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Sights & Sites

Exploring Civil War history will bring you to forts, exhibits and landmarks all over Louisiana.

Photo by Andy Crawford

Like the war itself in 1865, the Civil War Sesquicentennial “began ending” this year on April 7, 150 years after Appomattox. In Louisiana, however, because the Confederacy’s Trans-Mississippi Dept. lasted two months longer, our commemoration is not over. Shreveport – with its shipyard, foundries and munition depots – never fell (despite the Red River Campaign of 1864), and its role as Trans-Mississippi headquarters and state capital lasted until Gen. Kirby Smith announced his surrender on May 26 and Gov. Henry Watkins Allen delivered his farewell address on June 2.

Even for readers who’ve taken every “Traveler” tour suggested through these months (listen up, you two), dozens of landmarks remain to be seen, but no worries! The sightseeing needn’t end with the sesquicentennial, so pick some sites from the following menu and take another drive. Forts are the favorite landmarks of many buffs, and one strategy, tried-and-true, is to begin at the masonry defenses near New Orleans, then invade the state to see the old earthwork defenses.

In today’s Plaquemines Parish in the 1790s, at a spot on the Mississippi called Point du Mardi Gras (so named on Fat Tuesday of 1699 by the explorer Iberville), Louisiana’s Spanish regime erected Fort San Felipe (renamed Fort St. Philip after 1803), which brought the British river fleet to a standstill during the Battle of New Orleans. It was manned again for the Mexican-American War, then armed again in 1861 for service to the Confederacy.

Across the river, star-shaped Fort Jackson (1832) joined St. Philip to impose a formidable crossfire on the Union Navy in April of 1862, swapping shells with the fleet for 12 days before Flag Officer Farragut led a desperation 3 a.m. run past the forts to capture New Orleans. Fort St. Philip has been silted over for years and Fort Jackson was greatly weakened by hurricane waters in 2005, but Jackson is now open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, and the dedication of its new museum is only weeks away. Both forts might soon be restored to become a new National Park.

Of our five other masonry forts, four were seized by the Louisiana Militia in 1861 and retaken by Union forces in ‘62. The other, Fort Proctor in St. Bernard Parish – now knee-deep in water just off the subsiding southern shore of Lake Borgne – was unfinished in 1861 and never manned. The ruins of Fort Livingston on Grand Terre island are accessible – a short boat ride from Grand Isle – and Fort Pike on U.S. 90 below Slidell is a State Historic Site. Pike was built in 1826 to guard the Rigolets pass between Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico, while Fort Macomb (1832) – a State Parks property with no restoration yet scheduled – stood guard at nearby Chef Menteur Pass.

Restoration of Jackson Barracks and arsenal at 6400 St. Claude in New Orleans is complete, and, while its columned officer residences are still off limits (since 9-1-1), its Military History and Weapons Museum adjacent to the arsenal is open (presenting till May 22 an exhibit on our state militia at the Battle of New Orleans). Two other arsenals to see are the 1861 powder magazine at Camp Parapet near River Road in Metairie (off Causeway Blvd. on Arlington, accessible two days each November – jeffersonhistoricalsociety.com), and, on the Capitol grounds in Baton Rouge, the Old Arsenal Museum with its Civil War graffiti. Also on the grounds, the Pentagon Barracks, held briefly by the CSA, were used after the war as “cadet” quarters when LSU relocated from Pineville.

Our earthen forts and breastworks are still plentiful, the most extensive being Port Hudson on the Mississippi, a State Historic Site whose trenches and natural ravines were brunt of the longest siege of the war. Others include the bluff dubbed Fort Beauregard on the Ouachita River at Harrisonburg (today a hilltop park with an observation tower), Donaldsonville’s Fort Butler at the “fork” of Bayou Lafourche (crying for excavation), breastworks at the Corps of Engineers Red River welcome center at Grand Ecore near Natchitoches, and Fort DeRussy near Marksville (blasted in the first battle of the Red River Campaign and recently acquired by State Parks).

Artillery embankments long the Sabine River can be seen at Niblett’s Bluff in Vinton and Burr’s Ferry near Leesville, and a State Historic Site in Pineville preserves Forts Buhlow and Randolph, built in 1864 in anticipation of a second Red River invasion.

Shreveport’s four earthen forts are all now destroyed or buried, but the daunting bluff of Fort Turnbull (nicknamed Fort Humbug because some of its cannon were fakes) still provides a dramatic Red River overlook from the grounds of a V.A. Hospital and National Guard armory.

Other battles varied from urban settings like Magnolia Cemetery and downtown streets in Baton Rouge to remote points like the naval attacks on Calcasieu Pass and Sabine Pass (with skirmishing around our 1857 lighthouse that still stands there). Some sprang up randomly, others in the zigzag patterns of cross-country campaigns. Every mile of bayou and canefield from Donaldsonville to the Lafourche Crossing rail bridge saw fighting, for instance, as did the banks of Bayou Teche from Fort Brashear on the Atchafalaya to Bisland, Franklin and New Iberia. Then came the invasion of Opelousas, whereupon Gov. Thomas Overton Moore departed his rooms at the Homère Mouton home (231 N. Liberty, private) to reconvene his legislature in Shreveport.

Towns like Clinton and Jackson were swept up in fighting that radiated from Port Hudson, and battles and home burnings accompanied Gen. Grant’s canal digging projects through northeast Louisiana during the siege of Vicksburg – evidenced by a 1,000-foot length of one canal still visible from U.S. 65 at the Lake Providence Welcome Center.  

Battle markers have since sprouted along the route of Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign, from Simmesport and Marksville to Alexandria and Natchitoches, finally to the encounters now memorialized by Mansfield State Historic Site and the monuments of Pleasant Hill Battlefield Park … then back, following Banks’ retreat and Gen. Dick Taylor’s chase, which turned Cane River into a 20-mile battlefield from Derry to the bluffs of Monnet’s Ferry below Cloutierville.

Besides war-related exhibits at the State Historic Sites and State Museum, significant collections can be found at Confederate Memorial Hall (929 Camp, New Orleans), the Young-Sanders Center (archive, library and museum at 104 Commercial, Franklin), Camp Moore Museum and Cemetery (old CSA training grounds, U.S. 51 below Kentwood), and Crumps Hill Military Museum, west of Marthaville at 11389 Hwy. 120, by appointment, (318) 472-9033.

Statues can be dramatic storytellers, and, as in many counties North and South, a dozen of our parish courthouses are fronted by statues of lone soldiers, each representing untold numbers of local lads. For more statuary a good starting point is the State Capitol’s Memorial Hall with its likenesses of Civil War Gov. Henry Watkins Allen, post-Reconstruction Gov. Francis T. Nicholls and Reconstruction-era Gov. P.B.S. Pinchback – one of the Union’s few black commissioned officers, known for raising several companies for the Louisiana Native Guards.

Angela Gregory’s seated figure of Gen. Allen can be found across the river in downtown Port Allen (near his Allendale Plantation), and an obelisk marks the grave of Gen. Nicholls at St. John Episcopal in Thibodaux. A granite marker there bears a likeness of Leonidas Polk, bishop and general, who organized the church in 1843. Buried in Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans, the soldier/churchman is also honored in stained-glass at Trinity Episcopal in New Orleans, Mount Olivet in Pineville and Trinity in Natchitoches, and Fort Polk near Leesville bears his name.

Others honored individually in bronze or stone include Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle in New Orleans and, around that town, CSA President Jefferson Davis on Canal Street (who died in 1889 in the home of a friend at 1134 First St., private), P.G.T. Beauregard astride his horse at City Park, and U.S. Chief Justice E.D. White (who enlisted in the Confederate Army as a minor) at the Louisiana Supreme Court on Royal Street. Another bronze of White stands in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, and his great marble bust overlooks the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Elsewhere around the state, a statue of Gen. Alfred Mouton fronts City Hall in Lafayette and an obelisk marks the place of his death on the Mansfield battlefield. On La. 23 in Belle Chasse, a memorial and bas relief of Judah P. Benjamin honors “the brains of the Confederacy,” who served as attorney general, secretary of war and secretary of state.

Monuments featuring multiple busts can be found at the Caddo Courthouse in Shreveport and in New Orleans’ Greenwood Cemetery on City Park Ave. In adjacent Metairie Cemetery, a stone cannoneer represents Louisiana’s famed Washington Artillery, the soaring column of the Army of Northern Virginia bears the weight of a marble Stonewall Jackson, and an equestrian statue of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston stands atop the Louisiana Division vault of the Army of Tennessee. Near its gated entrance the marble form of Sgt. William Brunet is seen recording final muster.

Not all the Johnnys came marching home.

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