Fort DeRussy News
Issue 8 February 2002
More Property Purchased
State, La Commission buy additional land
Both the Louisiana Office of State Parks and La Commission des Avoyelles have been busy buying additional land for the Fort DeRussy State Historic Site.
State Parks has purchased the old Lee Dauzat house along with a small amount of acreage adjacent to the house. The house is located on the corner across the road from the old levee and the 53 acre field. Present plans call for the house to be used as a manager’s home, which will provide for on-site State Parks personnel who will be able to offer increased security to the fort site. The land was bought from the Lee Dauzat family.
In addition to the land bought by State Parks, La Commission des Avoyelles has purchased a majority interest in the three-acre “Barracks Site” which lies directly across the road from the Main Redoubt. Special thanks go out to attorney Marc Dupuy, Jr., for the donation of untold hours of his time to do the legal work necessary to purchase this land. The land was undivided since the 1920’s and was held by over thirty heirs, many of whom did not realize they were owners. Tracking them down was a legal nightmare, and had it been necessary to hire a lawyer for this work, the legal fees would far have exceeded the property’s value. Randy Decuir was also instrumental in the locating of some of the heirs. Hats off to both of you!
USS Arizona Located
DeRussy Connected Gunboat Found
In May of 1863, a fierce Naval duel took place in the Red River in front of Fort DeRussy. The US boats parti-cipating included the USS Arizona (the first US gunboat to bear this name, and not to be confused with the later Arizona of Pearl Harbor fame). This Arizona survived the battle at the fort, but her captain, Daniel Upton, was accused of cowardice in the affair and was later court-martialed. He was acquitted of the charges, which, to be honest, were unfounded. Arizona burned and sank in the Mississippi River below New Orleans in 1865.
On June 28, 2001, an expedition led by Rob Christopher, a history teacher from Castle Rock, Colorado, located Arizona laying on the bottom of the river in 85 feet of water. Amazingly, the boat was found exactly where it was supposed to be, and was located after only about twenty minutes of searching the area with sonar equipment.
Christopher seems to have established a good rapport with the US Navy, and has been granted permission to do further investigation of the wreck site. The possibility does exist that the Navy will allow artifacts to be removed from the wreck. The Friends of Fort DeRussy have made Mr. Christopher, the Office of State Parks and the Division of Archeaology aware of our interest in obtaining any relics possible from the gunboat for the museum to be built at the fort. Mr. Christopher has said that he would like for any artifacts recovered to remain in Louisiana.
Arizona started her Civil War career as a Southern blockade runner, but was captured attempting to enter Mobile Bay, supposedly on her way from Cuba to Mexico. She was seized by the USS Montgomery “not for blockade running, but for her d---d poor navigation,” the blockading officer said, tongue firmly in cheek. She was then converted to a gunboat and put in US service.
One of the few pictures of Arizona known to exist is in the Spring Street Museum (Shreveport) sketch of the Second Battle of Fort DeRussy, “the Gunboat Fight.” For more information on this sketch, see the article and pictures on page 3.
The Friends of Fort DeRussy would like to thank CLECO (the Central Louisiana Electric Company) for their continued support of our activities. CLECO has made significant cash contributions on a regular basis since 1997. Their help and confidence is greatly appreciated.
School of the Soldier
On September 26, 2001, a “School of the Soldier” was held at the fort. The school was attended by reenactors who will be participating in the upcoming November 2002 reenactment. The school was set up for the purpose of familiarizing the Cenla Historical Re-enactment Group with the rules and regulations regarding reenactments on State Parks properties.
The School also had its own group of spectators. Students from the 5th and 7th grades at St. Joseph School in Plaucheville were in attendance, filming and photographing the activities. The students, under the direction of Vickie Mayeux, 5th grade teacher, are making a documentary of the fort’s history which will be distributed free of charge to schools throughout the area. The school has received a $2,500 mini-grant from the Louisiana Heritage Education Program through the auspices of the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) and the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development for the purpose of creating the documentary.
Other L. G. DeRussy ID’ed
Funeral coordinators went into a minor panic in September, 1999, when descendants of Gen. Lewis DeRussy told them that they had the wrong remains prepared for reburial, and that DeRussy was actually buried in New Orleans. Extensive documentation indicated otherwise, and the reinterrment did take place.
We are happy to announce at this time that the Lewis Gustavus DeRussy who is buried in a DeRussy family plot in Greenwood Cemetery, Metairie, Louisiana, is the fifteen-year-old grandson of the General. The young boy was the son of George Birch DeRussy, and was born after his grandfather’s death. He is buried alongside his father, a member of the famous Washington Artillery, who was seriously wounded at the battle of Malvern Hill. George’s cousin, Gustavus Adolphus DeRussy, fought on the Yankee side in that same battle.
Delta Queen Returns
7th Visit for NPS Historian Bearss
Visitors from the steamboat Delta Queen made their fourth annual visit to the fort on June 14, 2001. As usual, they were greeted there by reenactors from the Cenla Historical Reenactment Group, who put on their usual outstanding performance. Also greeting the visitors on the grounds was Asst. Secretary of State Parks Dwight Landreneau. After the visit to the fort, the visitors ate lunch in Marksville, after which they toured other Civil War sites throughout the parish.
We were also honored to have present on this trip Mr. Edwin Bearss, Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service and FFD member. This was Mr. Bearss’ seventh visit to the fort. Very few of our out-of-state members have been by that many times, and certainly no other individual has led so many tourists to the site. It is always a pleasure to have Ed Bearss at Fort DeRussy. We look forward to many more visits by him in the future.
Artifacts waiting for museum
Local citizens are eagerly awaiting the building of a museum at the fort. FFD was recently offered a 3” Schenkl shell found in a swimming pool excavation just north of Marksville, only a few miles from the fort. But we can’t accept it until we have somewhere to put it.
Oklahoma wreck connection?
A steamboat wreck located in Red River just below Fort Towson, OK, may have a Fort DeRussy connection. The boat dates to the early 1840’s, and may possibly be the wreck that Lewis DeRussy was involved in when he lost the Fort Towson payroll. As a result, DeRussy was dismissed from the Army and settled in Louisiana.
Dives onto the wreck in summer, 2001, indicate that the wreck may be even older than originally expected, so it is also possible that the boat may not be DeRussy’s steamboat. No evidence to either confirm or deny the supposition has been recovered.
Spring Street Sketch
Ever since Duke Rivet notified FFD of the existence of the Spring Street Museum sketch of the May 4, 1863 Gunboat Fight, there has been curiosity about the identity of the artist who drew the picture. He was obviously very familiar with the details of the action, the appearances and locations of all of the boats in-volved, and details of the surrounding area. It would seem most likely that the artist was at the battle. But the unsigned sketch was an anonymous donation to the museum in 1979, so no information is available as to the artist or the history of the drawing.
While the mystery has not been definitely solved, one very good suspect has been located. Helmuth Heinrich Diedrich Holtz (1833-1915), artist, draftsman, and Union sailor aboard the USS Estrella in May, 1863, is the most likely candidate for the artist of the sketch. He was at the battle, and just two weeks earlier had sent sketches to Harper’s Weekly that have characteristics in common with the drawing in question.
Although born in Germany, and a US sailor, Holtz settled in New Orleans after the war. He died there in 1915, the father of three children. Holtz had both the opportunity to see the battle and the ability to draw it. In addition, he lived in Louisiana after the war, and had children, so the possibility that one of his drawings would end up in a Louisiana museum is not remote. Few other people could have met these qualifications. While all of this is strictly circumstantial evidence, it makes a good case for Helmuth Holtz as artist of the Spring Street sketch.
USS Arizona, as shown in a woodcut made from a drawing by Helmuth Holtz, April, 1863
USS Arizona, as depicted in Spring Street drawing, May, 1863.
RRWC Research Grant
Mayeux sent to Washington, DC
Fort Historian Steve Mayeux was sent to the National Archives the first week of December, 2001, by the Red River Waterway Commission to recover copies of deck logs of gunboats that participated in the Red River Campaign, along with maps of the river and other material related to the war on the Red River. The trip turned out to be highly productive, with copies of the logs of over twenty gunboats now available for research in Louisiana. Copies were made of the logs for the entire period of time that the boats were present in the Red, and it is believed that a close examination of the material in these logs will result in the discovery of new facts concerning the history of the Campaign. These documents have already proven themselves invaluable in providing information on actions at Fort DeRussy in the latter part of the Campaign. Very little historical information was available about this time period, and a cursory perusal of the books has already shown that the fort was shelled on twelve different days in the last month that US gunboats were present in the river there. A nearly constant sniping was kept up by Confederate forces against the US gunboats in the river during the afternoon of May 11, 1864, and throughout the daylight hours on May 12 and 13, with responding naval gunfire.
Difficult to read
Although the logbooks contain otherwise unavailable information, extracting that information is difficult. The copies obtained were better than expected, but the handwriting – although usually very good – can still be difficult to decipher. This problem limits the logs’ value as a research tool, and the only way to solve the problem is to go through the tedious task of transcribing the logs by typing them into a computer.
To this end, the Avoyelles Correctional Center, a facility of the Louisiana State Prison system, has agreed to put some of their inmates to work on this problem. When they have completed the task of transcribing the over 1,000 days worth of entries, a vast new source of research material will become available. This will take a considerable amount of time, but is a job that has been a long time coming.
The Red River Waterway Commission has donated several computers to the prison to aid in this project.
Microfilm Reader needed
One item that will be needed before the project can be completed is a microfilm reader. Several logbooks were obtained on microfilm before the Washington trip. Before they can be transcribed, we will need to have a microfilm reading machine either loaned, sold, or donated to us. If any of our readers can help with this problem, it would be greatly appreciated.
When this project is completed, copies of the logs will be placed at Red River Waterway Commission, Fort DeRussy, and the state prison in Cottonport. If any library can provide us with a microfilm reader, they will of course also get a set.
The aforementioned project is a joint venture of the Red River Waterway Commission, Friends of Fort DeRussy, Louisiana Department of Corrections and the National Archives.
The Fort DeRussy library is now arguably one of the best “Civil War in Central Louisiana” research facilities in the State, with over 134 books, 18 French-American Claims, 32 gunboat deck logs, service records of soldiers killed and wounded at the fort, and other material. A lot of the above is available nowhere else in the state. We’d like to see it become even better. In order to do that, we need to obtain more of the Regimental histories from the 1800’s. Some of these are now out in reprint, and are once again available. But when these are sold out, it may be another 130 years before we see them again.
Any cash donations to the Book Fund would be greatly appreciated. There are at least ten regimental histories available now that would be very nice additions to our library, but we can’t buy them without your help. Some of these books I’ve seen, and they are full of information. Others are so rare that they have been unfindable, until now. Who knows what new information they hold! Mark any donations “Book Fund,” and 100% of that money will go to improving our library.
And don’t forget your dues. We still have a lot of work to do before the park is up and running.
The Office of State Parks is continuing to move on the development of the Historic Site. Their big event this year is the Battle Reenactment that will be held on the fort grounds on November 8, 9 & 10, 2002. Mark your calendars.
On February 19 through 22, 2002, there will be a program for school groups on Civil War fortifications taking place at the fort. These tours are by appointment only, and should be highly informative, Teachers should contact the Marksville State Historic Site, 1 (888) 253-8954, for further information.
The month of April (16 through 19) will see similar school programs on the Civil War Signal Corps. Demonstrations on flag and torch codes, as well as written codes, will be presented by the Site staff.
For those of you new to our organization, the cannon update concerns a Model 1829 32-pounder Seacoast gun that was taken from the fort by the US Navy in 1864 after its capture by the US Army. The Navy now holds that cannon in the Washington Navy Yard, and claim that they captured it in 1863.
Last we heard, the gun is still doing fine. The Navy Yard was closed to the public for a few months late last year, so I was not able to personally inspect it on my trip to Washington in December. But with the increased concerns and heightened security alert in Washington, perhaps it would be a good idea for the Navy to disperse their assets. I would suggest they send that particular cannon down to Fort DeRussy. We promise to take good care of it.
Friends of Fort DeRussy regret to report the passing of Troy Laprairie of Brouillette, and Myrstice Juneau of Cottonport. They are missed.