Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Forgotten History Discovered

This writer recently realized I had missed a vital part of Louisiana’s history – Forts Randolph and Buhlow. I’m sure I heard about them when I was younger, but somehow it did not stick in my mind. Now though, I am fully aware of the two forts and their fascinating legacy after a visit to the Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site.
Recently I attended a weekend event at the site and which featured several areas of local history. The Central Louisiana History Days 2013 was held all-day Friday and Saturday with the public welcome to attend the free event as well as school groups. 

There was a replica Native American teepee and camp, a Civil War re-enactor camp, a Kisatchie National Forest display, a violin craftsman, an antique farm equipment exhibit, period music, a living history demonstration of quilting and candle and soap making from the Kent Plantation House and more.
Forts Randolph and Buhlow were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. The visitor center was only built in 2010 and includes exhibits on the Civil War Red River Campaign, an elevated boardwalk around the fort area with three ¼ mile walking trails, an overlook near Bailey's Dam site and an open field for Civil War re-enactments. 
The history of the forts began toward the end of the Civil War and involved the Red River Campaign of the Civil War, which was a Union effort to control Louisiana waterways. Troops entered the state from Arkansas, Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Many hard-fought skirmishes went back and forth between Union and Confederate troops.  

After the Battle of Mansfield (south of the town of Mansfield and northwest of Natchitoches), halting the Union advance to the West in Spring of 1864, Forts Randolph and Buhlow were constructed on the Red River at Alexandria by Confederates in order to repel future Union attacks through Northwest Louisiana. 
Construction, completed by March 1865, was under the command of Captain Christopher M. Randolph and supervised by a military engineer, Lieutenant Alphonse Buhlow, for whom the forts are named. A third and larger fort, planned for the Alexandria side of the river, was never built.
The earthen forts, constructed using local plantation slave labor, were fortified with cannon and over 800 soldiers. In addition to a Confederate troop buildup in the Alexandria area, the Confederate ironclad Missouri was anchored in the river opposite Fort Randolph, but the anticipated attack never came and no fighting ever took place. In May of 1865, the Confederates surrendered to Union forces, and the forts where occupied for a short while by the Union before being abandoned at the end of the war.
The historic site also includes the remains of Bailey’s Dam. The dam, remarkable for its design and the amount of time required in constructing it, allowed for the Union Fleet, under the command of Admiral David Porter, to escape below the rapids on the Red River at Alexandria during the Union retreat after the Battle of Mansfield. 
Called “one of the greatest engineering feats of the Civil War,” the dam designed by Colonel Joseph Bailey has left a lasting mark on the history of the region. The site is today commemorated with interpretive signage and a scenic overlook of the Red River. Plus quite fascinating for me is that my ancestor helped build these forts and guard them during the Civil War.

So have you discovered a historical gem in your state? An ancestor connection? What was it? Please share.

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