“The Battle Of New Orleans”
Composer: Jimmy (Jimmie) Driftwood
First, A video (Some minor inaccuracies are present):
I first heard this song when I was five or six years old. My grandpa and I were in his truck heading back to his house from a fishing trip of some kind. The first artist I heard play this was Eddie Arnold, my favorite version though is Johnny Horton’s. Both men helped make this song famous. They did not compose the song.
This rollicking tune was catchy. My grandpa and I joined in the chorus and I loved the song. I felt as if I was in the action firing muskets and rifles causing redcoats to waver and then run through the “briars and they ran through the brambles…so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch them.”
Here is Eddie Arnold’s version.
Buck Owens’s version is more rockabilly than it is folk, but that does not degrade from this song’s evocative lyrics.
Hank Williams Jr. offers a ‘parody’ version of the song that discusses his ‘daddy’s’ career.
C.W. McCall of ‘Convoy’ fame has a version of the song as well.
Scottish rock and roller Lonnie Donegan has a fascinating version.
Here is Johnny Cash’s version.
The most unique version is by far Zachary Richard’s. The Cajun bent is extraordinary.
The Composer’s Version: Jimmie Driftwood, born James Corbitt Morris (1907-1998) was first a teacher then a folk singer. Morris was a teacher in the Timbo, Arkansas area according to his entry in the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History & Culture. In the days before No Child Left Behind and Common Core, teachers were free to create experiential learning. In this case Morris was able to compose the amazing song we now know in its various versions above. Driftwood likely stirred the interest of his students about a battle that was certainly important.
“Ol Hickory said that he didn’t give a damn, he was gonna whip the britches of Colonel Peckenham.”
Driftwood’s lyrics were altered for radio as the words “damn” and “hell” were too corrosive for that era in the 1960s. As you could hear, the artists tamed it for the strict, yet soft censorship of the era. Why’s this song important?
The Battle of New Orleans: This was a fight in a war that had been raging across Europe between regional and world powers. The United States was in between its infancy and its adolescence. The War of 1812 (1812 to 1815), was a second war of independence for the United States of America. The rag tag American force of regulars, pirates, African slaves and freedmen, and militia bands won a battle against a well-trained and well-armed enemy that outnumbered them.
This is a song that celebrates a victory, celebrates America, and celebrates self-determination and independence. This is an American hymn as well as a excellent country song. Thank you Jimmie Driftwood.