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The Official Site of Fort DeRussy, Louisiana



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Fort DeRussy News

Issue 4                                                November 1998

Delta Queen Visit Generates Excitement

The Delta Queen, an authentic sternwheel steamboat, came up the Red River on a Civil War tour in mid-June 1998, and a shore tour to Fort DeRussy was one of the cruise highlights. The visit generated an unusual amount of excitement throughout the Central Louisiana area, as it was the first trip by a steamboat up the Red River in probably fifty years (no one seems to know for sure when the last steamboat passed up the river). Although the river no longer passes in front of the fort, two busloads of tourists lead by Ed Bearss and Jack Davis (both nationally known Civil War historians) drove down from Alexandria on the morning of June 17. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by a contingent of  about 20 artillery, cavalry and civilian reenactors from the Cenla Historical Reenactment Group, several of whom had spent the night camped out at the fort. The reenactors portrayed Hutton’s Artillery, and seriously impressed our guests with a bilingual artillery drill such as would have been familiar to the original members of that unit. The firing of  the group’s two cannons had guests and hosts flinching all morning, but everyone left with smiles on their faces and fond memories of an exciting trip back into history.

From Fort DeRussy, the tour moved on to lunch at the Mansura Pavilion, and visits to the battlefields at Mansura and Yellow Bayou, Callico Plantation, and the site of the steamboat bridge at Simmesport. After-action reports from the Delta Queen Steamboat Company were highly favorable to the Fort DeRussy/Avoyelles Parish leg of the tour, and we have been notified that, in large part due to their reception here, the Delta Queen Red River Civil War Tour will  be making a return visit to this area in June 1999.

 Park Day ’98 Big Success

On April 25, 1998, 900 volunteers showed up at 38 Civil War sites throughout the nation to clean up, repair, and otherwise maintain the sites. Fifty of these participants – over 5% of the total – showed up at Fort DeRussy to work and listen to presentations. Steve Mayeux gave an update on recent improvements at the fort and Corey Bordelon presented his prize-winning Fort DeRussy Social Studies Fair project to the assembled crowd. The high point of the talks were the unveiling of the new topographical maps by Christie Hardy and Dr. Chip McGimsey. After the talks, volunteers split into groups to rake leaves and branches, haul tree limbs into burn piles, and do general cleaning. Frank Spencer came all the way from Houston to help out, and the St. Mary’s (Cottonport)   4-H club sent seven workers. The Cenla Historical Re-enactors Group was well represented, and Ward Zischke, manager of the Marksville State Commemorative Area, not only showed up in full era uniform, but also worked like a horse hauling branches. Participants received T-shirts and books, donated by The Civil War Trust and their sponsors.

Thanks to Donors

Donations of goods and services continue to roll in, and we are grateful.

Bob and Joel Smith, operators of the Saxon Guild in Alexandria, generously donated an original “colorized” and framed sketch of the Capture of Fort DeRussy, from the April 9, 1864 Frank Leslie’s Illustrated. The picture is really striking, and will be a valuable addition to our future museum.

Patrick Bordelon of Hamburg found a 58-pound chunk of the notorious “brain-splattered cannon” while metal detecting several hundred yards from the fort in February. The fragment is from the gun’s breech, and contains part of the bore and venthole. This contri-bution is also invaluable.

Mack Lemoine, of Lemoine’s Tree Service, generously donated his services, and those of his father and crew, to remove a very large and very dead oak tree from the northeast corner of the fort. They made quick work of a job that would have taken at least a full day (and probably resulted in significant medical bills) by a non-professional crew.

More Donations

In addition to donations of goods and services, we have also been fortunate to continue to receive cash donations. Generous gifts have been made by the Cenla Historical Reenactors and Mrs. Gloria Gardiner Carlisle, as well as three anonymous donors from among the Delta Queen visitors.

Inquiries have been made concerning tax-deductible donations to FFD. This is not a problem! Checks can be made out to La Commission des Avoyelles (Fort DeRussy Fund), and we will send you by return mail a copy of our non-profit number and any other paperwork you may need. Donations are always needed and appreciated.

New Books Out

Fort DeRussy mentioned

Two new books have recently appeared on the market that mention Fort DeRussy. Peculiar Honor: A History of the 28th Texas Cavalry 1862-1865, by M. Jane Johansson, not only mentions the fort, but has a map of the fort on the cover of the paperback book. War Along the Bayous: The 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana, by General William Brooksher, also covers the Red River Campaign actions at the fort. Both books are well-researched and well-written, and are worthy of your consideration.

Drought Affects Fort

This summer’s drought had serious effects on attempts to establish ground cover on the earthworks at DeRussy. White Dutch clover was planted last year with the expectation that it would reseed itself and spread so that this year we would have good cover going into the Winter months. But the severe lack of rain (which continues even as this issue goes to press) hampered seed production and seriously hurt the over-summer survival of the clover. A new supply of ryegrass and crimson clover seed has been bought, and re-seeding will begin when the rains return. A normal winter this year should get us back in good shape.

Fort Now Findable

Sign goes up in March ’98

For years, people have been driving up and down Fort DeRussy Road looking for the fort and not finding it. Even with the underbrush cleared away and the fort actually visible from the road, a lot of people did not recognize it for what it was. This should all be changed now that the official entrance sign is up.

The handcrafted, sand-blasted redwood sign was made by Al Lorio of Baton Rouge especially for the fort. It was paid for with funds donated by Grand Casino Avoyelles and the Tunica-Biloxi Indians, with additional funding by State of Louisiana grant money.

The sign is 3’ x 8’ and is really quite impressive. It was a needed addition to the fort. Special thanks to Nolan Bordelon, for digging most of the postholes for the sign, and for not yelling at me when I broke the handle on his posthole digger.

Monument to be Erected

Slaves who died building fort to be honored

Shortly after records were found in the Louisiana State Archives detailing the names of the 69 slaves who died in the process of building Fort DeRussy, it was decided that a granite marker would be placed on the fort grounds in memory of these men. The marker is currently under construction in Georgia and hopefully will be in place before the rainy season sets in. The monument will be approximately 4 feet wide and 8 feet high, on a granite base, and the entire assembly will weigh over 3 tons, so it will be necessary that the ground is dry when the marker is installed. Sixty-five of the slaves will be identified by name (although only five of these have surnames), with the other four being unknown. Most of these men died of disease contracted while working on the fort, but at least one drowned and another is believed to have died of wounds received while serving as a bugler in the Confederate Army.

Funding for the slave marker was provided by CLECO (the Central Louisiana Electric Company) and State grant money.

While forts throughout the country have monuments honoring the men who fought and died at those locations, it is believed that this marker may be unique in honoring by name the men who made the supreme sacrifice during the actual construction of the fort. While there may be no glory in death by dysentery, perhaps eternal remembrance will be some small consolation.

State Parks Completes Feasibility Study

Good news and bad news for FFD

The Office of State Parks completed their feasibility study of Fort DeRussy in Spring of 1998, and overall, the findings were very encouraging. The study said that “the Office of State Parks will [be] pleased to recommend inclusion of Fort DeRussy as a state commemorative area in the State Parks System” – but only if additional acreage can be acquired to bring the site up to the minimum required acreage to comply with a Louisiana State Commemorative Area designation.”

So the good news is that the State has evaluated the fort and is satisfied with its historical significance, and would be happy to add the fort to their collection of interpreted Civil War sites if we can give them a total of 25 acres to interpret.

The bad news is that all of the neighbors with appropriate acreage have been approached, and there is not enough acceptable land available to meet the State’s needs.

This is only a minor setback, and merely means that our priorities will have to change. Land acquisition will move from Priority 1 to Priority 10, and we will now concentrate on preserving and interpreting the land that we currently own.

Summer Maintenance Is No Picnic

But City of Marksville does excellent job

Given our Central Louisiana climate, keeping Fort DeRussy looking as sharp as it does for our many summertime visitors is no easy job. The reason the fort looks as good as it does is the several visits paid each summer by Parish inmates under the supervision of Mr. Twyman Guillory and Mr. Dan Bordelon. They work under a broiling sun and have to fight redbugs, fire ants, and black widows as well as the ever-growing weeds. Thanks for a job well done.

Dow Contributes

Jimmy Holloway, sales representative for Dow Agrichemicals, has once again donated products to assist in weed and chigger (redbug) control at the fort.


IT LOOKS LIKE we finally have to accept the fact that Fort DeRussy will not be taken over by the Louisiana State Park system any time in the foreseeable future. While this is somewhat frustrating to those of us on the front lines, it is not all bad. Now that we know what we have to work with, we can get to work. And that is just what we plan to do.

Being confined to just five acres will prevent us from doing a lot of the things we would like to do – we will not be able to have re-enactments or other kinds of events that could draw hundreds of spectators, because there’s just nowhere to park the cars; nor will we be able to build a permanent visitor center; nor will we have a paid staff. But we will not cry over spilt milk.

For now, we have to concentrate on what we can do. And there are a lot of things in that category. We have five acres of the most historically significant ground in Central Louisiana. Fort DeRussy has an amazing history. This history must, and will, be preserved. And that is where we’ll be spending our time, energy, and money. The preservation and interpretation of Fort DeRussy’s main redoubt is now Priority One.

DeRussy Visits Fort

Great-great granddaughter pays visit

On October 17, 1998, Fort DeRussy was honored to receive a visit from Deborah DeRussy Caraway and her husband, David. Deborah is a great-great granddaughter of Lewis DeRussy, the fort’s namesake. In addition to touring the fort, Deborah was also able to see the sword and cane gun that belonged to her ancestors, which were donated to the fort by her cousins, the Myles De Russy family. Debbi came dressed for the occasion, wearing a Fort DeRussy, Hawaii, T-shirt and cap.

Other Tours

While the Delta Queen tour may have gotten all the publicity, it was not the only tour to come to the fort this year. Senior Friends of Avoyelles made a visit to the fort on June 24, and the Young-Sanders Center for the Study of the War Between the States brought a busload to the fort on October 31. We haven’t had any school groups come by yet, but we are expecting some this Winter and Spring. Other tours are already booked for June 1999 and June and November 2000.

New Members

Friends of Fort DeRussy Still Growing

Our membership continues to increase, and once again we want to welcome all of our new members.

B. C. Bennett, Jr., Marksville

Lora Cahill, Attica, OH

Gloria Gardiner Carlisle, Houston, TX

Michelle L. DeRussy, New Orleans

Karen Frye, Ypsilanti, MI

Francis C. Furman, Rolla, MO

Gary D. Joiner, Shreveport

Mary A. Legere Littlejohn, Los Alamos, NM

David Madden, Baton Rouge

Jeff and Sally Moore, San Jose, CA

Plauche’s Environmental, Cottonport

Ory Poret, Baton Rouge

M. L. Thorpe, Santa Barbara, CA

Ronald Tinlin, Richardson, TX

Young-Sanders Center for the Study of the War Between the States, Morgan City

         One matter needs to be clarified at this time. It is possible to be a member of Friends of Fort DeRussy without also being a member of our parent organization, La Commission des Avoyelles. If you wish to join FFD, or renew your membership, you may do so by sending $10 to us at 7162 Hwy 29, Cottonport, LA 71327. All dues collected by FFD are spent exclusively on improvements to the fort.

Information Appreciated

         Every once in a while, one of our members provides us with really neat information. An old diary from the 119th Illinois Infantry said  that Privates Phelps and Ledger of Co. B had died in the assault on Fort DeRussy. Earlier this year, Mary Legere Littlejohn saw our Web Page and wrote me inquiring about her ancestor, William Leger, who had died at Fort DeRussy. While I was unable to provide her with any information, she was able to provide me with the proper spelling of Pvt. Leger’s name, as well as with details of his death that I would never have otherwise found. Thanks, Mary, and if any of you have any similar information, please pass it on to us. A few little scraps can add up to some pretty interesting stories.

Mapping Project Complete

         Christie Hardy, a student at the University of Southwestern Louisiana working under the guidance of Dr. Chip McGimsey, Regional Archeologist and USL professor, completed a topographical mapping project of Fort DeRussy in April, 1998. The completed maps were officially presented to Friends of Fort DeRussy at Park Day ’98. These maps give an accurate representation of the earthworks and surrounding topography of the fort as they now exist, and as such are an invaluable addition to our  knowledge of the fort. Although several Civil War-era maps and sketches of the fort exist, the recently completed map is the only map of this scale and detail, and it does differ significantly from all other known maps.

          The mapping project included all of the Fort DeRussy earthworks, both those on our property as well as the L-shaped works on the adjacent property. Our thanks to Mrs. Irby Bordelon and her family for permission to map those works. The casemates on the river bank were not included, because there are no remains of those particular works. Between the Union Army and the Red River, those works have been long since decimated. In the future, that area may be investigated with a magnetometer for evidence of the location of those works.