Monday, May 16, 2016

Down to Chalmette

Yesterday being a nice day, I made a little trip inspired by Old AF Sarge's recent post.
Chalmette Battlefield. The place where the last battle of the War of 1812 was fought in January of 1815.

The Treaty of Ghent had been signed a month prior (but not yet ratified), and this treaty "officially" ended the war, but none of the thousands of British and Americans who assembled here knew about it, so the British attacked, doing their best to grab control of New Orleans and by extension, the entire Mississippi River Basin and the lands it gave access to. In their way: Andrew Jackson, American hero, leading a pick-up fighting force comprised of a few regular army types, volunteer militias from Kentucky and Tennessee, sailors and marines from a few sunken gunboats, local landowners and other members of the creole elite society, a band of Choctaw Indians who were loyal to the Americans, and a passel of pirates from the Barataria base of Jean Lafitte, who came with cannons and powder that the Americans lacked. (Pretty sure Old NFO was around somewhere too, but cannot confirm at this time.)

The battlefield looked like this:
There was a small canal that ran from a mangrove swamp where St. Claude Avenue and the rail line are today down to the river. The Americans threw up an earthwork on the New Orleans side of that canal and emplaced what cannon they had, a mix of artillery that included naval guns from privateers.

It's been restored as much as could be to what it looked like then.
Use your imagination and ignore the freighter at anchor on the river behind the battlefield. That wasn't actually there in 1815.

Here's a view of the American defensive line where the cannon crews and riflemen awaited the British as the sun was coming up that morning.
Looking out over the field in the direction that the British came from. The British had hoped to advance under cover of some convenient fog, but it lifted suddenly when they were about half way across. Awkward...
They made perfect targets in the early morning light. Making things worse for them, a unit of Redcoats who'd been tasked with bringing up ladders and fascines which were essential to bridging the canal and scaling the earthworks were out of position, so when the British troops who survived the fire pouring into them as they attacked got to the edge, they stalled and were cut down en masse by the muskets, rifles and cannon on the other side. In less than half an hour, the British suffered 700 killed, including General Packingham himself. They also had over 1,400 wounded and lost 500 more as prisoners, most of whom only survived by playing dead until the shooting stopped.

The Americans only had 13 troops killed. It was a total shellacking.

On this day, there were no soldiers, red-coated or otherwise. But the cannon were there.

Of course I brought my gun crew.

"Battery Five manned dogged and ready, Sir!"
"Bring on the Brits!"

The dogs got down in the canal too, which still has as much nasty black mud in it as it ever did.
"OK, I'm muddy now. Let's get back in the car!"

We strolled around for a couple of hours, and as the main gates were locked we pretty much had the place to ourselves because, while you can walk in, it's a bit of a hike in the heat.

Chalmette Dock just next door. Also not here in 1815.

I took the hounds over the levee so they could get a drink of Mississippi River water.

And along came a tow boat.

Murphy's just gotta run.

And play on logs.

Belle's a bit more of a Daddy's girl and just wanted to stay close to me once she got her drink.

It really was a beautiful day, and being surrounded by history like this made it perfect.
Here's an observation tower built as a monument after the war.

At the base are bronze plaques listing the units that fought here.

Andrew Jackson was truly the hero of the day and the savior of much of America, because had the Brits won here, it's doubtful that they'd have left the whole Mississippi region, treaty or not.

Harriet Tubman, by all reports, was nowhere to be seen.


  1. I just now getting over the Marty Robbins "Ballad of the Alamo" from my head and now you sneak in Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans"!!

    Oh, and folks, The New Orleans Greys were THERE at the Alamo. Yes it was more than just Crockett's folks and some Texicans.

    We are much obliged! The New Orleans people are one tough bunch.

    1. We Texians are aware, they had one of the only flags at the Alamo.

  2. Thanks for the history lesson! The dogs are so cute, especially Miss Belle.

  3. "Out of place"? I read they got up to where they were supposed to be but SHAZAM they had forgotten the ladders. "I thought you were supposed to bring them..."

  4. Error alert! In your second sentence, you wrote "January of 1814." It was, of course, 1815. In January 1814 the British hadn't even burned Washington or thrown rockets at Fort McHenry yet.

    1. Got me there, and you're right. Fixing...

  5. Harriet Tubman, by all reports, was nowhere to be seen.

    Since she was born in 1822...

  6. Great post Murph. Love the cannon.

    Another place on my "battlefields I must visit" list. (Of course I have one of those, doesn't everyone?)

    1. Well let me know when you want to visit. This is 4 miles from my house.

  7. Fantastic! Looks like a great day and super info-tour. Congratulations.

  8. Anonymous12:59 AM

    Thank you for the pictures and the history lesson.