December 1814: its economy in tatters, its capital city of Washington, D.C., burnt to the ground, a young America was again at war with the militarily superior English crown. With an enormous enemy armada approaching New Orleans, two unlikely allies teamed up to repel the British in one of the greatest battles ever fought in North America.The defense of New Orleans fell to the backwoods general Andrew Jackson, who joined the raffish French pirate Jean Laffite to command a ramshackle army made of free blacks, Creole aristocrats, Choctaw Indians, gunboat sailors and militiamen. Together these leaders and their scruffy crew turned back a British force more than twice their number. Offering an enthralling narrative and outsized characters, Patriotic Fire is a vibrant recounting of the plots and strategies that made Jackson a national hero and gave the nascent republic a much-needed victory and surge of pride and patriotism.
Groom is a novelist (Forrest Gump) and popular historian, with a string of well-reviewed books on war (e.g., Shrouds of Glory). A diligent researcher, he nevertheless has no pretensions as a scholar. His strength is a remarkable ability to recreate and revitalize events long considered familiar. He's best at structuring his narrative around personalities, and the Battle of New Orleans offers him a colorful cast. Andrew Jackson was a backwoods politician wearing the epaulettes of a general. Smuggler and buccaneer Jean Laffitte rejected a British bribe to become an American patriot. Around them coalesced a hard-bitten army. Five thousand regular soldiers and militiamen from Tennessee and Kentucky; free blacks and Creole aristocrats; displaced Acadians; gunboat sailors and pirates turned artillerymen all confronted twice their number of British, most of them veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. At stake was New Orleans and the Mississippi River basin: the developing heartland of an expanding nation. Groom is defensibly hyperbolic in describing Jackson's unexpected victory as the wellspring of a pride and patriotism that endured into the 20th century. His vivid account of how that victory was won merits a place in both public and private collections. Photos, maps.