Remembering a Long Ago War: Tales of the Civil War in Cape Girardeau

By Chuck Martin, Executive Director
Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau

With the busyness of life, few of us these days find or take the time to reflect on important, historic anniversaries in our nation’s history. For example, it’s hard to believe that we’re in the midst of the sesquicentennial anniversary of our country’s Civil War. The “War Between the States” tore deeply at the very fabric of our nation. It was a time when brother fought against brother.

The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau provides visitors interested in learning more about the history of the Civil War in Cape Girardeau with a fold out brochure: “Driving Tour of the Civil War Sites of Cape Girardeau.”

Our most visited Civil War site is Fort D. Sitting on the first continuous high ground in Missouri upstream of the Ohio River, Cape Girardeau was deemed an important site for numerous strategic reasons. Construction on Fort D began on August 6, 1861 under the direction of Lieutenant John Wesley Powell from Illinois, at the same time as Union forces built three other forts (A, B, and C) to fortify the city. While those other forts have been lost over the years, Fort D remains.

The design of the fort is in a French bastion form, a triangle with open base. During the war, Fort D housed both 24 and 32-pound cannons, which could easily discourage any upriver movement on the Mississippi. Soldiers who served at the fort also reported that “Quaker” cannons (logs painted black) were used to enhance the appearance and strength of the fort’s armament. In order to keep warm during the winters, soldiers dug and stayed in artificial caves they dug into the hillside below the fort.

As visitors walk Fort D’s grounds, they’ll discover these stories and others through rich interpretive signage. Click on the following link to discover some of the rich history of Fort D which is being shared through four new interpretive panels that have just recently been added to the fort’s grounds:

To visit Fort D, from the intersection of Sprigg Street and Highway 74, travel four blocks south on Sprigg Street to Locust Street. Turn left onto Locust. Travel two blocks on Locust to Fort Street. The Fort is located just to the left at 720 Fort Street. Parking is available on the street.

Another one of the sites highlighted in the brochure is the Battle of Cape Girardeau. This battle took place on April 26, 1863. A historical marker describing the battle can be found at the southwest corner of Caruthers and Thilenius Streets.

Today, Grace Methodist Church and Central Middle School stand where 150 years ago the calm of an early spring morning was shattered as Union and Confederate troops engaged in a fierce, four-hour artillery battle that ultimately came to be known as the Battle of Cape Girardeau. At the end of the battle, the air was heavy with smoke and the smell of gun powder. Six Union soldiers lay dead with dozens more wounded. The Confederates probably lost more than twice that number. But there were other casualties… Mothers whose hearts were broken as they mourned for sons who would never come home. Sons who to this very day still lie in unmarked graves in Old Lorimier Cemetery.

Throughout the city of Cape Girardeau there are memories and monuments just waiting to be discovered. Heritage tourism visitors to the community take a step back in time as they pause to reflect and to remember a long ago war told through the tales of the Civil War in Cape Girardeau.

Spend Labor Day at Fort D

Fort D Brochure

Photo by Alicia Lincoln