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Fort DeRussy Bugle

Issue 10     The Newsletter of Friends of Fort DeRussy, Inc.     July 2003


Army War College

To Take Lessons from Fort


Fort DeRussy was visited on the morning of January 11, 2003, by Dr. William Glenn Robertson and LTC Steven Clay, of the Staff Ride Team of the Combat Studies Institute of the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  The men were at the fort to scout potential sites for educational stops for a proposed Red River Campaign Staff Ride. These rides are common occurrences at some of the better known Civil War sites around the country, but this will be the first time the Red River Campaign has been used for this exercise. Given the large number of mistakes that were made during that campaign, as well as the number of strategically brilliant plans that were put into effect during that same period, a review by officers of this campaign could prove to be useful.

At our last communication, Col. Clay indicated that the fort would probably be the second stop on the tour. We look forward to providing the Army with whatever assistance is possible. Maps and other material have already been provided the War College by Friends of Fort DeRussy.


Fort Map “Missing”

In our last issue, it was reported that a previously unexamined map of the fort was in a library in Cayuga County, New York. That map, although it is listed in the table of contents of a collection, is currently missing and cannot be found. We mourn.

Bugle replaces News

As our regular readers have no doubt noted, the old Fort DeRussy News has changed its name to the Fort DeRussy Bugle. It was felt by some that the old name reflected a lack of imagination, and that, while the name was informative, it was dull. The new name, Bugle, is meant to present the image of a more excited and more military announcement of occurrences in and around the fort, blaring forth to everyone within earshot that Fort DeRussy is a vibrant and happening place.


Arizona Hunt Continues

Cannons on bottom near boat???


The debate continues on whether or not the hull found on the bottom of the Mississippi River below New Orleans is really USS Arizona (a gunboat involved in an 1863 action at the fort), but sonar pictures shown at the Arizona Seminar held at Port Hudson State Historic Site on November 17, 2002, seem to indicate that the Civil War gunboat has indeed been found. The pointed bow of the sunken vessel appears to show that it is not a barge, as some investigators proposed. Also, there are at least two objects very close to the vessel that seem to have a size and shape consistent with that of the cannons that would have been aboard the boat. Probably the only way to determine the vessels identity for sure will be to raise the “guns” and see if their identifying marks match those of guns aboard the Arizona. Wayne Stark, authority on large Civil War artillery, has provided those numbers to the USS Arizona Civil War Gunboat Foundation, through the Friends of Fort DeRussy.

Rob Christopher, president of the Arizona Foundation, gave an interesting presentation on efforts to confirm the identity of the boat and to bring artifacts to the surface. He has invited any of our members who wish to join his organization to contact the Foundation at 691 Mango Drive, Castle Rock, CO 80104. Member-ships will support their ongoing efforts in historical research, archaeological exploration, and scholarship funding.  

USS Argosy, Tinclad #27

On May 8, 1864, USS Argosy picked up the body of a dead sailor floating in Red River about three hours steaming time below Fort DeRussy. When the boat arrived at the fort the next day, the body was taken ashore for burial. The sailor’s identity and burial site are unknown. The burial party went ashore armed, so it is unlikely that the sailor was brought all the way to the fort’s graveyard.

Smallpox at Fort DeRussy 

Recent News Recalls Old Scourge


Nightly news stories about smallpox vaccinations and the threat of biological warfare bring to mind the fact that smallpox played a major role in the history of Fort DeRussy during the War. Both Confederate and Union troops stationed at the fort were attacked by the virus, over more than a one year period.

In January and February of 1863, the Confederate garrison at the newly built fort was nearly wiped out by the disease. Tennessee troops stationed at the fort brought the disease down with them from Vicksburg, and the resulting epidemic devastated their ranks. Later that year, a steamboat needed at the fort was unavailable because of a case of smallpox aboard the boat.

In 1864, it was the Yankees who lived in dread of the disease. Late in the Red River Campaign, the steamer Madison, acting as a troop transport, was found to have smallpox aboard while at the fort. It left shortly afterward. The journey of the Madison down the river left a vivid impression on the minds of the men aboard. Things had not been going well for the Yankees up the river, and in addition to having to deal with smallpox, the men had only to look out into the river to see “a great many bodies floating down stream and some lodged near the river bank and buzzards picking at them. It was horrible!”

Smallpox was also responsible for the little known “Simmesport Massacre” that took place a few miles down the river. When the Union Army abandoned Central Louisiana, they were followed by many escaping slaves. Some of these were infected with smallpox, and when the army crossed the Atchafalaya River at Simmesport, the sickest of these slaves were left on the west bank. Confederate troops coming into the town found the dying slaves, and executed them rather than run the risk of having the disease spread. The incident, understandably, was not discussed much, and there is only one known reference to the event. It was not the finest hour of either the soldiers doing the killing, or of the ones who had left the slaves to die.

Smallpox vaccinations were available during the Civil War, but epidemics frequently broke out after the immunizations, causing many of the inoculated slaves to believe that the US soldiers were intentionally infecting them. Seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Friends of Fort DeRussy Incorporates

Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Status

On January 21, 2003, Friends of Fort DeRussy was officially incorporated by the State of Louisiana. For several years (since 1994) the organization has operated as a committee of La Commission des Avoyelles (the Avoyelles Parish cultural and historical society), but logistical problems have finally forced us to cut the apron strings and go out on our own. This move should allow us to keep better track of our membership and also give us more leeway in our quest for new and innovative ways to increase the knowledge of and interest in Fort DeRussy. But Friends of Fort DeRussy will always be grateful to La Commission des Avoyelles for the start they gave us, and we hope to maintain a close working relationship with that group.

The charter Board of Directors for Friends of Fort DeRussy includes Steve Mayeux (President) of Longbridge, Carl Ducote (Vice President) of Cottonport, Vickie Mayeux (Treasurer) of Longbridge, Nolan Bordelon of Bluetown, Willie Ducote of Baton Rouge, Marc Dupuy, Jr. of Marksville, and John Ed Laborde of Marksville.

It should be emphasized that Friends of Fort DeRussy, Inc., is a non-profit charitable and educational organization, and donations to the group are tax-deductible. For those of you wishing to make donations, the tax ID number is 02-0672814.


T-Shirts for Sale

Friends of Fort DeRussy is proud to announce that, with the design assistance of the Cenla Historical Reenactors Group, we are now making available two different T-shirts commemorating the Battle of Fort DeRussy. Funds raised by the sale of these T-shirts will go toward furthering the goals of FFD.

The pictures of these two shirts do not do them justice. The “Crawfish” shirt sports black lettering on a gray background, with bright red crawfish firing red and yellow flames from a brown cannon. The “Keeping History Alive” shirt is brown with yellow lettering and insignia, with red, white and blue flags.

You won’t find these at Sears, Penney’s, or Saks Fifth Avenue!  Sure, they’d like to have them, but if you want one, you have to get it here.

We’re selling these in sizes S, M, L, XL, and XXL, for only $15. Please include $3 per shirt for shipping and handling for all mail orders. To keep down overhead, we’re making them as we receive orders, so please be patient. We’ll get your shirt to you as soon as we can.

Those of you who’ve visited the fort on earlier Delta Queen tours may recognize our model as Mallory Mayeux, the little girl who portrayed Angelica Barbin as your bus approached the fort. Mal’s a sophomore at LSU now, and this year was a recipient of one of the prestigious Marine Corps Tankers Association Scholarships.


Over the past eight years the Friends of Fort DeRussy have worked diligently to improve the image and condition of the fort, to make it a place where visitors can come and remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. With the donation of the fort to the State in 1999, some of us seem to have suffered a loss of enthusiasm for the project, thinking that the Office of State Parks will handle the job from here on.

Well, that is not the case. Now that the fort is in State hands, it is more important than ever that we, the individuals who care about the fort and its place in history, work to see that the fort’s story is told.

Our recent incorporation gives us the perfect opportunity to regroup and get our second wind. State Parks will shortly begin work on a Master Plan (see details in your next Bugle), and input from FFD is being requested. I have a lot of ideas, and I’m hoping that you do, too. Let me hear from you, and we’ll make sure that the ideas are passed on the planners. When local “town hall” meetings are held, you’ll be notified. If you can’t attend in person, letters can be sent. We want to hear from you.

And if you can’t attend in person, and don’t want to write, you can still help. Books and research materials for the library, art work for the museum, a carriage for our cannon that’s now up in Washington – all of these things are needed, and your tax-deductible cash donation can help buy them. We know what’s needed, and you can help us get it. Please do.



Gunboat Logs and Cannons

The Gunboat Log project continues to progress. We now have twenty logs back from the prison, with six other books there at this time. Our typists continue to do an excellent job of reading and transcribing the books. They have recently received the microfilm reader from Friends of Fort DeRussy and we have heard that transcribing the microfilm copies is going to be a lot harder than working from the paper copies.

Our attempts to recover Fort DeRussy’s cannon from the Washington Navy Yard have been put on the back burner until proper facilities for its display can be prepared at the fort. Once the State is ready for the gun to be returned, we will put a serious priority on the matter. Meanwhile, we will have our people in Washington make sure that the Navy continues to take good care of the piece.


MOWW Hears about Funeral

On February 4, 2003, the Baton Rouge chapter of the Military Order of World Wars, a veteran’s organization composed of former military officers, was entertained by a fifteen minute slide show presentation entitled “Going Once, Going Twice: The Disinterment and Reburial of General Lewis DeRussy.” The presentation covered the events leading up to the September 1999 funeral of General DeRussy at the fort, as well as the funeral itself. It was followed by a question and answer session. The membership responded warmly to the talk, and presented the speaker with a certificate of appreciation for the work done toward the preservation efforts at the fort.

Park Manager Defends US

Louisiana National Guard Major Ward Zischke, Manager of Marksville State Historic Site and Fort DeRussy State Historic Site, was called to active duty in early 2003 and deployed to Atlanta, GA. He was last heard from from an undisclosed location in California, but his current whereabouts are unknown. Saddam Hussein had best watch his back.

The fort is currently under the supervision of Mr. Titus Belgard. ¨


In Memoriam

We regret to announce the passing of Mrs. Irby Bordelon of Bluetown. Mrs. Bordelon and her late husband were responsible for the Fort DeRussy property for many years, and protected it from damage by relic hunters and trash dumpers. We owe them a debt for the care they took of the property during the many years in which they oversaw the place.  

We also note the passing of another long-time supporter of the fort. Mr. Erk Bordelon, also of Bluetown, passed away in March, 2003. He lived near the fort, and could be counted on to help whenever a function was held there.

Reenactment Draws Crowds

Over 700 View Fall Event

Over 700 spectators showed up for the Third Annual Reenactment of the Battle of Fort DeRussy on the fort grounds November 8-10, 2002. In spite of the heavy rains in the weeks preceding the event that flooded the grounds and threatened to cancel the entire show, the persistence of the Cenla Historical Reenactment Group was rewarded with an inspiring show. Spectators were lavish in their praise of both the reenactors and State Parks personnel (who were quick to pull out the two cars that got stuck in the parking lot).   


Visitors to the Fort

Visitors continue to come to see Fort DeRussy. On April 24, 2003, a group of about 20 Belgians, guests of the town of Cottonport, toured the fort. Dee Gagnard of Plaucheville and Nolan Bordelon of Bluetown served as translators, although some of the Belgians spoke better English than their tour guide. From all appearances, they enjoyed the tour and had a “bon” time, although they were disappointed that the alligator didn’t show up.  

On June 7, the fort was visited by Kent and Karen Barnard of Seattle, Washington. Kent’s great-great-grandmother’s brother, Elemuel Webster Crosby, served in Co. H, 32nd Iowa Infantry, and took part in the capture of the fort in 1864. He was killed at Pleasant Hill a few weeks later. (And yes, Kent is distantly related to Bing Crosby.)