Learn About the Civil War in Central Louisiana
You’ll gain a wealth of knowledge at the Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site.
The History Behind the Site
Imagine having to grow your own food, sleep in a tent and wait anxiously for battles that never came. That was the life of Confederate soldiers at Forts Randolph and Buhlow, located on the Red River in downtown Pineville. After the Battle of Mansfield in 1864 delayed the Union’s advance into western Louisiana, two earthwork forts were built on the banks of the Red River at Alexandria. These forts were expected by Confederates to stop future Union attacks in north Louisiana, but the Confederate States Army surrendered shortly after the forts’ completion, and the site never saw action.
While the forts were under construction, Union forces were making their way down the Red River to meet up with additional forces near the Mississippi River. But the river was unusually low that spring, and the Union ships couldn’t get past Alexandria safely with Confederate snipers located along the river banks. Col. Joseph Bailey suggested building a dam that would raise the water high enough to float the fleet over the rapids of the Red River. With 3,000 soldiers, two dams were built in only eight days. Three days after, all the boats had safely passed the rapids and falls and continued down the river. Bailey’s Dam is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the Civil War.
Forts Randolph & Buhlow were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. Today, the elevated boardwalk around the earthworks is nice and shaded, so you won’t get too hot on the walk around the site. If you can’t beat the heat, cool off in the visitor center, which features exhibits on the Civil War Red River Campaign and holds many interesting pieces found in the area including bits of uniforms, snuff cans and musket balls. There’s a lot to look at in the visitor center: a cotton combing machine, exhibits on how rations were stretched with local roots and native fruits and nuts, cannon replicas and a very interesting video setup that you have to see for yourself.
Because the soldiers stationed there didn’t participate in any battles, they had a considerable amount of free time on their hands. Whittling was a favorite pastime—whether chipping shavings from a chunk of wood or creating tools and game pieces—and demonstrations are held often, with park staff using equipment the soldiers would have used.
In addition to the usual encampment activities, the soldiers cultivated a vegetable garden much like other established encampments. The site carries on this tradition thanks to the Rotary Club of Pineville, a partnership that gives back to the community and enables the site to demonstrate the daily life of a Civil War soldier. The garden shows visitors how people produced vegetables for the dinner table before the arrival of supermarkets. In addition to self-guided tours, visitors will often see the garden highlighted during campfire cooking demonstrations.
Learn More Nearby
Louisiana History Museum
The Louisiana History Museum in Alexandria features rotating exhibits on the development and history of Alexandria, Rapides Parish, and central Louisiana. Exhibits have included everything from the Louisiana Purchase, Colonial Louisiana and The American Revolution, to the Civil War, World Wars I and II and more.
Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins
Take the "Plantation Civil War Challenges and Changes" tour at Frogmore Cotton Plantation & Gins. Frogmore was the site of an encampment and skirmish for 1,776 Union troops led by Col. Bernard Farrar including the Illinois infantry and heavy artillery. The old Natchez district included Eastern Louisiana and many plantation owners were Union, not Confederate sympathizers. The tour will also explain the effect army occupation had on area plantations, effects on women and children left behind, and food and product supplies produced by these plantations.