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Profile - Andrew Jackson, Soldier, President

The first “log cabin” president, though born in Virginia, Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767-June 8, 1845), was the first Chief Executive to be elected from a state that was not part of the original Thirteen Colonies. Jackson came from a family that is so obscure it has virtually no history; The earliest recorded ancestor is the president’s grandfather, who lived in Ireland, a man of “Scots-Irish” ancestry. 

Jackson’s parents, Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, and his two older brothers, Hugh and Robert, migrated to America in 1765, where the future president was born shortly after his father died. 

On the outbreak of the American Revolution, both of Jackson’s older brothers joined the Patriot cause. Hugh Jackson died of heat exhaustion after the Battle of Stono Ferry (June 20, 1779), in South Carolina. A little more than a year later, in July of 1780, young Jackson, then just 13 years old, joined the Continental Army as well. He served as an orderly and messenger, and was under fire during the Battle of Hanging Rock (August 6, 1780). Early in April of 1781, along with his second brother Robert, young Jackson was a member of a small column under Col. Abraham Buford that had been sent to the relief of Charleston, then under siege by the British. 

On April 7th the column was ambushed by mounted Tories under the notorious Banastare Tarleton. Although Buford attempted a defense, Tarleton’s troops rode right through the Americans, sabering and shooting as they went. The little American force was virtually annihilated; of 400 men, over 100 were killed, and the rest captured, including 200 wounded.   Jackson and his brother succeeded in escaping, and found refuge in the home of a local loyalist, but they were shortly betrayed by a local Tory. When British troops entered the house, one of the officers ordered the young Jackson to polish his boots. Jackson refused. At that the enraged officer beat the young boy with the flat of his sword, leaving Jackson several scars, including one on his face. His brother Robert was similarly mistreated, and both young men were taken as prisoners; Only one other president has ever been a prisoner-of-war, George Washington. 

While in British custody, Jackson’s brother Robert contracted smallpox. The brothers were released in a prisoner exchange on April 25th. Although their widowed mother, Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, nursed Robert, he died two days later. Mrs. Jackson later went to Charleston, where she served as a volunteer nurse to Americans held captive there, but she died of fever in November of 1781. Thus, by the age of 14 Jackson had lost his mother and both brothers in the Revolutionary War, which may help explain his inveterate hatred of the British. Jackson served to the end of the Revolution, being discharged in 1782.  

After the Revolution, Jackson migrated to Tennessee, where he began to farm the lands granted him as a veteran. He prospered, entered politics, acquired a reputation as a duelist, and served in the militia. In 1802 he was elected a major general of the Tennessee militia. Early in the War of 1812 President Madison gave him a commission as a major general of volunteers.

During the war Jackson performed numerous important services, particularly in fighting Britain’s Indian and Spanish allies. He defeated the Creek Indians at Talladega in November 1813 and again at Horseshoe Bend in March 1814, after first insuring that the women and children had been evacuated from the Indian fortifications. These victories earned him a major generalcy in the regular army.

As Spain was allied with Britain, in October of 1814 Jackson undertook an invasion of Spanish Florida, capturing Pensacola. Placed in command of the Gulf Coast, in January of 1815 he defended New Orleans, inflicting a devastating defeat on the British with minor losses to his own troops. This battle, the most spectacular American victory of the war, actually took place after a treaty of peace had been signed, but before word of it had arrived. Although New Orleans had absolutely no influence on the outcome of the war, it has attained mythic importance in American history.

In 1817 Jackson was ordered to negotiate with the Spanish authorities in Florida in order to curb Seminole Indian raids into Georgia. The Spanish refused to cooperate in suppressing the raids. Although under orders not to violate Spanish territory unless in “hot pursuit”, Jackson invaded Florida. He burned several Seminole villages, once more occupied Pensacola for a time, and hanged two British citizens whom he claimed were inciting the Indian attacks. An effort in Congress to censure him failed. The principal result of his expedition was that Spain decided to sell Florida to the United States in 1819. 

Jackson resigned from the service in 1821. Entering politics, he served for a time in the U.S. Senate, ran unsuccessfully for president in 1824, but was elected president in 1828, and was re-elected in 1832

Jackson’s presidency was relatively peaceful. The most notable military event was the “Black Hawk War” which lasted a few months in Illinois and adjacent territories in 1832, but involved the largest concentration of American military force between the end of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Jackson championed "Indian Removal," that is, the forced relocation of Native Americans from the southern states to the Indian Territory, today known as Oklahoma. Beginning in 1831 and continuing until 1837 nearly 50,000 people were relocated, including their slaves, often under considerable hardship, a movement supervised by the army. 

Potentially the most explosive event of Jackson's presidency occurred in 1832, when South Carolina sparked the Nullification Crisis.  Jackson promptly dispatched Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott to South Carolina and began moving troops around, to express his determination to enforce federal authority, and the issue was resolved in a symbolic compromise.

During Jackson’s administration some effort was made to improve the armed forces and reform the militia, of which Jackson was a champion, though not unaware of its limitations. The president was quite hostile to the Marine Corps and West Point, and made several attempts to abolish both, while interfering in their management and discipline.

Although Jackson wanted to close the place, several of his kinsmen managed to attend West Point. His nephew and ward, Andrew Jackson Donelson graduated in 1820, but resigned from the Army just two years later. Donelson’s younger brother, Daniel Smith Donelson, also the president’s ward, graduated from West Point in 1825, but left the Army after only about six months of active duty, to become a cotton planter; he later became a major general in the Confederate Army, and died of natural causes in 1863. Andrew Jackson Donelson, Jr. also graduated from the Military Academy, ranking second in the class of 1848, served in the engineers until he died on active duty in 1859.   Edward G.W. Butler, yet another presidential ward, attended the military academy, graduating in 1820. He served in the artillery, but resigned from the Army in 1831. During the Mexican War (1846-1848) he was named colonel of the 3rd Dragoons, and served until mustered out at the end of the conflict. His son, Edward G.W. Butler, Jr., was killed in action while serving as a major in the 1st Louisiana Volunteers, during the Civil War.

Jackson and his wife were childless.  In late 1809 they adopted one of Mrs. Jackson's sister’s newly born twin sons, naming him Andrew Jackson, Jr.  This young man saw no military service, but his son, Andrew Jackson III, early expressed a desire for a military career. As a result, the former president reportedly left his sword to the young man, with the admonition to "always use it in defence [sic] of our glorious Union.” Andrew Jackson III graduated from West Point 15th in the Class of 1858, and was commissioned in the Cavalry. When the Civil War broke out, he failed in his word to use the presidential sword “in defence of our glorious Union,” resigning from the service to enter the Confederate Army, in which he rose to colonel and commander of the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery. Captured at Vicksburg in mid-1863, he apparently remained inactive in the war thereafter. His two sons, Andrew IV and Albert M. Jackson, both served in World War I; Albert joined the Canadian Army in 1914, three years before the U.S. entered the war. 

In 1813 Jackson and his wife had informally adopted an infant Creek Indian boy found on the field after the Battle of Talladega, naming him Lyncoya Jackson, but he died of consumption when he was about 17.

Further Reading: The best recent biography of “Old Hickory” is Robert V. Remini’s The Life of Andrew Jackson (Newtown, Ct.: American Political Biography Press, 2003).

 


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