NOLA 300: Memories of wars past at Chalmette National Cemetery

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CHALMETTE, La. -- Chalmette National Cemetery is filled with the memories of wars past.

The cemetery sits next to the Chalmette Battlefield, where Andrew Jackson and his outnumbered troops defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. It is not only located on the site of one of the last a major battles in the War of 1812. It also holds the graves of four soldiers who fought in that war.

But, Chalmette National Cemetery's origins lay in the end of another war.

"The cemetery itself gets its start in 1864 as a final resting place for Civil War veterans," says Chad Hoing, park guide with the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. "About half of our solders are Civil War. But, we have a total of around 16,000 interred veterans here."

After the Civil War, the country needed graves to bury all of its dead. So, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the creation of national cemeteries, like Chalmette National Cemetery.

"As you drive in, you are surrounded on both sides by the headstones," says Hoing. "You are also enveloped by the trees that are here."

"You start to maybe notice that the headstones get smaller up to the point where they are about eight-inch square," he continues. "Those are unknown soldiers. About half of our Civil War veterans are unknown."

Some of the stories Hoing does know aren't always apparent by the name on the headstone.

"From the Civil War, we have people like Sarah Wakeman, who on her headstone is actually recognized as Lyons Wakeman," Hoing says. "She was a woman who actually dressed as a man in order to serve her country during the Civil War."

Buried in the cemetery are veterans of wars from the War of 1812 all the way to Vietnam.

"Sometimes you don't know the stories of all those individuals buried out there," says Hoing. "But, it's a nice place where you can go and show respect to these men that died for a cause that was very important."

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