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Fort DeRussy News

Issue 6                                                              April 2000


Police Jury to build Bridge

After a brief presentation by FFD Chairman Steve Mayeux at the March 14, 2000, meeting of the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury, the jury agreed to furnish the necessary labor and expertise to build a bridge across Johnson Bayou (formerly Gorton’s Bayou/Barbin’s Bayou) to connect the main redoubt of the fort to the site of the proposed visitor center. The bridge construction is being handled by Friends of Fort DeRussy at the request of the Office of State Parks, and is being funded by the old State grant to Marksville’s Fort DeRussy account.

The bridge will be seven feet wide and approximately 200 feet long, designed primarily for pedestrian traffic but capable of handling small tractors and the occasional artillery piece.

The jury voted unanimously in favor of doing the work for FFD after Mayeux pointed out to them that it was the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury that originally requested that the fort be built back in 1862. The request was made at the jury’s regularly scheduled meeting which just coincidentally happened to be on the 136th anniversary of the capture of the fort.


Fort Receives LWCF Grant

$70,000 in Federal Funds to fort

An application by Friends of Fort DeRussy to the US Government for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant was approved in the Fall of 1999. The money  will be used for land acquisition, and went straight from the Federal Government to the State, since the grant came after the fort turnover. Although the grant was requested by FFD, and FFD was the announced recipient, credit for obtaining the money rightfully goes to Office of State Parks, as there is no way that FFD could have dealt with the necessary paperwork to actually get the money.

DeRussy Remains Disinterred

On August 6-7, 1999, a team of archaeologists from the Northwestern State University Cultural Resources Office (Natchitoches, LA), led by Dr. Tommy Ike Hailey, spent two grueling days in temperatures approaching 100 degrees to disinter the remains of Colonel Lewis DeRussy from the Russell Family Cemetery at Grand Ecore, LA. The disinterment was attended by members of FFD and the Natchitoches and Alexandria Sons of Confederate Veterans. Digging began at 6 AM Saturday morning, ended at dark, and recommenced at 6 AM Sunday. It was not until 3 PM on Sunday that the diggers were rewarded with the discovery of remains. For a while, it was believed that the grave in the heavily vandalized cemetery had been robbed. Fortunately, damage to this grave was restricted to the surface level.

The acid soil of the Grand Ecore area had not been kind to Colonel DeRussy, and the actual human remains consisted of only a few bone fragments. In addition, there were found pieces of the coffin and small pieces of the Colonel’s clothes. No personal articles were present in the grave. This was just as well, as it had been decided beforehand that anything taken out of the grave would be returned to the new grave at Fort DeRussy. The remains were sorted out, studied, and reburied at the fort in September.

A report on the archaeological findings will eventually be published. The coffin was made of bald cypress wood and the Colonel was wearing a vest at the time of burial. Most of the buttons on his clothes were made of either wood or bone, while a few were of ceramic.

    An exhausted but satisfied group of NSU archaeologists look over the successfully completed project. The remains of Lewis DeRussy have been removed and the grave refilled. Left to right standing: Jason Lott, Dr. George Avery, Dr. Tommy Ike Hailey, Brian Cable, and at bottom, Caleb Johnson.

Funeral at the Fort

DeRussy Reinterred with Honors

Under somber skies, a mile-long funeral procession moved from the Marksville Fire Station Annex to Fort DeRussy on September 26, 1999, bearing the earthly remains of Major General Lewis G. DeRussy to his, hopefully, final resting place. Over 200 visitors had paid their last respects to the general as he lay in state on the Saturday preceding the funeral, and a crowd estimated at between three- and four-hundred watched as the man, who had been born during the presidency of George Washington, was laid to rest beneath a granite monument just east of the main redoubt of the fort that he designed.

The general’s coffin, an intricately decorated custom-made model of the 19th century style, was removed from the hearse and proceeded the last half mile to the fort in a horse drawn wagon, escorted by several of the General’s descendants,  the traditional riderless horse, a cavalry escort, and other mourners. The fort grounds were crowded with Civil War reenactors and other interested citizens present to observe the occasion. While an SCV color guard rendered honors, a short eulogy was given by Fort DeRussy  Historian Steve Mayeux, after which religious services were conducted by the Rev. Joseph Bordelon, an Episcopal priest. Rifle and artillery salutes were fired by reenactors and members of LSU’s Pershing Rifles, honoring DeRussy’s contributions to both the United States and the Confederacy.

As the last notes of Taps drifted over the fort, the Confederate flag that had covered the coffin was presented to Deborah DeRussy Caraway, the oldest female descendant present. A gasp of dismay was heard through the crowd when it was realized that the elaborate coffin was actually going to be buried.

Pallbearers, representing the three wars in which DeRussy participated, then moved the coffin over the vault, and after the vault and coffin were lowered into the grave, everyone followed behind the family to throw a handful of dirt onto the vault, following the Biblical injunction to “bury the dead.”

The gravesite is marked by an 8-foot granite obelisk, marked with DeRussy’s name on one side, and the wars in which he fought marked on the other three sides.

The entire ceremony came off flawlessly. This could not have been possible without the cooperation of Kramer Funeral Home and Alfred Cook, Jr. (Funeral Director), Charles Neal (program director), Cenla Historical Reenactment Group, City of Marksville, Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Department, Louisiana National Guard, National Park Service, Office of State Parks, various SCV Chapters, Grande Ecore, Inc., Wilbert Vault Company, Farrell Dauzat (gravedigger), and other individuals too numerous to mention.

    DeRussy funeral cortege approaches the fort. 

Cemetery Fence

A volunteer group headed up by David Bettevy and Iva Lee Printz have recently completed a picket fence around Fort DeRussy Memorial Cemetery, with an additional fence around the parking apron.  The cemetery was used during the war, and continues in use to this day. It was previously enclosed by a barbed wire fence that had fallen into disrepair. When the project is complete, there will also be a new sign over the gate. The project was funded by a grant from Friends of Fort DeRussy.


First Annual Reenactment

The First Annual Battle of Fort DeRussy Re-enactment took place on the weekend of March 17-19, 2000. The encampment and battle took place  along Red River on property belonging to Bill Belt, the Avoyelles Parish sheriff, just over a mile from the fort. Some 200 school children visited the site on Friday, and over 600 visitors watched the battle on Saturday. Unfortunately, the Sunday battle was rained out – by the first significant rainfall in this area in several months! Nonetheless, sponsors of the event were enthusiastic about the possibility of making the reenactment a regular event. Spectators at the Saturday battle were delighted with the performance, and many of the reenactors and sutlers present said that they would like to return next year.

The reenactment was hosted by the Cenla Historical Reenactment Group, longtime supporters of the fort; and sponsored by the City of Marksville and the Marksville Chamber of Commerce. Special thanks to Sheriff Belt for the use of his property and his unlimited support of the event.


Cannon Update

At last report, the US Navy was still taking good care of our cannon. That being the case, we will probably continue to let them take care of it for us until the State gets appropriate facilities built for the display of the gun.

In all seriousness, there is no point in pushing for the return of the gun until a master plan has been developed and a display site has been chosen. Once that has been accomplished – which hopefully will not be long from now – we will push for the return of the gun. Until then, we just sit tight.


Monument Installed

On Bank of Old Red River

A monument  to the two Confederate soldiers killed in the Second Battle of Fort DeRussy was put up in September, 1999, at the point where fort property comes closest to the old river channel. The two men, Pvts. Thomas Burns and John O’Quinn, were blown overboard and lost from the CSS Cotton in May 1863. There has been no official dedication of this monument.


DeRussy Legacy Continues

DeRussy family members at funeral

 When the Fort DeRussy project first began, some of us involved were told that the Lewis DeRussy family had just faded into obscurity. We have since learned that that is far from the case, and that there are hundreds of DeRussy descendants scattered all over the country. We have also learned that a lot of them are still very proud of their illustrious ancestor. We were honored that eight of these descendants were able to come to the funeral at the fort back in September. Debbi D. Caraway, who has long assisted us, was there and accepted the burial flag on the family’s behalf. The Myles DeRussy, Jr. family (who donated the General’s sword to the fort a few years ago) was represented by Myles, his daughter Valerie D. Jenkins, and her children Laura and Steven (who carried the sword in the funeral procession). Steve Sheppard came all the way from Washington State for the service, while Husted DeRussy and Bill Hughes came from just down the road in Baton Rouge. To all of you, we appreciate your support.


The DeRussy Monument

The apparent lean is an optical illusion. When the dirt settles, a slab will be placed over the grave, which is visible in front of the monument. The wreaths were placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Children of the Confederacy.

New Members

     New members continue to join Friends of Fort DeRussy. The following people have joined since our last newsletter was printed:

Barbara R. Anderson                Marksville

Miriam Andrews                        Baton Rouge

W. Patrick Baker                       New Orleans

Herbert Bettevy                         Marksville

Malcolm Ducote                       Center Point

William J. Ellenberger              Escondido, CA

Jim Fogleman                           Morrow

Herbert Hart                              Fort Myers, VA

Nettie Jans                                Evergreen

Valerie DeRussy Jenkins        Katy, TX

Dr. T. L. “Bo” McNeely             Crowley

Donald and Norma Purn         Crystal Lake, IL

Those of you who are long-time members will notice that we have never before mentioned much about dues. Unfortunately, we no longer have state funding to cover this newsletter or other expenses. So, with that in mind, we encourage everyone to send in their annual $10 dues to continue our work  of publicizing and improving the fort. Check your address label, upper right hand corner, and if there’s nothing there, or if the date there is past, it’s time to pay annual dues again. Thanks.


Library Grows

    The Fort DeRussy Research Library continues to grow. It now contains over 110 volumes concerning the Civil War in Central Louisiana and steamboats on the Red River. When a permanent home is finally provided for the collection, it should provide a valuable resource for researchers.


In Memoriam

WE REGRET to announce the passing of members Richard Reynolds of Marksville, a senior at Marksville High; Raymond Gremillion of Marksville; and Alton Bettevy of Mansura. Mr. Bettevy was buried in the Fort DeRussy Cemetery.

Fort Donated to State


State Parks to Operate

Friends of Fort to Advise

     The Fort DeRussy property was officially donated to the Louisiana Office of State Parks by the City of Marksville in a ceremony at the Marksville Fire Station Annex on the morning of October 21, 1999. The donation included the original 5 acre “main redoubt” site; 52.95 acres recently purchased from the Lee Dauzat family with grant money from the Red River Waterway Commission, stretching from Bayou Barbin to the Red River levee; and 11.46 acres of City of Marksville property (formerly a trash dump, but now being cleaned up by the city) between the Dauzat property and the old river channel; for a total of just under 70 acres.

     Signing the donation on behalf of the City were Dr. Richard Michel, Mayor of Marksville; and City Attorney Michael Kelly. Accepting on behalf of the State was Assistant Secretary of State Parks Dwight Landreneau, filling in for Lt. Governor Kathleen Blanco. Also present at the signing were representatives of the Louisiana House and Senate, La Commission des Avoyelles, Cenla Historical Reenactment Group, Marksville Chamber of Commerce, Red River Waterway Commission, Avoyelles Commission of Tourism, the Lee Dauzat family, Friends of Fort DeRussy, and a few interested citizens.  

     While the Friends of Fort DeRussy will no longer be involved in the day-to-day operations of the fort, Landreneau has requested that we still continue to operate in an advisory capacity. As of press time, FFD is in the process of supervising the construction of a reproduction of a Civil War era bridge over Bayou Barbin to connect the fort and the to-be-constructed visitor center.

         A small portion of the crowd at the DeRussy funeral. LSU’s Pershing Rifle Honor Guard in foreground.