Heart of Louisiana: Fort Pike

Heart of Louisiana: Fort Pike

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - When the Americans fought the British at the Battle of New Orleans, they did it without the help of a fort that has stood at the Rigolets for nearly 200 years. Fort Pike was loaded with cannons but was never used in a battle. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us there in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

In 1815, Americans learned that New Orleans was vulnerable to attack. And after turning back the British, President James Monroe wanted to improve Louisiana's coastal defenses. Four years later, work began on a brick fortress at the Rigolets in Eastern New Orleans.

"This was the first American fort that was built in Louisiana," said interpretive ranger Aimee Savoy. "A lot of the trade went through what's called the back door of New Orleans which is essentially the lakes and bayous to get to Bayou St. John and the city itself."

Reenactors show off a cannon that is only a fraction of the size of the 24-pound and 32-pound cannons that filled the casemates in the fort's walls, and the barbette carriages on the upper deck.

"This would have been about the size of a 32-pounder cannon," said Civil War reenactor Beau Ladner.

The cannonballs would have been placed in a furnace and heated until they glowed red hot, and then fired from a cannon.

"If the aiming was accurate, when that ball would've hit a wooden ship, anything that it would've touched would've set on fire," Ladner said.

Fort Pike had 60 cannons to fight off any attacker from sea or land.

"It must have looked like a crazy porcupine with all of the guns that were sticking out of this thing," Savoy said.

But during Fort Pike's active duty, it saw very little action.

"There were no battles fought here," Savoy said. "When Louisiana seceded, there was one man that was stationed here. Militia came up into the Rigolets and told him to hand over the fort. So there was no bloodshed. It passed to the Confederacy. The Confederacy just abandoned it when New Orleans fell to Federalists."

Louisiana's Native Guard, which included free men of color and former slaves, trained here. In 1890, the fort was officially abandoned. Since then, the historic site has been a curiosity with graffiti that dates back more than a century.

"Drawings of people, caricatures, names - people don't change," Savoy said.

Some of this fort's toughest battles have not come from cannons, but from storms. Hurricanes like Katrina have battered these old brick walls. Twenty-first century hurricanes filled the fort with debris and silt, and caused further erosion to some of the cracks in the masonry walls.

"There are actually a few hurricanes that passed through in the 1800s that swept people away," Savoy said.

From its strategic post at the edge of New Orleans, this aging relic now only battles time.

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