Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lafitte House, 1800 (CP No. 17) and Fort Livingston, 1841 (CP No. 37) & 1898 (CP No. 55) N29.27308, W89.94524

Fort Livingston's western wall is slowing eroding away.
Perched on the western tip of the barrier island  West Grand Terre sit the remains of the great brick fort, Fort Livingston.  The site was originally the base for the infamous pirate, Jean Lafitte.  With the outbreak of war against England in 1812, American forces successfully took command of the pirate's base and established a means of repelling an invasion against New Orleans via the route through Barataria Bay.
A collapsed section of the fort's outer wall.

Following England's defeat, the Lafitte House site would make the list for America's coastal defense systems. Plans were made and construction started on the fort proper in 1841.  Although never finished, the fort was captured by the CSA and re-armed for battle against the Union forces.  The fort never did see any action and it was finally abandoned in 1892.
Silt is slowly fills the inside of the fort.

On a daily basis nature is taking it's toll on Fort Livingston, slowly reclaiming the area.  Except for a few remnants displaying the natural shell fill material, the majority of the outer walls are gone.  The front-inner walls of the fort are also gone.  The water surrounding the west end of the fort was shallow, so we were forced to park the skis further back and make a short wade and hike.

We gained access via the rear-outer wall and then in through the rear of the fort's casemate.  Like all the great brick forts, Fort Livingston was built for a topside rampart with embrasures for cannon.  Granite was supplied for window lentels, stair risers, and case openings.  The interior of the fort is filling in with silt being brought in from storm surges and other high tides.  It doesn't take much imagination to realize that a hurricane or two will see the end of Fort Livingston.
Looking out towards the GoM shows a small remnant of the fort's outer wall.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fort Plaquemine, 1792 (CP No. 13) and Fort St. Phillip, 1793 (CP No. 15) & 1898 (CP No. 55) N29.36272 W89.46541

Sitting atop a concrete bunker, Mike, Axel & Billy explore Fort St. Phillip.
Lying due NW across from Fort Jackson lies Fort St. Phillip.  Parkerson reports that the original structure, likely a log and mud outposts was another fortification established by colonial Spanish Governor Carondolet. A year later, Carondolet would see the site improved as a brick and mortar fort, renaming it "Castillo San Phillipe".  The fort was surrounded by water on every side with it's guns trained on the Mississippi River.

The central lawn of the site is now covered in marsh grasses.
Like Fort Jackson, now owned by the United States following the Louisiana Purchase, the site would see considerable renovations following the onset of war with England in 1812.  Repaired and armed for action, the fort was renamed Fort St. Phillip.  The fort was fired upon for nine days by the English navy in early 1815.  While most of the buildings lay in ruins, the fort stood.  Parkerson's research stated "For a half-mile around, the grounds were cratered from the cannonballs.

The topside gun bases of a concrete bunker.
The fort would again be readied for action during the War with Mexico and the Civil War.  A blockade line, anchored with derelict boats, was ran from the fort and across the river to Fort Jackson.  Following their attack on Fort Jackson, the Union navy turned its attention to Fort St. Phillip.  After four days of intense shelling the fleet finally broke the cable and sailed for New Orleans.

Near the end of the nineteenth century, like it's sister battery across the river, Fort St. Phillip would be modernized:  A number of concrete batteries were installed as well as the disappearing guns.  The fort would see it's final service to the military when it too served as a training facility during WWI.
A bunker housing or arms shelter is now flooded with mud.

Unlike Fort Jackson, a visit to Fort St. Phillip requires travel over water.  This was our second target for the day and it was a short PWC ski across the river from Fort Jackson.  Unlike the west bank, there is no levee on this side of the river.  We exited the river via the bayou just south of the site and then proceeded to the rear via one of the protective ditches.

The original brick and mortar fort wall.  Evidence of the site's sinking is the roofed entrance below waist level.
The first two things we noticed about Fort St. Phillip is 1 - It's very large:  The entire compound is surrounded by a concrete wall that is nearly a half mile long on the rear side.  No. 2 - The whole area is in ruin and is slowly being taken over by the marsh.  The concrete bunkers command the area but the rooms beneath the gun bases are filled with mud - indeed the whole of Fort St. Phillip is sinking into the marsh.

A concrete bunker's entrance and control booth is now below shoulder height.
Pushing northward through the overgrowth we found more bunkers and, near the site's central point, we found the remains of the brick and mortar fort.  The wall, which once have must been a formidable height is now approximately six feet tall; the terreplein on top retains evidence of the guns that once sat there.  Unfortunately, and it addition to the site sinking, the whole area is victim to the river's Spring rise, storms, and the surges they bring.
Brought in from high water, a derelict channel marker sits near the top of a concrete bunker.

Fort Bourbon, 1793 (CP No. 16) and Fort Jackson., 1822 (CP No. 33) & 1898 (CP No. 54) N29.35697 W89.45554

Cannon still stand guard over the Mississippi River at Fort Jackson.
Located seventy-five miles below New Orleans is Plaquemine Bend.  Early on this particular spot in the river was recognized as being strategic as any invading force would have to deal with river currents and changing winds in order to negotiate the large bend.  Both banks of the river would each house a battery, a design made to catch an invading force in a crossfire.

The moat at Fort Jackson remains filled with water.
The first fort, erected in 1793 on the west bank, was Fort Bourbon.  So named for the ruling house of Spain and planned by Governor of the Louisiana and West Florida colonies, Francisco Luis Hector, baron de Carondelet.  Parkerson notes that the original structure was "a mud and timber redoubt with a battery of seven cannons." which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1795.

The site was rebuilt in 1796, this time as a log guard house with a brick chimney; the site would undergo a major restoration after 1822.  With the War Departement expanding its coastal defense system, Fort Jackson becam the Vauban style brick fort we know today.  The fort would again be re-fitted in preparation of a Union Naval assault during the Civil War but would eventually capitulate to the forces of the North following a ten day bombardment.  Across the river, Fort. St. Phillip would suffer the same fate.  According to Parkerson, it was reported that "18,000 mortar shells were fired on the fort.".  The city of New Orleans would fall a few days later.

Axel and Mike inspect the terreplein along the outer west wall.
Post-reconstruction, Fort Jackson would twice more be garrisoned:  First during the Spanish-American War, when concrete bunkers were installed along with new eight inch "disappearing" rifles and then again, during WWI, when the site was used as a training center.

The more modern concrete bunkers that housed  the Disappearing Rifles
Today, Fort Jackson is the furthest southen site that can be reached by automobile.  My visit was via the "alternate" route - the route it was designed to protect - the Mississippi River.  We were a trio of PWCers, launching out of Empire, LA and skiing ten miles downriver to Plaquemine Bend.  The fort is in fair shape and is home to the annual Plaquemine Parish Orange Festival, which actually coincided with our visit.
As this was our first of the three planned sites to visit, we arrived early and were greeted by a light attendance.

A electric - hydraulic pump for operating the Disappearing Rifles.
The site really is a blend of two eras:  it has retained it's brick construction along with the moat and outer parapet.  The inside grounds, however, are commanded by the more modern concrete bunkers which housed the disappearing guns. While the guns gave been long removed, an electric and hydraulic engine still remains which allowed the guns retract and disappear behind the wall in order to be reloaded.

A stroll along the top of the wall shows were the guns were set and many of the their bases remain today. To say Fort Jackson was well armed would be an understatement - by the time the constructin was completed, the fort could house ninety-seven guns.  While Parkerson notes that the materials used to build the fort were shipped to the site, our investigation actually found that fill material for the brick wall on the glacis appeared to be oyster and rangia clam shells.

A view from the inside shows the brick casemates.
An embrasure in the outer wall provided a protected area for firing a cannon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fort Proctor, 1846 (CP No. 38) N 9°52'2.85" W89°40'41.07" 04.26.2015

Fort Proctor of Shell Beach, LA
Sitting at the very bottom of Lake Borgne and near the current fishing community of Shell Beach sits Fort Proctor.  According to Parkerson, the fort's official plans date back to 1846 but actual construction did not begin until 1856.  This gives Proctor the distinction of being the last placement for the defense of NOLA prior to the War Between the States.  Parker continues with "The construction of the fort was under the direction of P.T. Beauregard... who gained notoriety by firing the first shot at Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC, beginning the Civil War in 1861.  His associtation with Fort Proctor caused it to be known locally as Fort Beauregard."

A modified "Martello" tower - Proctor still stands today
Parkeson also notes that Proctor is a modified Martello tower:  Although square as opposed to the more traditional round towers, Proctor was two stories tall and contained "eight guns on the second floor and cannon enbarbette on their roof."  Never completed, the fort captiulated to the Yanks when New Orleans fell under Farragut's command in April, 1862.

Today, Proctor, although still standing, has befallen the same fate of it's sister tower, Tower Dupre, eleven miles to its northwest:  Once built on land, the site is now an island but easily accessible by water.  Portions of the original outlying moat wall are visible, but are submerged.  The fort certainly commands that area of the lake, easily viewable from a distance.

Riveted steel beams help support Fort Proctor's still standing walls
Our visit to Proctor was no less than a half hour of exploring both the inside and outside of the fort.  Proctor boasted new technology in its construction - steel beams.  The beams are massive and have no doubt helped to keep the structure as intact as possible.  While the main componet of the site is brick, we could not help but notice the tons of solild granite used in the fort's construction.  Granite slabs could be seen in nearly all cases of support be it under brick colums, window lintels, or case openings.
Granite slabs, gray in color, form areas of support for colums, case openings, and window lintels 
Obviously, like many of the places listed by Parkerson, Fort Proctor takes effort to visit.  But it's certainly a jewel of the marsh and a must-see for anyone interested in local history.
Today, Fort Proctor silently guards Lake Borgne's extreme south shore

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tower Dupre, 1828 (CP No. 34) N29 56.709 W89 50.123 04.26.2015

A tower no more - Tower Dupre is nothing more than a pile of b
Originally constructed on land and standing two stories tall, Louisian was home to one of only  about a dozen such "Martello" towers in the western hemisphere.  Parkerson states the name as "originating from a round watch tower on Martella Point in the Gulf of San Fiorenzo in the Corsican Islands.  This tower held off the British navy for two days in 1794." Impressed with it's design, the Martello tower became popular due to the small number of hands needed to man the three-gun garrison.  Although modified or improved the tower was copied the world over.  Specific to Dupre, this tower at one time housed as many as a dozen guns.
Solid walls four feet thick were no match for Katrina's wind and surf
Tower Dupre, guarding the inland shore of Lake Borgne, stood as a sentinel for nearly 180 years without seeing any action.  It changed hands during the War of Northern Agression and, like most Martellos, eventually became abandoned - the towers became outdated as military technolgy advanced the power and range of larger guns.

Sadly, like many assets that once protected the NOLA area, Hurrican Katrina destroyed Tower Dupre.  Today, the site is nothing more than an island of breakdown and piles of brick.  The area can use the term island only very loosely - once you step off the brick, you're wet.  Like many of the "must see" places I intended to visit, I waited too late to visit Tower Dupre. 

A possible hub for a rotating cannon?
Inside the pile were a few notable items: a couple of metal bed frames and a steel line for piping gas or water  Of particular interest, and lying just under the water's surface was a large spoked wheel.  After a brief inspection we concluded that perhaps it was part of a hub mount for a rotating gun.

Battery Bienvenue, 1828 (CP No. 35) N29 59.121 W89 52.857 04.26.2015

"Bienvenue", French for "Welcome" serves this placement of defense well:  Sitting at the intersection of the currently named Bayou Villere and  Bayou Beinvenue, the battery was built to "welcome" an opposing enemy's slow moving, single-file fleet and "welcome" it with a barrage from it's reported twenty-five cannons.

Constructed in 1828, Parkerson said the position of the fort was due to "the route taken by the invading British Army only fourteen years earlier when they attacked New Orleans."   The fort was orignally rectangular in design and housed Model 1821, 24-pounder smooth bore cannon.  Parkerson goes on to note that this is the only remaining fortified position built to protect New Orleans that still retains some of its original guns.
Commanding the site today is an impressive outter wall five feet in heigth and reaching 150 yards in length.  The marsh has overrun the area and any other remaining assets are completly camaflouged from site.  Looking east from the fort's position, an observer would have a view over the low marsh grasses from behind the western shore of Lake Borgne.  At only a mile and a half distant, sails would have easily been spotted as ships would make their approach into the city's vicinity.  Like many of the nation's post-War of 1812 positions of defense, Battery Bienvenue never saw any action.

Fort Wood (aka Fort Macomb), 1820 (CP No. 32) N 30° 3'53.54" W 89°48'15.43" 04.26.2015

Situated about 9 mile south of it's sister fortification -  Fort Pike - Fort Wood sits near the confluence of Chef Pass and Lake Borne.  According to Parkerson, this is the same area of a previous fortification, Gen. Jackson's fort at Chef Menteur and Bayou Savage.

Fort Wood aka Fort Macomb as viewed from Chef Pass
Like Pike, Wood is a modified Vauban design and capable of supporting 64 large guns. Parkerson notes the forts part during the Civil War with it's history mirroring that of Pike:  "Like Fort Pike,  Fort Wood was surrendered to the Confederate sympathizers in January, 1861, and later evacuated by the Confederates when Admiral Farragut took New Orleans."   

Prior to it's Civil War action, the fort was renamed in 1851 in honor of Major General Alexander Macomb, a Seminole War Hero.
An interior view shows two levels of embrasures for protected small arms fire
A visit of any means today must be by water.  Unlike the maintained Fort Pike, Fort Wood is gated from the public and in generally poor shape.  The entire peremiter looks to be but a storm or two away from seeing the outter walls collapse into the water.  Boat traffic and currents continually work the base of the walls, eroding the foundation, while the tops are being cracked from the rooted vegetation growing there.  While the canon ports are barred, a closer inspection revealed the bars to be of modern rebar.  Obviously the state is trying to keep visitors out by "barring the windows".
Green on top and wet on bottom - the destruction of Ft. Macomb

A closer view of nature at work on Ft Macomb