THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS–LEARNING HISTORY THROUGH SONGS #1 by Cheryl Pierson

When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, “story songs” were very popular. Even though radio stations had their “3-minute limit” for song length back then, there were some exceptions. And many of these songs were amazingly concise, able to tell the story, and also evoke emotion from the listener. It didn’t hurt to have a catchy melody to keep us all tuned in, or to be certain we’d run out and buy a 45 single record to have for our very own!

Many of these ballads were connected to movies—whether the theme or other music that was used in conjunction with a movie release.

Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton were two of the most prolific balladeers of those times, and two of my favorite singers. I’m not sure in this case what came first—the “chicken or the egg”—because I was just a tyke when many of these songs gained popularity, so of course, I loved those singers and the songs, as well.

One of the most popular songs of this type was The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton. If you’ve ever tried to sing along, you will know this is NOT the easiest song to perform!

The importance of the Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815) was not in the outcome of the War of 1812, but in the morale of the American forces as they were able to push back the British and keep them from gaining control of a major American port. This song contains the “high points” and is fun to sing (or TRY to sing!)—and easier to remember than memorizing names and dates from a history book. It was the battle the propelled Major General Andrew Jackson to national fame, and the last major battle of the war of 1812.

The song was written by Jimmy Driftwood, and received the Grammy for Best Song of the Year (1959) and Best C&W Song. Who was Jimmy Driftwood, you ask? According to Wikipedia, here’s the scoop on the melody and the lyrics, and a school principal who wanted to make learning history more interesting:

The melody is based on a well-known American fiddle tune “The 8th of January,” which was the date of the Battle of New Orleans. Jimmy Driftwood, a school principal in Arkansas with a passion for history, set an account of the battle to this music in an attempt to get students interested in learning history. It seemed to work, and Driftwood became well known in the region for his historical songs. He was “discovered” in the late 1950s by Don Warden, and eventually was given a recording contract by RCA, for whom he recorded 12 songs in 1958, including “The Battle of New Orleans.”

The Battle of New Orleans has been covered by many other artists, including Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, but none achieved the level of success that Johnny Horton’s version did. With a rasp in his voice, a twinkle in his eye, and his enthusiasm for the song, it’s easy to understand why The Battle of New Orleans skyrocketed, where it spent six weeks at number one on the popular charts, and ten weeks at the top spot on the country charts!

“The Battle Of New Orleans”

In 1814 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 in the town of New Orleans

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 began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We looked down the river and we seen the British come
And there must have been a hunnerd of ’em beatin on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
We stood beside our cotton bales ‘n’ didn’t say a thing

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 began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Old Hickory said we could take ’em by surprise
If we didn’t fire our muskets till we looked ’em in the eye
We held our fire ’till we seed their faces well
Then we opened up the squirrel guns and really gave em
Well 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 began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We fired our cannon till the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs and powered his behind
And when we touched the powder off the gator lost his mind

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 began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4
Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4
Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4

This song is included (of course!) in the 1960 album by Johnny Horton called Johnny Horton Makes History, containing all his other story-songs about different actual historical events and those that “might have been”—a wonderful collection.

Here’s a video of Johnny Horton performing his chart-topping song, and having a little fun with it. Do you remember this song? Does anyone love these story-songs like I do?

https://youtu.be/mjXM6x_0KZk

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
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46 thoughts on “THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS–LEARNING HISTORY THROUGH SONGS #1 by Cheryl Pierson”

  1. Oh Cheryl, what memories that brings back. Growing up right across the river from New Orleans I took particular note of that song, but of course I liked all of Johnny Horton’s songs. And of course Marty Robbins and the other balladeers of the period. I didn’t know about Jimmy Driftwood though so thank you for the lesson on the song’s origin

    • Hi Winnie! Well, every part of our nation has its local history that is so unique and flavorful, doesn’t it? And growing up this was one of my favorite “most listened to” records on my little red record player! I loved this song so much and had the cassette of his greatest hits when my kids were little, so of course we played them in the car everywhere we went! LOL I didn’t know about Jimmy Driftwood either until I began researching this, so that was really interesting to learn for me, too! So glad you enjoyed this, Winnie, and I know it has a special meaning for you since it’s from history that happened in your neck of the woods! Hugs, filly sis!

  2. Well Cheryl, I sang this song in my head as I read the lyrics. My mom raised me on Horton, Robbin’s, and so many other 50 & 60 hit makers. This has always been one of my favorite.
    I remember when I was in high school we would go to South Fork, CO., from Stephenville, TX snow skiing and the Johnny Horton cassette was a must sing along. We would rock that suburban on that 13 hour journey.
    Thanks for the memories.

    • Yes, Tonya, same here! All those wonderful ballad songs of the 50’s and 60’s–so many great ones, and every one of them just excellent. They don’t write them like that anymore — well, not very often anyhow. LOL I had a collection of 45 records of course when I was little and I accidentally ran over the edge of this record with my trike. OH, SAD DAY!!!!! I was only 3 or 4 and still remember that and how crushed I was. I cried and cried, and my dad came home from work in the next day or two with a new one for me. And good advice: “Always pick your records up off the floor.” LOL

    • Laura, you and me both–gosh, can you even imagine what that must have felt like to have the entire nation singing along with you on one of your records? What a feeling! I guess it would be like selling a million books or something similar. LOL There is a video link, too at the end of the blog. When I posted this, on the preview, it was the actual video, but when I published it, now it’s only the link. Still, it works, if you want to go over and watch.

  3. My mom had those albums by Johnny Horton and Marty Robbins on 8-track, and we had to listen to them over and over on our road trips to Tennessee, plus Johnny Cash and a bunch of old school country.

    I still know all the words.

    • Those were some of the best songs, ever, Denise, IMO. I was one of those moms too, that had those albums on cassette rather than 8 track, and we played them all the time when we went on trips, or even in the morning on the way to school. Good to start the day off with a rousing round of Johnny Horton! LOL

    • Janine, I had posted the youtube video but for whatever reason, when I published the blog, the video disappeared and the link was all that remained. So not sure what happened, but the link works, and I love this video of him performing this song. If you have a chance, click and watch it. It’s a good one!

    • Estella, that is my favorite too! In fact, so favorite that it’s my ring-tone on my cell phone. LOL Yes, it always embarrassed the kids, but you would be surprised how many people would turn and smile and say, “Marty Robbins!” LOL

  4. I have this song on my phone and I listen to it when I go out for a walk. I love both Johnny Horton and Marty Robins and have both on my phone. Now it is stuck in my head for the day.

    • Quilt Lady, I love both of those guys, too, and have since the time I knew what music was. I played them a lot for my kids, too, and have some great memories of those road trips and even short trips where we shared that music together!

  5. Good morning! Yep I sang the song in my head as I read the lyrics! Funny how I haven’t heard that song in many, many years but my mind jumped right in singing it. Thanks for this history lesson! A history teacher!?!? Who knew? I didn’t!

    • Stephanie, I didn’t know that either about the person who wrote it. Was glad to learn that–so interesting! And so cool that he cared enough to try to make history interesting for his students, and look what came of it!

  6. I grew up listening to this song! We now play it for our kids and it’s a family favorite. What a great history lesson.

    • Yes, I did too, Susan. I loved these songs so much, and this was a favorite, for sure. And my kids loved them, too. I don’t think many of their friends’ parents passed these songs down to their kids, which was really sad. They are such an enrichment!

  7. I loved that style of music. As I read the lyrics I was singing them in my head. We had a reel-to reel of many of Johnny Horton’s music that we had accumulated when I was in my early 20s. Unfortunately we longer have it. I liked Marty Robbins as well, especially El Paso. I need to look up those old songs and listen again!

    • Karen, I discovered on Youtube if you play a couple of these songs, they will add others that are similar in the sidebar on a playlist you can listen to or skip, whatever you like. I love that because I re-discover so many oldies but goodies that way!

  8. I love these songs. I grew up listening to the music my parents and grandparents enjoyed, so I’m more familiar with the music of the ’50s and ’60s than the more current stuff.

    • Christy, of course, me too, since I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s (born in 1957). Most of the music of today couldn’t hold a candle to these older songs that actually had lyrics and wonderful tunes!

  9. I love this post, Cheryl! And I am a huge fan of songs that record historic events, like The Edmund Fitzgerald and Battle of New Orleans. My late husband, Rick, recorded a historic song “A Hundred Miles of River,” about the discovery of a sunken cotton clad boat in the Sabine River that was found to be one of Jean Lafitte’s fleet. Thank you for sharing!

  10. What a fun column today, Cheryl! I also grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the minute I read Johnny Horton this song started to go through my head. Although I don’t think I remembered the alligator verse! So many songs like this that told such a story. Thanks for the memories :-).

    • Sally, this was always one of my favorite songs of all time. I actually remember seeing him perform this on tv, though I was just very little. It made a huge impact on me.

  11. I remember this song and I also love these record stories. Thank you for sharing this Awesome memories.

  12. I started singing before I got to the lyrics in your post. Several times each year I pull out my Johnny Horton albums including the Greatest Hits album…..love the music and the stories they tell.

  13. oh my what a wonderful post. I DO remember that song now. I loved my 45 records. My sixth grade teacher used this song during one of our history times. Mr. Mitchel would make history so fun. Sometimes he would dress up and sometimes he would have another teacher dress up with him and the whole class would be involved in learning history. That was my start in loving history. And it has lasted to this day. I passed my love of history onto our two children. Our son preferred the history channel to Sesame Street, etc. At age 13 through Boy Scouts with his dad, he started civil war reenacting. He loved to teach the people who came out to see them about gun safety, the foods and the songs. My husband would teach more of the history part and as a Chaplin he would teach about the hymns and where they came from and some of the sermons. Now our son and my husband are WW2 reenactors and they both teach similarly. My husband isnt reenacting as a chaplin but as a “pioneer” they are the ones who built the bridges, etc Our son is now 35 yrs old His wedding was Civil war themed and beautiful.. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    • Lori, how FANTASTIC! I think that is fantastic that your son and your husband found this as a way of bonding and doing things together! I always thought re-enacting would be so much fun. Never got to do it, but I have a writing friend whose parents did it and she’s been involved in it since she was a child, and now is doing it with her husband and their son. I know you have got to be so proud of both of them!

  14. I love these!!! I grew up listening to my Daddy’s Johnny Horton album. I now have 6 or 7, plus CD’s!!!!! I used to tell Daddy that if Johnny Horton was still alive, Daddy’d be taking me to his concerts!! Daddy and I never went to a concert together, but Mom and I sure did!! A venue opened near us after my Daddy passed, and Mom and I did go to quite a few concerts together. Wonderful memories!!

    • I never got to go to any concerts with my mom, but my mother-in-law and I did! She made me a deal that she would go with me to see Kenny Rogers (this was back in the late 70’s – early 80’s) if I would go with her to see Ernest Tubb and some other country stars that were appearing with him. We went to both concerts and just had a barrel of fun both times. Great memories and I’m so, so glad we got to do that together.

      • My Mom and I saw Eddie Arnold, Charley Pride, the Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, The Ink Spots, Tom Netherton. I think there were a couple of more, but I know these for sure!! I have some great memories Mom and I made together.

  15. I remember growing up on the story songs. We loved Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, and Statler Brothers. Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories. God bless you.

    • Debra, we loved these songs so much, too, and it was also the beginning of the folksong craze during that time, so there were lots of good story songs there, too. Woody Guthrie was always a favorite of mine, since he was from my home state and his sister was our elementary school office assistant. I think I must have known just about every song he ever did when I was younger. LOL

  16. Whenever the phrase story song comes up, the first thing I think of is always The Battle Of New Orleans. He was a wise teacher to put events to music. I don’t know of anyone who enjoys memorizing events and dates from a text book or in my case, remembered much of it. A song is memorable and fun. Actually, historical fiction has been much the same. I know I have learned and remembered more from the historical books I’ve read than I ever did in history class. It is a matter of putting it in the context of daily lives and how historic events impacted people’s lives. In that way, history made sense. Music is just a short form of the story and the tune makes it easy to remember.
    As they say, thanks for the memories. I enjoyed singing that song when it came out, and still do.

    • Patricia, I learned something along those lines you’re talking about–when I went to college, my two loves were history and English. I got my degree in English but minored in history, and learned that if I took classes in both subjects that took place in the same time period each semester, it all went hand-in-hand and was much easier to learn because I could relate what was happening in history to the poems and stories that were being written about it. It made a lot more sense that way, so it wasn’t just memorizing, it was learning what was actually happening, but also what the poems and stories about it were, too. It really did help me.

  17. Hello Cheryl and Thank you for the Post I always loved listening to this kind of music as I am a fan they don’t make music like this anymore! I remember playing my 45 records and always going to the record shop to buy more records So many great memories !

    • I got about 50 cents for allowance for a long time, then a raise to $1.00 a week. LOL I spent every penny on records! When Mom and Dad ended up having to sell their house, I found my record collection. I still have them all!

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