Heart of New Orleans: Part 5

Heart of NOLA Segment 5

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - There have been times when New Orleans was under attack.

Two hundred years ago the British army threatened the city and most recently it was a hurricane.

On the plains of Chalmette, a makeshift army of regular infantry, free men of color, Native Americans, Privateers, farmers and shop owners raised their arms to face the mightiest army on earth.

"The British were also aware that the majority of the American armies was made of militia and the militia tended to run," says Tim Pickles.

It is a battle of monumental importance for a young United States.

"I don't think that another American general could have succeeded," says Jason Wiese.

General Andrew Jackson forces martial law on the terrified citizens of New Orleans.

"The advance of the British through the bayous. It's an incredible feat of arms," says Pickles.

Sixteen-hundred British troops slog their way through the swampy muck to the plantation of General Jacques Valerie, a commander of the Louisiana militia. The British overpower, a small American force, set up camp.

"What Jackson does when he knows the British are there is very unconventional and it's quite brilliant," says Pickles.

At nightfall, an American gunship slips down the Mississippi River and takes aim at the British campfires. Jackson and his forces are waiting in the swamps and woods for the shelling to begin.

"It took place after nightfall. It was very confusing and foggy. Both sides, kind of overran each other's positions," says Wiese.

"The night battle of the 23rd of December was some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign and indeed just about only hand to hand fighting that happened," says Pickles.

"That determined attack really kind of knocked the British of kilter. It forces them to hesitate for a number of days," says Wiese.

General Andrew Jackson was quoted as saying,

"And so as you see, this line it progresses to an almost impassable swamp all the way to the levee road leading into New Orleans. The best way to hunt was to make the game come to you. And that's exactly what my intentions are."

General Jackson sets his defensive line along the Rodriguez Canal. The canal is deepened and the earthworks built up on its bank. The British force swells to more than 8000, nearly twice the number of American defenders and British Major General Edward Pakenham arrives to take command.

"Pakenham was a young enthusiastic and really quite a clever officer. Say not absolutely the most brilliant but absolutely brave," says Pickles.

"At those devilish concreve, rockets started streaking across the sky and I knew the day had come," Jackson said.

At first, the British advance is shrouded in fog. But as the red coats near the American line, they are ripped apart by a barrage of cannon fire and grapeshot.

"Spherical balls of lead about the size of a grape. They would be loaded into a cannon, a whole bag full that would turn that cannon essentially into a giant shotgun," says Wiese.

American riflemen lined up three to four rows deep.

"The first company there to take aim and fire, split the center, retire to the rear and reload. And the second one step up and do the same. That way, even though the rifle is so slow to load, they can keep up constant galling aimed fire," said Jackson.

General Pakenham attempts to lead his faltering troops.

"Riding forward to rally his men, he got shot off his horse once, found another horse, got back up and continued to rally his men in full view of the American line and was promptly killed. Very, very brave," says Wiese.

"That field was littered with the dead and dying. There was red coats everywhere and the closer you got to my line, the thicker they were piled on top of each other," said Jackson.

This letter from the historic New Orleans collection was written by Louis Tous, the French consul in New Orleans. He writes, "The British experienced the most bloody butchery ever recorded in American history."

"Everyone was expecting to hear New Orleans had fallen," says Wiese.

"The New Orleans campaign solidified the idea of the United States as an independent country," says Pickles.

It was a miraculous victory on the Mississippi River at New Orleans that lifts the morale of Americans and ensures the future of a young nation.

Nearly 200 years later, the city is under siege again. Not from a foreign invader, but from the killer surge from Hurricane Katrina. Emergency responders like the U.S. Coast Guard become the heroes and save thousands of lives.

"The reports were just coming in like rapid fire. You know, people stranded on rooftops, levee breaking," says Frank Paskewich. "My name is Frank Paskewich, I'm a retired Coast Guard Captain and I was commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina's impact."

"We flew into the city and he could see water flowing over the levees and I felt like somebody punched me right in the stomach. It was like a gut punch. Jake Korn, I'm a retired Admiral from the Coast Guard, so I was a copilot in the first aircraft to do a full damage assessment of the whole site."

"I was actually on the first helicopter back to the city. I look at the water levels, you know, I can't believe is this real right now? Is this, is this happening? My name is Jonathan Rice. I'm an aviation survival technician, aka rescue swimmer. It was very overwhelming how many people that were waving shirts, towels, anything that could to get there, you know, helicopter's attention."

"The issue was trying to find out where people were and who needed to be rescued. And the other issue was trying not to run into anybody else because there was so many aircraft flying over the city at the time," says Korn.

"And as I was going down on the hook, a lady threw her infant child at me and I had to catch the child out of the air. I look down and the little girl is crying her eyes out. You know, she's like what is happening right now? And I pulled her up and held her as tight as I could and got her up to the safety of the helicopter. And when I put her in the seat, she started smiling. Then she reached over and was trying to hug me and I just, at that point, just broke down in tears," says Rice.

"Thirty-five hundred rescues that the Coast Guard was responsible for," says Paskewich.

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