Chalmette Plantations

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The Chalmette Plantations are located 10 miles south of New Orleans on the east bank of the Mississippi in the Bas de Fleuve. They comprise the battlefield of the infamous Battle of New Orleans, which took place on January 8, 1815. From upriver to downriver, this group of seven plantations included Languille’s Plantation, Macarty’s Plantation, the Chalmette Plantation, the Bienvenu Plantation, La Ronde Plantation, La Coste Plantation, and the Villére Plantation. [1] Due to the strategically located Fort St. Leon at English Turn and Fort St. Phillip further downriver, as well as the thick swaps to the west, the only way to successfully attack New Orleans was from the north and from the east. [2] This defeat of the British army occurred after the signing of the Treaty of Peace in Ghent, Belgium. It symbolized a new found American independence and established the United States as a respected sovereign nation.

The Fighters

The British force was comprised of about 8,000 to 9,000 “disciplined…regulars, including Royal Fusiliers, Highlanders, Light Infantry, and Light Dragoons, a West Indian Regiment, and sailors” from the anchored fleet. In stark contrast, the American force was mixed and lacking apparent strength. Only 4,000 “frontiersmen, militiamen, regular soldiers, free men of color, Indians, pirates, and townspeople” formed a line from the swamp to the Mississippi River. [3] The Americans were outnumbered by approximately two to one. Of the curious groups of people fighting for the defense of New Orleans, the most interesting might be that of Jean Lafitte, a pirate notorious for raiding Spanish shipping. Before the invasion, he was offered a commission in the Royal Navy with the rank of captain. If he ceased the raiding of Spanish shipping and entered service to Great Britain, he would receive land in Louisiana and “full protection of his property.” [4] However, as the invasion drew nigh, Lafitte received multiple letters from British and Spanish sources that requested his aid and provided evidence that the “invasion was underway,” and he forwarded each letter to the Cabildo, New Orleans’ administrative headquarters. [5] Eventually, General Andrew Jackson was so impressed by Lafitte’s willingness to aid the American cause and by his local knowledge of the geography that he added him to his personal staff. [6] As the history of New Orleans is among the most unique in the American South, the participation of the city’s gens de couleur libres in the Battle of New Orleans is almost as interesting as the recently added pirate force. Though their utilization was not uncommon in the defense of the city during its French and Spanish periods, the use of armed freedmen was exceedingly rare in the American South. Realizing his immense need for soldiers, Jackson accepted 600 of New Orleans’ free black militiamen into his army. [7]

The Battle

On January 8, after successive skirmishes and artillery barrages earlier in the week, the day dawned with a heavy fog that limited visibility to but a few hundred yards. Jackson lined his force on the Chalmette Plantation along the Canal Rodrigues and a ditch that his men had dug. The British forces lined downriver on the La Ronde Plantation, and successively upriver on the Bienvenu and Chalmette plantations. The British signaled the start of the attack with a screeching rocket, but mass confusion in the British lines ensued because many of the soldiers did not understand the signal to start the attack. After a two minute calm, British and American artillery fire showered the lines with cannon balls, and the battle began. [8] Due to inferior numbers, the Americans remained behind their cotton-bale-battlements at the start of the battle, while the British ranks charged towards them. As the British lines charged, the Americans mowed them down easily from the protection of their stations. By the time the British reached the American lines, it was difficult to tell who attacked whom, because the British force became so disorganized by the American defense. [9] Disorganization of the British troops can be attributed partially to the high casualties in their officer corps. After their decimation, the “dirty shirts” leapt over their lines and onto the battlefield. At the points of their rifles, the American frontiersmen, militiamen, privateers, and regulars forced “indisputably the most humiliating experience in the lives of virtually every member of the entire British force.” [10]

The Outcome

After the failed British assault of the Chalmette Plantations, the Royal Navy began yet another failed attack on Fort St. Leon with its larger gunships. After many troop movements and more “ill-fated expeditions,” the British left the Mississippi on January 27, 1815. News of the treaty at Ghent finally reached the British force and the sailed for England on March 15, 1815, which marked the true end to the war. [11]

The Impact

The impact of the Battle of New Orleans, while significant strategically, manifested itself more so in terms of national pride. The Americans had defeated the great British Empire, yet again, but this time it was truly lasting. The Royal Navy would no longer impress sailors of United States Navy and merchant ships, and British holdings in the Northwestern frontier would be greatly weakened. The United States was truly independently sovereign. Also, Andrew Jackson’s popularity spread and eventually would propel him to the presidency. In terms of New Orleans’ own identity, the creole city, formerly of French and Spanish administrations, would be firmly established as American, though an immensely unique one.

Works Cited

  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 135.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 26.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 5-6.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 34.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 36.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 49.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 37.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 140-141.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 149.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 152.
  • Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Penguin Books, 2001), 182-83.

This page was last modified on 29 November 2012, at 03:53

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Chalmette Plantations

8606 W St. Bernard Highway, Chalmette, LA, 70043