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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!