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Story Archives: How Old Hickory became legend at Natchez
|How Old Hickory became legend at Natchez|
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.
Jackson 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 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 vessels 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, said "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 "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.
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