Upon the commencement of the War of 1812, Jackson immediately volunteered for active service. Nothing happened. Jackson assumed he was not called to duty due to his vigorous opposition to many of the policies of Thomas Jefferson, Madison’s predecessor. ( It probably didn’t help Jackson that Aaron Burr, former vice-president and deadly enemy of Jefferson, had stayed three days with Jackson during his treasonous trip to the West in 1805, although there is no evidence of Jackson’s involvement in Burr’s plot.)
Jackson’s chance for military action came in 1813-1814 during the Creek War. After a very tough campaign, Jackson decisively defeated the Red Stick Creeks at the battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814. On the battlefield, Jackson found a two year old Creek boy with his dead mother. Jackson adopted him as his son, named him Lyncoya, and brought him home with him to the Hermitage and raised him with his other adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr. Jackson planned to have him educated at West Point, because he believed it to be the best school in the nation, but the boy died of tuberculosis in 1828. Jackson, the great foe of the Indians, is the only American president to adopt an Indian child. Jackson was nothing if not complicated.
The campaign against the Red Stick Creeks had made Jackson a national figure. It also almost killed him. Suffering from a chronic stomach disorder, Jackson could only get relief from the pain by bending a sapling and leaning over it with the sapling pressed against his stomach. The campaign was arduous for his troops also, a mixture of militia and regulars. On one occasion the militia decided they had had enough and began to march home. Jackson used the regulars to stop them. On another occasion the regulars decided they were through, and Jackson used the militia to force them to return to their duties. When both militia and regulars decided to leave on yet another occasion, Jackson rode to the head of the troops, aimed a musket at them and made it quite clear that he would kill the next man to take a step. The men looked at Jackson, Jackson gazed back at them, and they returned to camp. Afterwards, Jackson ordered that the musket be repaired as it couldn’t have fired in any case. Most of the men Jackson led were frontiersmen and had a great deal of experience in cutting down trees. The toughest wood they knew of was Hickory, and Old Hickory, and doubtless some other unprintable ones that have not come down to us, is the nickname they gave their determined general.
While Jackson was crushing the Red Sticks, the War of 1812 was going badly for the country. With the abdication of Napoleon, hordes of British veteran troops were sent across the Atlantic to teach the Yankees a lesson. The burning of Washington in August 1814 was part of the lesson, and the American government had intelligence that a mighty British fleet and army were on their way to seize New Orleans. In August 1814 a British fleet established a base, with the consent of the Spanish government, at Pensacola, Florida, and used it to supply Indians hostile to the US. On November 7, 1814, Jackson seized Pensacola, chased the British troops out and destroyed the fortifications. The British fleet sailed off and Jackson marched to New Orleans.
Jackson arrived at New Orleans with his rough frontier army of militia and regulars on December 2, 1814. He had beaten the Brits to New Orleans but just barely. The British fleet appeared in the Gulf of Mexico just off New Orleans on December 12. The British force on board the fleet was commanded by Major General Thomas Pakenham, the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law. Pakenham was a combat general and had received laurels for his courage and professionalism in many of the battles that Wellington fought in Spain. Brushing aside a small American naval force that guarded access to the lakes that led to New Orleans, by December 23 an 1800 man vanguard of the British troops was ashore on the east bank of the Mississippi, nine miles south of New Orleans. When Jackson learned of this, he did what he usually did when confronted with a sudden challenge: he attacked. Leading 2131 men in a short, sharp night attack, Jackson inflicted about 250 casualties in exchange for about the same losses on his part. He then withdrew to the Rodriguez Canal four miles south of New Orleans and began to fortify it.
The British were quite cautious after the night attack and no advance was attempted towards the American lines until after the unloading of the rest of the British troops. The British did not resume their advance until New Years which gave Jackson and his heterogeneous force the time to construct eight artillery batteries along the now heavily fortified canal which became known now as the Line Jackson. A British artillery bombardment on New Year’s Day convinced Pakenham that it would take a full assault by his troops if the Americans would be driven from their lines and New Orleans taken.