Spring of 1864 was one of the Civil War’s bloodiest. The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, second only to Gettysburg in casualties, occurred in May that year. The far lesser-known Battle of Mansfield, central to the story of Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site, took place in rural northwest Louisiana just a month earlier. The Confederacy won an important victory at Mansfield. In fact, it was the decisive battle of the Red River Campaign in north Louisiana, causing Union soldiers to retreat 100 miles back to Alexandria. With the war raging in Louisiana and Union soldiers hoping to advance toward Shreveport, Confederate brass knew they needed to defend settlements in central Louisiana. They determined that Pineville, Alexandria’s neighbor, was well-positioned for building two new defensive structures. They were named Forts Randolph and Buhlow.
The two forts were completed the following March. The Rebels were ready for battle and had even positioned a warship, the ironclad Missouri, in the Red River near Fort Randolph. However, no battles materialized, thanks to the war ending just two months later.
Visitors to Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site are welcomed by a beautiful elevated boardwalk near the banks of the Red River. Walk to the overlook near the Bailey’s Dam site, and see the Red River which served as a major waterway during the late Civil War. Guided tours are offered, and the visitor’s center holds an exhibit on the Red River Campaign that will give you a good idea of what was at stake for Louisiana during the war.
Nearby sites worth seeing include Alexandria — central Louisiana’s largest city — where you’ll find a zoo, historical homes, shops and restaurants. History buffs will also enjoy a visit to Kent Plantation House (one of Louisiana’s oldest standing structures) as well as Marksville State Historic Site and the Louisiana History Museum.
Entrance fees: $4 per person, free for seniors age 62 and older, and children age 3 and under.