War is hell—and it doesn’t get easier when gators and giant skeeters are involved, to say nothing of the shredding cannon and musket fire that punctuates Forrest Gump author Groom’s latest.
The last couple of publishing seasons seem to have belonged, for unknown reasons, to Andrew Jackson. Running a touch late, Groom continues the meme, offering up a study that doesn’t add much to recent works such as William Davis’s The Pirates Laffite (2005) and H.W. Brands’s Andrew Jackson (2005) save for good storytelling. Groom’s excursions into history have usually been provoked by discovering that some relative or another played a part, and this is no exception: A distant forebear turns out to have been commended by Jackson himself for bravery under fire, which is prologue and pretext enough to sustain a narrative that, while not particularly original, suffers only from a certain breeziness (“Andrew Jackson’s brand of warfare . . . was certainly no picnic for the Indians”; “I’m not proud that my ancestors owned slaves, but neither do I subscribe to the historic fallacy of assigning present-day ethics or morals to such a widely accepted practice by people who lived nearly two hundred years ago”). That narrative turns on a few key moments that are well known to historians but perhaps not to general readers, such as the privateer and putative pirate Jean Laffite’s rejecting British enticements to join them and instead throwing his lot in with Old Hickory, only to be betrayed by an ungrateful U.S. government. Groom finds much drama in all the unpleasantries, including some advanced by the noble heroes of New Orleans, as when Jackson orders the execution of supposed deserters and when one psychopathic Tennessean revels in slaughtering unfortunate redcoat sentries.
Skillfully done, if not strictly necessary, matching the Monday morning quarterbacking of the practiced military historian with good novelistic technique.