Celebrating the Battle of New Orleans
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
One hundred ninety-one years ago today, American troops under the command of General Andrew Jackson defeated British soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans. Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the battle, is in St. Bernard Parish, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, to commemorate the anniversary, the National Park Service reopened the battlefield for the first time since the storm. NPR's Greg Allen was there.
GREG ALLEN: When Katrina's storm surge swept through St. Bernard Parish, one of the casualties was Chalmette Battlefield. Park Ranger Kristie Wallace(ph) says trees were downed, a historic cemetery wall was washed out and park buildings were destroyed.
KRISTIE WALLACE: Where that big tent is is where our visitors' center used to be. We had seven or eight feet of water in the visitors' center. We've managed to save some of the exhibits but the building was just a total mess and so we just scraped the slab clean and we're going to start over.
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ALLEN: But yesterday it was like the hurricane and, in fact, some 190 of history never happened. Bluecoated soldiers representing the US 7th Regiment and redcoated soldiers standing in for the 93rd and 4th British regiments took up positions on the battlefield where two centuries earlier 2,000 people lost their lives.
Unidentified Man: Bring down cartridge!
ALLEN: The Battle of New Orleans actually took place over two weeks ending with a decisive American victory on January 8th, 1815. That came two weeks after Britain and the US had signed a peace treaty, but Wallace says the idea that the battle was unnecessary is a popular misconception.
WALLACE: The treaty was iratified, so the war wasn't really over until February, and I would imagine if the British had taken a place as important as the city of New Orleans, that they would have had, you know, go back and renegotiate the whole thing.
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ALLEN: Every year, Tim Pickles, a New Orleans residents, plays the role of the defeated British General Edward Pakenham. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with floodwaters surrounding his house and the survival of the city itself seemingly in doubt, Pickles says the annual re-enactment wasn't a priority. He was surprised, he says, when he was contacted by officials from St. Bernard Parish, themselves homeless and operating their offices out of a cruise ship, saying they wanted the show to go on.
TIM PICKLES: This is one of the very few things that they can do that begins to show people that, `Yes, we are going to come back and we're looking to the future.'
Man: Battalions present arms!
ALLEN: With visitors gathered around, the two companies of re-enactors faced each other over a small canal still here on the Chalmette Battlefield nearly 200 years after it helped US troops repulse the British attack. Steve Abolt(ph), who commands the re-enactors of the American 7th Regiment, remembered those who fell that day. It was a ceremony, he said, that honored the dead, but which should also encourage the living.
STEVE ABOLT: Today we look about the parish and the city and there are many who say, `Why remain? Give up. Go away.' And all of us, whether on that side of the canal or here, come together today to tell you that there is hope and not to give up.
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ALLEN: The annual commemoration of the Battle of New Orleans comes the same weekend as the city's Twelfth Night Celebration, the beginning of the carnival season. Throughout the area, although the ravages of the hurricane are still everywhere, there are signs that people are returning. There are now even tourists in the city. For many, these commemorations and celebrations are a way to say, `We're back and that New Orleans will survive.' Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.
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HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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