The First Chalmette Monument was the Grand Army of the Republic monument.
First Chalmette Monument
Photo of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Monument, by George François Mugnier. Undated photo, likely from the 1880s. This monument stands in the Chalmette National Cemetery, on the end closest to the river. The Latin inscription translates to, “While they are silent, they shout.” Locals referred to it as the “First Chalmette Monument.” The 1907 obelisk claimed the title “Chalmette Monument” upon its completion.
Chalmette National Cemetery
New Orleanians buried Enslaved Americans, along with troops fighting on both sides of the Southern Rebellion, as early as 1861, in Chalmette. So, in 1864, the Union Army formalized this burial ground. They designated 17.5 acres of land from the “back” of the Chalmette battlefield as a National Cemetery. Locals know this area as the “British side” of the battlefield. The British advanced to this location on 8-January-1815. Of the approximately 15,000 people buried in the cemetery, over 6,500 are unidentified. Additionally, most of these are United States Colored Troops (USCT), whose graves are marked only by numbered headstones. While most of the burials here date to the Southern Rebellion, four veterans of the 1815 battle rest here.
Grand Army of the Republic
The Grand Army of the Republic was a Union Army and Navy veterans organization, founded in 1866, at Springfield, Illinois. The organization claimed membership of 410,000 by the 1890s. Union veterans established local chapters, known as “posts” across the country, including many cities in the former rebel states. The GAR post in New Orleans funded and erected the monument in Chalmette Cemetery in 1874. It stands on the river side of the cemetery, because that side was the main entrance for years. So, over time, the levee system along the Mississippi River grew, swallowing up River Road near the cemetery.
The National Park Service took over management of both the battlefield and cemetery in 1933. They moved the entrance from the river side to the St. Bernard Highway (LA 46) side. Visitors now enter the cemetery from St. Bernard Highway, circle around the GAR monument at the other end, and exit back to the highway.
Chalmette Monument 1930s is a photo from a WPA-sponsored arts program.
Chalmette Monument 1930s
Photo of the monument at Chalmette National Battlefield commemorating the Battle of New Orleans, on 8-January-1815. The obelisk, 100 feet in height, looks over the battlefield, which is one of the five sites of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
Building the Obelisk
The Chalmette Monument 1930s originated in 1840. New Orleans marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle in 1840. The battlefield was essentially a sugarcane field in 1840. So, city leaders formed the Jackson Monument Association. They purchased the battlefield site. The association also acquired state funding. Part of the preservation plans included a large-scale monument. Members of the association gathered at the battlefield. They laid the cornerstone of the obelisk.
Construction of the obelisk moved slowly. While Jackson’s death in 1845 sparked interest in the project, the turmoil leading up to the Southern Rebellion stalled the project. So, the actual rebellion completely stalled the project.
The Southern Rebellion itself renewed interest in the battlefield site. While the site was privately held during the Union occupation, the US Army seized a portion of the land. They built a cemetery for both Union and rebel soldiers. Most of the early burials in the cemetery were United States Colored Troops. Rebels buried there were, over time, re-interred to other local cemeteries.
After the rebellion, the cemetery continued as a burial site for military personnel. The cemetery helped renew interest in preserving the overall battlefield site. The federal government designated the battlefield a National Historical Park in 1907. Federal ownership accelerated work on the monument.
The monument and the city
While there are much higher monuments around the US, the Chalmette Monument 1930s offers an incredible view of the battlefield. Chalmette is only about five miles from the city. So, that’s about the length of Canal Street.
Chalmette Battlefield was a long-standing destination for eighth-grade class field trips, as those students studied Louisiana History.
Chalmette Monument 1930s photo was shot by photographer Erol Barkemeyer. The Works Projects Administration (WPA) sponsored a number of arts and historic preservation projects in the late 1930s. So, these programs helped employ people across the nation during the Great Depression. Additionally, WPA programs contributed much to the citys infrastructure. The photo is part of the State Library of Louisiana’s WPA collection.
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Two short-form pieces this week on NOLA History Guy Podcast 8-June-2019
Chalmette National Cemetery (NPS photo)
NOLA History Guy Podcast 8-June-2019
We hope you enjoyed our conversations with Derby Gisclair over the last two weeks. Back to short-form this week, with our pick from Today in New Orleans History and some thoughts on Chalmette National Cemetery.
The Industrial Canal
Our pick from NewOrleansPast dot com this week is 6-June-1918. That’s when construction of the Industrial Canal began.As a refresher, there were three connections that ran from the city to the lake over time:
- The Carondelet Canal, 1795, which ran from just above the French Quarter, out to what is now Mid-City, and the start of Bayou St. John. This canal fixed the “Old Portage” problem.
- The Pontchartrain Railroad, which ran from Port Milneburg to Faubourg Marigny. The railroad was a straight run, along what eventually became Elysian Fields Avenue. Heavier ships would come into Lake Pontchartrain from the Gulf of Mexico and would dock at the pier at Milneburg. The railroad carried goods and people from the pier to the station at the river.
- The New Basin Canal. Completed in 1838, the New Canal connected the “American Sector” to the lake. The canal began at S. Rampart Street. It ran out to Lake Pontchartrain at West End. A small portion of the canal remains at West End.
So, these three connected the city up to the start of the 20th Century. By 1910, though, the canals lacked the depth to service larger ships. In 1914, the state authorized the Port of New Orleans to build a new canal. The canal began in the Ninth Ward, just past Poland Avenue. It runs straight from there, out to the lake.
Chalmette National Cemetery
Unveiling of the USCT Memorial in Cape Girardeau MO
I saw an article about a monument to United States Colored Troops (USCT) in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. When I shared that article on NOLA History Guy’s Facebook page, I mentioned that we should have such a USCT monument, probably out at Chalmette National Cemetery. Thousands of USCT soldiers rest in that cemetery. I got some racist feedback on this, from folks who clearly were unaware of the cemetery’s origins. Here’s a quick run-down.
Chalmette Cemetery – USCT
Markers of graves of Unknown Soldiers from the Civil War in Chalmette Cemetery (Edward Branley photo)
Chalmette Cemetery and United States Colored Troops
Many men died fighting for the Union in South Louisiana. New Orleans surrendered in April, 1862. The Union Army used the city as a base to move north. They pressed the rebels from both directions along the Mississippi. Major General Benjamin Butler brought a force close to 3000 men to Ship Island to invade New Orleans. A sizable contingent of that force were United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Black men served in the US Army for a number of reasons. They were citizens of the free states. Some were the sons and grandsons of slaves. Their ancestors escaped from the South. So, they made lives for themselves in the Northern states. There were 175 regiments of USCT by 1865, a full one-tenth of the US Army.
Fighting for the Union
Chalmette National Cemetery (Edward Branley photo)
Black soldiers fought as segregated units The “Colored Troops” battalions and regiments were often raised by white men who were willing to command black soldiers, such as the 54th Massachusetts. While the men might know each other, was, the white officers didn’t. In many cases, Their soldiers didn’t live anywhere near where the unit was raised. So, when these men died in action in the Deep South, the survivors and the locals had no idea who they were.
Butler held incredible power as the general commanding the occupation. Since the war continued after the invasion, the army needed a place to bury their dead. The battlefield in Chalmette was a possible choice for a cemetery. The city preserved the battlefield, and nobody really lived down there, even by the 1860s.
The army sectioned off a portion of the battlefield on the eastern side. This was the “British side” of the battlefield, Pakenham’s army advanced on the Americans from there. Since the bulk of the action took place on the “American side,” nobody considered the cemetery as an affront.
The top photo shows the markers of “unknowns,” mostly USCT soldiers. The second photo shows the standard markers used by National Cemeteries at the time.
If you haven’t been down to Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery since your eighth grade field trip, jump in the car!