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Fort DeRussy Bugle

Issue 15       Friends of Fort DeRussy, Inc.        December 2009

Book Supplies Low

Anyone hoping to get a copy of Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana and the Defense of Red River (Steven M. Mayeux, University of Tennessee Press, 2007) in its original hardback version, had better get to a bookstore soon. The book sold well and there are only a couple of hundred copies left in the Chicago warehouse. A paperback version is a possibility should the hardbacks sell out, but there is no guarantee that this will happen.

Hurricane Damage Minimal

Direct hit by Gustave; Ike misses

The 2008 hurricane season presented Fort DeRussy with challenges, but nothing that the old girl couldn’t cope with. Hurricane Gustav struck the fort a direct blow in early September, and was one of the most severe storms to strike the fort in recent history. While tree damage in the fort itself was very light, the fort’s cemetery was hard hit, with several large trees uprooted. The fence was destroyed in spots, and while several graves were nearly crushed by the large oak tree that fell, there was no actual tombstone damage.

The road leading to the fort was not so lucky. As you will recall, the road was resurfaced in 2005, and its base was damaged by the affects of Hurricane Rita at that time. The two feet of heavy rain following Gustav washed out an eight-foot diameter, thirty-foot long culvert and closed Fort DeRussy Road for about two weeks. The wash-out was discovered in the early morning hours the day after the hurricane, and the road was barricaded before anyone drove into the hole – which was fortunate, as the hole could easily have swallowed several cars.

No hurricanes in 2009. Whew! ♦

More Ghost Hunters

Ghost hunters continue to haunt Fort DeRussy and its adjacent cemetery. On September 27, 2008, I got a call from an all-female group of ghost hunters who wanted permission to check out the cemetery for paranormal activity. This is not as unusual as it might sound, since the fort’s graveyard has something of a reputation in paranormal circles. Permission was given, and the visit was cleared with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office since the area is officially closed after dark. I told the group’s leader that I would come by after the LSU-Miss. State football game finished. I was nearly to the graveyard at about 10:30 when I got a call from the leader telling me that one of their members had fallen and broken her arm.

Anyone who has ever made the trip after dark down the long, winding, tree-shrouded one-lane gravel road to the graveyard will understand how hesitant the ambulance crew was to make that part of their journey. But they finally arrived, and were able to remove the injured investigator from the graveyard. Rest assured that the shrieks heard in the graveyard that night were very real. Apparently, dislocated and/or broken arms don’t travel well.

And, no, the injured party did not feel any strange push or shove before she went down. She just tripped on her feet and fell onto a concrete slab.

This particular group of ghost hunters has not been back. However, we look forward to the next ones. There’s never a dull moment at Fort DeRussy after dark. ♦

Great Marksville Cotton Raid Revisited

As a part of the year-long 200th birthday celebration by the City of Marksville, FFD sponsored a reenactment of the theft of 400 bales of cotton from the old Voinche Store in downtown Marksville and their removal to the gunboats at Fort DeRussy. Since the actual event did not involve any North-South confrontations, a lot of artistic license was used to make the reenactment more exciting, with a considerable amount of shooting and shouting being added. A large crowd of spectators attended. Thanks to the Cenla Historical Reenactors, the 19th Texas Infantry, and Angelo and Gwen Piazza for making this event happen. ♦

CLECO Perseveres

Friends of Fort DeRussy is very fortunate to have corporate sponsors who make donations to the cause of maintaining and preserving the fort. Our most dedicated and consistent sponsor has been CLECO, the Central Louisiana Electric Company. Cleco began donating to FFD back in 1997, and over the years has given over $2,500 to the group. Cleco has made an annual donation of $200 for the past five years. Thanks, Cleco.

Another generous sponsor to our organization has been the Paragon Casino/Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. The casino and tribe have come through with large donations on several occasions (many school groups and civic organizations can attest to the value of the projector and screen that were paid for by these means), and have never turned us down when asked to assist with reenactments or other functions.

Of course, we also appreciate everyone who keeps their dues up to date, and especially those of you who make additional donations along with your dues (even when the newsletter comes way too seldom). Be assured that even though your newsletter isn’t coming in as timely a manner as it probably should, there is still a lot of activity – much of it behind the scenes – going on to make the fort an active site. Your contributions are invaluable. ♦

Shell Donated

Philip “Duke” Rivet, long-time member of Friends of Fort DeRussy and recently retired from the State Division of Archaeology, made a donation to FFD in October, 2009, of a live 12-pounder Confederate Read shell. (It should be pointed out to all of you that live black powder shells are extremely dangerous and should be donated to FFD at once.)

This particular shell was found on the Mansura battlefield and will make an excellent display item in the Fort DeRussy museum. It is currently being disarmed by the professionals at Fort Donelson Relics in Dover, Tennessee, with the cost of the de-militarizing being donated by Joey Waldron, another long-time member of FFD and well-known artifact collector. (Seriously, live shells are not particularly dangerous unless tampered with. But you should donate yours to FFD anyway.) ♦

Rapides Foundation Gives Grant

$1,000 Buys Weapons & Accoutrements

A $1,000 grant from the Rapides Foundation has allowed FFD to purchase reproduction weapons and accoutrements so that school groups coming to demonstrations will be able to see exactly what types of equipment were used at the fort. The grant money was used to purchase reproductions of a Model 1853 .58 caliber Enfield rifle (fifty-six of these were captured at the fort in 1864), along with a bayonet, sling, bullet mold, cleaning gear and other assorted rifle equipment, as well as a Navy Model 1851 .36 caliber pistol with holster and bullet mold.

Inspired by the donation of the Rapides Foundation, Jack’s Powder Keg threw in a pound of black powder and a box of cartridge-rolling papers to make live fire demonstrations possible. ♦

New Bridge Finally a Reality

Thirteen Years of Waiting Over

When the Fort DeRussy property was purchased by La Commission des Avoyelles in 1996, the observant visitor would have noticed survey marks in the road in front of the fort. These were for the new concrete bridge that was to replace the old wooden one – the bridge that was to be built “next year.”

Those survey marks disappeared long ago, and have been replaced by at least two sets of other marks over the intervening years, but in September of 2009 the bridge was finally completed. We will miss the rumbling of cars passing over the loose timbers of the old bridge, but tour bus drivers will no doubt feel a lot more secure as they drive their passengers across the new structure.

War Over, but Casualties Continue

The war may have ended nearly 150 years ago, but casualties continue to occur at Fort DeRussy.

The December 2007 reenactment was the scene of the most recent injuries (not counting the ghost-hunter covered on page 2 of this letter). Red Holsomback, a frequent visitor to, and hard-core supporter of the fort, was severely bruised and  slightly broken (one or two ribs) when he fell from a wagon while preparing the grounds for the reenactment.

An additional two casualties occurred on the first day of the reenactment itself. One of the cavalrymen involved in the event fell from his horse and broke his collarbone, resulting in a slight delay of the battle as the “wounded” soldier was removed by ambulance. The other injury occurred during the actual battle, when an artilleryman’s arm was impaled by a pin from a cannon primer. In keeping with the spirit of the event, he waited until the battle was over before seeking medical attention.

Other than these unfortunate situations, the December 2007 reenactment was a complete success. The event was well-attended, and the rain held off until the final battle ended on Sunday afternoon. And although the event was free to the public, $470 was donated by departing spectators to defray the cost of gunpowder for the cannons. ♦

Book Wins Two Awards

Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana and the Defense of Red River has won two national awards since its publication in 2007 by the University of Tennessee Press. The A. M. Pate, Jr. Award was presented to the author by the Fort Worth Civil War Round Table on December 11, 2007 after a presentation in Fort Worth. On September 9, 2008, the author gave a presentation on his book to the Kalamazoo (Michigan) CWRT after which he was presented the Albert Castel Award. In addition to the award, the Kalamazoo CWRT also made a $490 donation to FFD. Both awards were for best book of the year on a Trans-Mississippi Civil War subject. ♦


In just over three years, the Sesquicentennial – the 150th anniversary – of the capture of the Queen of the West at Fort DeRussy will be here. In just over four years, the same will be true for the capture of the fort and the Red River Campaign. These are momentous occasions, and should not go unnoticed.

The question is, will they?

When the subject was first broached about turning Fort DeRussy into a State Historic Site, the sesqui-centennial was still 20 years away. When the property was turned over to the state, it was still 15 years off. The state has had the property for 10 years now, and to be honest, I’m getting scared. Where is the visitor center? If we have one in 2013, or more importantly in 2014, the visitors will come. And they will bring money to a part of the state the needs it very much. But more importantly, they will bring attention to a long lost part of our history. They will bring notice to a major event that helped shape who we are.

So, come on, Louisiana legislature and Office of State Parks! I won’t be alive in 2064. Very few of us will. We gave you 70 acres rich in history and tradition, a site that will bring visitors to our state from all over the country, from all over the world. Now its time to do your part and make something of this property. And we’ve got to act fast if don’t want the Sesquicentennial to slip by. FFD members, don’t let this happen. Write and call your legislatures. We need your help. Let’s make this happen. ♦

Holtz Confirmed as Sketch Artist

For years, the sketch of the 1863 Gunboat Fight that hangs in the Silver Street Museum in Shreveport, and which graces the cover of Earthen Walls, Iron Men, has been unaccredited as to artist. The sketch was given to the museum by an anonymous donor, and until the sketch was brought to the attention of Fort Historian Steve Mayeux, no attempt was made to determine the artist. Mayeux has long contended that the artist had to have been Helmuth Heinrich Holtz, a sailor aboard USS Estrella. Holtz was present at the battle, and had sent a relatively similar sketch of Fort Burton at Butte la Rose to Harper’s Weekly just a few weeks before the Fort DeRussy battle. Holtz was the one individual to have both the opportunity and ability to portray the fight as accurately as it was portrayed in the sketch.

Mayeux mentioned his suspicions concerning the artist to Monica Pels, who was working at the Silver Street Museum, and Miss Pels, her curiosity piqued, made a detailed examination of the original and found that it was indeed signed by Helmuth Holtz. The inscription is seriously faded, but is unquestionably the artist’s signature. ♦

Book Donated to MSHS

Throughout this newsletter you read of donations to FFD. Sometimes it’s the other way around. This summer FFD donated a reprint copy of Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley to Marksville State Historic Site (a prehistoric Indian site) in appreciation for all of the work their staff does at Fort DeRussy.

In Memoriam

We regret to announce the passing of Mr. C. Nolte DeRussy, Jr., great-great-grandson of Lewis DeRussy, on October 3, 2007.

We lost Elinor Bordelon Mayeux, a charter member, on Christmas Eve of 2007, just six days before her 90th birthday. Elinor was the granddaughter of Angelica Barbin, the baby born at Fort DeRussy just before its capture

Col. William J. Ellenberger of Escondido, CA, passed away on March 26, 2008, a few days after his 100th birthday. He was a life member of our organization.

The passing of Mrs. Monnie DeRussy was mentioned in our last newsletter. It has since been learned that she left us on June 20, 2005, after suffering several strokes.

Visitor Center Design Presented

On October 15, 2009, nearly two years after the contract was awarded, a near final design for the Fort DeRussy State Historic Site visitor center/museum was presented to the Louisiana Office of State Parks by the architectural firm of Ashe, Broussard and Weinzettle of Alexandria, and Joseph Furr Design Studio of Baton Rouge. Although the design did not fulfill the require-ments established in the Master Plan, it met with near unanimous approval from the State personnel present. The president of Friends of Fort DeRussy, who was also present at the meeting, was alone in expressing his dissatisfaction with the design and its lack of adherence to the original proposal. He was assured by the State Parks design staff that the final plans, and the completed building, would be much more to his satisfaction and the satisfaction of the members of the Friends group. Our president remains skeptical, but hopeful. ♦

Banner Donated

We are very grateful to Mr. Chis Armand of Signs Plus of Marksville for his donation of a large waterproof “Friends of Fort DeRussy” banner. The banner, valued at over $75, now allows you to locate our booth at events that we attend. ♦