The next few days will be a recognition and celebration of the bravery of a bunch of “dirty shirts” warriors who faced down a British army three times its size in the Battle of New Orleans. These “dirty shirts,” so named by the British for the gray and brown color of their homespun linen shirts and lack of official uniforms, consisted of slightly more than a thousand scruffy, if seasoned, fighters from Kentucky and Tennessee, a militia of French and Spanish-speaking Louisianians, along with a few Choctaw Indians and several hundred free people of color.
Under the command of General Andrew Jackson, this motley crowd, aided by a few hundred U.S soldiers, saved the City of New Orleans in a decisive battle on January 8, 1815. It was the last action of the War of 1812 and took place because no one knew that a peace treaty ending that war had been signed in Ghent, Belgium, a couple of weeks before, on Christmas Eve 1814.
New Orleans culture has greatly evolved since that historic battle in Chalmette. In the passing of two centuries, the Crescent City, with its unique lifestyle, has become one of the cultural treasures of the world — one, some may say, that owes something of its quirkiness to the withdrawal of the stiff-upper-lip British.
But every now and then, one might be forgiven for wondering what this place would have become if the British had not lost.
There likely would be no coffee culture. Let’s face it, it would be a cuppa for “elevenses” in the mornings and tea at 4 o’clock every afternoon (5 o’clock for a high tea), ensuring the total standstill of all commerce. Po-boys would not be served, just cucumber sandwiches on white bread with the crust cut off or, worse, baked beans on toast.
Instead of a bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo and fried oysters for dinner, we would be suffering through a serving of haggis, a Scottish national dish (look up those ingredients if you dare), or leaden steak and kidney pie, accompanied by formerly green vegetables thoroughly cooked until they are yellow.
Streets would have been re-named, of course: St. Charles Avenue would surely have become St. George Avenue; Vieux Carre probably Olde Towne.
And what about Mardi Gras? It is, after all, held on Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day in England. The parade of the pancakes (probably run from one end of Canal Street to the other) would be conducted with … aaagh… no throws! And no bands!
The one commonality that likely would exist is the vaulted debutante season, complete with gala balls: formal attire and dress uniforms, of course. These would, however, give new meaning to the phrase Meeting of the Courts. Chances are the Royals (top dogs in this pecking order) would invite the landed gentry to come over from their ball at midnight. Great excitement would rule in the streets, where children offering small bouquets of flowers to the regal dignitaries would be rewarded with the shake of a gloved hand and, if really lucky, a small gold coin named a doubloon.