Union soldier figure atop monument at Baxter Springs National Cemetery; Bivouac of the Dead plaque at Wood National Cemetery; Flagpole and graves at Togus National Cemetery
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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

Chalmette National Cemetery

Chalmette, Louisiana

Chalmette National Cemetery
Chalmette National Cemetery
National Park Service
Established in 1864, Chalmette National Cemetery is one of the oldest national cemeteries and one of 14 national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service. Just two miles east of New Orleans on a flat parcel of land located along the banks of the Mississippi River, the cemetery is an integral part of both the history of New Orleans and of the nation.  Its graves recount various conflicts throughout American history, from the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Vietnam War.  The landscape also tells the story of the innovative measures used to control the Mississippi River, and the grim consequences when those innovations failed. Today, the cemetery is a part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

The national cemetery lies adjacent to the Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.  The battle is associated with the War of 1812, fought between the United States and Great Britain.  A British invasion force attempted to seize control of New Orleans and lay claim to the land of the Louisiana Purchase.  U.S. forces, under the command of future president Andrew Jackson, successfully defended the city against the larger and more experienced British army.  In addition to a tactical success, the battle became a symbol of the young democracy in triumph over the European monarchy and aristocracy.  The battle occurred after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, the peace treaty signed by the United States and Great Britain in December 1814. Since the treaty had not yet been ratified by both sides, a British victory in the battle could have stalled the peace negotiations.  News of the cessation of hostilities did not reach New Orleans until February 1815.

Preserved today as a unit of the National Park System, Chalmette Battlefield is managed by Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Visitors to the battlefield can view a re-creation of the earthwork that protected American troops from British forces.  Period and replica cannons illustrate the weaponry used during the battle. The Chalmette Monument pays tribute to the Americans who fought in the battle. A new visitor center opened in December 2010.

During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops camped on the land that would later become the national cemetery.  After the capture of New Orleans by Union forces in May 1862, the site became a refugee camp for freed slaves and later a burial ground for former slaves, black hospital patients, and both Union and Confederate troops.  The city of New Orleans, which owned the property, donated the land in May 1864 to the Federal Government for use as a national cemetery.

After acquisition of the land, work began to create a formal cemetery for the appropriate and dignified burial of Union troops who died in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.  By 1868, over 12,000 burials had taken place at the cemetery.  The remains of civilians were removed and buried in the adjacent Freedmens' cemetery.

Chalmette Monument
National Park Service

The layout of the cemetery is unusual, consisting of a narrow rectangle stretching 2,200 feet from W. Saint Bernard Highway nearly to the Mississippi River levee.  The cemetery is only 250-feet wide, with a drive extending from the entrance at the highway to the southern end of the property.  Originally, the cemetery extended 2,400 feet with the entrance at the southern end off a road that once ran along the river. The river road closed in 1905, and in 1929 the federal government constructed a new levee at the southern end of the cemetery. The new work removed 200 feet from the cemetery; 572 burials in this section were relocated. The cemetery superintendent's lodge, located on the river end of the cemetery, was demolished and a new lodge and detached brick garage were built at the entrance near the highway. The first sections of a brick wall that encloses the cemetery were built in 1874, and sections were added or rebuilt as the cemetery's plan changed over the years.

The current lodge on the cemetery’s grounds dates to 1929, the date of construction of the improved levee.  The lodge is in the American Foursquare architectural style, consisting of a simple box shape with two-and-a-half stories, a pyramidal roof with wide eaves, a large central dormer, and a full-width porch. Just west of the lodge is a brick garage and utility building that also date from 1929.

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, floodwaters inundated St. Bernard Parish, including the Chalmette National Cemetery and the Chalmette Battlefield.  The lodge flooded up to the second floor, and the garage/utility building flooded to the rafters, destroying all of the building’s contents.  While none of the cemetery’s headstones suffered significant damage while submerged, the flooding necessitated some repairs and cleaning.  Floodwaters destroyed more than 2,000 feet of the historic brick wall, which has subsequently been repaired.  The winds and flooding also uprooted several mature sycamores and live oaks.
Plan your visit

Chalmette National Cemetery and the Visitor Center for the Chalmette Battlefield are located at 8606 W. Saint Bernard Hwy. in Chalmette, LA.  The cemetery and battlefield are parts of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a unit of the National Park Service.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Jean Lafitte National Historical Park website or call 504-589-3882 for days and times of operation.  While visiting, be mindful that our national cemeteries are hallowed ground and be respectful to all of our nation’s fallen soldiers and their families.  Additional cemetery policies may be posted on site.

The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is comprised of six sites: the Acadian Cultural Center (Lafayette), Prairie Acadian Cultural Center (Eunice), Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center (Thibodaux), Barataria Preserve (Marrero), New Orleans’ French Quarter Visitor Center, and the  Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery. The park’s website also contains information on the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A history of the Battle of New Orleans, the last major battle of the War of 1812, is available online in a National Park Service Historical Handbook.  The handbook, Chalmette, provides an overview of the war and Andrew Jackson’s victory over British forces attempting to seize New Orleans. Other online resources can be found on the National Park Service's Park Histories website, including various reports and resource studies. These online publications are listed under Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

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