This weekend may have been a tad cold and wet, but that did not stop the activities at Fort Jesup State Historic Site in Many.
Fort Jessup was built in 1822 and this May will mark the 200th anniversary of its completion. The bi-centennial celebrations started Friday, February 25 with a ceremony featuring Louisiana’s Lt Governor Billy Nungessor, State Representatives Rodney Schamerhorn and Lawrence Bagley, and State Senator Louie Bernard. Sabine parish had a large contingent with Many Mayor Robert Hable, Sheriff Aaron Mitchell, Police Jury members Mike McCormic & Stephen Steinke, DA Don Burkett and Judge Elizabeth Pickett. Representatives from Senator Kennedy and Cassidy’s office, as well as Congressman Johnson’s office, were also in attendance.
The fort was built in 1822 and named after Brigadier General Thomas Sidney Jesup and remained in operation until 1845. During its service, Ft. Jesup marked the westernmost edge of the United States, the boundary being the Sabine River. Soldiers from the fort patrolled the “No man’s land” that laid between the United States’ border and that of the Spanish Empire, preventing Spanish encroachment and protecting settlers.
Several well-known historical figures were associated with Ft Jesup. The man who was both its first and last commander, Zachary Taylor, was to be elected president and briefly served until his death early in his term in 1850. A young Army officer, Ulysses Grant, served briefly at the fort on his way to the Mexican-American War. One of the more notable non military persons to live at the fort would be Dred Scott, whose suit for his freedom was to be denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1850 in the infamous Dred Scott decision. There were many figures from the era who served at what was then the westernmost edge of the United States.
The main building at the Historic Site is a reproduction of the Officers’ quarters which serves as park headquarters, a museum, and a place to hold programs. Only one original building survives, a military kitchen next to the remnants of some stone columns which are all that is left of an infantry barracks.
While the area was not a formal military installation since its closing in 1845, both Union and Confederate forces camped at the site during the Civil War’s Red River Campaign in 1864. The Ft Jessup site was also to serve as a staging area for General Patton’s forces during the Louisiana Maneuvers as the U.S. Army readied itself for WWII. One of the more “modern” touches, if you will, at the fort is a bronze commemorative marker at the fort’s entrance. A careful look shows the bronze to be marred in one corner. That dent came from a collision from a tank taking a corner too fast and hitting it during the maneuvers.
The Interpretive Rangers who work at the site and volunteers who help in any number of ways do a wonderful job of bringing the past to life. The weekend’s events brought in two men from Columbia, South Carolina who were making a road trip to Montana. They heard about the event and came by
Saturday and were invited to join the reenactors at a period tea. The spontaneous hospitality of the staff and volunteers to visitors makes one proud to be a Louisianan. The Office of State Parks employees and volunteers are wonderful ambassadors for our state.
Saturday featured living history programs concerning topics such as open-hearth cooking, craft demonstrations and a demonstration of the state of medical science of the time that makes one truly grateful for modern medicine.
Louisiana is a remarkable place with a truly unique story. There are parks and museums throughout our area and the state with well prepared and educated staff ready to show you things about your community that you may have never known before. Get out and explore!