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NOLA and the Navy: Need-to-Know Facts

NOLA Navy Week docks in New Orleans beginning April 23, offering spectators up-close views of hulking warships, a performance from the United States Navy Band, fireworks at the Woldenberg Park, and more. The Navy aided the city during the Battle of New Orleans, and four ships have borne the name “USS New Orleans.” Read on for more historic facts about the centuries-old relationship between the Navy and New Orleans.

The USS Wasp (LHD-1) is the largest ship coming to New Orleans for NOLA Navy Week. Photo courtesy: US Navy

NOLA Navy History

1. New Orleans and the US Navy have a more than 200-year relationship.

Since 1801, the Navy and the city have enjoyed a great working relationship. The Navy puchased land in Algiers, on the West Bank of the Mississippi, in 1849, after the city was used as a staging port for the Mexican War in 1846. It took more than fifty years for the Navy to turn the land into a full-blown dry dock and shipyard, but it was an important part of their infrastructure in both World War I and World War II.

The Navy had components on both sides of the river. The drydock and shipyard were in Algiers, and the port of embarkation and other supply/support facilities were located along the river in the Bywater, at Poland Avenue, next to the Industrial Canal.

2. The Navy helped defend the city during the Battle of New Orleans.

Throughout the acquisition of Louisiana by the United States in 1803 and the British attack that started in December, 1814, the Navy maintained a small squadron in New Orleans. Major General Andrew Jackson wanted to move the squadron to Mobile in 1814, but the squadron’s commander, Lieutenant Daniel Patterson, refused.

Patterson and the squadron fought a delaying action on Lake Borgne in December of 1814. The Royal Navy squadron supporting the British invasion force was overwhelming and included the HMS Tonnant, a 74-gun ship of the line. Patterson’s defense, though weak, still forced the British to push back their land invasion, helping the Americans improve their land defenses.

3. The low point of relations between New Orleans and the Navy was in 1862.

Louisiana joined other Southern states in seceding from the Union in January of 1861. The Union Navy proceeded to blockade a number of Confederate ports, including New Orleans. In the last week of April, 1862, Flag-Officer David Glasgow Farragut, of the Union Navy, ordered his squadron of wooden-hull steamships to advance up the Mississippi River, past Fort St. Phillip and Fort Jackson, and take New Orleans.

The Union ships cleared the forts on the night of April 28, 1862, and the city woke up the next morning to thirteen enemy vessels prepared to blast and burn the city. Farragut’s presence compelled the surrender of the city. Many historians point to the loss of New Orleans as one of the significant factors in the Confederacy losing the War Between the States.

USS New Orleans
The USS New Orleans (CL-22). Photo courtesy: US Naval Historical Center

4. Four ships have borne the name USS New Orleans.

The first was the USS New Orleans (CL-22), a Protected Cruiser that saw service in the Spanish American War and World War II. She was decommissioned in 1922.

The next was USS New Orleans (CA-32), the first of the New Orleans class of heavy cruisers. She saw extensive service in World War II and was decommissioned in 1947. That ship was followed by USS New Orleans (LPH-11), a helicopter carrier/amphibious assault ship. She was an Iwo Jima-class LPH, so, strictly speaking, she was named after the Battle of New Orleans rather than the city.

The current USS New Orleans (LPD-18) is a San Antonio-class Amphibious Transport Dock. Her mission is to deliver a battalion of 700 marines wherever they are needed.

5. New Orleans was defended from naval attack by a number of forts over its history.

The most well-known forts that protected New Orleans were Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillip, located downriver in Plaquemines Parish. Additionally, Fort Pike guarded the Rigolets Pass, Fort Macomb defended Chef Menteur, and Fort Livingston, protected Barataria Bay.

6. Local museums contain numerous naval-related exhibits and artifacts.

The Louisiana State Museum properties, particularly the Cabildo and Presbytere, along with the Historic New Orleans Collection, have exhibits on various subjects that touch on the city’s relationship with the Navy and the merchant ships which kept the port active. These include the Battle of New Orleans exhibit at the Cabildo and the history of the slave trade exhibit presented by The Historic New Orleans Collection.

7. Six distinguished warships will visit New Orleans for NOLA Navy Week.

Led by the USS Wasp (LHD-1), a flotilla including two US destroyers, USS James E. Williams (DDG-95) and USS Cole (DDG-67); a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Lancaster; a Royal Canadian Navy destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan; and the US Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless (WMEC-24) will steam up the river and dock along the New Orleans Riverfront on April 23, staying in town until April 29.

The USS Wasp is the eleventh ship in the US Navy to hold that name.

Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, and Maison Blanche Department Stores, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. He is also author of Legendary Locals of New Orleans. Branley’s first novel, Dragon’s Dangeris now available in bookstores and online. Edward is also the NOLA History Guy, online and on Twitter (@NOLAHistoryGuy).

Author of five books on the history of New Orleans, Edward Branley is a graduate of Brother Martin High School and the University of New Orleans. Edward writes, teaches, and does speaking engagements on local history to groups in and around New Orleans. His urban fantasy novel, "Hidden Talents," is available online and in bookstores. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, @NOLAHistoryGuy.

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