Forts Buhlow and Randolph -
Pineville Protection
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
The earthwork forts at Pineville, constructed by enslaved men, are slowly returning to nature.
Before  the founding of Alexandria and Pineville, the sister cities that sit across from each other alongside the western and eastern banks
of the lower Red River, the French established a small trading post at the famous rapids that separated the banks. Much of the information
surrounding the trading post is shrouded in mystery - its location, its origination date, and who lived there, as records are sketchy.
However, one of the reasons for the post was to help with portage over the rapids. Above the rapids lay the frontier town of
Natchitoches,
where a brisk trade with Spain, the Caddos, and the French developed, and as more traders sought to cash in on the activities, they
needed a place to guide them across the whitewaters of the Red River.

These rapids also became the reason why, in 1864, the Union lost the
Red River Campaign. Admiral Porter's fleet was able to steam upriver
to the Grand Ecore, but low water along the rapids meant that the southward escape would be impossible. Joseph Bailey, a Union Officer,
led the effort to build three dams at the rapids. These dams helped the gunboats move downriver to meet up with Nathan Banks's troops
in Alexandria. It was at this point that the city of Alexandria burned to the ground. Citizens recounted how they had appealed for help from
the Union occupiers to restore order. The Union did so for a brief moment - but then retreated back to New Orleans, unbeknownst to the
locals. With the bulk of the Union soldiers gone and most of the local men serving in the military back east, the enemies of the
Confederacy came out in force - angry enslaved men, free-soilers, draft dodgers, criminal gangs who had no allegiance, Confederate and
Union deserters, and vengeful Union soldiers descended on a city now unprotected by law and order. All of the city's court records
burned, as did the entire downtown business district and several area plantations. The conflagration, which began on May 13, 1864, lasted
several days.

When the smoke cleared, what remained of the Confederate government at Alexandria took quick action to ensure a calamity like this
would not re-occur during this bitter war. Enslaved men and free laborers were brought to the eastern bank of the Red River to quickly
construct two earthwork fortifications that were supposed to protect Alexandria and Pineville in case of a second Union attack. Several of
the workers died in building the fort, though their graves remain unknown. The Confederate navy stationed the iron clad CSS Missouri  
just below Bailey's dam as the first line of defense. The two forts were named after the fort's commander, Chistopher Randolph, and the
military engineer, Alphonse Buhlow, who designed the forts. A third fort on the Alexandria side of the river never materialized.

Completed in March of 1865, the forts were quickly abandoned after southern capitulation. The large earthen walls of the forts, which were
built into star shapes, began to slowly disintegrate back into the swamps until the 1980s, when the site was placed under the National
Register and the forts, plus Bailey's Dam, became a State Historic Site. Today, the site hosts an excellent interpretive center,
knowledgeable staff, and a convenient elevated walkway that surrounds the ruins of both forts.

Forts Buhlow and Randolph (or Randolph and Buhlow) are the only Confederate forts still visible and vistable in the
Red River Valley.
This 1788 map shows the location of the rapids, or "great cataract" along the lower Red River which caused many upstream traveler grief on
his way to
Natchitoches. Click here to see the full map. (Library of Congress)
The 1864 map of the Red River at Alexandria shows the "falls," or rapids, that give Rapides Parish its name. It also documents the depth of the
river in various spots, as well as its navigation channel (in red). Click
here to see the full map. (Library of Congress)
The state historic site has an excellent collection of books, artifacts, and dioramas to assist in visualization of the events of 1864.
How to get there
The forts sit just to the west of downtown Pineville and across the river from Alexandria. Good
views of the draw bridge can be had at the Bailey's Dam look out. Click the map to find this cool
place, where signs warn you not to swim because of alligators.