Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fort Derussy Battlefield - Marksville, LA (Home of the Headless Soldier)


            Adjacent to my hometown, lays the small city of Marksville. During my teenage years I would hear of numerous haunted stories coming from a small nook of Marksville known as the Fort Derussy Battlefield and Cemetery. The informative antique 1945 book, Gumbo Ya-Ya, vaguely refers to the area as, “the haunted woods near Marksville where the local people refuse to go after dark.” Normally, I would lump the two locations into one story but the cemetery holds such a special place in my heart that I must differentiate it from the historic battlefield. For now though, we will focus on what the area is primarily known for; a Civil War fort.
            The fort received its name from Colonel Louis G. Derussy, commander of the 2nd Louisiana Regiment of volunteers during the Civil War. As we have learned with our other locations, the Red River Campaign was becoming a large military movement. As this was beginning to form, Union troops began to establish their positions by moving up from Simmesport via the Atchafalaya River. Colonel Derussey was aware of this and he knew that his primary goal was to build a defense along this anticipated path.
            The presumptions were correct, as Union troops approached Fort Derusssy in May of 1863. As they approached, they immediately began attacking several Confederate gunboats; the Cotton and the Grand Duke. Despite the Confederate losses, the Union retreated down the river, only after destroying part of the fort. The Confederacy rebuilt and, a year later on March 14, 1864, led by Colonel William F. Lynch and Colonel William T. Shaw, the Union troops returned, this time, with a fight on their minds.

            The numbers were quite uneven for this fight, as a mere three hundred Confederate soldiers faced a near ten thousand-man Union Army. A brief battle ensued, lasting only about three to four hours. Although the fort was said to be quite impregnable, Union soldiers succeeded and won the battle. When it was all said and done, the Confederacy had surrendered and five soldiers were dead with four wounded, yet the winning Union Army had a greater loss with seven dead and forty-four
Drawing depicting the fort and cemetery.
wounded. Three hundred and seventeen Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner and, in true Union fashion, they began to demolish the fort. They attempted to do so by placing explosives within the structure. In the process, karma appeared to have peeked its ugly head, as several Union soldiers died by accidental detonations. As my grandfather would often say, “Don't spit up in the air, as it's likely to fall on your face!”

            Following the battle, other than a few very small skirmishes with insignificant groups of Confederate soldiers, the Union used the fort as a recruiting station for black soldiers as well as a prison of sorts for runaway slaves. After years of weather-beaten wear and tear, all that is left is a shell of its former self as the fort is now a simple earthen mound.
            On September 26, 1999, in honor of Colonel Lewis G. DeRussy, the oldest West Point graduate to serve in the Confederate Army, his remains were moved from an abandoned grave and placed on the actual battlefield. An obelisk-type monument now stands in remembrance of this brave leader.
            Although much of the paranormal activity seems to gravitate to the adjacent cemetery, which we will soon get to, the battlefield is said to be home to its share of ghostly encounters. Sounds of
Portion of what remains of the fort.
gunfight and the sightings of headless soldiers have been reported. The grounds have long been rumored to be haunted.

            For years, we have worked with an extremely knowledgeable and helpful individual by the name of Steve Mayeux. He is a head figure in Fort Derussy's preservation society and has written an incredible book on the area. He has allowed us on the grounds several times to conduct investigations and we will always be grateful to his kindness.
            On one particular chilly night, we were given the privilege of being allowed to camp out on the actual battlefield. With a bonfire roaring and sleeping bags laid out, it was quite an interesting place to spend the night. On several occasions that night, we received unexplainable spikes on our EMF meters when speaking aloud to any possible soldiers that may still reside on the grounds. Following that, a gluttony-induced coma ensued, due to the overindulgence of roasted hot dogs and s'mores over the open fire! I know, we always find a way to incorporate food into an event but who could resist in front of a campfire?
            The grounds are currently open to the general public to tour during the day. Civil War reenactments are regularly held here and it is a great place to get a taste of Louisiana military history. If you visit, be sure you tell Mr. Steve we sent you!

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