The last battle of the War of 1812 was fought in 1815 when General Andrew Jackson defeated the British in a battle at New Orleans, Louisiana. A folk song was written about the battle called “The Eighth of January.”
Many years later, in 1955, a teacher named Jimmy Driftwood from Arkansas, put lyrics to the song and renamed it “The Battle of New Orleans. It was another four years, in 1959, before singer Johnny Horton noticed the song and decided to record it.
It was the second number one in a row that mentioned a United States city, following “Kansas City.” As popular as this made Johnny Horton, it changed the life of Jimmy Driftwood, the writer. He was so in demand that he quit teaching and became a full time songwriter. He would go on to write over 8000 songs over the next twenty years. Besides “The Battle of New Orleans,” his most famous song was “Tennessee Stud” which has been covered by many country artists including Chris LeDoux, Hank Williams, Jr. and Johnny Cash.
Johnny Horton had only been recording for about a year when he recorded “The Battle of New Orleans,” but it was already his second number one on the country chart. He would have one more before 1959 was over. He crossed over to pop with this song and then, in 1960 with two more, “Sink the Bismarck” and “North to Alaska.” Neither of them were number one pop, but “North to Alaska” was number one country. “The Battle of New Orleans” won two Grammy Awards, one for Song of the Year and one for Best Country and Western Recording.
I think Johnny Horton would have been one of the great country singers of all time (maybe, he was, anyway.) In 1960, Johnny started having premonitions of his impending death, so he refused to fly anywhere, instead driving to his shows, but on the night of November 5, 1960, he and two band mates were traveling from Austin, Texas to Shreveport, Louisiana in a car and they collided with a truck and Johnny was killed. His mates lived but were both injured pretty bad. This ended the career of, what could have been, a great country star.
“The Battle of New Orleans” debuted on the pop chart on March 4, 1959 and spent six weeks at number one. It also spent ten weeks at the top of the country chart.