Thursday, August 20, 2015

Military Pageant (August 1848)

In 1848, an unidentified New Orleans architect was commissioned to design a "triumphal temple" to honor U.S.-Mexico War hero Persifor Frazer Smith (1798-1858). The structure was erected in the Place d'Armes (Lafayette Square) to celebrate Smith's return from Mexico. The 50-ft. wide octagonal platform was festooned with evergreens and the coats of arms of all the U.S. states.(1)

Persifor Smith was a prominent New Orleans lawyer and adjutant general who led the Washington Artillery in the 1840s. Under his command, the Louisiana militia participated in the battles at Contreras and Churubusco. Smith remained in Mexico until the last U.S. company returned in the late summer of 1848.

Despite oppressive  heat and its diminished seasonal population,  the city of New Orleans sought to celebrate his arrival with an elaborate reception. On 7 August 1848, a fleet led by the steamer Conqueror departed from a wharf near the Place d'Armes towards the Barracks [AKA Jackson Barracks]. Spectators gathered along the Mississippi and the Conqueror transported a band that played a new march devoted to Smith.

After observing various congratulatory exercises, the fleet returned to the Place d'Armes wharf. A 50-gun salute marked its arrival. General Smith passed through a double phalanx towards the triumphal platform to receive honors from Mayor Abdiel Daily Crossman. After an address by Randall Hunt, another salute fired from each of the city's squares inaugurated an equestrian-carriage procession that passed the Cathedral to Elysian Fields, and returned along Royal Street to Canal Street to meander towards its final destination, the St. Charles Hotel.

Mayor Crossman presented General Smith with an elaborate sword made by the city's Baldwin & Company. Modeled after antique swords, Smith's was inscribed "Presented to the Hero of Contreras by the People and State of Louisiana." With Hercules fighting Antaeus on its hilt and Louisiana's pelican on its sheath, the short sword is considered the finest of its day.

In addition to the cannons, music, flotilla and procession, a local merchant sought to capitalize on the event by advertising his new  "Smith Hat."

(1) North American and United States Gazette 8 August 1848.

Images above:  Gary Hendershott, dealer. Brigadier General Persifor Smith Presentation Sword. New Orleans: Baldwin & Co., 1848. As viewed 20 August 2015.

J.T. Martin. Smith's March, Composed and Dedicated to Gen. Persifore Smith, the Hero of Contreras. Baltimore: Miller & Beacham, 1848. Louisiana Sheet Music, Tulane University Digital Library from original in the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.


Anonymous said...

Place d'Armed is Jackson Square, not Lafayette Square.

Keli Rylance said...

The articles associated with the triumphal platform refer to the Place d'Armes as being on Lafayette Street… so I went with that identification.

Anonymous said...

The Daily Crescent identifies the event as taking place at Armory Hall, which would have been Jackson Square. Perhaps the error is due to its being reported in a Philadelphia newspaper.

nbclark78 said...

Jackson Square did not become know as "Jackson Square" until 1851. Lafayette Street does in fact run from the river to Lafayette Square. The original "Jackson Square" is where the Old U.S. Mint now stands at the corner of Decatur and Esplanade. After the Spanish fort, Ft. St. Charles, was torn down in 1821, that square was given the nickname of "Jackson Square" until the year 1838 when the Mint was constructed on that site.

Anonymous said...

Also, those barracks are not AKA Jackson Barracks.

Anonymous said...

The previous barracks comment is incorrect and withdrawn.

Keli Rylance said...

Place names are tricky!