Memorial Day has just passed, it’s fitting to take a look at one of the oldest facilities in the United States for housing soldiers Jackson Barracks, in the Ninth Ward on St. Claude Avenue. It’s been through a lot since 1833-hell and high water, literally. The old building could tell us some stories about all the military heroes, known and unknown, who served their country there, including some latter-day heroes who helped get New Orleanians out of harm’s way during Hurricane Katrina. You can visit the Jackson Barracks Military Museum and see military artifacts dating back 200 years. That trip is easily combined with a visit to the Chalmette Battlefield, part of the Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve, where you can see the site of the legendary Battle of New Orleans, fought January 8, 1815.
Jackson Barracks, originally known as New Orleans Barracks, was built after the War of 1812. The first militia, consisting of four infantry companies, were housed there in 1837. Built on the river, the original facility had a storehouse, four three-story guard towers, and a prison. It had its own levee, road, railroad, and trolley car tracks. Ulysses S. Grant, George B. McClellan, Robert E. Lee, P. G. T. Beauregard and J.E.B. Stuart, were all in these Barracks before the Civil War, although not all at once. After the Mexican-American War, it became the earliest Public Service Hospital for soldiers in the nation in 1849.
New Orleans Barracks was renamed in 1866, Jackson Barracks, honoring Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson. Federal troops regained it from Confederate forces in 1862. Later, the famous Buffalo Soldiers, the first African-American regiments in the Civil War, were housed there.
Jackson Barracks was a federal muster station during World War I, but thereafter became the home of the Louisiana National Guard. It was flooded in 1912 when the Mississippi River topped the levees, and parts were lost .
During the Depression, Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long managed to get WPA funding to renovate Jackson Barracks. The federal government again took it over during World War II, when it became a port of embarkation for men preparing to ship overseas . After World War II, it went back to the state of Louisiana for the use of the Louisiana National Guard.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the subsequent levee break of the Industrial Canal inundated the facility with 20 feet of water, totally destroying it . The National Guard helicopter pilots helped rescue stranded residents , who were first evacuated by boat to the Mississippi River levee. The federal government recognized the need to rebuild this national historic treasure, and funded 100% of the necessary rebuilding, at a cost of $325 million. Today, the historic buildings have been brought back to their original designs, but everything is state-of-the-art. It’s an important piece of American history, and it’s special to New Orleanian’s. Memorial Day is never far from our minds.