Fort DeRussy Bugle
Issue 11 The Official Newsletter of Friends of Fort DeRussy, Inc. February 2004
Master Planning Begins
Long Wait is Over
When working with State Parks, it is axiomatic that nothing gets done without a Master Plan. After years of waiting, that Master Plan is finally in its initial stages.
State Parks awarded the contract for the Fort DeRussy Master Plan to Joseph Furr Design Studio of Baton Rouge. On September 25, 2003, Joey Furr of JFDS, along with Tim Pampell and Lyle Savant from the Office of State Parks, met at the fort with Steve Mayeux of FFD. The group walked the grounds and discussed the basic ideas necessary to interpret the site, and on November 25, Furr and Mayeux presented a preliminary interpretive prospectus at State Parks headquarters in Baton Rouge. The prospectus was returned for some minor alterations, and a finalized version should be completed shortly.
Prior to completion of the Master Plan, State Parks plans to hold a “town hall” type meeting in Marksville to get public input into just exactly what it is that the general citizenry would like to see at their new State Historic Site. While it cannot be guaranteed that all of the suggestions will be implemented, everyone is invited to attend the meeting and voice their opinions. While the meeting will be held in Marksville, it will be open to everyone. FFD will notify all of our Louisiana resident members of the time and location of the meeting when we get that information. Anyone else interested in attending should contact the FFD and we will make a point to notify you of meeting details.
With the completion of the Master Plan, the only obstacle standing in the way of actual work at the fort will be a lack of funds. While funds have been voted for work on the Fort DeRussy State Historic Site, this does not actually mean that there is money available to be spent on the fort. (This does not make sense, but is, in fact, the way things operate.) The completion of the Master Plan is necessary before real money can be made available to the fort. So, it is possible, and maybe even likely, that the next time the Legislature votes funding for Fort DeRussy the money will actually be real money and work will commence on the fort.
Red River Campaign Explored
LSU-A has scheduled a Red River Campaign Symposium for Friday and Saturday, March 26-27, 2004. The event will be held in the Nursing Auditorium on the LSU-A campus on Highway 71 a few miles south of Alexandria.
The symposium will begin Friday evening with a keynote address by noted Civil War historian Dr. Arthur Bergeron. A reception will follow. The meeting will continue from 8:30 AM until noon on Saturday, with panel discussions. Topics will include “Alexandria During the Civil War,” “Battlefield Preservation” (with an emphasis on Red River Campaign battlefields, including Mansfield and Fort DeRussy), and “The Red River Campaign in Scholarly Perspective.” The panels will be composed of historians and others knowledgeable on the topics presented. Audience participation will be encouraged.
The Symposium is sponsored by the History Department of LSU-A. Admission is free of charge and open to the public.
The symposium should be very informative, and anyone interested in the history of Fort DeRussy should find it a valuable experience. We will probably have to put up with the Fort Randolph supporters pushing their site as “the hub of the Red River Campaign,” but other than that, the experience should be rewarding. ¨
Fort Featured in Phone Book
The 2003-2004 Associated Directories Avoyelles Parish Phone Book features Fort DeRussy on its center cardboard insert. The ad is a full page feature, and includes a brief history of the fort, a sketch of the capture of the fort along with a Civil War era map, and photographs of General DeRussy and the surviving Fort DeRussy cannon at its present temporary home at the Washington Navy Yard. The ad was sponsored by the Avoyelles Commission of Tourism.
NPS Misinformation Discovered
Fort DeRussy, Washington DC -
For Whom was it Named?
The National Park Service has long claimed that the Fort DeRussy that served as part of the defenses of Washington, DC, during the Civil War, was built by the 4th New York Heavy Artillery and named after that unit’s commander, Gustavus Adolphus DeRussy (nephew to our own Lewis Gustave DeRussy). Recent research by FFD historian Steve Mayeux shows that that scenario is impossible. That particular Fort DeRussy was built and named in 1861, before the 4th NYHA arrived in Washington, and well over a year before Gustavus DeRussy was their commander.
In all likelihood, the fort was named after René Edward DeRussy, Lewis’ brother and Gustavus’ father. René was head of the Corps of Engineers in Washington in 1861 and would have been a likely candidate to have a fort named after him, unlike his son Gustavus, who was a lowly captain of artillery at the time the fort was named. Fort DeRussy in Hawaii is also named for René. René served on active duty for 59 years, and was something of a legend in the Army.
The National Park Service was notified of this situation back in August of 2003, and supposedly will one day get around to changing the information on their Fort DeRussy website. ¨
Historical Novel Features Fort
Novelist P. G. Nagle has recently come out with the fourth book in a series of historical novels that follow the members of two families, one Northern and one Southern, as they live and fight through the Civil War.
In this particular book, Red River, published by Tom Doherty Associates, New York City, in 2003, the main characters’ paths cross in the Red River area. But of special interest to members of FFD will be the color picture on the book’s dust jacket, which portrays the capture of USS Queen of the West at Fort DeRussy in February 1863. The capture of the boat is covered in Chapters Four and Five of the book. The details of the capture of the boat are surprisingly accurate for a book of this type, and it is obvious that the author did her homework. The book is recommended for anyone who enjoys historical novels.
Drug Raid at Fort
Troopers Leave Empty-Handed
On September 11, 2003, the fort was raided by a State Police drug enforcement task force. An undetermined number of State Troopers assaulted the fort with ground vehicles and a hovering helicopter. When approached by an FFD member and asked what they were doing, the troopers answered that they were “just looking around,” and left shortly thereafter. Questions to the State Police headquarters were met with the same disclaimer, but sources have confirmed that the “visit” was in fact a marijuana interdiction raid. Of course, no drugs or other contraband were found at the fort. After leaving the fort, the group headed for the Lake Ophelia Wildlife Management Area, but not before visiting some of the fort’s monuments and getting a brief lesson in Civil War history.
Paragon Casino Grant
Projector to be Purchased
In early January 2004, the Paragon Casino and Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana announced a grant of $1,250 to Friends of Fort DeRussy to enable the group to purchase a video projector for the purpose of making slide presentations to educate the public about Fort DeRussy and the Civil War in central Louisiana. These presentations will be made to school classes, civic organizations, and other groups interested in the goals of our organization. The purchase of the projector will mean talks given by our historians will no longer have to be without visual aids. In the past, slide shows by FFD had to depend on borrowed projectors.
This is the second substantial grant given to us by the Paragon Casino / Tunica-Biloxi Tribe since FFD’s inception. Corporate sponsorships such as this one are greatly appreciated, and encouraged.
LSU-A Offers Class
LSU-Alexandria is offering a non-credit course on the Red River Campaign. The class will be taught by Dr. Henry Robertson of the History Department, on March 18 and 25, 5:30 to 8:30 PM. There will also be a field trip on Saturday morning, March 21. Fee is $100. For more information or registration, call (318) 473-6495. ¨
Arizona Foundation, FFD to Work Together
In Search for Sunken Gunboats
Friends of Fort DeRussy and the USS Arizona Civil War Gunboat Foundation have agreed to work together to locate, and possibly obtain artifacts from, gunboats with Fort DeRussy ties that were lost in Louisiana during the War. We will also be working together to compile information about these boats.
The Arizona Foundation has already done work toward locating the resting site of USS Arizona in the Mississippi River below New Orleans. That location is still under investigation. Rob Christopher, of the Arizona Foundation, has requested our help in locating other Louisiana wreck sites. FFD especially shares Mr. Christopher’s interest in locating the Queen of the West, which served on both sides at various times during the War. The Arizona also has this distinction, starting the War as a Confederate boat, and ending her career as a Union boat after her capture while attempting the run the blockade near Mobile. The Queen, on the other hand, started her career as a Union ram, until she was captured at Fort DeRussy in February 1863. She was sunk by Union gunboats on the lower Atchafalaya two months late, while serving as a Confederate gunboat.
This partnership should prevent duplication of research efforts and allow for more effective study of the history of the War on the rivers of central and southern Louisiana. ¨
With the construction of a museum now in the foreseeable future, it behooves us to start looking for artifacts to be placed in the museum. The Office of State Parks has requested that we begin a registry of individuals who have items that they might be willing to donate/lend to the museum when the time comes.
This is not binding, but anyone who has Fort DeRussy related artifacts that they might possibly want to donate or lend to the museum is asked to notify FFD of your name and of the item(s) of interest that you have. We have no place to put anything at this time, so we are not actively collecting items, but we would like to be aware of just exactly what is out there, and where it is, so that exhibit plans can be made. ¨
Where’s the Beef?
While Fort DeRussy was the site of three major Civil War actions, there were also numerous smaller skirmishes that occurred around the fort.
In one of these actions, one company of Yankees from the 23rd Iowa “came pretty nigh geting our Skelps taken.” The men had arrived at the fort aboard troop transports during the last days of the Red River Campaign, and were supported by the ironclad Choctaw and several tinclads (lightly armored gunboats). Apparently they felt that all this nearby firepower was enough to keep the Rebel troops away, and the men went out over a half mile from the river in search of fresh beef. The beef having been procured, the men were preparing it for transport back to the boats when a runner arrived. Unknown to the ‘cattle rustlers’, while they were at work gutting the cows Confederate soldiers were slipping up on them. The bushwhackers had been spotted by lookouts on the boats, and the runner was sent to warn the Iowans. As the hungry soldiers made a hasty retreat back to the river, the tinclads Meteor and Nymph shelled the woods to cover their retreat. (Choctaw and the rest of her escorts were upriver at the time.)
The Yankees made it safely back to the boats, with their “skelps” still firmly attached to their heads. Whether or not they were able to save the beef was not mentioned.
The USS Nymph, Tinclad #54, patrolled the Red River around Fort DeRussy during the latter part of the Red River Campaign. During the incident mentioned above, she fired seventeen shells into the area around the fort, and had fired five rounds into the fort just three days earlier. The strange contraption seen on the front of the vessel is a primitive mine-sweeper, which was necessary due to a number of primitive mines that had been planted in the river by the Confederates. ¨
You all probably remember an old movie where someone would say, “It sure is quiet out there. Too quiet..” And that was always just before everything broke loose.
Well, that’s where we are right now. While it may seem that things have been awfully quiet out at the old fort, a lot has been happening in the background, and the exciting part of our “movie” is about to get underway. The Master Plan is making its way through channels, and the new State Administration seems to be Fort DeRussy-friendly. We look forward to big things in the near future.
However, the State does need our help. While some of our members are just down the road from the fort, the vast majority live miles (often hundreds of miles) away, and may be lucky to visit the fort once or twice in their lives. But your contributions – be they financial, material or just plain old moral support – are needed. Keep up the good work. Your efforts are going to make Fort DeRussy a place we can all be proud of.
And while we’re on the subject of contributions: if any of you are upgrading your office equipment, and would like to donate a good laptop computer (to go with our new projector), please remember that we are tax-deductible. And for that matter, our 10-year-old, 14-inch computer monitor is on its last legs, too.
Army Postpones Visit
The planned January visit by the Army Command and General Staff College’s Staff Ride Team to finalize plans for Staff Rides to the fort has been postponed until probably sometime in May 2004. It seems that, what with a war going on and all, the Army currently has more important things to do. We understand, and will be available when called. ¨
FFD has made several recent purchases of museum and library items for the Fort DeRussy Visitor Center. Please keep in mind that these purchases are only possible due to your donations.
Among the more recent additions to our collection are an 1818 New York City newspaper with an article concerning the promotion of Lewis DeRussy to First Lieutenant; four color prints of gunboats that were active at the fort; several reproduction maps of the fort area; two original 1864 newspapers with articles concerning the capture of the fort; and fourteen new volumes for the library.
Again, these acquisitions are only possible because of your dues and donations. Please note your membership termination date on your newsletter address label, and renew if necessary. To those of you who have made donations over and above your dues, our heartfelt “thanks.” You are making a tremendous difference in the quality of the presentation that we will be giving to the public when our museum/library/visitor center finally opens. You do make a difference. ¨
While he was not an active member of FFD, we regret to announce the passing of Jerry Russell of Arkansas, who died on December 5, 2003, of surgery complications. He was 70 years old. Mr. Russell was one of the Founding Fathers of Civil War battlefield preservation, having been involved in the struggle for over 40 years. In 1994, he brought a Civil War Roundtable tour to Fort DeRussy. Mr. Russell’s contributions to battlefield preservation are legion, and he will be sorely missed.