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Fort DeRussy Bugle

Issue 14        Friends of Fort DeRussy, Inc.         November 2007

December Reenactment


For the first time since 2002, cannons will roar and soldiers will once again charge across the fields of Fort DeRussy. Louisiana’s Office of State Parks will be sponsoring another Fort DeRussy battle reenactment this December 1-2 on the grounds of the fort. Over three hundred  reenactors are expected to participate, along with over twenty pieces of artillery. School groups will be visiting the fort on the Friday before the reenactment weekend, and the site will be open to the public starting at 10 AM on Saturday and Sunday. Battles will take place at 2 PM on Saturday, and at 1 PM on Sunday. There is no admission charge, but donations will be gladly accepted. Sutlers will be present selling period equipment for anyone interested in getting into reenacting, and there will also be food and drink booths. FFD will also have a table up where signed copies of Earthen Walls, Iron Men will be available for purchase. All FFD members are encouraged to come by the table and say “hello.” If you’d also like to say “I came by to volunteer to help,” that would be nice, too. And if you’d like to say “I’d like to make a donation to offset the cost of this extraordinary venture,” that would be really nice.

We expect the weather that weekend to be clear and chilly, or maybe even overcast and chilly, but it should be perfect for a reenactment. For those of you who’ve been to the fort in the summer, this should be a welcome change. No mosquitoes, redbugs, or water moccasins, plenty of living history for the whole family, and lots of friends sharing an interest in our past. Come on out and join with us in an educational and fun-filled weekend at Fort DeRussy. ♦

“US Ironclad Steamer Essex, off Fort DeRussy, Red River, March 17, 1864           Admiral: . . . I will mention, only, as a result of our experience, that a gun weighing over 9,000 pounds can be slung (dragging) to the axles of an army wagon and drawn by eighteen mules. . . Robert Townsend, Commander, US Navy.” Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, V. 26, p. 32.

In this Fort DeRussy sketch, from Grand Army Picture Book (1890), the pullers are oxen, not mules. Thanks to Frank Furman of Rolla, Missouri, for locating this woodcut for us.

Who ya gonna call?

Ghost hunters – more specifically, members of Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigators - came by the fort on the night of February 25, 2007, and it was a night to remember. Not because of any ghosts who appeared, but because it was so doggone cold. The investigators arrived shortly before sundown, and the last ones left around 2 AM, after a visit to the cemetery. They were accompanied by Elaine Coleman, author of Haunted Louisiana Forts. A campfire was maintained throughout the night, and while not large enough to really warm anyone up, it was enough to ward off any serious frostbite. Apparently, it warded off all the ghosts as well.

La. Spirits is “a serious group of professional and analytical individuals dedicated to the investigating of paranormal activity.” They came to the fort armed with numerous electromagnetic pulse indicators (EPDs) and both audio and video recorders. Early in the evening, the EPDs were going off on a regular basis, which had some of the members declaring that the fort was one of the most active sites they had ever investigated. But when the excitement died down, it was determined that the ‘spirits’ seem to have been more related to active cell phones than to any dead soldiers. A recent check of the Louisiana Spirits web site shows that the Fort DeRussy investigation is not even mentioned. It seems that the spirits that haunt our battleground have a little too much dignity to participate in playing parlor games with technological gizmos. ♦

Lt. Jerome Bishop

81st Illinois Infantry

The handsome young man depicted here is Lt. Jerome Bishop of the 81st Illinois. This picture was made when he was stationed at Vicksburg, Mississippi, a few months before he was decapitated by an exploding cannon at Fort DeRussy on the night of March 16, 1864. Lt. Bishop’s body was later removed from the Fort DeRussy Cemetery to the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville.

More on “The Book”

Just how good is this new book on Fort DeRussy? According to the book reviews showing up on the Internet, it seems to be just what some readers have been waiting for. Below are a few excerpts from published reviews:

“Astutely analyzed, exhaustively researched, well written, and beautifully illustrated, Earthen Walls, Iron Men is an original contribution to the historiography of the Trans-Mississippi theater. . . Very highly recommended.”

Drew Wagenhoffer, Civil War Books and Authors Blog

“There’s a lot to like in Mayeux’s book. . . The good things start with the cover. . . Good job. Well worth the price.”

George E. Wright, Jr., review

“If one is interested in learning the no-nonsense facts about Fort DeRussy and this period in our history, this book is highly recommended. It is lively and entertaining reading.”

W. Rome, review

“This probably has more previously unpublished Trans-Mississippi Confederate history that anything in the past five or ten years. It is very well written and exhaustively researched.”

Thomas Reid, posted on History-Sites message board

To go along with these good reviews, one should also consider that, to date, there have been no bad reviews.

The price of the book varies widely depending on where it is sold. While the list price is $45, it has been seen advertised for sale at anywhere from $30 to $70. To anyone buying their copy over the Internet, has consistently advertised the cheapest price ($29.70, with free shipping). Should you choose this route to purchase your copy, we would like to recommend that you visit, go to any one of their state or special interest Message Boards, and purchase the book through the pop-up ad for it on the left-hand side of the page. You’ll get the same low Amazon price, while supporting a worthy website.

Copies signed by the author can be purchased from Steve Mayeux for $44 (shipping and packaging included in the continental US), at the address found on the bottom of the last page of this Bugle. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Friends of Fort DeRussy. ♦

Banks’ Grand Retreat

There are reenactments, and then there are reenactments. “Banks’ Grand Retreat” was one of the latter. It was a reenactment such as you’ve never seen before – and for good reason. As one of the reenactors said, “We hate spectators.” More to the point, they won’t tolerate spectators, and have no use for them. The reenact for their own enjoyment. And they came from all over the United States, England, and France to do it.

Banks’ Grand Retreat took place in the Kisatchie Hills of north Louisiana back in March 2007. It was a four-day, 28-mile-long movement through the piney woods, with the Union contingent constantly harassed by the trailing Confederates. Supplies of bacon, hardtack, and water were hauled to the participants by ox- and mule-drawn wagons, and the civilian participants suffered from depredations by both armies. Dress and gear was authentic to the point that at least one Reb soldier made the whole route barefoot.

The 190 participants in this event were not being totally selfish in their enjoyment of this event. Banks’ Grand Retreat raised over $4,000 for the Friends of Fort DeRussy to use for further land acquisition for the fort, and also made other donations that allowed FFD to purchase a CDV of Lt. Jerome Bishop, 81st Illinois, the Yankee officer who had his head decapitated at the fort two days after it was captured. Special thanks go out to Doug Cooper, Fred Baker, Bill Treadway, Tom Yearby, Terre Lawson, Dan Hadley, the Texas Ground Hornets, the Lazy Jacks, and all of the others. ♦


Things continue to happen at Fort DeRussy, and we owe it all to you. Thanks to everyone who paid their dues after the last newsletter came out, and especially to Hugh Ripley, Thomas Handy, Robert Gobtop and CLECO, who all made donations of $100 or more. Your generosity is appreciated.

Along those same lines, we must take note of Doug Cooper and his compatriots from Banks’ Grand Retreat. Doug did not know me from Adam, nor I him. He’s from Idaho, and has no personal connection to Fort DeRussy. When he first called and offered to raise money for the fort, I must admit that I thought it was some kind of scam. It wasn’t. At sundown on March 14th, I found myself in the surreal position of having a man I’d first met in person a few hours earlier giving me several double handfuls of cash and checks, telling me to count it when I got home and let him know how much it was when I saw him again in four days. (For the record, it was $1,039 and change.) And four days later, after more raffle tickets were sold, the same thing happened again. That’s the kind of people who are making Fort DeRussy come to life. That’s the kind of people you are, and I’m proud to be associated with you.

I’d also like to especially thank Dr. Don Hines, president of the Louisiana Senate, for all that he has done for FFD over the years. He has been term-limited out of office, and his patronage will be sorely missed. He was – and is –  a good friend to the fort.

Contract Granted

Ashe Broussard Weinzettle Architects of Alexandria, La., have been awarded the contract for the design of the Fort DeRussy Visitor Center.

Other Books of Interest

Response to the last issue of the Bugle indicated a serious interest in any books concerning the war in the Fort DeRussy area. With that in mind, we mention the following:

Mr. Lincoln’s Brownwater Navy: The Mississippi Squadron, by Gary D. Joiner. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, paperback, 200 pages. An interesting and exciting narrative of the US Navy’s actions on the Mississippi and it tributaries.

Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863-1864, ed. by Gary D. Joiner. University of Tennessee Press, 2007, hardback, 400 pages. A collection of rare first-hand accounts of the War in the Red River Valley, including a fascinating and humorous account of the Battle of Mansura.

Chicago’s Battery Boys: The Chicago Mercantile Battery in the Civil War’s Western Theater, by Richard Brady Williams. Savas Beatie, 2005, hardback, 638 pages (new edition out in paperback, 2007). An excellent unit history of a unit that participated in the 1864 Red River Campaign, although not at Fort DeRussy.

A Thrilling Narrative: The Memoir of a Southern Unionist, by Dennis Haynes, ed. by Arthur Bergeron, Jr. University of Arkansas Press, 2006, hardback, 170 pages. Edited reprint of a very rare account by a member of the First La. Scouts Battalions (a Union unit). Jayhawkers were not uncommon in central Louisiana, but Haynes was the only one to write a book about his experiences. ♦

In Memoriam

Mrs. Martha Yarrington “Monnie” DeRussy passed away sometime in the past two years. We do not have any details, only that her last newsletter was returned. Mrs. Monnie was the great-great-granddaughter-in-law of Lewis DeRussy, and donated the General’s sword to Friends of Fort DeRussy back when the organization first formed.  Her generosity and belief in our cause will be long remembered.

Book Now Available

    Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana and the Defense of Red River, the first book-length treatment of the Fort DeRussy story, was released by the University of Tennessee Press in August of 2007 and is now available in bookstores throughout the country and most online booksellers. It is a hardback book, 370 pages in length, comprised of  seventeen chapters and seven appendices. Bookstores that do not have it in stock can order it.

    The book, written by Friends of Fort DeRussy president Steve Mayeux and with a foreword by National Park Service Historian Emeritus Edwin Bearrs, has been received with good reviews as well as good sales figures. Research for the book began in 1994, and the writing was completed in 2005. It has been making its way through the publishing process for the past two years, and the completed book’s arrival at the author’s house was celebrated by the author and his wife with a toast of Rebel Yell whiskey.

     The book is also available for loan from some libraries – mostly in Louisiana, but strangely enough, even from one in Alberta, Canada. ♦

Delta Queen beached

The steamboat Delta Queen, which has been bringing tourists to Fort DeRussy since 1998, has had her license revoked by an act of Congress. The boat has steamed the inland waters of the United States since 1929, and for many years has had a waiver allowing her to continue carrying passengers even though she does not have a metal superstructure. Although the boat has an exemplary safety record, Congress has decided not to renew the waiver. This is a definite blow to tourism at Fort DeRussy, as Delta Queen is the only steamboat on the Mississippi system that can fit through the locks into Red River. It’s also a blow to the many people who will never again be able to enjoy a steamboat trip up the Red. This is a sad day for us all, and a sad day for common sense.