NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Spanish cannon used in the Battle of New Orleans and weighing nearly 3 tons will be hauled by pulleys and human muscle onto a new gun carriage like one that once might have held it on a naval ship.
For generations, the 10½-foot-long, 5,789-pound weapon has sat on a big wooden outside the Cabildo — part of the Louisiana State Museum — in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Nothing is known about the cannon’s history before it became part of Gen. Andrew Jackson’s defenses in Chalmette for the battle on Jan. 8, 1815, though its shape and markings show that it was a naval cannon made in Spain, museum director Mark Tullos said.
“This was a pretty common model,” he said.
It might have been commandeered from a ship. It might have been mounted at Fort St. John, also known as Old Spanish Fort. It might have been brought in by Jean and Pierre Lafitte, who, along with many of their followers, brought the U.S. forces artillery and thousands of the gun flints needed to keep rifles firing in exchange for pardons on piracy charges. Lafitte’s Baratarians manned two 24-pound cannons and a 32-pounder during the battle, according to “The Pirates Lafitte” by William C. Davis.
There’s no documentation for this cannon’s location before the battle; any suggestion is pure speculation, Tullos said.
Tuesday’s move is part of preparations for the museum’s exhibit about the War of 1812. The new carriage is modeled after some at the Chalmette battlefield, now part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, with other research-based details, Tullos said.
“One of the things I found fascinating is that the carriage was designed to be disassembled and put in carts to go to another location,” he said. The cannon itself would have traveled in another cart.
During early stages of readying the cannon, a 24-pound cannonball and ceramic shards packed in as shrapnel were found inside it.
Those date from the Civil War, when the cannon was used at Fort St. John as part of the unsuccessful defense against a squadron led by David Farragut, who had fought as a boy in the War of 1812 and who was made the U.S. Navy’s first admiral after taking New Orleans in April 1862.
“During the war it was thrown into Bayou St. John,” Tullos said. It may have been sunk after the city was captured, but there’s no record of the reason, he said.
“It was raised in 1872 to return it to the Spanish Fort, as a display piece,” he said.
It was given to the Louisiana State Museum in 1906 and put on display two years later. It now faces Jackson Square, in front of the Cabildo. A museum photograph from 1934 shows it on a similar block in the courtyard behind the Cabildo, Tullos said.