The British Are Going!
In April of 1959, Americans everywhere were singing along to the nation’s No. 1 pop single: Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans.” The tune was stirring and the lyrics, ah, different: “We fired our cannon ‘til the barrel melted down/So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round/We filled his head with cannon balls, and powdered his behind/And when we touched the powder off the gator lost his mind.” Something about this battle still resonated and always will resonate with the nation.
The Battle of New Orleans celebrated its 200th anniversary last winter. The historic fight had profound consequences. Even after their defeat in the Revolutionary War, the British believed their military could return us to colonies. However, they found out that pride comes before a fall. The impending battle terrified New Orleanians. Families packed up and left; citizens quaked in their boarded-up homes. After all, our General Andrew Jackson had an outnumbered, ragtag force including farmers and few professional soldiers. The buildings where the pirate Jean Lafitte helped “Old Hickory” plan the fight still stand in the French Quarter.
Fear so paralyzed the city that the Ursuline nuns spent all night before the battle in front of Our Lady of Prompt Succor praying for intercession. The Prioress vowed to hold an annual Mass of Thanksgiving if we won. We did in little more than a day, and Jackson thanked the nuns personally: “By the blessing of heaven directing the valor of the troops under my command, one of the most brilliant victories in the annals of war was obtained.” The Mass of Thanksgiving is celebrated each year.
Much hung in the balance that January in 1815. The British would have controlled the commerce floating down the Mississippi River. The Louisiana Purchase would have fallen into their hands. Most shockingly, visitors to New Orleans would be eating kidney pie, not gumbo. However, we beat them, and the victory catapulted Andrew Jackson to the presidency.
To really learn about the Battle of New Orleans requires a short trip to the Chalmette Battlefield, located in historic St. Bernard Parish and part of the Jean Lafitte Historical Park and Preserve. The visitor center includes films and exhibits on the War of 1812, while a short walking path takes visitors past markers with maps showing troop movement. Regularly scheduled ranger talks take place Tuesday through Saturday.
In 2016 the Chalmette Battlefield will hold its annual Battle of New Orleans anniversary Jan. 8-9, which will include living history reenactors and presentations by local historians.
Visitors looking to delve deeper into Battle of New Orleans history should consider attending General Pakenham’s Final Supper, Jan. 7, at the historic Orleans Ballroom of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. The commemorative event, open to the public by reservation, includes cocktails and a ceremonial five-course dinner of period dishes by candlelight along with appearances by re-enactors portraying General Andrew Jackson and General Packenham, commander of the British Army during the Battle of New Orleans.
By Dr. Lee Horvitz