NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The U.S. Navy is kicking off its commemoration of the War of 1812 in New Orleans, where American forces beat back a British invasion in the conflict's last major battle.
The event, which starts four years of events around the nation, began Tuesday with a parade of so-called tall ships - big sailing ships with high masts - and modern Navy vessels sailing up the Mississippi River into the Port of New Orleans.
"It's most important and history-making event to have this type of event throughout the East Coast and the Great Lakes," said Lt. Cmdr. Mike Billips. "It's much more broad than our usual events, but the War of 1812 was very special to this country."
The War of 1812, sometimes referred to as the "second war for independence," was fought against the British Empire, including Canada, and sparked by British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy's impressment of American seamen and America's desire to expand its territory.
It did much to build up the U.S. Navy as a new power, which is one of the reasons the Navy is sponsoring much of the celebration.
"The Battle of New Orleans was one of the most significant events in the War of 1812 and was a pivotal event in turning the tide of the war, so it's a great honor for us to be here in New Orleans and kick off the events here and to return in 2015 to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans," said Rear Admiral Ann Claire Phillips, commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group Two.
The battle was fought several weeks after a peace treaty was signed in Europe to end the conflict. Owing to slow communication of the times, neither side on the battlefield knew the war was over.
The cost of the event is defrayed because much of the work would be part of the Navy routine anyway, and by private donors and corporate sponsors, who are picking up shares of the cost, Billips said.
"The rest comes under our recruiting budget," said Billips, who was unable to give a total cost for the events.
The traditional parade of sails, by the tall ships, played out against stormy skies on Tuesday, making a somber background to the vessels trip up the Mississippi.
Tuesday saw the arrival of the USS Wasp, the USS Mitscher and USS DeWert, as well as the tall ships from Guayas of Ecuador, Dewaruci of Indonesia, and the U. S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle.
"Anyone that sees the tall ships coming into port never forgets the sight," said Bill Armstrong of Operation Sail.
Although only three of the ships were to be in New Orleans, Armstrong said there would be 17 ships for the May 23 stop in New York, and at five ports on the Eastern seaboard after that.
Among the stops will be Baltimore, where there will be a salute to the National Anthem, composed there during the war.
A 21-gun salute fired by the National Guard's Washington Artillery at the old Navy pier in Algiers will welcome the ships to New Orleans. .
The flotilla will stretch from the Mississippi River Bridge to the Esplanade Street Wharf and the ships will be open to the public in the afternoons through Sunday.
The weeklong event in New Orleans will also have air shows, flights by the Blue Angles, and events at the Chalmette Battlefield.