Friends of Fort DeRussy, Inc.

The Official Site of Fort DeRussy, Louisiana



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A Brief History of

Fort DeRussy


            Fort DeRussy, an earthen fort built to defend the Red River from naval intrusions during the Civil War, is located in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, about three miles north of the town of Marksville. It was named after Colonel Lewis G. DeRussy of Natchitoches, the oldest West Point graduate to serve in the Confederate Army and a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. DeRussy, a prominent engineer in civilian life, was engineering officer in charge of the construction of the first fortifications at that site. Construction of the fort began in November of 1862.

            Fort DeRussy was the site of three major Civil War engagements and numerous minor skirmishes. In February of 1863, the US ram Queen of the West was captured by Confederate troops at the fort, and was repaired and refitted there prior to being sent out to capture the US ironclad Indianola. In May of the same year, as the fort was being abandoned, the Confederate gunboats Cotton and Grand Duke were attacked by the US gunboats Albatross, Arizona and Estrella in the river in front of the fort. In spite of significant losses on the Confederate boats (4 missing, 17 wounded), this action also ended as a Confederate victory. The Union gunboats retreated down the river, and the captains of the Arizona and Estrella were later court-martialed (but acquitted) over this incident. Shortly after this action, US naval forces took the abandoned fort, destroyed portions of it, and then left the area. The returning Confederate army rebuilt the fort and adjacent water batteries, and in March of 1864, at the start of the Red River Campaign, the fort was attacked from the land side by US General Andrew Jackson Smith's army. Confederate General John Walker's Texans retreated before Smith's army, leaving a small force of 300 men to defend the fort against Smith's 10,000. The fort was captured after a four-hour siege and assault. Union losses were around 7 killed, and about 44 wounded. Confederate losses were even less, approximately 5 killed and 4 wounded. Union forces spent 3 days attempting to tear the fort down, and finally gave up, but not before an additional 2 men were killed and 4 wounded in an explosion.

            After the capture by US forces, Fort DeRussy was used as a recruiting station for black troops, and as a "contraband camp" for escaped slaves for several weeks. By mid-April, US ground forces had abandoned the fort, although a naval presence was maintained in the river at the fort. During this period, until the departure of US forces in late May, fighting was semi-continuous between small Confederate units on the shore and US gunboats in the river. Naval forces shelled the fort at irregular intervals during this time to prevent its takeover by Confederate troops.

            Fort DeRussy was never re-manned after the Red River Campaign. It was used as a campsite by troops passing through the area, and as a signal station. Although eroded by time, weather, and a destructive occupying army, a substantial portion of the earthworks are still in existence, and the main redoubt was purchased by La Commission des Avoyelles in March, 1996. The property (about 70 acres) became a State Historic Site in 1999. Although not open to the public at this time, work is ongoing at the fort with the purpose of making the area accessible to visitors in the near future.