Fort D comes to life again for three days this weekend

Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Scott House discussed this weekend's Fort D Days from the historic site Monday in south Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Watch a video about the upcoming event

During the Civil War, four Union army forts helped protect Cape Girardeau from Confederate troops and raiders. Today only one of those forts, Fort D, still stands, and this weekend it will play host to three days of historical re-enactment known collectively as Fort D Days.

This is the second year for the event, which drew an estimated 2,000 people last year.

About 40 men in uniform along with others in civilian period attire will make up the living history encampment, said Scott House, a historic preservationist who helped lead the charge to restore Fort D two years ago. The encampment will re-create conditions at the fort, which was built in 1861. Cannons will be fired and rifle drills and other period demonstrations will take place.

House called Fort D a "backwater post" where families would regularly come to visit the troops stationed there. Many of those troops were German immigrants who had fled the nearby countryside due to terrorist acts perpetrated by Confederate militias and soldiers.

The fort itself is really just two earthen walls, meeting at a point in the "redan" style. A stone, fortlike building was added at the site in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration as a memorial.

Before House and others led renovation, Fort D had been forgotten and neglected for many years, without the readerboards that provide a historical context for Fort D's visitors today.

"Two years ago this place was a disgrace," House said.

With the support of money from the city's hotel tax and some labor provided by the city, House and other volunteers were able to restore Fort D and make it an interpretive site for Cape Girardeau's Civil War history. That history includes a small battle in April 1863, the site of which is marked today at the corner of Thilenius Street and Caruthers Avenue. Seven thousand soldiers participated in the battle, but not all of them were fighting at the same time, House said.

"It wasn't a major battle, but if your son was killed at the Battle of Cape Girardeau ... it would be [major] to you personally," House said.

Fort D, four blocks south of the intersection of Highway 74 and Sprigg Street, served as a supply depot, a training center and a rest and rehabilitation center for exhausted or wounded troops coming in from the front lines, House said. The fort was also a safe haven for German immigrant escaping the dangerous countryside.

Most of the people who visit the fort on a regular basis are from out of town, House said. This weekend is a chance to attract even more of those visitors while showing locals the historic asset right here at home, he said.

Chuck Martin, director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Fort D site helps enhance the city's attraction for outsiders.

The CVB is providing $1,000 to help put on Fort D Days, Martin said.

"When we talk about Cape Girardeau being 'Where the River Turns a Thousand Tales,' a great deal of that is entrenched in the whole historical aspect," Martin said.

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