New Exhibit on Lawyers in the Battle of New Orleans
2017 marks the 202nd anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans fought on January 8, 1815. The 300th Anniversary of the City of New Orleans will be celebrated in 2018. To commemorate these historic events, the Law Library of Louisiana is highlighting lawyers who fought under Major General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Mary Ann Wegmann, Law Library of Louisiana graduate student intern and attorney working towards a master’s degree in history at the University of New Orleans, recently completed an exhibit entitled Jackson’s Bodyguard: Lawyers Who Fought in the Battle of New Orleans. Funded in part by a Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities grant, through the Supreme Court of Louisiana Historical Society, this exhibit in the Louisiana Supreme Court Museum features historical documents and images that tell the stories of these attorney-soldiers who guarded Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. The museum, located on the first floor of the Louisiana Supreme Court building, is free and open to the public during business hours.
Captain Peter V. Ogden’s Company of Orleans Dragoons, a cavalry unit, served as Jackson’s bodyguard. At least nine members of this company were American lawyers, including John Dick, Alfred Hennen, Columbus Lawson, Henry Johnson, Nathan Morse, John Nicholson, Frederick Haldimand Summer, Fielding Turner, and George Augustus Waggaman. The exhibit includes brief biographies of these nine lawyers, as well as Andrew Jackson, himself a lawyer and judge.
Henry Johnson, born in Virginia and a member of the Virginia bar, moved to the Territory of Orleans in 1809, before Louisiana became a state. An “H. Johnson,” presumed to be Henry Johnson, is listed as a member of Captain Peter V. Ogden’s Company of Orleans Dragoons, who served at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-1815. He has recently been in the news with regard to his role as a purchaser of slaves from Georgetown University. Historical documents show that in 1838, the Jesuits at Georgetown in Washington, D.C., sold their slaves to Henry Johnson, then serving as a Congressman from Louisiana. Johnson was one of two Louisiana residents who purchased 272 enslaved persons from Fr. Thomas Mulledy, head of the United States Jesuits at Georgetown, for $115,000. These Georgetown slaves were transported from Washington to Louisiana sugar plantations.
In 1818, Henry Johnson was elected United States Senator from Louisiana, filling the vacancy caused by the death of Senator William C.C. Claiborne, the first governor of Louisiana. Johnson served as senator until 1824, when he was elected the fifth governor of Louisiana. Johnson was elected to the United States Congress in 1834, serving until 1839. He ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor in 1838 and 1842. In 1841, political opponents questioned Johnson’s military service at the Battle of New Orleans, publishing in the Baton Rouge Gazette, “because in 1815, at the time of the English invasion, Mr. Johnson did not prove himself a Louisianian at heart by defending his adopted State, nor a true American by bravely combatting for one of the sisters of the great federal family.”
On January 8, 1864, the New Orleans Daily Picayune named Governor Henry Johnson as one of the three surviving veterans of “Ogden’s Company of Cavalry.” Out of five hundred and seventy-six men mustered into service in December 1814, only twenty-six were living on the 49th anniversary of the battle in 1864.
To learn more about Henry Johnson and the other lawyers who guarded Major General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, please visit the Jackson’s Bodyguard exhibit at the Louisiana Supreme Court Museum.