The Last Battle of Chalmette
The last battle of Chalmette was fought by genteel ladies wielding fountain pens, not swords, in 1935 as the site of the US triumph over the British was in the process of becoming a national historical park. The women, descendants of Battle of New Orleans participants, were incensed by former New Orleans politician Sidney Story’s notion Chalmette Battlefield should be re-named as “Andrew Jackson National Park.”
Work had been underway at Washington, D.C., for some six years at that time to create a national historical park from the grounds where the resounding American victory of Jan. 8, 1815, had taken place.
Story, a Chicago resident who had been a prominent New Orleanian, wrote to Louisiana Congressman J.O. Fernandez urging the change in proposed name from Chalmette National Park. Fernandez had earlier introduced a House resolution for creation of the park. Story also sought backing for the name change from various patriotic organizations in New Orleans.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune soon evidenced irritated letters.
“Chalmette Chapter, Louisiana United States Daughters of 1812, wishes to go on record as being unalterably opposed to any other name that may be suggested by anybody for any reasons whatsoever, believing that the proposed name, Chalmette National Historical Park, fittingly commemorates the outstanding victory gained by American arms on the plains of Chalmette, under the leadership of Andrew Jackson,” wrote Rubie G. Eustis, president of the Chalmette Chapter, Louisiana, USD of 1812.
Story, who was regional director of the United Sttes Merchant Marine League for the Great Lakes states, was all for changing the name to honor Jackson, however. In his letter to Fernandez, the native New Orleanian wrote:
“Andrew Jackson National Park would arouse the patriotic fervor of every red-blooded American, especially throughout the Mid-West and South.
I was born on the ground where that great battle was fought. My grandfather fought under Jackson. There are many interesting stories and anecdotes connected with that momentous event which history does not record but tradition has handed down,” he continued.
Further, Story asserted “I am a staunch advocate of glorifying our heroes and their valorous deeds, because they are an inspiration to our youth. This is most needed in these days, when alien propaganda, assisted by alien-hearted ‘Americans,’ is trying to disparage everything American by arousing contempt for our legislature, the government, our flag and our heroes.”
Mrs. Eustis contended in the op-ed page of the Times-Picayune that “Chalmette Chapter, Louisiana, USD of 1812, always has paid, and always will pay, full homage to the personal valor and military genius of Andrew Jackson, evidenced in its highest degree on the plains of Chalmette, where was fought and won the Battle of New Orleans, which historians have come to recognize as one of the outstanding battles of world history; which made possible the development of a small and struggling nation on the Eastern seaboard into the great and powerful United States of today.”
It was …(at) Chalmette that Jackson and his Americans triumphed over the British veterans of the Napoleonic campaigns. For more than a century, military records and historic documents have linked together Jackson’s victory and Chalmette’s plains. An ‘Andrew Jackson National Park’ might fittingly be established in the hills of his hardy boyhood or in the rich lands of his adopted state, or elsewhere in the great Middle West his prowess helped to preserve, but there was only one Battle of New Orleans, there is only one Chalmette.”
For much of the 19th century following the Civil War, Chalmette Battlefield was forgotten, allowed to be consumed with brush and weeds, its monument memorial uncompleted in the wake of the Civil War. That changed in 1894, when the Louisiana Society United States Daughters of 1776 and 1812 took charge of the upkeep from the state. Working with a meager revenue from selling pecans and wood plus a small stipend from the state, the women kept the grounds and worked on completing the monument, which was accomplished in 1908. In 1929, the mostly elderly women (granddaughters and great-granddaughters of battle participants) could no longer continue with the task of upkeep of Chalmette, so the property was transferred to the War Department.
“There is a world of pathos in the stories told by staunch members who have been at work for more than a generation for this cause, raising funds by selling pecans from the old trees on the ground, and hay grown in the wind-swept fields,” wrote Mrs. Eustis.
Taking up the ladies’ cause was James Dinkins, with a letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune in August 7, 1935:
“I learn with surprise and regret that an effort is being made to have the name of Chalmette Battlefields Park changed to Andrew Jackson National Park. To do so would seem no good purpose, nor add a feather-weight to the name and genius of General Jackson.
The battle of General Jackson__the battle of New Orleans__was one of the three greatest military achievements in the annals of the war and if General Jackson could speak he would say: ‘By the ‘tarnal, the name of Chalmette battlefield shall not be changed.’ The Chalmette Chapter of 1812 are the recognized and rightful custodians of the battlefield; every improvement that has been made there was sponsored and won by the chapter. The members of Chalmette Chapter are pledged to protect the graves that hold the dust of those who died that we would be free. I am a member of Chalmette Chapter and am acquainted with the earnest efforts of the members to make Chalmette battlefield a credit to New Orleans.”
Bending to the wishes of the women, an editoral writer for the Times-Picayune took up their standard: “There could be no more fitting name than that of Andrew Jackson for what is now Chalmette park, but the suggestion from Sidney Story has one marked disadvantage. New Orleans already has its Jackson Square and the name has been familiarized to generations as the center of the oldest and most historic part of the city. The battlefield of New Orleans has its splendid memories of the soldier and statesman who was its hero, but with both a Jackson park and a Jackson square there would be inevitable confusion of visitors and probably of our own citizens. New Orleans has worked for years to rid of duplicated or similar names for many of its streets, and some of us would regret to see a return to the doubling-up system.”
Story backed down from his proposal for the park to honor Jackson, and was not heard from again. He died at age 74 in 1937, with his main claim to fame his creation of the semi-legal Storyville redlight district in New Orleans from 1897 to 1917 to regulate prostitution and drug use in the city.
Chalmette was named a national historical park on August 10, 1939, under the name of Chalmette National Historical Park. It remained under this name until 1979, when extra cultural and historic areas of the park were created in addition to the battlefield, and Chalmette National Historical Park became a part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The name was chosen to reflect the regional nature of the new, expanded park, which encompasses the area in which the privateer and smuggler operated, plus honors him for his valuable service to the American side during the British invasion. One can only wonder what both the Daughters of 1812 and Mr. Story would have thought about that development….