Fort DeRussy News
Issue 3 January 1998
Previously Unknown Sketch of Fort Found
On August 28, 1997, Fort DeRussy was visited by Frank and Barbara Spencer of Houston, Texas. Frank is a direct descendant of Lt. William Hervey of Hutton’s Artillery, who was stationed at Fort DeRussy for quite a bit of the War. Mr. Spencer has in his possession the original copy of Lt. Hervey’s orders to destroy the public property at the fort when it was being abandoned before the oncoming Yankees in 1863. A Xerox copy of the orders had been previously sent to Friends of Fort DeRussy, but upon looking at the original (which Frank had brought with him on his visit to the fort), a small doodle on the back of the orders was immediately recognized by Fort DeRussy personnel as being a previously unknown sketch of the fort. The sketch is very simple and basic, showing the fort as a square with an “ear” on each corner, but it is significant in that it is the first “new” sketch of Fort DeRussy to have surfaced in over 100 years.
We want to welcome descendants of Fort DeRussy veterans to visit the fort whenever they can, and especially want to encourage them to bring ground-breaking new historical information with them when they come.
Bearss Accepts Position
The Friends of Fort DeRussy were honored this November to have Mr. Edwin Bearss, Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, accept our offer to serve as an Honorary Member on the Board of Directors of our organization. Mr. Bearss is also a dues-paying member of our group, and it is comforting to know that a man of Mr. Bearss stature in this country’s Historical Community feels that the preservation of Fort DeRussy is important enough that he is willing to spend money and time assisting in our efforts.
Fort Given to City
Friends Receive Maintenance Agreement
On September 22, 1997, La Commission des Avoyelles donated the Fort DeRussy property to the City of Marksville. On that same date, the City of Marksville entered into a management agreement with La Commission, which allows The Friends of Fort DeRussy (a committee of La Commission) to manage the fort in perpetuity. The operation, maintenance, management and security of the fort will remain the task of FFD.
This arrangement should make it easier for FFD to obtain public funding for improvements to the fort. It was also necessary in order to receive the state money that the legislature voted for the fort in the recent session. The change in title should not have any noticeable affect on the operations at the fort. FFD has always had a close working relationship with the City of Marksville, and the City has been generous in providing labor to keep the fort mowed and maintained through the summer. Mayor John Ed Laborde, the City Council, and the city staff have always assisted FFD whenever asked, and we look forward to continuing our alliance with the City of Marksville.
Archeologists to Map Fort
Weather permitting, an archeological survey of the fort will begin in January, 1998. This survey will be spearheaded by Dr. Chip McGimsey, Regional Archeologist for this area of the state. Dr. McGimsey will be assisted in his work by some of his students from USL, and he may have additional assistance from graduate students Mike Modica and Chris Chance. The survey is necessary to get an accurate map of the physical dimensions of the fort as it now exists, complete with distances and elevations. (If a survey of this type had been done before the oil well was drilled on the property in 1949, a lot of valuable information would not have been lost.) The original plans called for trenches to be dug in the area of the crater, but winter rains will probably make this impossible before this summer. These trenches will determine if the bombproof was actually located beneath the crater, as is currently suspected. A trench is also to be dug on the “hump” behind the crater, to determine if this hump is a recent addition to fort topography, caused by the dumping of spoil dirt when the crater was dug out. If we can show that this hump is a post-War feature, then the soil may be used to restore the crater to a shallower depth. This would make the area a lot easier to keep dry.
The first discussions concerning the archeological survey began at the First Annual Fort DeRussy Archeologists Field Day and Luncheon, which was held at the fort and the Marksville Tourism Office on September 30. Archeologists attending included Duke Rivet, from the State Archeology Office; Chip McGimsey, Regional Archeologist out of Lafayette; Tad Britt and Gregory Jackson, with the US Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg office; and Gary Joiner, Precision Cartographics and LSU-Shreveport, along with two of his students, Mike Modica and Chris Chance. Attending on behalf of the Friends were Stuart Braud, Nolan Bordelon, Randy Decuir, Marc Dupuy, Jr., and Steve Mayeux. The weather for the field day was perfect, and all attendees were able to walk the entire fort area. In addition to the main redoubt, permission had been obtained from neighboring property owners for the Field Day personnel to walk over the adjoining earthworks and the water battery site. Everyone present seemed to agree that the fort has a great deal of potential.
Tours Keep Coming
The fort is still not open to the public, but the word is out and tour groups continue to schedule Fort DeRussy. On October 5, the Society of Industrial Archeologists stopped at the fort for a brief visit. We were fortunate to find members of that group who were able to date the iron I-beam on the north property line as definitely post-War. The news was disappointing, but appreciated.
The long-awaited HistoryAmerica Tour took place on November 20, and 38 ladies and gentlemen enjoyed a pleasant afternoon walking the fort grounds and water battery site. A planned meal at the fort had to be moved due to rain two days earlier. (Thanks to Kathleen Gremillion, Laura Gremillion, Vickie Mayeux and Tourism Office personnel for serving the meal.) A reporter and photographer from the Alexandria Town Talk recorded the event for posterity. The reaction of the visitors was very positive, especially from those who had been here on the 1994 tour.
A combined HistoryAmerica/Delta Queen/ APCWS tour will come up Red River on the Delta Queen in June, 1998. This historic tour, the first steamboat to travel Red River in many years, will have a side-trip to Fort DeRussy from Alexandria.
Harper’s Picture Donated
On the evening of August 26, 1997, at a meeting of La Commission des Avoyelles at the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Roy III, Mr. Roy presented the Friends of Fort DeRussy with a matted and framed original copy of page 277 of the April 30, 1864 issue of the Harper’s Weekly magazine. This page includes a sketch map of Fort DeRussy that shows that the current Fort DeRussy Cemetery was in active use at the time of the War, and is the only known War-era information confirming this fact. Also shown on the map are the barracks site, the “moats” around the fort, and the bombproof in the main redoubt.
This is a valuable addition to the artifacts that we are collecting for our future museum, and is greatly appreciated.
Visitor travels 9,000 miles (one way)
It’s not that unusual to find a visitor at Fort DeRussy from Texas, or Virginia. Even the occasional Canadian might find his way out. But when a visitor shows up from Victoria, Australia – we’re impressed.
That’s what happened on December 5, 1997, when Allistair McCoy showed up to see the fort. Mr. McCoy had been to Fort DeRussy in Hawaii, and had e-mailed the fort in May concerning a visit to the “real” Fort DeRussy on his next visit to the States. McCoy is a black-powder shooting enthusiast, as well as a Civil War buff, and was in the States to visit Civil War sites, attend a re-enactment, and tend to some business. He was accompanied on his visit to the fort by Bob Tabbert of Lafayette, his “tour guide” for this leg of his Stateside visit.
Prior to visiting the fort, McCoy was shanghaied by Steve Mayeux to eat lunch and give a lecture on Australia to the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at St. Mary’s School in Cottonport. McCoy was a real hit, and presented the students with an Australian flag, a boomerang, and some vegemite, and in return received from them a state flag (compliments of Charles Riddle, State Representative) and two Cherokee arrows. He was also given a 3-ring Enfield minie ball from the Yellow Bayou battlefield. McCoy’s inspection of the fort was covered by KALB-TV News. (This was the third time this year that the fort has received television news coverage.) After leaving the fort, McCoy went to Natchez for a reenactment, where he was “adopted” by a Texas regiment, and he has since expressed a desire to “borrow a set of Blues and storm your fort one day.” You’re welcome back any time, mate.
Winter at the Fort
A cover crop of ryegrass and white Dutch clover was planted on the earthworks in early December. This was later than it should have been, but the warm weather has allowed for good growth. Rains in late December have re-flooded the crater. The willow trees in the crater have all been cut down and cut up, but the rain caught us before they could all be removed. The crater will have to be pumped out again, but that won’t be done until warmer, dryer weather returns.
Slave Records Found
Numerous slaves died at fort
Thanks to Art Bergeron, we have recently located the original set of records of all the slaves who died – mostly of disease – while working on the construction of Fort DeRussy. The records include the names of the slaves, the names of their owners, and the amount of money that the owners were reimbursed for the loss of the slaves. Surprisingly, it appears that very few of the slaves came from the immediate Avoyelles Parish area.
The records are on very brittle paper, and the writing is very faint in some places, making some of the writing very difficult to read. It is hoped that copies can be made before the originals become impossible to read. Microfilm copies were made of these records in the 1970’s, but they have apparently decomposed and can no longer be found.
While the records have been viewed, they have yet to be examined in detail. A count of the slaves who died has not been made as of this time, but it does appear that there were a lot more slaves who died at Fort DeRussy than was originally thought. One Texan who served at the fort did comment that he would not have allowed any of his slaves to work there.
If funding can be arranged, it would seem only proper that a monument of some sort should be erected to the men who died while working on the fort.
House Site Rubble Removed
Veteran’s Day, 1997, started out at the fort as a one-man working party, and in short order it grew spontaneously into a crew of men with a backhoe and a dump truck, and by shortly after noon the pile of rubble from the old Oliver house (which was torn down years ago) was removed. The underground cistern on the house site was located, and filled up. (The chance of anything of value being found in the hole was miniscule – the chance of someone falling in and being seriously injured was significant.) Grateful thanks to Erk and Ted Bordelon of the Brouillette Water Works, and Nolan Bordelon.
They’re Coming in Droves
One of the goals of the Fort DeRussy Project is to enhance tourism in Central Louisiana. We figured that if we could get 100 out-of-state visitors to the fort by Summer, 1998, we would be doing pretty good. And just how are we doing in that regard? The fact is, for a tourist attraction that isn’t even open yet we are doing just fine, thank you. By early December we had already had well over 50 out-of-staters, and no telling how many we missed. We’ve already got a bus-load scheduled for a visit in mid-June. I check up on the fort once in a while, and do general maintenance now and then, but I don’t really spend that much time out there. Even so, I’ve had a least five tourists catch me at the fort. One of those was from Ontario, Canada! Is Fort DeRussy the kind of place that will pull in tourists? You’d better believe it is. And that’s with only a vague knowledge of what happened at the fort. I dare say that when the full history of the fort is made public, we’ll have more visitors than we ever imagined. The traffic will never be bumper to bumper down Bluetown Road, but we don’t want it to be. What we do want, and what we will have, is a very pleasant, somewhat isolated little fort down a country road, with more history packed into it than you can shake a stick at. People will come for that, and they’ll find it.
“Build it, and they will come.” Remember that line from the movie Field of Dreams? Well, the fort was built 135 years ago, and people are coming. We just need to tidy things up a bit.
Feasibility Study Begins Soon
Office of State Parks to Investigate Fort
Sometime prior the end of March 1998 the Louisiana Office of State Parks will finish their feasibility study to determine whether or not the fort should be added to the State’s Commemorative Area program. The study will be conducted sometime during the months of January, February, or March – the study had not started as of press time, and it is not known exactly when it will begin. See above editorial.
Friends of Fort DeRussy Still Growing
Our membership continues to increase, and once again we want to welcome all of our new members.
Janice Sayes Borrell, Marksville
Edwin Bearss, Arlington, Virginia
William R. Brooksher, Richland, Washington
Peter Brown, Dallas, Texas
Debbi Caraway, Mandeville
Lisa Couvillion, Marksville
Patricia Dupuy, Marksville
Marilyn & Krystal Kelone, Hessmer
Richard Lowe, Denton, Texas
Marvin Mayeux, San Diego, California
Russ Mayeux, Treasure Island, Florida
Dave Page, St. Paul, Minnesota
Al Pitts, Marksville
Hugh Ripley, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Steve Sheppard, Mercer Island, Washington
Frank Spencer, Houston, Texas
Ralph W. Stephenson, Jr., Baton Rouge
Henri Sue Vernacchia, San Jose, CA
Ward Zischke, Marksville
Anyone wanting to become a member of Friends of Fort DeRussy is reminded that – simply by sending $10 to Friends of Fort DeRussy, 7162 Hwy 29, Cottonport, LA 71327 – they can join us in our continuing efforts to turn Central Louisiana’s best preserved Civil War site into a memorial to the people who served as soldiers, sailors, and civilian workers at this hallowed spot.
Corrections & Adjustments
The title of this particular column comes from the artilleryman’s terminology for what one does when one’s rounds are not exactly on target. In our case, this column is used to correct any inaccuracies that may have shown up in earlier editions of this newsletter. We are happy to announce that there were no inaccuracies (that we know of) in our last edition.
Fort DeRussy was the site of three significant Civil War engagements – one land battle, one naval battle, and one land vs. naval engagement.