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Dickie Scruggs Writes About History

Before going to federal prison for a bribery conspiracy, Dickie Scruggs was recognized as one of the country’s leading trial lawyers. He and Attorney General Mike Moore led the successful legal assault on the Tobacco Industry that resulted in a $250 billion settlement for the states’ costs treating sick smokers. Scruggs is a former Navy fighter pilot who obtained his undergraduate and law degrees from Ole Miss. He and his wife Diane have contributed heavily to the University, and now make their home in Oxford. Scruggs has been a longtime student of military history, and was kind enough to write this article exclusively for HottyToddy.

Dickie and Diane Scruggs
Dickie and Diane Scruggs

Serendipity and The Battle Of New Orleans
I don’t recommend it, but federal prison is a good place to catch up on one’s reading. That’s how, anyway, I passed a lot of time. I had always been a military history buff, so I read about battles. It always fascinated me how in war, as in life, serendipity often plays the deciding role.
The improbable American victory at New Orleans at the close of the War of 1812, a battle in which several of my forebears fought, is a good example. Almost exactly 200 years ago, a fortuitous collusion between a frontier general and a dashing pirate whipped the finest army England had ever fielded. The general, of course, was Andrew Jackson. The pirate: Jean Lafitte. Both men were hard-bitten and determined, and mostly lucky–a quality each vainly attributed to a divine endowment.
New Orleans in 1814 was a city of mixed loyalties, having been only recently acquired by the United States in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase. For the mostly French and Spanish Creole citizenry, the evasion of American duties on imported goods was the national sport if not their birthright. Hence, the pirate Lafitte, operating openly in disdain of an arrest warrant, had a ready market for his ill-gotten loot, which he staged, along with a veritable arsenal, at Barataria Bay south of the City.
When Jackson arrived in New Orleans in late 1814 to defend it against a forewarned British attack from the sea, he had only a few units of regular troops and some poorly armed frontier militia. They, like Jackson, had fought Indians– not highly trained and equipped European troops. But most worrisome of all for Jackson, he had little artillery, powder or ammunition.
Here, serendipity saved the day, for Jean Lafitte had both an arsenal and trained artillerists. Lafitte, with a quick eye for the main chance, offered his services to Jackson in exchange for a full pardon for himself and his men. Yet Jackson, who had declared martial law, at first shunned Lafitte, calling him and his men “hellish banditti”. But when the British fleet dropped anchor in the Mississippi Sound and his position became ever more desperate, Jackson reconsidered and cut the deal.
Jackson then cleverly integrated Lafitte’s erstwhile pirates into his ranks, assigning to Lafitte and his brother, Dominique You, key segments of the American defensive works between the river and swamps south of the City and  stationing Lafitte’s cannoneers on gunboats to enfilade the British ranks from the river.  When the British attack finally came at dawn on January 8, 1815, Lafitte’s “hellish banditti” loaded their cannon with double-shotted canister and grapeshot. The effect was devastating. Hundreds of British troops, along with all of their senior generals, were mowed down and routed before they ever reached the American line. Fewer than one hundred Americans were lost, giving Jackson a victory that electrified the country and secured the legends of both Jackson and Lafitte.
The adventitious wedding of these two unlikely allies determined not just the outcome of a battle, but later, the presidency and destiny of the United States.

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