Heart of Louisiana: Fort St. Phillip

The walls of the old fortress are barely visible through the thick trees and undergrowth. There is no road to get there. The only access is by boat. It's is where the defense of New Orleans began.

Former TV reporter and amateur historian Richard Angelico has studied Fort St. Philip both on the ground and by reading historical records of battles fought there.

"The reason that this fort is so strategic right here is that the river makes a bend. In order for sailing ships to come up, they would have to tack into the wind against the current and they would have to hug this shore and when they did that they would come in range of these guns," Angelico said.

"This fort had bout 20 guns that faced the river, heavy guns, and then they had about 12 land guns in the back that protected the land from any approach from the back side of the fort. Then they had two extended batteries on either side that had about 22 heavy guns and 24 12-pounders."

On January 9, 1815, one day after Andrew Jackson's forces repel a British assault at Chalmette, Fort St. Philip came under heavy bombardment from the British Navy. But after eight days, the British were driven back.

"That was very important because had the British fleet been able to join up with General Packenham at Chalmette, the Battle of New Orleans may have gone quite differently," Angelico said

Years later, a second fort, Fort Jackson, was built directly across the river from Fort St. Philip. Together, they tried to defend New Orleans against Admiral Farragut's union fleet in the Civil War. The Confederates dragged a massive chain across the river and set barges on fire to halt the Unions ships.

"It was a pitched battle, but once the fleet passed the forts it was Katie bar the door"

The Civil War battle for New Orleans was decided at these forts.

Although the fort saw most of its action during the war of 1812 and the American Civil War, it was actually built by the Spanish back in the 1790's who wanted to protect their territory in Louisiana from the French and the British.

A journey to Fort St. Philip feels like a trek into the jungle to view ancient ruins. There are more modern structures built for disappearing coastal guns during the Spanish American War and World War I.

The old bricks have survived bombs and hurricanes and Mississippi river floods. Now, parts of the old fort are buried in the Earth.

"That's the top of the door to go into the barracks you've got at least six feet of silt that's filled all this up," Angelico says.

But there are still reminders of old battles scattered around the grounds. You'll find pieces of cannon destroyed by Union soldiers after Confederates surrendered.

It's a big part of Louisiana's history out of sight, isolated from visitors, and almost forgotten barely holding on against the harsh elements of the region it once protected.

Fort St. Philip is located on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish, about five miles below the end of the road. Not only is it difficult to get there, it's also on private property. The fort has been privately owned since the 1920's. The site also has a reputation for being infested with water moccasins.