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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Battle of New Orleans - I Was There

"In 1814 we took a little trip - along with Colonel Jackson down the might Mississipp. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans - and found the bloody British in the town of New Orleans."

In 1957 - it was the number one song in the nation for 5 weeks - and cemented in America's mind all the folklore. 

Today I rode my folding bike 9 miles south of downtown New Orleans to Chalmette - the actual site of the battle. It was a beautiful but breezy ride - and a wonderful trip back into history. The Battle of New Orleans was not fought in New Orleans. It did not occur in 1814. And the biggest blunder - the battle was fought two weeks after the peace treaty between England and America was signed in Belgium.

The battle was fought on January 8th 1815. It only took two hours. It may have been one of the most lopsided battles in history. The real hero of the battle  was not Andrew Jackson - but Jean Lafitte - the pirate from Barataria - a private country about 20 miles southwest of town. Lafitte provided an arsenal of guns and ammo. His men build a giant rampart to deny the British access up the river. The battle was fought 6 miles south of downtown in Chalmette on a sugar plantation along the river. Andrew Jackson became famous and rode the tide to become the 7th president of the USA.

The ride to the battlefield was very easy. The ground was level - and a 20 MPH tailwind had me coasting in a few places. The battlefield sign popped up on the highway quickly. I pretty well had the national park to myself. 

The battle occurred on Chalmette's sugar plantation. There was a canal between the bay and the river. The American's quickly used the dredgings of the canal to build a 7 foot rampart - which left a deep moat in front of the wall. The Brits attempted to breech the wall in 3 places and were cut down by fire from the cannons provided by John Lafitte. In the end only 20 Americans were killed against 2000 British. The red coats limped home only to find out the battle was fought after the peace treaty. 

Up until the Civil War - January 8th was a national holiday celebrated similarly to Independence Day. Louisiana built a tall monument to honor the battle. This area was under 15 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina. The tower is now closed to foot traffic blaming damage during the hurricane.

Chalmette's home was completely destroyed during the battle. A subsequent sugar plantation mansion sits on the site. 

After visiting the battlefield - I rode through a national cemetery started for union soldiers of the Civil War. 15000 are buried there - 6000 in unmarked graves. There are some soldiers from later wars.

The town of Chalmette received tremendous damage during Katrina. The population went from 22000 to 11000. Some homes are rebuild - some still lay in shambles. Many people live in small trailers. Some even live in camper vans. The town supports a large oil refinery along the river. One of those oil tanks was lifted during the storm - covering the area with a slick layer and polluting the ground. 

This monument celebrates the American victory in the Battle of New Orleans.

The battle occurred on the stubble of this sugar cane field.

All that is left of the battle is this canal and the rampart next to it. Soldier dredged the canal and used the mud to build the rampart.

This  plantation on the battlefield was build after the war. It was left there to represent where Chalmette's home was.

The battlefield is relatively small. The battle was over in 2 hours - 20 Americans died - 2000 British bought the farm.

The Greek style antebellum plantation was standard ware in the deep South.

The plaque explains the plantation.

One can visit the battlefield via a river boat from New Orleans. I chose bike instead. This levee was built to prevent flooding.

During the battle there was a natural 3 foot tall levee protected the battlefield. The levee was built from the river's annual floods. You have to look up to see the ships.

There were very few monuments on the field. This one honors Major Sam Spotts who fired the first shot. He is not buried there.

Today this mansion cannot see the river because of the flood prevention levee.

It was a nicer ride to the battlefield than back to the hotel. Going east the 20 mph wind was on my back. On the way home I was tired - I had to pedal int the wind - and my face got burned. 

Major Sam Spotts memorial on the battlefield. In this battle there were troops of free black men and other volunteers from the city. Pirates from Jean Lafitte's Barataria also fought here. There is no evidence that he was in the battle. 

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