As the site of the 1814–15 Battle of New Orleans, Chalmette Battlefield has been the focus of preservation and commemoration efforts for over a century, yet all but one of the site’s historic plantations have been lost.
Although the Battle of New Orleans took place several days after the War of 1812 had officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814, the decisive American victory over the British fostered an immense and long-lasting sense of national pride.¹ The battle had taken place five miles south of New Orleans along a six-mile stretch of land along the Mississippi River, a portion of which became known as Chalmette Battlefield. Commemoration efforts of the event took place on the battlefield as far back as the 1840s, making it one of the city’s earliest recognized historic sites.²
In January 1840, a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the battle took place on the grounds of the colonial Rodriguez plantation.³ In 1855, the State of Louisiana acquired the property and began construction of the Chalmette Monument, a somber, Egyptian Revival obelisk.⁴ Lack of funding, however, prevented the project’s completion, and the site sat neglected for several decades. In 1893, distressed by the state of the battlefield and its partially completed monument, the Louisiana Society of the United States Daughters of 1776 and 1812 took control of the property. After securing funding in 1908, the Daughters oversaw the monument’s completion, which now stands at a towering one hundred feet with an interior spiral staircase leading to the peak.
The National Park Service took over management of the battlefield in 1933, and in 1939 Congress declared it “Chalmette National Historical Park.” By 1949, the park included the battle site as well as Chalmette National Cemetery, which had been established in 1864 for fallen Union soldiers, and the 1830s Malus-Beauregard House, which was restored in the 1950s to serve as a visitors’ center.⁴ However, the nine colonial plantations that had existed during the actual 1814- 15 battle—Languille, Jumonville, Macarty, Rodriguez, Bienvenu, Chalmette, De La Ronde, and Villere—have all been lost to fire, hurricanes, or neglect. The last one to remain standing, albeit in ruins, was the De La Ronde Plantation, which was demolished some time after the 1940s.⁵ These colonial structures, some of which figured directly into the battle, represent an irreparable loss to New Orleans’ colonial history.
In 1965, the National Park Service held the Battle of New Orleans Sesquicentennial Celebration to commemorate the battle’s 150th anniversary. Local preservationist Martha Gilmore Robinson was appointed vice-chairman of the commission in charge of event preparations, which involved the construction of a visitor tour road, landscaping, and a partial reconstruction of the American rampart.⁶ In 1974, the park was designated a National Historic Landmark, and today it is maintained as part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve system.⁷
1. Ned Hemard, “Ignace de Lino de Chalmette,” in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–). Article published August 26, 2013.
2. Kevin Risk, Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery: Cultural Landscape Report (National Park Service, Cultural Resources Stewardship Division, Southeast Regional Office, 1999), 19.
4. Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, National Register of Historic Places nomination, July 1, 1974.
5. Samuel Wilson Jr., The Battle of New Orleans: Plantation Houses on the Battlefield of New Orleans (New Orleans: Louisiana Landmarks Society, 1989), 4.
6. National Park Service, “Records of the Battle of New Orleans Sesquicentennial Celebration Commission,” in Inventory of the Records of the National Park Service, Record Group 79 (Washington DC: National Park Service, 2007), 97; and Risk, Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery: Cultural Landscape Report.
7. National Park Service, “Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve: Chalmette Battlefield.”
- Place Tags:
- Chalmette Battlefield
- Person/Entity Tags:
- Robinson, Martha Gilmore (1888-1981)