main protagonists that I can carry through the book and get the story straight. This is not a scholarly historical work, starting out as a story about Groom’s search for information on an ancestor that was mentioned in dispatches at the battle. It is, however, a superb narrative history.

Groom begins by discussing what drove him to look for his ancestor’s story. He then sets up the Battle of New Orleans in the context of the War of 1812 and other events occurring in Europe and the Americas. This takes up about 4 CDs worth of material. By necessity, much of the story centers around Andrew Jackson. I can’t help but conjure up a picture from the movie with Charleton Heston and Yul Brenner when Jackson’s old friend/assistant/batman, Mr Peavey turns to Jackson in the middle of a stressful meeting and says, “drink your milk, Andy, it will help you sleep…” or words to that effect. For some reason, Groom never mentions this incident! 😉 Whether one likes Jackson or not, much of the credit for the American success rests on his shoulders. The other individual who played an important role in the battle was, ironically, Jean Lafitte, a privateer/pirate/businessman. Lafitte and his brother were suppliers of much of the munitions used by the Americans at the battle, even though Lafitte had been approached by the British to support their efforts against New Orleans.

The presentation of the battle is well done and the reader (listener) gets a good appreciation of what conditions the soldiers of the period had to labor through. Conflicts in command, and critical decisions are also well presented and discussed in as fair a manner as possible when there are conflicting stories.

Since the book was on CD, I could not look at footnotes as I sometimes do, but in the final segment of the book, Groom goes into a detailed discussion of sources. The contradictory nature of primary sources is laid out and Groom discusses why he chose what he did. What is of particular value is Groom’s argument for the authenticity of Lafitte’s memoirs that have been the subject of much heated debate. He lays out the historiography behind them and in the final analysis, claims that he does accept them as having been written by Lafitte.

All in all, this is a rollicking good story about a pivotal event in American history and worth the time to peruse in paper or listen to on CD. It was so inspiring that I may even add a Baratarian battery to one of my nation’s forces.

About the author

Michael Cannon

I have been wargaming as long as I can remember. I met my wife when I was 14 and had been gaming long before that so that should give you an indication as to how long it has been. One of the first games I owned was Anzio by Avalon Hill. I drove over to the hobby shop in the snow to pick it up as I finally had the money to get something! I can remember playing with Airfix figures and Roco tanks back in the 6th grade and before.

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