Most people have heard about the Battle of New Orleans that was fought in 1815, but I’ll bet very few historians have heard of the Second and Third Battles of New Orleans. Now some people will tell you that I’m a damn liar but I swear to you that the Second and Third Battles of New Orleans were fought in the town of Mexico, Missouri in 2015.
And here’s the story.
Mexico, Missouri used to host an annual event called Walk Back in Time. It lasted for a weekend and was hosted on the grounds of the Audrain County Historical Society. The Historical Society invited vendors and hundreds of historical reenactors to pitch camp there and it was free of charge to visitors. Each encampment was for a particular period of history and visitors could go from encampment to encampment, talk to the reenactors, and look at their displays.
My Dad always camped there and he would dress as George Washington and my stepmother would dress as Martha Washington. I’m into military history, but I’m not as passionate about reenacting as he is. Regardless, every year I would fly back from Los Angeles, put on a Revolutionary War uniform he provided and spend the weekend with him. I can’t stop myself from commenting on the fact that he picked what is undeniably the least comfortable historical period of uniforms to wear.
I would be standing there in 90 degree weather, wearing a vest, a wig, a tricorn hat, stockings that went up over my knees, a heavy wool coat, and shoes that are made for neither your left nor your right foot. Some trapper wearing buckskins or a cowboy in ranch clothes would go sauntering by and I would just glare jealously at them while the sweat dripped from my wig down the back of my neck. At night, I would lay on my cot in our tent and dream of running away and joining another encampment whose historical period believed in air conditioning and linen.
Ahem. Anyway back to the Battles of New Orleans.
In 2014, my Dad started to talk about wanting to reenact the Battle of New Orleans at Walk Back in Time for the 200th anniversary of the battle. I don’t think he had any experience in running a battle reenactment so I humored the old man, making promises that I would definitely help him with it. Absolutely. Sounds great. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that he was going to do it.
As 2015 Walk Back in Time approached, I began to realize he might actually pull it off. He made an arrangement with the Missouri Military Academy for them to provide two dozen cadets to represent the British. The cadets already had shakos and drummers who could lead a march. My Dad paid to have wooden dummy muskets made for them to carry and red coats sewn that were a pretty good simulation of a British jacket. He purchased a British general’s uniform for himself in his role as Sir Edward Pakenham and I would be provided with a British officer’s uniform. He knew I could call cadence from my military experience so I would be in charge of marching the British army.
The Americans would consist of a ragtag force of trappers, pioneers, and other miscellaneous characters reinforced by a single Confederate cannon and crew. They would be led by Andrew Jackson, played by Tony, the Senior Vice President of Central Bank of Mexico.
My Dad was going to hire two bagpipers from Columbia, MO to play the bagpipes as we marched.
I flew out there for that fateful weekend and when I arrived at the Historical Society, my Dad took me downstairs into the basement and showed me the dummy muskets and uniforms. We walked the site of where the battle would be fought and came up with our plan.
The American fortifications would be represented by a wall of hay bales. The Americans and their cannon would be safely behind this wall. The British would form up a distance away and then make a circuitous march in column around the field behind the Historical Society. As we marched around and crossed a little bridge to approach the “battlefield”, the cannon would fire on three separate occasions. Three cadets had a sticker on their musket numbered 1, 2, and 3. When the first cannon shot was fired, Cadet 1 would die spectacularly. When the second cannon shot was fired, Cadet 2 would die, etc.
Once the British arrived on the battlefield (less three brave souls lying in the grass), I would form the column into line facing the wall of hay. Pakenham (Dad) would move in front of the formation and I would stay in the back where I could keep a close eye on the cadets. Pakenham would give the order to sound the pipes, and we would then all advance in line.
The remaining cadets would be divided into three groups, each with a colored sticker on their dummy muskets. The Green group would be the first to die and would fall when they crossed a first line we had laid across the grass. The Yellow group would die when they crossed the Yellow line. Everyone including my Dad would die when we reached the Red line. The cannon wouldn’t fire as we advanced through the lines.
I had two big fears as I snuck away to my room at the Best Western to get a shower. The first was that some reenactor might get excited and actually shoot something at us. My bigger concern was that the cadets would get too close to the wall and an inadvertent melee might ensue between energetic cadets in the prime of their lives and middle-aged men who mostly weren’t but were defending freedom. I asked Dad about safety rules for these kinds of events and received some basic common sense ideas about how not to die during a reenactment.
After some furious Googling and with the arrival of my friend Mitch the next day to stay with us, I had a pretty good idea of what we needed to put in place to not exceed the casualty numbers of the actual battle. We put restrictions on how the reenactors handled their ramrods and made sure the final Red line was well clear of the danger close distance of the muskets. Mitch was dressed as a French officer so he would stay with the Americans (and Confederates) to keep an eye on them and act as a Safety Officer.
I met the two bagpipers and they were two older ladies who sounded like they definitely knew how to play the bagpipes. I explained to the British group that under no circumstances was anyone to cross the Red line. Everyone seemed to understand. The bagpipers asked that we march more slowly because it was hard to blow the bagpipes and march. No problem. Then I nervously waited for the beginning of the Second Battle of New Orleans.
Second Battle of New Orleans
The British cadets formed up near some parked cars under the watchful eyes of their faculty advisors. They looked pretty sharp in their uniforms and shakos. Dad had given them British colors to carry and the cadets seemed excited. I encouraged them to make the most of their deaths because the eyes of Missouri were upon them. I prayed that Mitch had everything under control on the American side. I faced the line left and we marched off in column. The drums were beating
As I meandered the column around the back of the grounds, we could hear the crowd. The first cannon shot roared out. Nothing happened.
“Die Cadet 1!”, I growled.
Cadet 1 responded, “It’s gravel, sir.”
Cadet 1 was then apparently struck by a bouncing cannon ball that impacted him while we were marching through some soft, plushy grass a few feet later. The column moved to the left and a second cannon shot roared out. Cadet 2 died with appropriate drama. Third shot. Third British casualty.
We marched up and formed our battle line facing the hay bales. The crowd was aligned all along our left flank behind taped lines. I was starting to feel pretty good about this. Dad moved to the front of the formation, yelled something inspirational to us, turned to face the hay bales, and ordered the bagpipes to play. I was behind the cadets and with the bagpipes playing and colors flying, it really looked pretty good. We had at least twenty cadets in the double line formation.
I gave the order to march forward and the double line advanced into the teeth of the American defenses. To the left of us, families eating corn dogs and funnel cakes seemed confident that the British threat would be defeated. Not today, Great Britain. Not here in Mexico, Missouri.
We were marching and I was waiting to see the Green Line when I realized with horror that the Green line tape had been picked up by someone. It was gone. I looked ahead at the killing ground in front of us and saw that the Yellow and Red lines were gone too! Could this be sabotage? Could Fulton, MO be responsible for this?
I didn’t have any more time to think about it because the flower of the Missouri Military Academy was rapidly marching toward destruction. I screamed, “Green! Green!” as a volley of muskets barked out, spewing smoke across the line of hay bales. The disciplined Green cadets dropped in their tracks, spiraling in agony and flopping on the ground. The crowd murmured approvingly. After 15 more feet, I screamed, “Yellow! Yellow!”. The Yellow cadets died a brave death under the withering fire of the American muskets.
Not taking chances, I gave it about 10 more feet and then called out “Red!” which resulted in the death of my Dad, the bagpipers, the color bearers, drummer, and all of the Red group. After surveying the field to make sure all British were good and dead, I then died myself. There was a lot of cheering from the crowd and the Americans. A Francis Scott Key reenactor came out and made a speech while we laid in the grass.
We then all came back to life and I set about investigating what had happened to our colored lines. It turns out it wasn’t people from Fulton trying to sabotage a moment of glory for Mexico. It was Mitch. Mitch didn’t like how the lines looked across the battlefield so he moved them off to our right flank where I could see them. And didn’t tell me. So I didn’t see them because I’m behind two lines of cadets.
After a significant emotional event between Mitch and I, we agreed that the battle had gone off pretty well. It’s hard to stay mad at Mitch. I was looking forward to a repeat of the battle the next day and felt we could execute it perfectly. Especially timing the musket volleys to match the deaths of our color lines.
I woke up the next morning and was informed that I was down two British soldiers. Apparently, two of the cadets had walked over to a store wearing their World War Two reenactment uniforms and purchased a fifth of whisky. The clerk didn’t card them because they were in uniform and he wasn’t about to not sell to two soldiers serving their country. He probably didn’t have any idea that it was a uniform from 70 years ago. The two cadets then enjoyed their bottle back at their encampment, got drunk, were discovered by faculty, and shipped back to the academy grounds. Never to participate in the Third Battle of New Orleans.
Third Battle of New Orleans
This battle started in the same manner as the previous day. Our march to the battlefield was successful. Three cadets died from cannon fire. We formed up to face the Americans. The crowd to my left seemed much larger. My Dad yelled inspiring words. He ordered the bagpipes to play and turned to face the Americans.
And then it happened.
Before anyone could issue any commands, one of the bagpipers lurched forward and started marching toward the American defenses. There were too many cadets between us for me to run forward and grab her. She just kept marching. She marched past my Dad in his resplendent Pakenham uniform. He did a double take as she marched past his right and bravely advanced on the American defenses by herself. She was about ten feet in front of Dad when I recovered from my shock and hurriedly ordered our lines to advance.
Could we catch her? Could we recover some dignity and restore her to our ranks? This is the same lady who had been complaining that we were marching too fast but as the spirit of battle overtook her, she was way ahead of us, playing her bagpipes.
A mixed noise of nervous laughter and curiosity rippled through the audience. Was this some mysterious tactic used by the British when they fought their battles? Did they send a lone bagpiper forward to test the strength of the enemy resolve? The Americans looked suspiciously at her from behind their bales of hay as if she was a Trojan horse being pushed toward their lines. The Senior VP of Central Bank of Mexico assessed this bagpipe-playing kamikaze attack and decided the best way to deal with it was firepower.
As fast as we marched, we couldn’t catch up to her. It didn’t help that I was losing redcoats every time we crossed a line. The crowd started laughing and cheering. She survived at least three volleys and then just died at the Red line with the rest of us. I fell to my death with the Red group and just laid there, smoldering as I waited for Francis Scott Key to finish up already. When I stood up and recovered from my death, my first thought was, “Where the hell is that bagpiper?”
I never did find her. Maybe Fulton spirited her out of town. One of the cadets came up to me and asked me, “Sir, did you see what that bagpiper did?” I responded, “Did I see her? EVERYBODY saw her. How could anyone NOT see her?” But I can’t stay mad for more than ten minutes and we were all laughing about it. The crowd apparently loved the show and thought it was all part of it.
Mexico hasn’t had the Walk Back In Time for several years, so let’s hope they can get this event started again, but I can’t be convinced to reenact any more battles. Two was enough.
Second Battle of New Orleans Historical Footage:
Third Battle of New Orleans Historical Footage:
Or click this link:https://youtu.be/7bPI4ZQs_nE to view if the video above won’t play.