Fort DeRussy News
Issue 5 July 1999
State to Take Possession of Fort
- Historic Site Status Assured -
Governor Signs Bill
On July 1, 1999, Governor Mike Foster of Louisiana signed House Bill 462 into Law, changing the name of all Louisiana State Commemorative Areas to Louisiana State Historic Sites, and adding Fort DeRussy to the list.
Fort DeRussy is now Louisiana’s newest State Historic Site! Congratulations to all Friends of Fort DeRussy. Job Well Done.
RRWC Awards Grant
On April 14, 1999, the Red River Waterway Commission voted to give $150,000 to the City of Marksville for the purpose of purchasing acreage adjacent to the fort and making improvements to the property. The grant was made with the agreement that all of the fort property would be turned over to the Louisiana Office of State Parks for the operation of the fort as a State Historic Site (formerly known as State Commemorative Areas). The check was received by the City of Marksville on May 26, 1999 in an informal ceremony at the local newspaper office. The RRWC money will allow for the purchase of 53 acres between the fort and the levee from the Lee Dauzat family and the donation of 11 acres from the City of Marksville. The five acres already in possession of the City of Marksville will give the State a total of approximately 70 acres for the new Fort DeRussy State Historic Site. Special thanks to the Red River Waterway Commission and Lee Dauzat family for making the purchase of this land possible.
General DeRussy to be Interred at Fort
The second burial of Major General Lewis DeRussy of the Louisiana State Militia, the namesake of our fort, will take place at the fort at 11 AM on the morning of Sunday, September 26, 1999. The General is currently buried at the Russell Family Cemetery at Grand Ecore near Natchitoches. The graveyard is located not far from the Red River bridge, but is isolated and heavily vandalized.
The interment came about as a cooperative endeavor between several of the General’s descendants, the Friends of Fort DeRussy, and Kramer Funeral Home. The burial will be with full military honors. The Louisiana National Guard is also expected to participate, along with reenactors from all three wars in which the General served: Cenla Historical Reenactment Group will provide Civil War, Fort Jesup State Historic Site (State Parks) will provide Mexican War, and Chalmette Battlefield (National Park Service) will provide War of 1812.
The General will be the third member of his immediate family to be buried twice. Lewis’ older brother Rene Edward, the namesake of Fort DeRussy in Hawaii, was first buried in California in 1865 and was later moved to the cemetery at the US Military Academy at West Point, where he had been Superintendent from 1834 to 1838. Lewis’ first wife was originally buried at Fort Jesup, Louisiana, in 1836, and was moved to the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville in 1913.
Visitation will be at the Marksville Fire Station Annex the Saturday evening before the funeral, and Sunday morning until 10:30. The interment will be under the direction of Mr. Alfred Cook of Kramer Funeral Home, Alexandria.
Navy Refuses to Return Cannon
The US Navy is still refusing to return a cannon that was taken from the fort after it was captured by the Army in 1864. The modified Model 1829 32-pounder Seacoast Gun was given to the Navy at the time, and the Navy is now claiming that the gun in question was captured in the naval battle that took place at the fort in May, 1863. (The Navy did capture a 32-pounder at the fort in May 1863, but that gun was blown up at the fort on May 10 of that year.) The Navy has shown a rather selective research ability, emphasized by Navy Museum curator Dr. Ed Furgol’s statement that details of the gun’s capture are “lost in the mists of time.” In fact, the details of this gun’s history at the fort, and its subsequent capture, are quite comprehensive. The Navy has used several very imaginative reasons for claiming ownership of the gun, including the Hague Treaty, which was not signed until years after the Civil War, and as such was hardly ratified by the Confederate government. (The Hague Treaty also prohibited aerial bombing.)
The gun was located by fort historian Steve Mayeux through a combination of clever hunches and dumb luck. The gun was found on an Internet listing of surviving Civil War artillery pieces compiled by Wayne Stark. It is now at the Washington Navy Yard in a row of guns lining the entrance to The Navy Museum. Visitors wanting to see the gun are forewarned by Dr. W. S. Dudley (Director of Naval History) that they may have to seek out Dr. Ed Furgol personally to point out the gun, as “not all of the museum’s employees have as complete” familiarity with the gun as Furgol.
Representative John Cooksey and Senators Mary Landrieu and John Breaux have all spoken to the Navy about returning the gun, but so far the Navy remains intransigent.
Delta Queen Visits Fort – Again
Passengers from the steamboat Delta Queen visited Central Louisiana again this June, and got a surprise “welcome” from members of the Cenla Historical Reenactors Group. Their artillery ambush caught the tourists unawares as they moved up the Red River at Egg Bend, very close to the point where two US Navy gunboats and a transport were sunk during the war. The group had gathered on the deck to attend a press conference by Abraham Lincoln (portrayed by actor James Getty) when the shooting started. The boat went dead in the water in front of the guns, to the enjoyment of both passengers and bystanders on the levee. The concussion from the guns severely rattled the windows on the boat, but fast action by the gun crews prevented breakage. When the boat’s calliope played Dixie, the Queen was allowed to continue on to Alexandria.
The following morning, two busloads of Civil War enthusiasts were led to the fort by historians Ed Bearss and Bud Robertson. They found a large camp of reenactors who entertained them for nearly two hours, with a period church service and cavalry, infantry, and artillery drills as well as various other demonstrations. Most of the reenactors had spent both Friday and Saturday nights at the fort. Several of them have reported that the chigger problem at the fort has not abated.
Some of the DQ passengers expressed disappointment that there was no petition to sign to recover the Fort DeRussy cannon.
Lewis DeRussy was the oldest West Point graduate to serve in the Confederate Army. He was also a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Probably less than a dozen men could claim this accomplishment, the equivalent of having served on active duty in WWI, WWII, and Viet Nam.
Park Day ’99 Successful
Fort DeRussy’s Second Annual Park Day was just as successful as our First Annual Park Day last year. Once again, about 50 volunteers showed up to listen to a short update meeting and do general cleanup around the fort. In addition to cleaning fallen branches and building burn piles, the volunteers attended the dedication of the Slave Monument. The crater was also pumped out with our new 2” semi-trash pump.
4-H-ers Amy Basco and Aaron Foster clean up under the Fort DeRussy sign during Park Day ’99 activities.
James Gaspard of Bluetown has donated two antique iron pots to the fort.
CLECO has made a second donation of $500 to Friends of Fort DeRussy, and that money has already been spent on a monument to the first two CS soldiers to die in action at the fort (see article in next column).
Dave Lemoyne of Missouri, and his fellow SCV members, are donating a complete reprint set of Andrew Boothe’s Louisiana Confederate Soldiers and Commands to the fort’s library.
Since the last newsletter came out, Friends of Fort DeRussy has lost three members. Mrs. Margie Laprairie, Mr. Eddie Lemoine, and Mr. Elster “Doo” Gaspard have all recently passed away. Our condolences to their family and friends. They will all be missed.
Mr. Doo was a charter member, and never missed a single meeting at the fort.
Slave Monument Installed and Dedicated
With the help of a National Guard wrecker, the Slave Monument was erected on February 6, 1999. Company B of the 769th Engineer Battalion had to be called on to set up the marker, under the direction of Danny Melancon of Melancon Monuments, when the funeral home truck normally used proved inadequate to the task of lifting the 2- ton block of granite.
Dedication ceremonies for the monument took place on Park Day ’99, April 24, 1999. A group of 50 gathered around the monument for the unveiling and a short address by fort historian Steve Mayeux. Miss Wanda Clark, a 9th grader at Marksville High School, performed flawlessly as our bugler. When the last notes of Taps floated over the fort’s ramparts, several of the onlookers were seen fighting back tears.
The front of the marker includes the names of the 65 slaves known to have died during the construction of the fort, with four others listed as Unknown. The back of the marker has two con-tradictory quotes: one by Gen. Richard Taylor telling the slaves’ owners of the great care that was being taken of their slaves; the other by a Texas Captain telling his wife of the terrible conditions under which the slaves at DeRussy were toiling. When visitors ask which of the quotes is accurate, they are referred to the front of the marker to view the list of 69 names.
The cost of the monument was covered in part by a $500 donation by CLECO, the Central Louisiana Electric Company.
Second Monument on Order
A granite marker in memory of two Confederate soldiers who died at Fort DeRussy has been ordered. Thomas Burns and John O’Quinn, of the Crescent Artillery, were blown overboard and lost from the CS gunboat Grand Duke during her fight with the USS Albatross during the Second Battle of Fort DeRussy. This marker should be in place by the end of July 1999. The cost of the marker was covered in part by a second $500 donation from CLECO.
The Louisiana Office of State Parks will soon be taking over the day-to-day operation of Fort DeRussy. This does not mean that Friends of Fort DeRussy will be disbanding. Far from it. The Friends will be even more important than ever. For one thing, State Parks has requested that we continue to assist them in an advisory capacity. And we have another equally important reason for our existence.
It’s real simple. Our Job’s Not Done Until We’ve Got the Gun. The Fort DeRussy Cannon belongs at Fort DeRussy. We don’t quit until we get it there. Fortunately for us, the Navy is in a very untenable position. Had some unscrupulous sailor not chosen to stamp a lie in steel, we would have a serious problem. But he did, and he is simplifying our job tremendously.
I spent a few years in the Marines. I don’t like to admit it publicly, but I actually have a great deal of respect for sailors. I think that your average sailor, officer or enlisted, is a proud and honorable man (person?). I find it hard to believe that a normal Fleet sailor would not be outraged at the idea that a cannon handed over to the Navy by the Army is displayed at The Navy Museum as a “war trophy” captured in a naval engagement in which one of their own won a Medal of Honor. No decent Marine would tolerate that at a Marine Museum. I find it hard to believe sailors would.
Our problem, of course, is that we are not dealing with Fleet sailors. We’re dealing with Wash-ington bureaucrats. I think that once we get the story out to the sailors who, past and present, have served honorably in the Fleet, enough pressure will come from within their own ranks that the gun will be returned. We will get that word out. Then we and the Navy will both have something to be proud of.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe sailors have no honor. But I don’t believe that.
New members continue to join Friends of Fort DeRussy. The following people have joined since our last newsletter was printed:
John Casbeer Houston, TX
J. Reginald Coco Baton Rouge
C. Nolte De Russy, Jr. New Orleans
Cortes DeRussy Bronxville, NY
Jennifer de Russy Savannah, GA
John G. DeRussy New Orleans
R. E. de Russy, III Savannah, GA
Mr. & Mrs. Burton Dodge Center Point
Malcolm Ducote Center Point
Marilyn Elmer Marksville
Jane P. Halley Norman, OK
Lafargue Elementary 4th grade Effie
Eddie Lemoine Moreauville
David Lemoyne O’Fallon, MO
Mr. & Mrs. Edward Moreau Baton Rouge
Judy Paul Effie
Jon Peterson Houston, TX
Iva Lee Printz Marksville
Earl Simoneaux New Orleans
Steve Skelton Longview, TX
Paul & Emily Smith Alexandria
Dean Thomas Gettysburg, PA
If you haven’t joined Friends of Fort DeRussy, do so today. Think how good it will look on your resumé.
Did You Know -
That after Fort DeRussy was captured on March 14, 1864, it was used as a recruiting station for Black soldiers. There were 257 former slaves enlisted into the US Army at the fort in the first 11 days after its fall.
Adjustments and Corrections
In the last newsletter’s Editorial it was said that there was no nearby land to buy and because of that, there was no chance that the fort would be turned over to the State in the foreseeable future. This has turned out to be not true.