Today in History

Today in History: January 8

Battle of New Orleans

Remember New Orleans I say,
Where Jackson show'd them Yankee play,
And beat them off and gain'd the day,
And then we heard the people say
Huzza! for Gen'ral Jackson.

"Huzza! for General Jackson."
America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets

Engraving of the Battle of New Orleans
Battle of New Orleans, [detail]
Joseph Yeager, engraver, circa 1815-20.
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

On January 8, 1815, Major General Andrew Jackson led a small, poorly-equipped army to victory against eight thousand British troops at the Battle of New Orleans. The victory made Jackson a national hero. Although the American victory was a big morale boost for the young nation, its military significance was minimal as it occurred after the signing (although before ratification) of the Treaty of Ghent that officially ended the war between the U.S. and Great Britain. The battle was fought before word of the Treaty reached the respective armies in the field. The anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was widely celebrated with parties and dances during the nineteenth century, especially in the South.

A traditional fiddle tune commemorating the event came to be known as "Jackson's Victory" or "The Eighth of January." Listen to a version of this tune played on fiddle and guitar by Bill and Jessie Robinson in the collection Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941.

"The Eighth of January"
Performed by Bill Robinson, fiddle, and Jesse Robinson, guitar,
Recorded at Visalia FSA Camp,
August 30, 1941.
Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941

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Although the anniversary of the battle is no longer celebrated, the tune continues to be popular. In the 1940s, ethnographers Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin collected several versions of "The Eighth of January" from migrant workers who had left the dust bowl of Oklahoma to work in California. It was a favorite tune for square dancing. Search the collection on the terms eighth of january for several more versions of the tune and one version of the words to the song as recalled by Mrs. Mary Sullivan.

Dance at a California migrant workers camp
Saturday Night Dance,
Tulare Migrant Camp, Visalia, California,
Arthur Rothstein, photographer, circa 1940.
Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941

In 1958, James Morris (Jimmy Driftwood) composed lyrics to the old tune and recorded it as "The Battle of New Orleans" (recorded on Jimmie Driftwood Sings Newly Discovered Early American Folk Songs, Victor RPM 1635). In 1959, Johnny Horton recorded a version of Driftwood's song, and the song rose to the top of the hit parade that year (recorded on Johnny Horton Makes History, Columbia 1478).

For more American folk music, visit California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties.

Learn more about Andrew Jackson in American Memory: