A Bloodless Victory: The Battle of New Orleans in History and Memory

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Once celebrated on par with the Fourth of July, January 8th—the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans—is no longer a day of reverence for most Americans. Although the United States’ stunning 1815 defeat of the British army south of New Orleans gave rise to the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the Democratic Party, and the legend of Jean Laffite, the battle has not been a national holiday since 1861.

Joseph F. Stoltz III explores how generations of Americans have consciously revised, reinterpreted, and reexamined the memory of the conflict to fit the cultural and social needs of their time. Combining archival research with deep analyses of music, literature, theatre, and film across two centuries of American popular culture, Stoltz highlights the myriad ways that politicians, artists, academics, and ordinary people have rewritten the battle’s history. While these efforts could be nefarious—or driven by political necessity or racial animus—far more often they were simply part of each generations’ expression of values and world view.

From Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign to the occupation of New Orleans by the Union Army to the Jim Crow era, the continuing reinterpretations of the battle alienated whole segments of the American population from its memorialization. Thus, a close look at the Battle of New Orleans offers an opportunity to explore not just how events are collectively remembered across generations but also how a society discards memorialization efforts it no longer finds necessary or palatable.

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