The Chalmette Battlefield is in St. Bernard Parish about 9 miles east of downtown New Orleans. To go there you need to travel down the St. Bernard Highway, State Route 46. There are 2 entrances. The 1st takes you to the new (Katrina destroyed the old) visitor center and the battlefield and the 2nd to the Chalmette National Cemetery. Many think that the best way to access this National Park Service site is to jump on the Creole Queen, a paddleboat, in the French Quarter, which goes there daily and includes a ranger led talk at 10:45 am.
The Battle of New Orleans, fought in 1815, was the last one of the War of 1812. Victory for the Americans was important because the British far outnumbered the locals and were thought to be the superior force. They had been fighting Napoleon Bonaparte and were still smarting from their defeat by the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Their commander, Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, planned to capture the important port of New Orleans and have control of the Mississippi River as a result. The American Commander, Major General Andrew Jackson, had a personal grudge against the Brits. Much earlier, he was scarred for life from a head wound inflicted by a Redcoat; and he lost a brother, whose own head would became infected. Robert died 2 days after they returned home.
The War of 1812 was as important as any other war in American history. During it there was a major battle on Lake Erie, the White House burned, and the National Anthem was written. The Battle of New Orleans that ended it was fought after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December 24th. Back then news traveled painfully slowly. The battle, which ended this war, occurred on January 8; and news of the treaty didn’t arrive until January 18. The battle was relatively short. It lasted for 2 hours with serious fighting over in 30 minutes. The treaty was ratified the next month.
The battle led to the defeat of the British, who suffered 2,000 casualties. The number isn’t exact because about 500 of the men lying on the battlefield were playing dead and surrendered. The American forces numbered about 5,000, including Indians, pirates, and many volunteers. They suffered fewer than 20 casualties. Packenham didn’t survive the battle. Jackson did, became an instant national hero, and, later, a controversial two term President beginning in 1829.
How did the Americans win such a lopsided victory? There were an estimated 7,000 Brits available to fight. There are many theories. I like Kandice Leigh Woods explanation in Travelhost New Orleans. She claimed that the fog burned off just as the British force was advancing. “…they were basically caught with their hands in the cookie jar,” she concluded. Unreliable weather has defeated armies and the British troops were not used to, maybe even not dressed appropriately for, a Louisiana winter that our tour guide Harold described as very cold. They were also not used to alligators, insects, indigenous diseases, etc.
PS A very good, highly detailed book about this battle, Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans, came out last year. It’s by Brian Kilmeade of Fox News and Don Yaeger. A lady visiting the Chalmette Cemetery when I was there recommended it to me.