From the author of best ' selling works of history and fiction, a fast ' paced, enthralling retelling of one of the greatest battles fought on the North American continent, and of the two men who ' against all expectations and odds ' joined forces to repel the British invasion of New Orleans in December 1814.
It has all the ingredients of a high ' flying adventure story. Unbeknownst to the combatants, the War of l812 has ended, but Andrew Jackson, a brave, charismatic American general ' sick with dysentery and commanding a beleaguered garrison ' leads a desperate struggle to hold on to the city of New Orleans and to thwart the army that defeated Napoleon. Helping him is a devilish French pirate, Jean Laffite, who rebuffs a substantial bribe from the British and together with his erstwhile enemy saves the city from invasion ' much to the grateful chagrin of New Orleanians shocked to find themselves on the same side as the brazen buccaneer. Winston Groom brings his considerable storytelling gifts to the re ' creation of this remarkable battle and to the portrayal of its main players. Against the richly evocative backdrop of French New Orleans, he illuminates Jackson ' s brilliant strategy and tactics, as well as the antics and cutthroat fighting prowess of Laffite and his men.
Patriotic Fire brings this extraordinary military achievement vividly to life.
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May 02, 2006
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Excerpt from Patriotic Fire by Winston Groom
By late autumn 1814, the United States of America, a nation barely thirty years old, was shaky, divided, and on the verge of dissolving. The treasury was empty, most public buildings in Washington, including the Capitol, the White House, and the Library of Congress, had been burned to ashes by a victorious and vengeful British army. New England, the wealthiest and most populous section of the new country, was threatening to secede from the still fragile Union. After two years of war with Great Britain, it appeared to many Americans that their experiment in democracy ' the likes of which the world had never seen ' might only have been some strange, nonsustainable political trial and, worse, that a return to the unwelcome fraternal embrace of the English kings seemed inevitable.
American seaports from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico were blockaded by the British navy and the economy was in ruins because of it, with goods and crops piled up and rotting on the wharves. The U.S. Army was stymied and stalemated; the navy, such as it was, had fared little better, except on the Great Lakes. There was finger-pointing, recrimination, and torment everywhere, from the Congress to the press to ordinary citizens; no one was spared.
Then, as autumn leaves began to fall, a mighty British armada appeared off the Louisiana coast with the stated purpose of capturing New Orleans, America ' s crown jewel of the West and gateway to all commerce in the great Mississippi River Basin, a misfortune that would have split the United States in two. New Orleans was as nearly defenseless as a city could be in those days, with only two understrength regular army regiments of about 1,100 soldiers and a handful of untrained milita to throw against the nearly 20,000 seasoned veterans of the British army and navy who were descending upon it as swiftly and surely as a tropical cyclone.
As word of the impending invasion reached decimated and burned-out Washington, President James Madison and Secretary of War James Monroe sent urgent pleas for the Western states to come to the aid of their stricken countrymen west of the Mississippi. Backwoodsmen from Tennessee and Kentucky were thus recruited into makeshift army units, but they were far off ' as much as seven hundred miles by land and two thousand miles by water ' and river transportation was mostly by slow river rafts and flatboats. It was doubtful they could get there in time. Orders from the secretary of war also went out to the legendary Indian fighter Andrew Jackson, then in nearby Mobile, Alabama, after having defeated the large tribe of Creeks who had just perpetrated the bloodiest massacre in American history. Would he go immediately to New Orleans and take charge