By Mack Samples|
“In 1814 we took a little trip,
Along with Colonel Jackson
Down the mighty Mississip”
So begins the song written by Jimmy Driftwood about the Battle of New Orleans. But many folks don’t know that the melody of the song comes from an old fiddle tune that came out of that battle. “The Eighth of January” was probably put together by some fiddler of that era who may or may not have actually been in the battle. No one knows for sure. But the tune has stuck around for a couple of hundred years and you still hear it at traditional music festivals all around the country.
The Battle of New Orleans about which the song was written concerned only one segment of the hostilities that actually started on December 23, 1814. However, it turned out to be the decisive battle. It was fought on January 8, 1815 and the British were soundly defeated. The ironic thing about the battle was that it was fought after the War of 1812 had already ended. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814. But news traveled slowly in those days and the combatants did not get the word until February.
Yet even though the war had officially ended before the battle, it was not fought in vain. The battle gave a great psychological lift to the Americans. Jackson’s forces had won a victory over the mighty British. It was a battle that the public expected American forces to lose. Also, it settled once and for all America’s possession and control of the Louisiana Purchase which fledgling nation had legally bought from Napoleon in 1803. But the British had never recognized America’s right to the property and fully intended to take possession of it. Had they been victorious at the Battle of New Orleans, things might have worked out very differently in that part of the country.
At any rate, Jimmy Driftwood wrote the song in the late 1950’s. It was sort of a light-hearted whimsical song, written from the perspective of the rough and not very well trained Americans who went down and “fought the bloody British.” It was the Johnny Horton version of the tune that climbed the music charts back in 1959. It was not a number one hit, but it did crack the top one hundred and propelled Horton into a very successful career. He followed with “North to Alaska”, “All for the Love of a Girl”, and
“When Its Springtime in Alaska.”
But we need to remember that it was the fiddle tune that made the song happen. It was a stroke of genius on the part of old Jimmy Driftwood that brought it all together. I suspect that when the eighth of January actually rolls around, the writer of this piece will get the old fiddle down and crank out a bad version of that great old tune. I have done it for years. After all, it’s anachronistic guys like me that kept the tune alive for all these years.