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If (Earthen) Walls Could Talk: Stepping Back in Time at Fort D

Patti and Scott House are longtime advocates and volunteers at Fort D, the only remaining fort out of 4 that defended Cape Girardeau from Confederate advances during the Civil War. Patti was kind enough to visit with me about Fort D Historic Site and what they have coming up in 2014!

How is Fort D faring?

Major stabilization and improvements to the site began in 2005 with new interpretive signs, guided tours and Civil War living history. The earthwork walls, stabilized by the WPA, remain intact. Our informal group of Civil War enthusiasts and re-enactors has initiated much of this work. Support for the Fort D project has come from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department, the Civil War Roundtable of Cape Girardeau and Civil War re-enactors, primarily of the Turner Brigade Association. We are always looking for more help with our projects. A major goal is replacing the roof on the block house.

Are there any living history events at Fort D this year?

Are there any living history events at Fort D this year?
The first Fort D Days living history was organized in 2006, and there have since been Fort D Days events in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. In 2013 visitors from 18 states were present within the earthen walls of Fort D!

In 2014, we have three living history demonstrations planned (weather permitting!). May 24th-26th is the Memorial Day Weekend Timeline. First observed after the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day honors the memory of U.S. soldiers who have died in military service. Local re-enactors will salute the memory of fallen soldiers with rifles and cannon fire. On July 4th is 4th at the Fort where we’ll celebrate the birth of our nation, and on September 1st you can join local re-enactors for Labor Day as they demonstrate rifle and cannon fire as well as dutch oven cooking.

All events are free to the public.

Whew, that is quite a few large scale events! What does it take to put those on every year?

As the volunteer events coordinator for Fort D, getting ready for the year’s events begins in December of the prior year. One must get these events on re-enactors’ calendars; then there are publicity contacts so that visitors may get the events on their calendars. There are many details to make the events a success: fire permits, sanitary facilities, setting up the camps (which takes hours), firewood, food purchasing and preparation and making sure there is water. After each event the grounds must be cleaned and everything must be taken down, cleaned and stored for the next event. And we do all this with the cooperation of the weather!

Patti, you and Scott have worked so closely with Fort D for years. Can you tell me a little bit about what it has been like to volunteer there?

Being a volunteer at Fort D has enhanced my enthusiasm for learning more about the Civil War. I wish I had a nickel for every Cape County area resident that has said to me, “I’ve lived here all my life and didn’t know this was here.” So many visitors have shared their stories of relatives that served during the Civil War. Fort D, as the only remaining Civil War fort in Cape Girardeau, is an asset to Cape Girardeau as a heritage tourism site. So many folks think the blockhouse is the fort. When I point to the earthen walls and tell them, “those walls are the fort,” they are certainly surprised. If only the walls could talk, I’m sure there would be some good stories.

When my husband, Scott and I have traveled west to trace the routes of John Wesley Powell (work began on Fort D on August 6, 1861 under the direction of Lieutenant John Wesley Powell) after the Civil War, we’ve worn our “John Wesley Powell’s Fort D” t-shirts. Whether it be the Grand Canyon, Green River, Wyoming or Page, Arizona folks have asked us about the shirts. We gladly tell the story of John Wesley Powell and his connection to Cape Girardeau. We believe very strongly that Fort D has its place in our local history and the story needs to be told.

I am especially appreciative to the re-enactors of the Turner Brigade Association that have supported Fort D events from the very first Fort D Days in 2006. They travel at their own expense, bring their own gear, and spend hours sharing their expertise with visitors. I have learned so much from this dedicated group of folks, and am thankful for the friendships that have formed over the years. My personal advice to anyone interested in reenacting is just get started! One doesn’t have to have all the gear from the beginning – believe me it will accumulate faster than you imagine. We now own a trailer, taking even the 19th century kitchen sink, so that camp life becomes very comfortable.
When I’m dressed in my period Civil War clothing, visitors will ask, “Aren’t you hot dressed like that?” Of course, the answer is, “Yes, but not as hot as the men dressed in their wool uniforms.” Dressing authentically, and cooking over an open fire, no matter what the weather conditions may be, gives one a real appreciation of our modern conveniences and a real understanding of the stamina our ancestors had to have in order to survive. We try very hard to be authentic and to keep 21st century items either hidden within our tents or out of our camps all together.

Many thanks to Patti (and Scott) House for this look into Fort D, and for all of their hard work on the site over the years! Learn more about Fort D here, and mark your calendars for their 2014 living history demonstrations.

Step Back in Time in Cape Girardeau with a variety of historic attractions that highlight Cape Girardeau’s storied history on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River. has details on your Back in Time visit to Cape Girardeau, Missoui.

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