THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS
The lessons of history continue to teach us in unexpected ways. For example, consider the Battle of New Orleans from the War of 1812, fought on Chalmette Plantation and made famous by Johnny Horton in his song by the same name. Tom and I visited there a year after Katrina hit, while I was researching that final battle for my Free Men and Dreamers series. I knew some considered that bloody battle to have been amongst history's most tragic and futile because it was fought without the commanders' knowing the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed, bringing the war to a political end.
Don't ever say such a thing to the Park Service people who man the Visitor's Center there at Chalmette. I made that mistake and received a stern rebuke from a Ranger who reminded me that the treaty wasn't in force until it had been ratified by both governments, which it had not. "No one knows what would have happened that day if the British had won. With control of Louisiana, the British would also have controlled the Mississippi." Would they have ratified the treaty when they had such a grip on the Louisiana Territory and America's critical waterways? Who knows.
But there was an even more important lesson to be learned at Chalmette the day we visited, because the battlefield sits in the battered and sodden St. Bernard's Parrish section of New Orleans--the site of the worst devastation after Katrina.
Finding Chalmette was no easy feat. Our attention was riveted by the complete devastation all around us--abandoned shells of homes with large X's marking the dreaded casualty numbers, broken roads, uprooted trees and mountains of debris just bulldozed into piles by the side of the road for want of any other place to put it. The rangers were on guard at their stations in a portable trailer that sat in the bowl of the plantation site because their former facility had been washed away by the mighty Mississippi that literally flowed some two feet away and twenty feet above their heads, subdued once again by earthen walls and levees.
I asked the ranger if they had many visitors these days and she nodded thoughtfully. "How are the children handling all this?" I asked her. "I assume some of them lost their homes and maybe some family members too." She shrugged and became resolute. "I sit them down right there," she said, pointing to the carpet, "and I tell them about Ole Hickory, (Andrew Jackson). I tell them all that he suffered--that he was taken prisoner by the British when he was 13, during the Revolution. He was starved, beaten, slashed by a sword and that his entire family died as a result of the war leaving him alone and an orphan by the time he was 14. But he never gave up. I tell them look at what he went on to accomplish. And then I tell them that they're made of the same stuff as Ole Hickory, and even though they've been through some hard times, they're not to give up."
I was awed by that civil servant and I knew she was probably changing lives, redirecting darkened hearts to a new, brighter path, embuing hope back in. I imagined Primary teachers saying something similar about Brigham Young and the pioneers to rows of wide-eyed LDS children, or teachers using George Washington to inspire a new generation of patriots. Oh, I hope so. I hope so.
That ranger changed my attitude about the end of that war that day., about the scope of history and it's ability to continually teach us in unexpected ways . . . about a lot of things. I want to be tough like Ole Hickory too, and never give up, no matter how hard the fight.
So thank you to all who never gave up despite adversity, and Happy Memorial Day.