NEW ORLEANS — A massive re-enactment involving nearly 1,500 actors in period uniforms will bring to life the historic Battle of New Orleans between the invading British troops and Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson's ragtag army that took place 200 years ago.
The reenactment is part of a series of events taking place around the New Orleans area for the bicentennial anniversary of the American victory against the British on Jan. 8, 1815, just outside New Orleans at the Chalmette Plantation.
The momentous victory staved off British intentions to seize New Orleans. A British victory would have hampered American efforts to expand westward. The victory by the Americans also definitively ended the War of 1812. The two nations would never fight another war again.
"It will be the biggest collection of War of 1812-era uniforms since the war itself," said Timothy Pickles, a British military historian who lives in New Orleans and is the founder of the Louisiana Living History Foundation, the group organizing the re-enactment. "The idea is to portray it as it was."
During the re-enactment Pickles will play the role of Maj. Gen. Edward Pakenham, the commander of the British forces. Pakenham, along with several other officers, was slain during the battle.
Nearly 300 British soldiers were dead and almost six times as many were wounded, captured or missing after a multipronged attack by the British on the makeshift fortifications the Americans had erected on the two banks of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans. The defeat caused the British armada to retreat to Mobile.
In all, re-enactors plan to stage five separate battles with the final battle, the decisive American victory, taking place on Jan. 11, a Sunday. The actors — who are arriving from Britain, Canada, Australia, and across the United States — will camp out at the 22-acre pretend battlefield, which is just a couple of miles away from the spot where the actual battle took place at the Chalmette Plantation.
The re-enactors will be using replicas of 1815-era weapons, including rifles, muskets, swords and cannons. There will be a gunpowder wagon pulled by oxen and officers mounted on horseback. During the night before the final battle, sentries will be posted.
Steve Abolt, who will play the role of the American commanding officer, said re-enactments are important to keep history alive. "I've always said history is like a rudder on a ship," he said, "it may be behind you but it steers you forward."
Abolt, a historical tailor by trade, will lead re-enactors from the 7th Regiment of United States Infantry Living History Association, a group of re-enactors affiliated with the 7th Regiment of United States Infantry, a highly decorated regiment based in Fort Stewart, Georgia. The regiment got its nickname, the "Cottonbalers," from its actions during the Battle of New Orleans when they, in part, fought from behind bales of cotton.
The Louisiana Living History Foundation plans to use its new park for other re-enactments and to lease it to movie producers. The battlefield will feature fortifications that mimic those erected by the Americans in their defense against the British. The British honorary consul in New Orleans, businessman James Coleman, provided $60,000 for the site's development.
Besides the re-enactment hosted by the Louisiana Living History Foundation, the bicentennial is being celebrated with academic symposiums, exhibitions and an array of events at the Chalmette Battlefield, a national park at the site of the actual battlefield.
The Louisiana Living History Foundation: http://www.lalivinghistory.org
The Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial Commission: http://www.battleofneworleans2015.com
National Park Service page about the bicentennial: http://www.nps.gov/jela/battle-of-new-orleans-bicentennial.htm
The New Orleans Historic Collection exhibition on Andrew Jackson: http://www.hnoc.org/andrew-jackson-hero-of-new-orleans