Jackson Barracks: Building the U.S. Army Post.....
President Andrew Jackson signed a Congressional bill on July 19, 1832 that provided $87,000 for the building of a post to house U.S. troops. An additional $107,500 was appropriated by Congress bringing the total cost to over $180,000. The site for Jackson Barracks was purchased on December 16, 1833 from Pierre Cotteret. The area was chosen for its close proximity to the city and the four forts guarding it against a seaborne invasion like Jackson had faced here in 1815. The forts would be the first line of defense and the barracks would serve as the main supply and troop center, sending these things where most needed in the time of attack.
A.B. Roman, governor of Louisiana, wanted the troops garrisoned in the city to discourage any possible slave uprisings but President Jackson wanted them away from the inner city and the "distrustful" Creole population, hence the present site was chosen as a compromise.
Lieutenant Frederick Wilkinson, a 23 year old West Point graduate, designed and supervised the building of the barracks in February 24, 1834 until completion on December 31, 1835. The barracks was built on a 300 by 600 foot site which fronted the river. In addition to the fourteen original buildings which stand today there was a headquarters building and two guard towers which were identical to the two which remain today. The quadrangle design in the center of the post was designed to be a rallying point for the Louisiana volunteer militia to join along with the regulars in the event of attack.
The barracks was known back then as New Orleans Barracks or simply U.S. Barracks. The first troops were in the barracks by February of 1837. Colonel David E. Twiggs was the first commandant of the Post, also serving as commanding officer of the 2nd Regiment of Dragoons. The first use that the barracks got was to serve as a temporary post for troops moving through LA to and from the Florida Seminole war in 1836. Indians who had made peace with the U.S. government were sent out West, but not before a brief stay at the Barracks while waiting for a ship to take them upriver.
Embarkation Point and Hospital
In 1845 General Zachary Taylor was ordered to assemble an Army of Observation in Texas. Many of his troops that were sent to join him passed through New Orleans via New Orleans Barracks and stayed there for short periods awaiting ship transport. One man who was among the troops who came through New Orleans Barracks was Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, just two years out of West Point. Names also showing up on the post returns of the time were Lieutenants Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, and George McClellan, all famous Army officers in the Civil War.
When Taylor reached Texas, he realized that he was short of artillery power and Louisiana sent him the Orleans and the Native American (Washington Artillery) companies, sailing from the barracks. Major Jacob Brown was in command of the post at this time. He was sent to Texas to fight and later killed in battle during the Mexican War. The town of Brownsville, Texas is named for him.
When the War with Mexico broke out, New Orleans Barracks served as a port of embarkation for troops going into Texas and then into Mexico. Embarking for foreign soil would become the mission of the post in later years during the Spanish-American War and into the twentieth century during both world wars. The population of the post swelled from its usual 150 to 1500 troops at a time. Volunteers who came down were camped in Chalmette or in the swamps to the rear of the barracks.
After a year into the war New Orleans Barracks began to assume the role of a hospital, caring for the returning sick and wounded troops. To better serve their needs, an extra strip of land adjacent to the west side of the barracks was purchased to build a post hospital. It was completed in 1849, and it was unlike any other building of its type at that time. The hospital was four two story buildings, facing each other with a quadrangle in the center. In the middle of the quadrangle was an octagonal shaped building which served as the medical dispensary. Each building was capable of accommodating one thousand patients. Diplomat Henry Clay was present during the dedication of the new hospital. .
However, the hospital buildings were completed too long after the war’s end to serve any long term use because soon after, the garrison was gone, and only twenty soldiers remained at New Orleans Barracks. As a result, the hospital buildings deteriorated rapidly and in 1853 the post was abandoned. It was soon reactivated, thanks in part to a study done by P.G.T. Beauregard which determined the feasibility of making it available to the patients of the US Marine Hospital, whose hospital in Algiers was in bad need of repair..
When Louisiana seceded in 1861, Louisiana militia units were there to take over the barracks. They took down the flag of the United States and raised the Pelican flag. The Confederacy used the post as a militia training center and retained control until April 1862, when Admiral David Farragut reclaimed the city for the Union. Farragut turned the post over to "Beast" Butler, and it remained a garrison for Union troops until well into the period of Reconstruction.
After the Civil War, an assessment of the post was done, the land and buildings being appraised at $450,000. It was in 1866 that the post received its present name of Jackson Barracks, named after Andrew Jackson, hero of the battle of New Orleans and the seventh president of the United States.
Into the Twentieth Century
Political uprisings after the Civil War, and especially the Battle of Liberty Place, resulted in additional troops being brought into Jackson Barracks to keep the fragile peace that held the Union together. There were units stationed here at this time were destined to become famous. Parts of the all-black 25th Infantry Regiment were formed here at Jackson Barracks in 1869. These soldiers would eventually be transferred out west and gain fame as the fierce fighting Buffalo Soldiers. Company L of the ill-fated 7th Cavalry was also here from 1872 - 1874. After Reconstruction ended, however, the post was left for a short time with just four NCO’s and ten privates in summer 1878. This could have been due to a yellow fever epidemic which struck that year, which left one NCO and five of the privates dead. During the summer, most of the troops stationed on the post would be removed to the forts outside New Orleans to evade the affliction. From 1881- 1914 the post was garrisoned mainly by artillery units.
In the early 1870’s Captain Arthur MacArthur, father of WWII General Douglas MacArthur, was stationed at the barracks. Ex-President Ulysses S. Grant revisited Jackson Barracks one afternoon in 1880 and reminisced about his times here at the time of the Mexican War. Another famous visitor, President William Howard Taft, stopped by in 1909 for a luncheon hosted by the post commander and the Louisiana Historical Society.
Jackson Barracks would have an important role in Mardi Gras, a revived festivity after the Civil War. King Rex would send the order to the commandant to receive him. As Rex entered the post, he would be welcomed by a battalion of infantry and the regimental band waiting on the parade field. The post commander would formally hand over control of the city to the King of Mardi Gras, and escort him upriver.
The Barracks became home to other social functions as well during this time, as the fields on post were used for track and field competitions. One field day in May 1897 consisted of a 100 yd dash, a relay race, and a wall scaling contest, among other things. Another exhibition in July featured a one-mile run, a broad jumping contest, a tent-pitching contest, and an obstacle course. This would attract spectators from across the city.
The face of Jackson Barracks was ever changing. In 1912 the levee which protected the post gave way. The levee was pushed back, and the headquarters building and the front two guard towers were dismantled. The streetcar line which ran along the river in front of the barracks was also gone. One debate that was brought up was to run another road along the river in front of Jackson Barracks, but this was soon quieted, as more buildings would have to be torn down and Dauphine Street had already been opened to traffic. In 1893 the old hospital was torn down, which effectively ended any significant need for Jackson Barracks by the active Army.
During the Spanish American War hopes rose that Jackson Barracks would once again be the base for Forts Jackson and St. Phillip. The post would see an increase in population and activity, but as a training center as batteries representing the Louisiana Field Artillery, the Washington Artillery and the Donaldsonville Cannoneers were at Jackson Barracks during the conflict.
During World War I, Jackson Barracks was used as a training and processing center. Fourteen new buildings were added, including mess halls, hospital wards, and additional barracks. The end of World War I would, however, mark the last peacetime use of Jackson Barracks by the U.S. Army.
Louisiana National Guard Headquarters
In 1920, Jackson Barracks was visited by World War I General John ‘Black Jack" Pershing, during which he inspected the troops stationed at the post on the old parade field. A photograph of this event is currently on display in the museum. Also on display is the 1917 Cadillac Staff Car which, according to legend, Pershing used during his visit to New Orleans.
After World War I, the need for the post by the U.S. Army had diminished. Louis A. Toombs, Adjutant General of the newly reorganized Louisiana National Guard, spearheaded a plan to gain use of Jackson Barracks for the guard. By February 1922 the Washington Artillery and the 108th Cavalry, two guard units, began to drill at the barracks.
It was uncertain how long this arrangement would last as the War Department wanted to declare Jackson Barracks surplus and sell it. It was thought that the old army post could be used as a hospital or a federal jail. But Governor Huey P. Long, in an appeal to the Secretary of War, was able to procure a lease for the Louisiana Guard in 1930. The lease, set for 25 years, stipulated that the federal government could acquire the post in the event of need.
During the 1930’s extensive renovation of the original barracks was undertaken by the Works Progress Administration. A new three-story headquarters building was constructed similar in style to the buildings surrounding the old parade field. A brick wall was built around the barracks to Dauphine street, as well as supply buildings and garages on the east side of Area A.
Forty acres of the post were reclaimed by draining and filling. During the WPA renovation, two human skeletons were found which confirmed earlier written records of soldiers being buried on the post. The 1930’s also saw crowds gather at Jackson Barracks every Sunday afternoon to watch polo matches between units stationed on post or against teams from other cities. Today the polo field is occupied by the old prison compound and the Washington Artillery armory.
Jackson Barracks became the site of the Selective Service Conference. Plans for the best way to procure manpower in the event of an emergency were being studied. The plan submitted by Adjutant General Raymond Fleming and his staff was widely accepted and put into use. Fleming, who rose from private to general in a period of 12 years, was the longest serving Adjutant General in Louisiana history. He also went on to become the first Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
The federal government repossessed Jackson Barracks shortly before World War II, as per the lease agreement, and the post was used as part of the New Orleans port of embarkation. A series of two-story buildings were constructed on the polo field and used for the thousands of soldiers who were trained and processed for shipment overseas. After the war, the Lousiana National Guard regained control of the post. In 1955, full ownership of the barracks reverted back to the State of Louisiana.
Gen. Raymond Hufft, who became adjutant general at age 33, was a World War II hero who had seen action in both the Pacific and European theaters of operation and had been among the first troops to enter Rome and was the first officer of the Seventh Army to cross the Rhine into Germany. Jackson Barracks, in addition to supporting natural disasters with National Guard unit’s assistance, also provides itself as a refugee center for flood and hurricane victims. After Hurricane Betsy struck the area in 1965, it was realized that more armories were needed, not only for the soldiers of the Louisiana National Guard, but also to be used as refugee centers. The two "twin" armories facing St. Claude St., also known by the Washington Artillery as Owen Hall and the one facing N. Claiborne Street, were completed in 1974. Each building houses a drill hall, supply rooms, classrooms, vaults and administrative offices.
Under Major General O.J. Daigle’s tenure as the Adjutant General, a guard house which was constructed in 1904 was converted and has been known as the Jackson Barracks Memorial Chapel since 1974. The old powder magazine at Jackson Barracks was renovated and became the Louisiana Military History and State Weapons Museum in 1977. The Jackson Barracks Military Museum serves as the official Louisiana National Guard Museum. Housed in the Old Powder Magazine, it contains artifacts from each of the nine major conflicts in which the United States, with particular emphasis on the role of the Louisiana National Guard. Jackson Barracks was officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Also in 1976, a comprehensive study of the History of the Louisiana National Guard was completed and published by Evans Casso under the title "Louisiana Legacy". Copies of the book are currently available and can be purchased at either the Jackson Barracks Museum or Library.
General Ansel M. Stroud, Jr. took over the Adjutant General’s position in 1980. During his 17- year tenure, much work has gone into the preservation of historic Jackson Barracks. The museum was expanded into a multi-building complex with a state of the art theater for use by both the military and civilian sector, and a new Headquarters STARC Armory was constructed which houses most of the Directorates of the Louisiana National Guard. The armory contains offices, a drill hall and conference rooms.
During Operation Desert Storm, several units stationed at Jackson Barracks were mobilized and/or shipped out to war in the Middle East. These units proudly carried on the Louisiana National Guard’s tradition of being one of the most combat-ready organizations for the conflict.
Today, MG Bennett C. Landreneau serves as the Adjutant General of the Louisiana Army and Air National Guard, a position he assumed in November 1997. He is carrying on the centuries-old traditions of Louisiana's citizen-soldiers and his leadership and vision will take the organization into the twenty-first century.
Jackson Barracks has survived through Louisiana’s extreme climate and turbulent past. Thousands of soldiers have passed through over its 162-year history. The post has endured as a monument to Louisiana History, and continues to be a vital part of the American military tradition.
Learn more about the History of Jackson Barracks by visiting our Military Library
Louisiana National Guard History