The Battle of New Orleans
(Jimmy Driftwood)

The War of 1812 lasted from June 1812 to January 1815. Basically, the British, whom you’ll remember from our last lesson, wanted control of Baltimore, Washington D.C., and New Orleans. And the U.S. of A. wanted to invade Canada. Go figure.

The War officially ended on 1814 December 24 when the Treaty of Ghent was signed. The Battle of New Orleans was fought on 1815 January 8, because Colonel Andrew Jackson had yet to be informed of the Treaty. Nobody won the War; both sides just decided to end it. The British didn’t get Baltimore, keeping crab cakes safe for future Americans. And the USA didn’t get Canada, unfortunately, which indirectly led to the birth of William Shatner and overacting.

By the way, the actual battle wasn’t fought in New Orleans, but at Chalmette Field, about four miles downriver from the city itself.

Johnny Horton recorded "The Battle of New Orleans" in 1959, and it was arguably his biggest hit. C.W.’s version is almost the same as Horton’s but with a lot more banjo pickin’ and, of course, C.W.’s words. By the way, in this song C.W. almost sings.

I’ve read that Jimmy Driftwood, the author, had written "hundreds of verses", and that the ones in this song were chosen because they were the best verses and because the final recorded version needed to be about three minutes in length. Back in the olden days, songs were more likely to be played on the radio if they were short, about two to three minutes long.


Well, in eighteen-fourteen we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British at the town of New Orleans.

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin’
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Well we eye-balled the river and we see the Limeys come
Musta been a hunnert of ’em beatin’ on a drum
And then they stepped so high and they made the bugles ring
We hid behind our cotton bales and didn’t say a thing

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin’
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Now, Old Hickory says we can take ’em by surprise
If we don’t shoot our wads ’til we look ’em in the eyes
So we held off our fire ’til we see them real well
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and really gave ’em hell

Engraving of The Battle of New Orleans, by Joseph Yeager, ca. 1815-1820.

Engraving of The Battle of New Orleans, by Joseph Yeager, ca. 1815-1820.
Stolen from the Library of Congress.

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin’
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

[The chorus (the singers) sings this verse.]
Well, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where the rabbits couldn’t go
Ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

[Back to C.W.]
Well, we fired our cannon ’til the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we turned his tail around
We stuffed his head with cannon balls and powdered his behind
And when we lit the fuse that old gator blew his mind

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin’
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

[The chorus (the singers) sings this verse.]
Well, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where the rabbits couldn’t go
Ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

[Okay, the singing’s over.]
Hup, hip, trip, four.
You know, you old boys gonna be marchin’ right smart, onced* you learn to count to four.


* "Onced" is pronounced "wunced". Or something like that.

"The Battle Of New Orleans" does not appear on any C.W. McCall audio CD.

An article about the battle on HistoryNet.com (retrieved on 2008-06-13).