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Story Archives: Old Hickory's loyalty to his men became legend at Natchez
|Old Hickory's loyalty to his men became legend at Natchez|
FUTURE PRESIDENT ANDREW JACKSON'S DAYS IN THE MISSISSIPPI TERRITORY
In the years before he became President, Andrew Jackson came to Natchez several times, and once while in town defied the orders of his commander, General James Wilkinson.
He was a man of contradictions and a man with flaws. He was primarily responsible for the removal of the southern Indians from their ancestral homes, yet he adopted a Native American child orphaned during a military battle he waged against the Creeks.
He was feisty and hard-headed but loyal to a fault. At the age of 13 during the Revolutionary War, he joined the Carolina volunteers to fight the British. Captured and later imprisoned, he refused to clean the boots of a British officer, maintaining that as an American he was a prisoner of war and not a servant. The officer slashed Jackson's head and hand with a sword leaving scars that, coupled with the fact that his family was wiped out by the Red Coats during the revolution, fueled Jackson's hatred of the British every day of his life.
So when during the winter of 1813 Jackson arrived in Natchez with 1,500 Tennessee volunteers in route to New Orleans to fight the British, what he did here solidified his reputation as a man of iron will who would do anything for the men who served under him.
Encamped on McCullough's plantation northeast of Natchez at the Mississippi Territorial capital of Washington, he allowed his men to rest briefly after the long journey by flatboats. The winter passage was so cold that the flatboats transporting the volunteers from Tennessee broke ice along the Cumberland and Ohio rivers before reaching the Mississippi, where chunks of ice floated southward.
Dr. Samuel Cartwright, a longtime Natchez doctor who set the standard in the 1840s for treatment of the yellow fever, said that "while occupied in disciplining and drilling his troops, he (Jackson) received orders to disband them, and deliver every article of public property to General Wilkinson, of the regular service."
But Jackson refused to obey the order because, said Cartwright, of "his moral obligations...He had pledged the faith and honour of a soldier, to his men, to their mothers, and to their wives, before he took them from home, that he would act as a father towards them, and would see them all safely back that did not gloriously fall in the service of their country.
"To leave one hundred and fifty of his men on the sick list, fifty-six not able to raise their heads, and the balance of his troops, without money, or means to defray their expenses home, thus forcing them to enlist in the regular service against their will, would, he thought, be a moral delinquency on his part, which nothing could excuse."
When Wilkinson reportedly pressed Jackson to obey his orders, Jackson stood firm and "threatened to drum any recruiting officer out of his camp, who should come among his men to decoy any of them into the regular service until he got them home. He was their protector and he would not let them be forced by their necessities to enlist."
The quartermaster of the Army then "refused the necessary supply of wagons, to transport the sick." Wilkinson ordered Jackson to return to the military any government property, and tell the men to go home. But how would they get home, Jackson protested, without a penny to their name, few horses and not an ounce of provisions?
So, says Cartwright, "General Jackson gave up his own horses to them, borrowed on his own account...to defray the expenses of the troops, and went on foot with the common soldier, through the wilderness to Nashville."
It was during this journey back home that Jackson's men gave him the endearing name, "Old Hickory."
Cartwright made his remarks on July 12, 1845, while eulogizing Jackson during a ceremony in Natchez.
HOW NATCHEZ LEARNED OF AMERICAN VICTORY
Months after Jackson led his troops back home from Natchez and following the war with the Creeks, he was ordered again to New Orleans, and this time he made it there and soundly defeated the British even though the war had already ended. Messages to leaders of both the American and British camps didn't arrive until after Jackson had whipped the foe he so despised.
Natchez and Concordia had sent off scores of volunteers to assist Jackson and day after passing day residents awaited word on the outcome of the battle and the war.
A man named John Mullanphy, a cotton trader from Missouri, told a man named John F. Darby how Natchez received word that peace had been declared between the U.S. and Great Britain. Mullanphy was a cotton speculator and had a large supply of cotton bales in New Orleans when Jackson confiscated some to use as breastworks for the battlefield.
When Mullanphy found Jackson on the battlefield one day he protested.
"This is your cotton?" Jackson asked. "Then no one has a better right to defend it. Take a musket and stand in the ranks."
"After the battle was over," Darby wrote, "Mr. Mullanphy said he could hear people on all sides saying they would look to the government for their cotton; and he knew it would take a long time to get money out of the government. Great delay, much expense, and an act of Congress would have been required."
So Mullanphy made a proposal to Jackson. If Jackson would return to him all "sound bales not torn by cannon balls or damaged in any way," Mullanphy pledged to release "all claims upon the government." Jackson agreed.
Mullanphy salvaged what cotton he could and quickly sold it "for great loss at auction for three to four cents a pound." Afterward, he headed north having previously hired "a couple of men to take a skiff and row him up the Mississippi River to Natchez. They ate and slept in the skiff."
After docking under-the-hill, Mullanphy walked up to the top of the bluff and "sauntered around" when late in the evening the sound of a horse's hooves pounding the earth was heard in the distance.
Soon appeared a post rider, shouting, "Peace! Peace!"
Now Natchez knew.
NATCHEZ WELCOMES JACKSON THE HERO
A few weeks later Jackson, an American hero following his victory at New Orleans, and a portion of the Army headed back for Tennessee. Major John Reid, Jackson's aid and military secretary, wrote his mother from Natchez on April 20, 1815, a glorious spring day:
"We are thus far on our way home. We left New Orleans on the 6th amid the lamentations and benedictions of men, women and children. It is impossible for you to imagine the gratitude and kindness which all classes and ages show to the General. He is everywhere held as the savior of the country...he has been feted and caressed. He is regarded as a prodigy and the women and children and old men line the road and gaze at him as they would at an elephant, or some other strange animal.
"This sort of attention makes him feel very awkwardly. He pulls off his hat and bows graciously, but as though his spirit was humbled and abashed. He arrived this morning (in Natchez) and is now at church, whither I have been prevented accompanying him by a great deal of business which must be transacted before we leave this place. Of all persons living who are not professed Christians, he certainly feels most like one, if I may judge from the manner in which he often expresses himself to me in his retired and private moments. Nothing seems to shock his feelings more, nothing will he bear with less patience, than the least word uttered in disrespect of the Christian religion.
"We shall probably reach home by the tenth of next month, and perhaps in a short time afterwards, set out for Washington City. If we do, we will pass through Virginia and make you a visit. I am satisfied you will be pleased with the plain and frank manner of this really great man, but you may probably like him most on account of his kindness to me. Hasty in his temper, he certainly has the best and most glorious heart in the world."
"Tonight the town (Natchez) will be illuminated, and tomorrow there is a dinner, and in the evening a ball to be given Mr. Jackson (at the military academy at nearby Washington.) This we may expect in almost every little town through which he passes. They are ceremonies he would gladly dispense with, if it could be done without seeming to slight the kind intentions and grateful feelings of the citizens."
Jackson left Natchez never to return, but, oh, what military and public men once walked the grounds there and at the territorial capital of Washington. Here, Jackson, the future President, was celebrated; Aaron Burr, the former vice-president, tried for treason; Gen. James Wilkinson, the commanding general of the U.S. Army, relieved of his duties; and Gen. Winfield Scott, a future commanding general, made a name for himself. And there were so many more in the days when Natchez was the most exciting place to live in all of the country.
JACKSON STATUE CONTROVERSY
Eight years after his death in 1856, the City of New Orleans honored Jackson with a statue of the general mounted atop a horse with its two forelegs raised off the ground in the park known as Jackson Square.
More than a century later, a concerned citizen wrote the Chamber of Commerce, which turned the letter over to the city council, reporting that the statue was symbolically incorrect because a horse in that stance meant that the hero astride the animal had died in battle. He added that a horse with one hoof lifted meant the hero died later of battle wounds and a horse with all four hooves on the ground transported a hero who died later of natural causes.
New Orleans Mayor Victor Schiro said the city was "faced with what the French call a 'fait accompli.' That is, tradition decrees that since Jackson died in bed and not in battle, all of his horses' feet should rest upon the ground." He asked the citizens how to resolve the issue.
A former tour guide made everything right, however, by writing that for military equestrian statues a raised left front hoof means the rider was seriously wounded during battle, a right foot lifted in the air means the rider died a natural death but that both front legs off the ground signify the rider achieved greater glory. Jackson's greater glory was the Presidency.
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