A Low Point for the Nation
When the United States declared war on Great Britain in summer of 1812, Andrew Jackson’s political career was at a standstill, his social standing had fallen, and his finances were in shambles.
He was disillusioned not only with the state of his own life but also with the inability of his country to protect its citizens and their property. Jackson found renewed hope in the opportunities the war with Britain offered for the future of the United States as well as for him personally to turn around his fortune as Major General of the Tennessee Militia. Moreover, the war fed into his deeply ingrained need to prove himself.
Earning "Old Hickory"
Due to his reputation for rashness President Madison hesitated to call on Jackson’s proffered services. His friendship with Aaron Burr did not endear him as a choice either since Burr was suspected of using his political power to convince western states to secede from the United States in order to start his own country. However, Madison gave way in December of 1812 and commissioned Jackson Major General of U.S. Volunteers, ordered him to lead 1,500 troops south to Natchez and to eventually defend New Orleans.
Believing the threat to New Orleans abated, the U.S. War Department ordered the immediate dismissal of Jackson’s forces in March 1813 making no offer to compensate the troops or provide for their food or return travel to Tennessee.
Outraged, Jackson decided that he would return his men home through hostile Indian lands even if he had to pay the expense himself. Not only did he successfully lead his poorly provisioned army back to Tennessee intact but he also encouraged them by sharing in all the hardships they faced along with them. His troops compared Jackson’s toughness to a hickory tree and nicknamed him “Old Hickory.”
Another Personal Conflict
Tennesseans greeted Jackson with newfound respect for his actions to preserve the honor of its volunteer fighting men. At last, Jackson had begun to move out of the shadow of his past.
But his temper quickly got him in trouble once again. Instead of acting as peacemaker in a dispute between two of his officers, Jackson took sides causing the argument to expand. The quarrel ignited into a gunfight in the streets of Nashville that left Jackson horribly wounded in the upper left arm.
Leadership to First Victories
While Jackson was recovering from his wound, word reached Tennessee of settlers at Fort Mims (in present-day Southern Alabama) being massacred by a hostile faction of the Creek Nation called Red Sticks
He received orders to put down the Creek uprising and, despite his injury, Jackson gathered his forces in October 1813 and marched south. In November, Jackson was victorious in significant battles against the Creeks at Tallushatchee and Talladega.
Leadership By Fear
Jackson’s initial successes left him hungry for further victories but he faced the threat of desertion from much of his force due to supply problems and disagreements over the length of their enlistment.
On two separate occasions, Jackson prevented mass desertions of his troops by threatening them at gunpoint. However, when his troops reached the end of their terms of service Jackson was compelled to let them go.
Jackson appealed to the governor of Tennessee to send him more troops. Finally, in January 1814, new troops began to arrive swelling his ranks to 5,000 men. Greatly outnumbering the Creek warriors, Jackson’s army surrounded them at Horseshoe Bend and inflicted a punishing defeat, effectively ending the Creek War in March of 1814.
Jackson Promoted to General
The victorious Jackson returned to Tennessee where he was greeted as the hero who not only defeated the Creeks, but also enabled the future security of the region by building military roads and forts. His successes were lauded across the country at a time when the War of 1812 was going poorly. Even the Madison Administration recognized that in Jackson they had a man who stood out on the field of battle where others had failed miserably.Continue to General Jackson, War Hero