Monday, November 22, 2010

Chalmette Battlefield

We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin' on
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

-- from “The Battle of New Orleans” by Jimmie Driftwood,
recorded by Johnny Horton in 1959.

Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve
8606 West St. Bernard Highway
Chalmette, Louisiana

The Battle of New Orleans by American painter, Thomas Moran,
1910.
Situated a few miles southeast of the city of New Orleans, the Chalmette Battlefield is the site of America’s greatest victory of the War of 1812. The British first threatened the city with the arrival of a flotilla just off of Lake Pontchartrain. The Americans attempted to block the British from landing but were defeated in the brief Battle of Lake Borgne on December 18, 1814. An attack by the Americans on the British position once they landed on the 23rd was successful only in keeping the British on their toes, though their maintained their position. General Andrew Jackson’s American troops dug in and created earthworks on Chalmette Plantation right along the Rodriguez Canal and bounded on both sides by cypress swamps and the Mississippi River that became known as “Line Jackson.”

Undated map of the battle line and line of attack. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.

At the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans, prayers were raised by the sisters to the Virgin Mary to ensure an American victory and protect the city. The sisters had prayed a few years earlier in 1812 when fire ravaged the city. Miraculously, the flames were swept away from the convent by a sudden change in direction. The sisters’ prayers were answered on the morning of January 8th when the British launched their main attack in darkness and heavy fog. Perhaps as an answer to the sisters’ prayers, the fog lifted to reveal the troops marching towards the American’s fortifications. Exposed to brutal artillery fire, the British lost many of their senior officers quite early on leaving the soldiers in the field without direction. Despite being outmanned by British forces, the Americans held their ground and incurred few losses. The British, on the other hand, lost 291 soldiers including two generals with over 1,200 wounded and nearly 500 captured or missing.

This decisive American victory served as the final engagement of the War of 1812, despite its occurrence after the end of the war. The war officially ended in Belgium with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814, some two weeks previous to the battle. Following the tumult of battle, the site returned to its agrarian origins and the Beauregard House was built on part of the battlefield around 1830. The entrenchments, especially those in the area around the National Cemetery, were reused by Confederate and later, Union, forces during the Civil War. Towards the end of the war, a national cemetery was established for the burial of Union troops who had died in the area. The cemetery has seen over 15,000 burials and is now closed. Attempts to memorialize the site date to 1855 when construction began on a marble tower on the battlefield which was completed in 1908.

Modern photo of the battlefield with the remains of the "Line
Jackson" earthworks, battle monument and the Beauregard
House. From the National Park Service.

The Battlefield and National Cemetery now comprise a unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, which preserves a series of cultural and natural resources that represent the rich history and ecology of the region. The park is named for the nineteenth century pirate, Jean Lafitte, who worked in some of the areas preserved in the park and who also came to the aid of the American’s before and during the battle. The spirit of Lafitte is one of the spirits that is said to haunt Destrehan Plantation which I wrote about in the entry on the River Road plantations of Louisiana.

Battlefields appear frequently in paranormal literature. Seemingly, the more important the battle, the more haunted the battlefield and the Chalmette Battlefield is no exception. Though finding good information on the haunting of this battlefield is not as easy. There are two primary sources for information on the ghosts of the battlefield: Jeff Dwyer’s excellent Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans and a blog from the Southern Area Paranormal Society. Outside of these sources, there is information on the haunted, but its validity is questionable.

Jeff Dwyer’s book provides good information on the battle, but he doesn’t say too much about what supernatural elements have been experienced there. He states that cold spots have been felt and that sensitive people have felt a “pulling sensation as if gravity has increased many times.” My skeptical side is apt to not usually believe “feelings” that people may get in a location, especially if that’s the only indication of paranormal activity. 

The other main source for what is taking place in the battlefield involves a good deal more information. The Southern Area Paranormal Society discusses the battlefield and two nearby forts in their blog. Activity they mention on the battlefield include apparitions and voices. They also mention that activity has been reported in the Beauregard House including the sound of footsteps and possible shadow people.

With the amount of information online about this location, I will continue to search for reliable sources on the activity here.

Sources
The Battle of New Orleans. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 November 2010.
Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans.
     Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2007.
Greene, Jerome A. National Register of Historic Places
     Nomination Form for Chalmette Unit. Listed 6 July
     1987.
Jean Lafitte. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     22 November 2010.
Manley, Roger. Weird Louisiana: Your Travel Guide
     To Louisiana’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.
     NYC: Sterling, 2010.
Southern Area Paranormal Society. Fort Beivnue,

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