In 1815 Britain's crack troops, fresh from the victories against Napoleon, were stunningly defeated near New Orleans by a ragtag army of citizen-soldiers under the commander they dubbed 'Old Hickory', Andrew Jackson. It was this battle that defined the United States as a military power to be reckoned with and an independent democracy here to stay.
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A happenstance coalition of militiamen, regulars, untrained frontiersmen, free blacks, pirates, Indians and townspeople - marching to 'Yankee Doodle' and 'La Marseillaise' - inhabit The Battle of New Orleans in a rich array of colourful scenes. Swashbuckling Jean Lafitte and his privateers. The proud, reckless British General Pakenham and his miserable men ferried across a Louisiana lake in a Gulf storm. The agile Choctaw and Tennessee 'dirty shirt' sharpshooters who made a sport of picking off redcoat sentries by night. And Jackson himself - tall, gaunt, shrewd, by turns gentle and furious, declaring 'I will smash them, so help me God!'
Robert Remini's vivid evocation of this glorious, improbable victory is more than a masterful military history. It proves that only after the Battle of new Orleans could Americans say with confidence that they were Americans, not subjects of a foreign power. It was the triumph that catapulted a once-poor, uneducated orphan boy into the White House and forged a collection of ex-colonies and dissenters into a nation.