Area Civil War history buffs work to clean up Fort D

Sunday, November 20, 2005
Members of the Civil War Round Table worked on repairing the stone building at Fort D on Saturday. (Fred Lynch)

If Fort D in Cape Girardeau hasn't gotten much public attention, Scott House doesn't think it's because people don't care.

He thinks it's because they don't know.

They don't know, for example, that it's one of only three surviving Civil War earthwork fortifications in Missouri. Or that Union soldiers dug shelters into the hillside to escape the cold or passed the time bowling on the grounds in south Cape Girardeau with homemade wooden pins and 32-pound cannon balls.

They don't know that it was built under the direction of Lt. John Wesley Powell, a man who later lost an arm during the Battle of Shiloh and eventually would lead the first successful navigation of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

"It's a genuine Civil War site," said House, a member of the Civil War Round Table and member of Cape Girardeau's Historic Preservation Commission. "The more I dig into the history of Fort D, the more fascinating it becomes."

On Saturday, House and about 10 members of the Civil War Roundtable -- a local group of history buffs and historians -- worked to clean up Fort D in one of the first steps to turn it into a Civil War interpretive site.

They painted the boarded-up windows on the stone building on the site and cleaned up trash, pulled out some old electrical wires and did some preliminary mortar work. Fort D is located at the corner of South Fort Street and West Fort Street.

Seven interpretive signs telling the history of the fort should be on display at the site by early next spring, House said.

Electricity is expected to be run to the site "any day now," House said. The group wants to install lighting to discourage vandalism. The boarded-up windows will also be replaced with iron bars, House said.

Much of the project so far has come through private donations, House said. But much work remains to be done and the group estimates it could cost more than $61,000 over three years to turn the three-acre site into a tourist attraction.

But House said it would be money well spent, especially as the Civil War sesquicentennial approaches in 2011.

As many as 100 to 200 Union soldiers would have manned Fort D at any one time during the war. Fort D was a triangular fortification, ringed by earthen mounds of dirt on two sides. House said the fort and its cannons were designed largely to protect Cape Girardeau and the important Mississippi River port from possible Confederate attacks from land. But its cannons could also fire on enemy vessels in the river.

House said that they hope once the work is complete, Fort D will become more of a tourist attraction.

"As people learn more about it, it will be appreciated more," House said.

His wife, Patti House, a teacher at Cape Girardeau's middle school, said it also is a way to help students interact with history.

"Connections are so important," she said.

Donnie Tiehes, another member of the Civil War Round Table, said he helps out cleaning the fortification because of his love of history.

"I've got a passion for the Civil War," he said, during a lunch break Saturday. "It's also a way to give back to those soldiers."

335-6611, extension 137

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