Protecting the Fort: Fort D at Cape Girardeau, Missouri

I noticed this on the Civil War Interactive news line yesterday:

Protecting the Fort: Commission Works to put Civil War Spot on National Register:

Commission chairman Scott House, also a Civil War re-enactor, is perhaps the staunchest supporter of getting [FORT D at Cape Girardeau, Missouri] on the national register. The earthwork walls remain intact, and important people — who went on to do even bigger things — spent time at the fort, including Ulysses S. Grant and John Wesley Powell.

Grant, who later commanded the entire Union Army, of course went on to become U.S. president. Powell, whom House says met Grant in Cape Girardeau for the first time, is famous for the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers that included the first known passage through the Grand Canyon.

“Fort D needs to be on the register, and it’s been overlooked for years,” House said. “Sometimes, there’s a tendency by people to think of only buildings that need to be on the national register. But this is perhaps the most historic site in Cape Girardeau.”  …

The article, written by Scott Moyers of the Southeast Missourian, goes on to note past reluctance to submit the site for the register.  Some of the fort has disappeared under development.  A Works Progress Administration project built something looking more like a castle over the site of the fort’s magazine.

The "Magazine"

Portions of the earthworks remain, but as at many other sites where the WPA was active, these were “enhanced” to some extent.

Fort Wall

The fort was among a string of defenses which protected Cape Girardeau during the Civil War.

Forts around Cape Girardeau

Federals began fortifying the river port in August 1861. For a short time, “Cape” was on the front lines.  But with advances into Tennessee and down the Mississippi River in early 1862, Federals transformed the garrison into a supply base supporting operations down river.  However, Confederates did threaten the city in the spring of 1863 (which I mentioned with regard to the battle of Chalk Bluff).  As the article mentions, this fort is the last remaining part of those defenses.

Now you notice I am using images pulled from a Wikipedia entry for Fort D.  Yes, I grew up not far from Cape Girardeau and I’ve known about the “fort” for years.  But nobody put much attention to the site until recently.  I recall visiting “Cape” in the 1990s and getting blank stares when asking for directions to the fort – from those manning the city’s welcome desk no less!

I think the obscurity masking Fort D has lifted.  The pictures today show that not only is the site accessible, but it is marked (heck, I need to go visit and catalog those dozen or so markers!).

South Side of the Fort

A community blog offers more photos and history of the site.  There’s even a Facebook page for the fort.  Not only is the fort “on the map” but as the article above indicates there is an effort to raise awareness.

Granted Fort D is not the site of some major battle.  Nor is it threatened by development or the center of some land preservation acquisition.  Rather we might call this more a “heritage” preservation site (maybe even part of the “identity” I mentioned some time back).   Consider across the street from the fort is May Greene School with a story to tell from the days of school integration.  Within a few hundred yards, a visitor can “touch” the story between Civil War and Civil Rights.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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