In 1814 we took a little trip…

In 1959, Johnny Horton earned a number one hit on the Billboard Charts for the song The Battle of New Orleans.  Written by Jimmy Driftwood, it commemorates the victory of the United States over the British Army at the end of the War of 1812.1

Today, January 8, 2015, commemorates the 200th anniversary of the conclusion of the battle, fought from December 23, 1814 to January 8, 1815.  It was the last important battle of the War of 1812, occurring after the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 (but before the treaty was ratified by both governments in February 1815).2

The Battle of New OrleansAll of this is to set the background of a song that played a significant role in my childhood.  When my father was overseas in the US Navy, he picked up several LPs, including Johnny Horton’s album. It was made from a semi-translucent red plastic, and probably was meant to last more that a few dozen plays. My family defied physics and played that album over and over and over again!

It was a favorite of ours, mostly because the tunes on the album were catchy, and some were slightly silly, and all were easy to remember the lyrics and sing along to (though no one really wants to listen to a Reilly sing). In some ways, this song was one of the theme songs of my life, and had a funny way of popping up again and again.

The first time the song showed up unexpectedly I was a junior in college at NYU, studying Journalism.  I was taking a class taught by Mitchell Stephens about the History of American Journalism.  We were discussing how news traveled during the War of 1812, and the popular belief that the Battle of New Orleans took place after the treaty was signed because the news had not reached the combatants in time to stop the battle.  Out of the blue, Professor Stephens asked if anyone was familiar with the song The Battle of New Orleans.  Without really thinking, I raised my hand, surprised at the question.  He then asked me to sing it!  I wasn’t about to embarrass myself by singing in front of the entire class, but I did recite the lyrics (see box).  I also offered to bring in my Johnny Horton CD to the next class to play the song for the class.  (Yes – I had bought a CD of the album once I had gone off to college.  It helped deal with the homesickness of being almost 3000 miles away from home.)

The second time the song caught me by surprise was the night I first introduced the man who was to become my husband to my family.  It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I brought him home for dinner at the end of the summer before I returned to college for my final year.  I don’t remember now how it came up in conversation, but all of a sudden my entire family simultaneously broke out singing the song, including my mom!  I remember thinking, “Oh my, he’s never going to want to go out with me again!”.  Fortunately, he’s a good sport, and thought it was funny, if a little weird.

To hear the song for yourself, view this YouTube video:

  1.  The Battle of New Orleans, Wikipedia:, Modified 18 Dec 2014, Accessed 5 Jan 2015. 
  2. Battle of New Orleans, Wikipedia:, Modified 2 Jan 2015, Accessed 5 Jan 2015. 

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Three Dot … and commented:
    Reblogging here something by my daughter Larisa Joy Reilly Thomas, posted today on her blog “Roots of Kinship”. Great little family story about one of my favorite songs from my teen years, which took on family significance far exceeding the musical quality of the song!
    Despite its rather unusual subject matter, The Battle of New Orleans won the 1960 Grammy for Best Country & Western song and was 1959’s #1 song on the Billboard Top 100 — see:
    Johnny Horton had several other hits with unlikely subjects, including “Sink the Bismarck”, about the British Navy’s efforts to sink the German battleship Bismarck in World War II, and “Comanche”, about the horse Comanche, which was the sole survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and Custer’s Last Stand.

    Sadly, Horton was killed in an automobile accident on November 5, 1960, near Milano, Texas. Like several others of my favorite singers (including Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and Eddie Cochran) he left us too soon.
    Thanks, Kiddo, for this trip down memory lane!

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