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Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 2, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Groom is a novelist (Forrest Gump) and popular historian, with a string of well-reviewed books on war (e.g., Shrouds of Glory). A diligent researcher, he nevertheless has no pretensions as a scholar. His strength is a remarkable ability to recreate and revitalize events long considered familiar. He's best at structuring his narrative around personalities, and the Battle of New Orleans offers him a colorful cast. Andrew Jackson was a backwoods politician wearing the epaulettes of a general. Smuggler and buccaneer Jean Laffitte rejected a British bribe to become an American patriot. Around them coalesced a hard-bitten army. Five thousand regular soldiers and militiamen from Tennessee and Kentucky; free blacks and Creole aristocrats; displaced Acadians; gunboat sailors and pirates turned artillerymen—all confronted twice their number of British, most of them veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. At stake was New Orleans and the Mississippi River basin: the developing heartland of an expanding nation. Groom is defensibly hyperbolic in describing Jackson's unexpected victory as the wellspring of a pride and patriotism that endured into the 20th century. His vivid account of how that victory was won merits a place in both public and private collections. Photos, maps. (May 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The Battle of New Orleans is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated military engagements in U.S. history. The military significance was negligible, since the War of 1812 had formally concluded with a peace treaty signed in Belgium two weeks earlier. But the emotional impact for the young nation was immense; Americans took pride in the defeat of a great military power, and victory added to the already growing legend of Andrew Jackson. Groom is a celebrated novelist (Forrest Gump, 1994) and historian (1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls, 2005). He is also a descendant of Elijah Montgomery, who served in Jackson's army. He has written a stirring and often moving account of the battle and the events surrounding it, and his main focus is on the roles and personalities of Jackson and the enigmatic pirate turned patriot, Laffite. Jackson is seen as a larger-than-life figure, at times appearing almost heroic, but not someone to turn one's back to. This is a beautifully written and exciting work of popular history. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044367
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044368
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #531,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Many people will recognize Winston Groom as the creator of "Forrest Gump." But Groom is also an accomplished chronicler of military history, and here he applies his considerable narrative talents to the climactic engagement of the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans.

Sadly, many Americans have little or no knowledge of this epic battle, one of the most consequential and lopsided victories in U.S. history. Andrew Jackson and a polyglot band of Tennessee and Kentucky "brown shirts," French Creoles, Indians, Free Men of Color (many of them refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti), Privateers, and ordinary New Orleans citizens did not just repulse a vastly superior force of British invaders. They decimated Wellington's Finest, fresh off their victory over Napoleon. The British suffered some 3,750 casualties, including 850 killed, as compared with 55 Americans killed and 333 total casualties. Included among the 850 was Wellington's brother-in-law, General Sir Edward Pakenham, overall commander of the British ground forces. Pakenham, whose remains were shipped back to England preserved in a vat of rum, inherited a bad strategic situation and, Grooms says, made it worse.

Groom maintains there may never have been a New Orleans victory -or thus a Jackson Presidency - without Jean Laffite and his Privateers from the island of Barataria. Rejecting British offers of cash and bounty, the Baratarians provided the Americans with desperately needed munitions, especially gunpowder; an intimate familiarity with the terrain and waterways leading to New Orleans; and a skill in handling artillery that may have been decisive. What's more, it was Laffite who convinced Jackson to strength and extend his left line, prescient counsel that helped to thwart the British attack plan.
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Format: Hardcover
The War of 1812 is one of the American conflicts that is less well known to the general public. Beyond the White House being burned, the composition of "The Star Spangled Banner" as the British assaulted Fort McHenry at Baltimore, and some vague notions of the Battle of New Orleans (and that from the pop song from 1959 by Jimmy Driftwood and sung by Johnny Horton), it doesn't hold much of a place in our already too weak sense of our own history.

This well written popular history of the battle by Winston Groom will help anyone who is not already a scholar on the subject, learn more about the famous Battle of New Orleans, what was really at stake, the great leadership of Andrew Jackson, the vital contributions of Jean Laffite and his Baratarian privateers (well, pirates), and the strength of the British that was squandered by the mistakes of the British officers.

Groom provides a nice background of the life of Andrew Jackson and the political context that led to the War of 1812 (and the stupidity of the political leaders on both sides) and how the Indian war led by Tecumseh contributed to Jackson and his army being where they were to thwart the British in late 1814 and early 1815. The life of Jean Laffite is also told in what detail we know. The author does a nice job in letting us know when there are different points of view and varying claims about the biographies of Jackson, Lafitte, and the forces in the battle.

On paper, the battle should have gone the vast resources the British brought to the battle. A huge number of ships, thousands upon thousands of professional soldiers, tons of gunpowder, cannon, and shell, and confidence born of success in battle in Europe.
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Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed Winston's Groom "A Storm in Flanders" which told a remarkable story about WWI combat. So I looked forward to reading this book. While Groom is excellent at telling a story, I was saddened by the many inaccuracies and sloppy fact-checking in "Patriotic Fire."

To begin with, Groom takes the point of view of many American writers on the War of 1812; that the English resented our independence and wanted to crush democracy. This is not true and there is no evidence that this was English policy. WE (America) started the war, partly because of England's impressment policy, and partly because western Americans wanted to conquer Canada. England spent most of the war fighting defensively to save Canada from OUR invasion. After Napoleon's first abdication in 1814, England was able to turn to an offensive war, but even then their policy was muddled and without direction. Mostly, they were looking for a way to get out of the war, as the English treasury was broke after years of fighting France. Their attempts to invade America were an effort to gain leverage in diplomatic negotiations, which were concluded before the Battle of New Orleans was fought.

Also, he indicates that the English were disconcerted by the American style of combat, because they were used to fighting "European style." This is the "minutemen vs. redcoats" stereotype of history. What he overlooks is that the English army in New Orleans included elements of the Light Brigade, who were trained to skirmish and fight "Indian style." So this type of war was not unfamilar to the English. Also, much of the English army had fought in the Peninsular War, which as the first guerilla war saw barbarism equal to anything on the American frontier.
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