Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize winner, New England sports fanatic (do not call him a Masshole, people, the man is from Maine), and author, most recently, of The Divided Ground: Indians Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, is working on a book about the War of 1812. He’s here to tell us about The Battle of New Orleans, which took place on this day in 1815.

On January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson’s American forces crushed a British invasion at New Orleans. The carnage was one-sided, killing 300 Britons and wounding another 1,262 – at a cost of only six dead and seven wounded in Jackson’s army. The British survivors withdrew, lifting the threat against New Orleans, the strategic port that controlled the mouth of the Mississippi.

Americans have long celebrated the victory for vindicating their prowess and honor. They delighted in a battle where frontiersmen routed the regular soldiers of Great Britain who had so recently triumphed in Europe over Napoleon’s legions. The battle seemed to prove that American amateurs were better than British professionals, that American freedom bred fighters superior to the automatons of European discipline. And the battle made a national hero of Andrew Jackson. Celebrated as the victor of New Orleans, Jackson won two terms as president, becoming the dominant American politician between the generations of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

In the process, legend has trumped history.

In the battle, the frontier riflemen played second fiddle to the professional artillerymen of the regular United States army. Cannon fire inflicted most of the British casualties. And the American victory also depended on the strongly entrenched position designed by a military engineer – and to the British folly in making a frontal assault across an open field.

In the cruelest twist, many historians have emphasized the folly of a battle fought more than two weeks after British and American diplomats had concluded a peace treaty to end the war. Signed on December 24, 1814 at Ghent in Belgium, the peace treaty did not become known in North America until early February – for want of instant communication in an age when information moved at the pace of sailing ships. Fought after the war had ended, the battle was inconsequential, needlessly killed hundreds – or so many have argued.

But that revision makes light of the battle by taking the treaty too seriously. The peace treaty was shaky, a hasty compromise that did not resolve the major issue that had sparked the war in 1812: the British interference with American merchant ships and sailors. Neither side could give up its principles. The British clung to their naval and commercial supremacy in the world’s oceans as essential to the security of their island-nation. The Americans asserted their national sovereignty to protect ships flying their flag. But in December 1814 both nations desperately wanted peace, because they could no longer afford war. The British faced a renewed crisis in Europe that required repositioning their troops closer to home. The United States verged on bankruptcy and the rupture of the union because of the strains of an expensive and internally divisive war filled with defeats (before New Orleans).

Regarded as more of a truce than a reconciliation, the peace treaty seemed likely to fail within a year or two. The one-sided American victory at New Orleans rendered the treaty more binding by making the British loath ever again to invade the United States – for fear of the cost in lives and money. The British blinked in 1816-1818 when the Americans violated the spirit of the treaty by subordinating the empire’s Indian allies in the Great Lakes Country. Thereafter, the Americans could dominate the North American continent without any real opposition from the British. The victory at New Orleans had belatedly turned a disappointing war into an American triumph. In sum, the battle was a pivotal event in American history, thanks to those professional artillerymen.