Heart of Louisiana: Fort Jackson

Heart of Louisiana: Fort Jackson

BURAS, La. (WVUE) - For nearly two centuries, the 8-foot thick brick walls of Fort Jackson have survived being hit by thousands of Civil War cannonballs and some of the most severe hurricanes of the 20th century.

Fort Jackson was completed in 1830, when Andrew Jackson was president. It was a challenge to build such a massive structure on the soft, marshy ground of southern Plaqueminesp Parish. But, as parish historian James Madere explained, the land’s natural resources provided a solution.

“Huge timbers of cypress submerged into the water, so they are protected and they do not deteriorate as long as they’re submerged. And then, they used 2x4 cypress to be able to do the leveling. so, all the exterior walls here are being held up by those pallets,” Madere said.

During the Civil War, Confederate troops were counting on Fort Jackson, and the older Fort Saint Philip on the opposite side of the river, to stop the Union navy.

“The approach they took to defend New Orleans in this river was very unique, in the sense that they strung chain along barges from Fort St. Philip to Fort Jackson, just to be able to slow down the Farragut’s fleet. And when they did that, they really planned on taking the cannon fire from here, and just tearing up the Farragut’s fleet, which worked for a little while,” Madere said.

Both sides used hot shot cannonballs designed to set wooden ships on fire.

“This is the hot shot oven where they would actually physically put solid cannonballs in here. They would roll through the very hot coals, come out the other end cherry red, and fire at wooden ships on the river,” Madere described.

Union cannons burned the barges holding the chain blockade.

“The chain went down to the bottom of the Mississippi and they just sailed by,” Madere said.

Fort Jackson was hit with several thousand rounds of cannon shot. Confederate casualties numbered more than 800. Some of the troops inside staged a mutiny.

“Once the word got out that we were losing, as far as the fort battle, people just here started spiking the cannons, pulling guns on their officers and just leaving,” Madere said.

With victory here, Union forces gained control of New Orleans and the lower Mississippi River.

Even factoring in the relentless enemy fire, the most serious attacks against Fort Jackson came in the last few decades. Not from cannonballs, but from Mother Nature.

“The biggest challenge we have nowadays is those storms. [In] 1965 and 1969, Hurricane Betsy and Camille inundated this place with 20 feet of water. Then, we had Hurricane Katrina, which was 30 feet of water," Madere said.

Because of hurricane damage, the interior of Fort Jackson is locked and closed to visitors. Artifacts are now housed in a nearby museum. Visitors can still explore the grounds and see the massive star-shaped fort, and along with it, a touch of history.

The fort is the site of local parish festivals and is a lovely place for a picnic or watch ships go by on the Mississippi River. Both the fort and its museum are located on Highway 23 in Buras.

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