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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – January, 2012
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director

The War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans

With an eye of fire and an emphatic blow upon the table, he cried: ‘by the Eternal, they shall not sleep on our soil!’ This famous declaration of General Andrew Jackson just before the Battle of New Orleans in January, 1815 virtually ended the War of 1812. The Treaty of Ghent was ratified by the Senate of the United States a few weeks later.

The two hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812 is now upon us. Though unique in American history as a war that restored status quo ante-bellum (returning to the state of each nation prior to the war), the work of Divine Providence was no less evident than in previous or subsequent wars. God is present in the conflicts we experience on earth, and as C.S. Lewis pointed out when writing during World War II: the spiritual lessons are most important to embrace.

How could Andrew Jackson, with a few thousand frontiersmen from Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, together with some regular US Army troops, pirates, Choctaw warriors and free black soldiers, turn back a much superior force of British troops that had virtually surprised them upon their arrival to end the War? On the human plane the answer was Andrew Jackson. On the spiritual and more important plane, it was the intervention of Divine Providence. But what lessons does a War two hundred years ago have to teach us today?

Historians have noted that the most critical battles in the War of 1812 occurred in late 1814 and early 1815. The Battle of Lake Champlain (early September of 1814) kept the British from successfully invading from the North, and also kept some greedy American leaders from pushing for a conquest of Canada as well. It virtually kept the American cause as one of self-preservation and defense. The key to the Americans winning that battle was the lack of wind when it was needed most by the British on the Lake.

The Battle of Baltimore occurred at almost the same time. On August 24, 1814 the British invaded and began to burn the Capitol and White House. Dolly Madison (wife of the President) removed key documents such as the Declaration of Independence just in time. The British entered the Capitol, held a mock session of Congress - Admiral Cockburn taking the Speaker’s Chair and sarcastically stating “all in favor of setting fire to this harbor of Yankee democracy, say Aye!” Mockingly the soldiers agreed and set fire to the Capitol. After eating the dinner Dolly Madison had prepared but left when they fled the White House, the British burned that as well. A providential thunderstorm during the early morning hours saved the buildings from total ruin, but both the White House and Capitol suffered extensive damage.

The smoke rising from the burning of Washington could be seen by Francis Scott Key as he travailed in prayer for his nation. Key desired to preserve the time honored standard of the law of nations as the only reason we should go to war – but he knew it could only be preserved if Christianity remained as the primary faith of the American people. Prayer sustained America in 1814!

As the British left Washington, not wanting to be trapped there, a few looting British stragglers were arrested by 65 year old Dr. Beanes, who had ministered healing to the British earlier as a result of the land battles prior to the burning of the city. When one escaped and reported the action, Dr. Beanes was apprehended and put on a British cruiser as a non-combatant who feigned friendship and then broke faith. Francis Scott Key vowed to rescue him, so under a flag of truce he and his friend Skinner got on board the same boat. Key watched the Battle of Baltimore, where the giant flag sown by Mary Pickersgill weathered the battle all night long.

The inspiration from Key’s poem that became known as our National Anthem demonstrated to all Americans that God had not forgotten America. He is a covenant keeping God. It stopped the British from thinking of re-taking territory lost in our Revolution, and for the Americans, they thanked God their nation had been preserved. Conditions of peace were signed at the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. None of the causes of the War were rehearsed (such as Impressment of Soldiers or inciting of Indians to attack). In John Quincy Adams’ diary was simply this entry on Christmas Day, 1814 – “the day of all others in the year most congenial to proclaiming peace on earth and good will to men.”

Battles must continue though the war is essentially over. That was true for the Battle of New Orleans which put Andrew Jackson in the history books. The British had won battles that allowed them to bring more than 8,000 troops to the Gulf of Mexico. By December 23 the British could have attacked New Orleans since it was undefended. Why they waited at that point for re-enforcements was providential, for it gave Jackson the time he needed. Jackson thwarted any advance by the British. It saved New Orleans, and he retreated to the Rodriguez Canal and built what became known as Line Jackson. On New Year’s Day, the main British army arrived with 8,000 men.

The attack began on January 8, 1815 under darkness and in dense fog. Suddenly, miraculously, the fog lifted and the Americans poured in their fire. Also, amazingly, Col. Mullins forgot the ladders and equipment needed to cross the canal and scale the earthworks! Jackson, inspiring his troops to stand firm, stood at the top of the earthworks in the midst of the battle. At the end of the day the British lost more than 2,000 while the Americans only 71. It was a miracle and New Orleans was saved.

War is but a picture of the supernatural. It is time we prayed like never before. If our motives aren’t pure, the results will be status quo. It is time we draw a line in the sand, trust God, and in our spirit declare that our spiritual enemy will not sleep on our soil! Though the war was over at the Cross, we still must defeat the enemy in the trenches! As key noted, let this be our motto, in God is our trust! Though it appears we are overwhelmed on every side, God rules in the affairs of men!