“In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip…”
I hate to admit it, but that old Johnny Horton song was about the sum of my knowledge concerning the battle of New Orleans until a recent ride to Chalmette, Louisiana. That ride took me to the National Park which today commemorates that pivotal event in American history officially known as the Battle of New Orleans.
The address of the Chalmette Battlefield is 8606 West St. Bernard Highway, Chalmette Louisiana, so the Battle OF New Orleans was actually the Battle FOR New Orleans, since it took place in St. Bernard Parish, just down-river from the famous city.
What history refers to as the Battle of New Orleans was actually a series of skirmishes that began before Christmas in 1814 with the final deciding battle taking place on January 8, 1815.
By the way, the Johnny Horton song apparently demoted Andrew Jackson a couple of ranks since he was actually a Major General not a Colonel at the time.
Today the Battlefield is a beautiful green space in what is mostly a densely industrialized area.
The first thing you will notice as you enter the gate is a one hundred foot obelisk which looks very much like the Washington Monument. Built to honor those who fought and died in the battle of New Orleans, the monument was actually proposed in 1852 but not completed until 1908.
The battlefield area is lined on one side with re-enforced earthworks and cannon representative of those used by Jackson’s troops in defense of the city.
The visitor’s center includes an interpretive exhibit on the battle as well as artifacts and other objects and art from the period. It is a great place to learn all about the War of 1812 and the significance of the events that took place here.
Many people like to point out that the war was over when the battle of New Orleans was fought. Not true, according to Park Ranger Ron Merrell. While it is technically true the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on Christmas Eve 1814, it had not been ratified, so the war was far from over — In fact, fighting actually continued in Louisiana until the official British retreat on January 18, 1815.
Merrell says the Battle of New Orleans was important for a number of reasons, because it helped establish the young United States as an important player in world affairs and it of course made Andrew Jackson a national hero ultimately carrying him to the White House.
Speaking of houses, there is also a beautiful old home located on the Battlefield. Known as the Beauregard House it was constructed on the property about 18 years following the battle. The National Park Service restored it in the 1950’s and portions of it are open for tours. Some people claim it is haunted, but I didn’t see anything unusual, of course it was mid-day when I visited.
Early next year, there will be a series of events in the New Orleans area celebrating the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans. You know, a ride to New Orleans is a great ride anytime but if you are a history buff now would be the time to start planning a trip to the Crescent City.
For more information on the Chalmette Battlefield and the upcoming Bicentennial here are a few links that might be helpful.
Hope to see you in New Orleans in January. Until then, I’ll see you on the road.
Oh and one other thing, I promised Ranger Merrell I would not use that Johnny Horton song, but he said it was okay as long as I pointed out this historical fact: The tune to the Horton song is actually taken from an old 19th century fiddle tune called “The Eighth of January” which was written of course to commemorate the Battle of New Orleans.
Watch out, riding a motorcycle can be a very enlightening experience!