When you’ve sampled the delicacies at Commander’s Palace and feasted on the blackened redfish at K-Paul’s, when you’ve wandered every inch of Bourbon and looked in every store window on Royal and had your last hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s, it’s time for a trip back in time to one of the least-appreciated attractions in New Orleans. This is the site of the last U.S battle against the British—a battle that might not have been necessary since the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 had already been signed.
But don’t tell Andrew Jackson or our French ally Jean Lafitte that! They fought valiantly and routed British forces decisively on a little-visited battlefield just beyond the city limits, the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Today, visitors can drive to Chalmette (now a nearby New Orleans suburb) to visit the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, a part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve.
The British were determined to take New Orleans because of its significance as the gateway to the entire Louisiana purchase—the 828,800 square miles acquired from France in 1803 that literally made up the center of the country and included all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River, most of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. With such an extraordinary prize, a British victory in the War of 1812 was the impassioned goal of the invading army. But just as eager to hold the land were the American forces and their French allies, who fought fiercely and won decisively, inspiring a nation to celebrate January 8, the day of their victory, with the same gusto Americans today reserve for July 4.
Today, if we remember this venerable battle at all, it’s likely because of an old folk song called The 8th of January. The lyrics and melody were adapted by Arkansas school principal and history buff Jimmy Driftwood in the 1950s, then recorded by country balladeer Johnny Horton to become The Battle of New Orleans, the number one song of 1959. If you were alive back then, it’s almost a sure thing that you can still sing along…
Well, in eighteen and fourteen we took a little trip
along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans,
And we caught the bloody British near the town of New Orleans.
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’
down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
To visit the battlefield and the adjacent Chalmette National Cemetery, you can drive straight to the site or opt for the scenic route. The New Orleans Creole Queen paddlewheel steamboat sails to the battlefield every afternoon. The two-and-a-half hour round-trip includes ample time to visit the battlefield, as well as a historic home onsite and the cemetery, which includes graves of fallen heroes from the Civil War, World War I, World War II and Viet Nam. One of the fallen from the Battle of New Orleans is also interred here.