Confederate earthen fortifications in the Trans-Mississippi

Rusk County Avengers

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Location
Coffeeville, TX
The Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department had a lot of fortifications, most of them non-existent today, and many of them of sound design and construction. It is my hypothesis that these fortifications were just as good, if not sometimes better than what could be seen east of the Mississippi River, but outside of Fort Sabine and occasionally Fort Derussy, almost all of them are forgotten. The Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection in the University of North Carolina has many drawings, or rather "blueprints" of sorts from all over the South, and sharing them here would do no justice so I'll share the links so everyone can get real good looks at these drawings that are unaware of them, and they are all that remains of a period view of them. Also for the record, I was inspired to do this thread by @J. D. Stevens excellent thread on Galveston's fortifications

But for the sake of discussion, what are y'alls thoughts on these fortifications? Were they just as good as back east? Were they inferior contraptions thrown up by backward western Confederates? Or are they unappreciated and unjustly forgotten works that were great examples of military science? I'm interested in hearing everyone else's thoughts, and seeing where the discussion leads.

Here are some observations on Trans-Mississippi forts by the famous Arthur Fremantle, (notice that he speaks of foreign influence in their construction):
On Galveston's Forts:
"I rode with Colonel Debray to examine Forts Scurry, Magruder, Bankhead and Point. These works have been ingeniously designed by Colonel Sulokowski (formerly of the Austrian army), and they were being very well constructed by one hundred and fifty whites and six hundred blacks under that officer's superintendence, the blacks being lent by neighboring planters."

Fort Beauregard in Harrisonburg LA:
"At 4 p.m. we were assured by a citizen on the bank that the gunboats really had retreated; and at 5:30 our doubts were put to rest, to our great satisfaction, by descrying the Confederate flag flying from Fort Beauregard, high above the little town of Harrisonburg. After we had landed, I presented my letter of introduction from General Hebert to Colonel Logan, who commands the fort. He introduced me to a German officer the engineer...... Fort Beauregard is a much more formidable work than I expected to see, and its strength had evidently been much underrated at Munroe..... When the works are complete they will be much more formidable."

Fort Sabine
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/181/rec/7

Fort Quintana
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/172/rec/5

Three gun battery in Fulton Arkansas
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/48/rec/1

Camden, Arkansas and its defences (zoom in feature comes in real handy on this one)
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/52/rec/6

Fort Derussy in Louisiana
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/27/rec/2

Shreveport Louisiana and its defenses (again zoom in feature comes in handy)
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/32/rec/3

Port Hudson
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/97/rec/11

Again I'm mainly starting this thread for the sake of discussion, as this doesn't seem to get discussed, what are y'all's thoughts?
 
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Joined
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Location
mo
Wish I knew more, most are way south of me, Fort Davidson is probally some the best preserved earthworks here, but wasnt all that well laid out by the union, in a valley surrounded by higher ground

Were there any prewar forts in Texas like Fort Jackson and Fort St Philip in La? Or pre Texas forts?
 
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Rusk County Avengers

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Location
Coffeeville, TX
The only one I'm familiar with is Port Hudson. Ive spent many a day in the CS works there and they were very well constructed and covered a LOT of land. Fort Hell was one of my favorite spot in these works.

One of these days I'll get out that way, been on my "go to" list for years. I can't help but wonder what kind of relics abound on that field. I reckon the works had to have been well constructed to have held out as well as it did against larger numbers for a spell.

Wish I knew more, most are way south of me, Fort Davidson is probably some the best preserved earthworks here, but wasn't all that well laid out by the union, in a valley surrounded by higher ground

Yeah that's a little bit too far North for Confederate fortifications. Get past Little Rock, (where all the fortifications they had there no longer exist), Confederate fortifications get scarce.

Were there any prewar forts in Texas like Fort Jackson and Fort St Philip in La? Or pre Texas forts?

Oh a dozen or so. Going back to the Spanish to Mexican era there were a lot of impromptu wooden "forts" (that are no longer with us), and several presidios, like the one in Goliad, Presidio La Bahia with the Texanized name from our War of Independence from Mexico being Fort Defiance, (it was nicely restored, Mexican Catholic Church still owns it I believe). As for US forts there wasn't any like St. Philip or Jackson, but many of the frontier variety with no real fortifications, them being:
Fort Texas/Fort Brown, (it had earthworks when it was built during the onset of the Mexican War)
Fort Chadbourne
Fort Belknap
Fort Lancaster
Fort Davis
Fort Inge
Fort Mason (where Robert E. Lee was stationed in 1861)
Fort Duncan
Fort Clark
Camp Stockton
Fort McKavette

And several others I'm sure I'm forgetting, nothing like the brick and mortar coastal forts, but plenty of smaller un-fortified ones out west. What few walled ones here were Spanish in origin, like Presidio La Bahia, (I still prefer Fort Defiance), and Presidio San Saba, and others but they were all ruins and really saw no real use, (supposedly Defiance was used for prisoners, but I'm doubtful).
 

Lampasas Bill

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Joined
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I believe that the most northern Confederate-built fortifications in the Trans-Mississippi were those at New Madrid and Island #10. Can any one think of others?
 
Joined
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Location
mo
One of these days I'll get out that way, been on my "go to" list for years. I can't help but wonder what kind of relics abound on that field. I reckon the works had to have been well constructed to have held out as well as it did against larger numbers for a spell.



Yeah that's a little bit too far North for Confederate fortifications. Get past Little Rock, (where all the fortifications they had there no longer exist), Confederate fortifications get scarce.



Oh a dozen or so. Going back to the Spanish to Mexican era there were a lot of impromptu wooden "forts" (that are no longer with us), and several presidios, like the one in Goliad, Presidio La Bahia with the Texanized name from our War of Independence from Mexico being Fort Defiance, (it was nicely restored, Mexican Catholic Church still owns it I believe). As for US forts there wasn't any like St. Philip or Jackson, but many of the frontier variety with no real fortifications, them being:
Fort Texas/Fort Brown, (it had earthworks when it was built during the onset of the Mexican War)
Fort Chadbourne
Fort Belknap
Fort Lancaster
Fort Davis
Fort Inge
Fort Mason (where Robert E. Lee was stationed in 1861)
Fort Duncan
Fort Clark
Camp Stockton
Fort McKavette

And several others I'm sure I'm forgetting, nothing like the brick and mortar coastal forts, but plenty of smaller un-fortified ones out west. What few walled ones here were Spanish in origin, like Presidio La Bahia, (I still prefer Fort Defiance), and Presidio San Saba, and others but they were all ruins and really saw no real use, (supposedly Defiance was used for prisoners, but I'm doubtful).
I knew of the smaller interior forts, was more asking about permanent coastal fortifications
 

J. D. Stevens

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Deep In The Heart of Texas
Were there any prewar forts in Texas like Fort Jackson and Fort St Philip in La?

In 1859, the Board of Engineers and Secretary of War John B. Floyd approved the plan to build a fort on Pelican Spit, a small sandbar island in the middle of the Galveston Ship Channel. The cost was estimated at $300,000, a tidy sum for the day. The plan below shows a three-tier truncated hexagon, 385 feet long and 154 feet wide. It was to be armed with 37 guns en barbette on the third tier, 24 casemated guns on the second tier, and 24 casemated guns on the first tier, for a total of 85 guns. A 40' x 40' six room overseer's house, plus warehouses, stable, temporary quarters for workers, and a wharf had been built, all on raised piers. Some of the pilings had been installed for the fort when the CW began and worked was halted. By the end of 1863, the Confederates had built Fort Jackson with three casements holding two 32-pounders and one 8-inch seacoast howitzer. Another 8-inch seacoast howitzer and a 10-inch mortar were mounted en barbette. Obstructions of piles and torpedoes provided extra defense for the island.


Plans for the three-tier fort approved for construction on Pelican Spit in Galveston Harbor.
Pelican Spit Pre-War Fortification.jpg

Fort Jackson built by Confederates in 1863
Pelican Spit Fort Jackson.jpg
 

Patrick H

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Joined
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The history of our local earthen fort seems a bit vague. One account that I've read is that Price had the State Guard begin the fortification, and that Lyon took it over when he captured Boonville on June 17, 1861. Then various Federal and Home Guard units continued to improve the fortifications throughout the war. Once the Home Guard held it, it was only challenged once, and the State Guard, although having a much larger force, was unable to capture it.

However, there are some problems with this version. First of all, Price was in St. Louis, then in Jefferson City, and then in Boonville for such a short period that I'm not sure he had time to begin the fort. The State Guard was camped at Camp Bacon, about two miles east of the fort.

Later, when the State Guard failed to capture the fort, it is known that the Home Guard was holding several hostages inside. This might have had something to do with the outcome.

Having said all that, I'm sure the pro-southerners west of the big river were capable of building excellent forts. The problem with forts, though, is that they are fixed positions. An enemy can invest them, blitzkrieg around them, leave them alone with their occupants inside, or bombard them into oblivion if they have enough artillery. It just requires the will and the patience to do so.
 
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Lusty Murfax

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Location
Northwest Missouri
I believe that the most northern Confederate-built fortifications in the Trans-Mississippi were those at New Madrid and Island #10. Can any one think of others?
The are the remains of an earthen Union fort at St. Joe, Missouri. Not sure whether it had a name. I believe it was located on the northwest section of the city in the bluffs above the Missouri River. It might have been situated on Wyeth Hill.
 

J. D. Stevens

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most of them non-existent today, and many of them of sound design and construction

In my humble opinion, outside of Galveston defenses and Sabine Pass, the fortifications built at the mouth of Caney Creek served and important role preventing an invasion of Texas via the Matagorda Peninsula in early 1864. With the exception of a few local CW history buffs, no one has even heard of the Caney Fortifications. The erection of these forts, trenches, rifle pits, etc, kept the Feds at bay until it was decided the Red River Campaign would be an easier and more profitable path for invading Louisiana and possibly East Texas.

It is my intention to start a thread in the near future regarding the Caney Creek Fortifications. There is absolutely nothing left of the old earthworks, although as late as 1975 some of the old trenches could still be seen. Today, the fortifications have been covered over with homes and canals.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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Location
Coffeeville, TX
The history of our local earthen fort seems a bit vague. One account that I've read is that Price had the State Guard begin the fortification, and that Lyon took it over when he captured Boonville on June 17, 1861. Then various Federal and Home Guard units continued to improve the fortifications throughout the war. Once the Home Guard held it, it was only challenged once, and the State Guard, although having a much larger force, was unable to capture it.

However, there are some problems with this version. First of all, Price was in St. Louis, then in Jefferson City, and then in Boonville for such a short period that I'm not sure he had time to begin the fort. The State Guard was camped at Camp Bacon, about two miles east of the fort.

Later, when the State Guard failed to capture the fort, it is known that the Home Guard was holding several hostages inside. This might have had something to do with the outcome.

The are the remains of an earthen Union fort at St. Joe, Missouri. Not sure whether it had a name. I believe it was located on the northwest section of the city in the bluffs above the Missouri River. It might have been situated on Wyeth Hill.

As far as I know, outside of the fortifications built around Camp Jackson in St. Louis there were no Missouri State Guard or Confederate fortifications in Missouri, (there may be some on the Arkansas border from when Hindman payed a visit in August-September 1862 however). But in a way that makes sense due to the fast paced nature of the War in Missouri with MSG/CS/ and Bushwhackers having to constantly stay on the move, they probably didn't have the time or resources to spend a month or two building fortifications and then manning them. They were simply always on the move most of the time.

But it was a common practice for Union troops and Missouri Militia to fortify every town they could, sometimes just the courthouse, other times a spot of ground commanding the town, and I wouldn't be surprised if an entire town or two was fortified.

Having said all that, I'm sure the pro-southerners west of the big river were capable of building excellent forts. The problem with forts, though, is that they are fixed positions. An enemy can invest them, blitzkrieg around them, leave them alone with their occupants inside, or bombard them into oblivious if they have enough artillery. It just requires the will and the patience to do so.

That reminds me of General Richard Taylor quote, "Forts are a monument to the stupidity of man."
 

Rusk County Avengers

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Location
Coffeeville, TX
In my humble opinion, outside of Galveston defenses and Sabine Pass, the fortifications built at the mouth of Caney Creek served and important role preventing an invasion of Texas via the Matagorda Peninsula in early 1864. With the exception of a few local CW history buffs, no one has even heard of the Caney Fortifications. The erection of these forts, trenches, rifle pits, etc, kept the Feds at bay until it was decided the Red River Campaign would be an easier and more profitable path for invading Louisiana and possibly East Texas.

It is my intention to start a thread in the near future regarding the Caney Creek Fortifications. There is absolutely nothing left of the old earthworks, although as late as 1975 some of the old trenches could still be seen. Today, the fortifications have been covered over with homes and canals.

That is a thread I look forward to, as I've always had difficulty finding information on those fortifications, and knowledge of them has been sadly neglected. Funny thing about it, I had always been under the impression there was still some remains of them, which shows how old my latest info on them is...

I knew of the smaller interior forts, was more asking about permanent coastal fortifications

To my knowledge outside of worn down abandoned earthworks in Corpus Christie from the Mexican War, and now the interesting information on the Pelican Spit planned fort, there was literally no fortifications on the coast. There were also some earthworks from the Texas Revolution up and down the coast, but literally nothing permanent like Jackson or St. Philip. No great city like New Orleans, or important waterways like the Mississippi for anyone to worry about.
 

Lusty Murfax

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As far as I know, outside of the fortifications built around Camp Jackson in St. Louis there were no Missouri State Guard or Confederate fortifications in Missouri, (there may be some on the Arkansas border from when Hindman payed a visit in August-September 1862 however). But in a way that makes sense due to the fast paced nature of the War in Missouri with MSG/CS/ and Bushwhackers having to constantly stay on the move, they probably didn't have the time or resources to spend a month or two building fortifications and then manning them. They were simply always on the move most of the time.

But it was a common practice for Union troops and Missouri Militia to fortify every town they could, sometimes just the courthouse, other times a spot of ground commanding the town, and I wouldn't be surprised if an entire town or two was fortified.



That reminds me of General Richard Taylor quote, "Forts are a monument to the stupidity of man."
I believe that's is true of the occupation troops in Missouri. Early in the war most occupation regiments were from out of State. It took some time for the newly (Union) appointed Missouri State officials to gin up a native militia force to police the State. I've read the St. Joe fort was initially established to host an Iowa cavalry regiment or detachment of a regiment. Local and area County histories include incidents of violence against civilians by the military occupation force. There were at least two hangings within a few miles of my farm. One, a boy (and relative of mine) about one half mile away and the other, an old man at his farm about ten miles away. Both had family members away serving in the MSG under Price.
 

Carronade

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Location
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You've started a good discussion, but I'm curious about your hypothesis:

It is my hypothesis that these fortifications were just as good, if not sometimes better than what could be seen east of the Mississippi River

Is there any reason to think the Trans-Mississippi fortifications would not as good as those in the rest of the Confederacy? Presumably they were designed and their construction supervised by officers of comparable engineering knowledge, mainly using US Army techniques. No doubt there were some slapdash efforts in all theaters when people with engineering knowledge were not available.
 

J. D. Stevens

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Rusk County Avengers

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You've started a good discussion, but I'm curious about your hypothesis:



Is there any reason to think the Trans-Mississippi fortifications would not as good as those in the rest of the Confederacy? Presumably they were designed and their construction supervised by officers of comparable engineering knowledge, mainly using US Army techniques. No doubt there were some slapdash efforts in all theaters when people with engineering knowledge were not available.

While there is no doubt that there were Southern engineers with US Army backgrounds involved in the design and construction of fortifications, (such as Fort Derussy in Louisiana), we shouldn't forget the observations made by Arthur Fremantle in Galveston or at Fort Beauregard, that the engineers were foreign. A former Austrian Army engineer in Galveston, and a German engineer at Fort Beauregard.

A lot of folks from all over look upon the Confederate Trans-Mississippi as a backward wilderness with weak opposition to the Federals, where the truth is quite different. Confederate forces were just as capable and just as well led as any Confederate Army east of the Mississippi, (sometimes better led, excepting Kirby Smith of course), and just as well equipped if not better, (Confederate uniform and munition supply out here far outpaced the numbers of troops by 1864), with the only area they were really deficient being in number of troops. Which seems to have been compensated for in fortifying the Trans-Mississippi, with the design of most fortifications indicating an emphasis on strong fortifications that could be defended by a small force. Its funny in a way, most Confederate officers felt their defenses weak and untenable, but Union troops learned to fear Confederate fortification viewing them as impressively strong works. Take some Union accounts of Fort Derussy for example:

An Illinois soldier who wrote to his brother:
"Fort Derussy was not a large fort, but one of the strongest I had ever seen."

Two more Union accounts I neglected to put the names too when taking notes in the past:
"If the fort had been full manned and well defended we would have paid dear in men as the works were about the strongest I had ever saw during the war."

"Long might the rebels have held out if they had a large force."

Getting a little analytical of views on fortifications by both sides, the officers designing them did an excellent job and designed some fortifications that were just as good if not better than ones back east, with Union officers and men recognizing that they had done some fearful work from their point of view, but most Confederate officers in the field, seem to have held no appreciation for their usefulness outside of defense from naval gunboats, and deplored their use, which under different circumstances could have been a fatal mistake, (it never was as they faced Union Generals like Banks, and Steele, men who seldom followed up their successes), and if they had faced officers of Grant or Sherman's caliber, it might not have worked so well. But that's not to say they were impenetrable, Steele had no problems puncturing Confederate fortifications at Prairie D'Ane and took Camden, Arkansas, and retreated afterwards due to supply problems, but he had been facing Sterling Price, who was not outnumbered, but had stretched his lines to thin, (though I bet if he had attempted to hold Camden with its fortifications he probably could have held out till reinforcements arrived, but he retreated instead).

But at the end of the day it is a subject that warrants way more study than it gets, but the majority of student on the War only wish to focus on Lee and Bragg and their respective armies. Such a waste in my view, but that's me. For me something Confederate Major General John Fourney, of Alabama told one Major Charles Squires at the conclusion of the Red River Campaign speaks volumes of the Trans-Mississippi. Squires, who had just been transferred to the Trans-Mississippi from the Army of Northern Virginia and arrived during the Red River Campaign, was as he put it "vexed" by goings on in the ATM's pursuit of Banks was told by Fourney:

"Now Squires the trouble with you is that you have been used to a defeated army. You are fresh from Virginia and can't understand can't understand how victorious soldiers feel."

A satirical line according to Squires, but a telling one on the differences between the theaters.
 

bdtex

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The Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department had a lot of fortifications, most of them non-existent today, and many of them of sound design and construction. It is my hypothesis that these fortifications were just as good, if not sometimes better than what could be seen east of the Mississippi River, but outside of Fort Sabine and occasionally Fort Derussy, almost all of them are forgotten. The Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection in the University of North Carolina has many drawings, or rather "blueprints" of sorts from all over the South, and sharing them here would do no justice so I'll share the links so everyone can get real good looks at these drawings that are unaware of them, and they are all that remains of a period view of them. Also for the record, I was inspired to do this thread by @J. D. Stevens excellent thread on Galveston's fortifications

But for the sake of discussion, what are y'alls thoughts on these fortifications? Were they just as good as back east? Were they inferior contraptions thrown up by backward western Confederates? Or are they unappreciated and unjustly forgotten works that were great examples of military science? I'm interested in hearing everyone else's thoughts, and seeing where the discussion leads.

Here are some observations on Trans-Mississippi forts by the famous Arthur Fremantle, (notice that he speaks of foreign influence in their construction):
On Galveston's Forts:
"I rode with Colonel Debray to examine Forts Scurry, Magruder, Bankhead and Point. These works have been ingeniously designed by Colonel Sulokowski (formerly of the Austrian army), and they were being very well constructed by one hundred and fifty whites and six hundred blacks under that officer's superintendence, the blacks being lent by neighboring planters."

Fort Beauregard in Harrisonburg LA:
"At 4 p.m. we were assured by a citizen on the bank that the gunboats really had retreated; and at 5:30 our doubts were put to rest, to our great satisfaction, by descrying the Confederate flag flying from Fort Beauregard, high above the little town of Harrisonburg. After we had landed, I presented my letter of introduction from General Hebert to Colonel Logan, who commands the fort. He introduced me to a German officer the engineer...... Fort Beauregard is a much more formidable work than I expected to see, and its strength had evidently been much underrated at Munroe..... When the works are complete they will be much more formidable."

Fort Sabine
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/181/rec/7

Fort Quintana
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/172/rec/5

Three gun battery in Fulton Arkansas
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/48/rec/1

Camden, Arkansas and its defences (zoom in feature comes in real handy on this one)
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/52/rec/6

Fort Derussy in Louisiana
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/27/rec/2

Shreveport Louisiana and its defenses (again zoom in feature comes in handy)
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/32/rec/3

Port Hudson
https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/gilmer/id/97/rec/11

Again I'm mainly starting this thread for the sake of discussion, as this doesn't seem to get discussed, what are y'all's thoughts?
Thanks for the thread and the maps. I printed,as well as I could, a copy of the blueprint of Fort Derussy. Recently picked up "Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort Derussy, Louisiana and the defense of the Red River" by Steven Mayeux. Hope to get to it in the next few months.
 

ErnieMac

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The only one I'm familiar with is Port Hudson. Ive spent many a day in the CS works there and they were very well constructed and covered a LOT of land. Fort Hell was one of my favorite spot in these works.
I agree. The works at Port Hudson were well laid out and still impressive today. As good as any in the east.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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Coffeeville, TX
Thanks for the thread and the maps. I printed,as well as I could, a copy of the blueprint of Fort Derussy. Recently picked up "Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort Derussy, Louisiana and the defense of the Red River" by Steven Mayeux. Hope to get to it in the next few months.

Hey that's a very good book, I need to pick up a copy for myself one of these days when I'm book shopping. Looking at the blueprint, I strongly suspect it's post-battle, but outside of some very incorrect newspaper drawings, its all we got, and very few people seem to know about it! (Makes me feel smart for finding it lol.)

I'd love to see the blueprint used to rebuild Fort Derussy, but who knows what'll happen.
 
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