by Laura Lyons McLemore, editor
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 212.
Illus., notes, biblio. $38.00. ISBN: 0807164658
New Orleans between Myth and Reality
Prof. McElmore (LSU-Shreveport), the author of Inventing Texas and similar works on history and memory, has gathered essays by nine scholars which examine various aspects of what is among the most mythologized events in U.S. history, the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815, traditionally seen as a smashing victory that brought the War of 1812 to its close.
After a short introduction on the iconic standing of the battle in American history, McElmore opens with her own essay “What We Know that Ain’t So,” which offers an overview of the myths about the war (was it really about sailor’s rights and freedom of the seas?, how well did the U.S. Navy really do, etc.). There follows a papers on how a patriotic public, aided by politicians and even historians, shaped the memory of the war by “spinning” or even inventing incidents and events. One essay looks at the emergence of Andrew Jackson’s image, even to questioning how much his hatred of the British was deliberate political theatre. Other essays look at the war within the framework of the larger events of the Napoleonic wars, the impact of the war on African-Americans, the role of Creoles in the defense of the city, the battle in popular culture across two centuries, and the bicentennial observances. One essay considers the leadership lessons the war can offer for the Twenty-first century.
All of the essays are excellent, but the book would have benefited from an essay on the battle’s baneful influence on American military policy by overemphasizing the importance of the militia. In addition, some mention of why the far more the decisive actions at Plattsburgh/Lake Champlain and Baltimore, were so completely overshadowed by New Orleans would have been interesting. Nevertheless, this is an important read for anyone interested in the War of 1812, American history, and history, memory, and myth.
Note: The Battle of New Orleans in History and Memory is also available in pdf, ISBN 978-0-8071-6466-2; and as an e-Book, ISBN 978-0-8071-6467-9.