Celebrating the glorious 8th: The Battle of New Orleans
By JIM BRADSHAW
We hardly take note of it these days, but Jan. 8, the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, was once a day of widespread celebration in Louisiana, rivaling even the Fourth of July.
The Battle of New Orleans, fought Jan. 8, 1815, was the last major fight in the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson led a ragtag band of Americans that included Acadians, Attakapas Indians, members of Jean Lafitte’s pirate gang, riflemen from Tennessee and Kentucky, and a handful of regular soldiers that took on — and defeated — some of the best trained and equipped British soldiers who were trying to take over control of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
According to the St. Landry Whig newspaper, the Opelousas celebration of the 30th anniversary of that victory, included “a grand ball; indigenous poetry; [a] patriotic choir; courtships, flirtations, and contemplated marriages; Creole beauties and gay cavaliers,” all of which were “no unusual thing” for the community.”
But apparently it took the celebration a little while to get rolling.
Whig editor Joseph Etter, apparently a newcomer to the area, reported, “This village has been, not inappropriately, denominated the Rip Van Winkle of the Prairies, waking up, occasionally, after long and protracted slumbers.
“The Eighth passed off with unusual tranquility. The stores were closed, public places were deserted, no banners floated, no strains of music or salvos of artillery disturbed for a moment the quietude of the scene; and as we paced up and down the forsaken streets, we really began to feel some solicitude for the patriotism of the town. We remained in this unpleasant frame of mind until a neighbor informed us that the Creoles were in the habit of manifesting their patriotic recollections by a mode not uncongenial to the people of Louisiana.”
As day drew into evening, Etter discovered, “every preparation seemed to be making for a grand ball. Gay Cavaliers were seen prancing through the streets upon richly caparisoned steeds, and rumbling carriages freighted with prairie beauties and surmounted with band-boxes dashed wildly through the village.”
The ballroom opened at 7 o’clock and was decorated “in a style becoming the occasion. … The ‘Stars and Stripes’ were suspended from the walls, and evergreen branches hung in festoons around the beautiful banners as they flashed in the light of a thousand tapers, and lightly waved in the breath of the joyous throng.
“The ball proceeded with the utmost good will, and pleasantry, to say nothing of the fashionable and graceful dancing.” Then, “at the tap of a drum,” the dancing stopped and “an original ode, prepared for the occasion by Stephen Bernard, Esq., … was sung by a choir of French gentlemen,” reminding the dancers “of the achievements of the Eighth, and of the motives [of] their festivity.”
After the song was finished, “wars and battles and national glory seemed to be forgotten in the avidity with which the dancers resumed their sports.”
Many of the ball’s participants “were wounded by the shafts from the bow of the boy-god,” according to the Whig account, and it appears that one of Cupid’s arrows may have grazed our editor himself.
“The ladies, it is needless to say, were extremely beautiful,” he wrote. “Who that has gazed on the lovely creole as she bounds in the gay quadrille or floats through the languishing waltz, can deny for a moment her irrepressible charms and the magic of her beauty?
“This is a subject, however, which we must pass by as hastily as possible, for we have a wife at home and two children. Be it understood … that we speak for the edification of others.”
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.