The Chalmette National Cemetery is in St. Bernard Parish 9 miles east of downtown New Orleans. Now it’s surrounded by not-so-beautiful industries, like oil refineries and port facilities. It, however, remains inspirational and worth a visit like other national cemeteries.
Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation creating national cemeteries for Civil War dead in 1862. Chalmette came about 2 years later to bury Louisiana victims. A sign at Chalmette says, “Nearly 12,000 Civil War-era troops are buried…about half of them unknown”. However, an audio tour description that I picked up in a nearby National Park Service Visitor Center says, “Nearly 200 of the fallen are listed as unknown….” That’s a huge difference! Perhaps 5,800 of the fallen have, over time, been identified. Another sign says there are 6,773 unknown. Signage at the cemetery seemed old. One stated that this cemetery contains almost 16,000 dead from the War of 1812 to Vietnam. This was verifiable and I learned that only 4 men from the Battle of New Orleans fought in 1815 to conclude the War of 1812 are buried here, none of them British. Most of the grave markers provide names and home states, and some even list branch of service and contain personal information. Katrina destroyed the nearby visitor center that has a separate entrance and, I assume, damaged this cemetery; but it is well-groomed today and none of the markers indicate above-ground burials that are so common in New Orleans and nearby communities.
There’s a Civil War cannon atop a memorial at the far end of this cemetery with muzzles pointing upward to indicate that this area is now at peace. The iron gates at Chalmette National Cemetery’s entrance are elaborately decorated and date from 1873. Many massive live oaks trees dot the property. There are few burial plots remaining and they are reserved for veterans’ widows. As a result, funerals are now rare.
There’s an opening in the wall to allow visitors to enter the field where the Battle of New Orleans was fought. There was a Freedmen’s Cemetery here at one time for slaves, but all traces of the folks once buried here vanished by the end of the 19th century. The Visitor Center that was destroyed by the memorable 2005 hurricane has been rebuilt to tell the story of this most unusual battle in what is often called our 2nd war for independence. The battle was won by the Americans after the treaty ending this war had already been signed.