UDC monument no longer hidden

By GEORGE MORRIS
Advocate staff writer
Published: Dec 7, 2007

Unlike those it represents, the United Daughters of the Confederacy monument to the defenders of Port Hudson may not have reached its final resting place. But it is no longer in limbo.

After five years in storage — and a longer stretch in which it has been largely hidden from view — the monument is back on display in the area where the longest siege of the war was fought in 1863. The Louisiana Division UDC will hold a rededication ceremony on Saturday.

Fittingly enough, it’s in the yard of one of Port Hudson’s few remaining buildings that was there during the Civil War. When Keith Bauer bought and restored the home at 108 Borskey Lane west of Zachary four years ago, it wasn’t with the idea of providing the monument a home. But Bauer was no stranger to the area’s history.

Bauer, a Civil War re-enactor, was writing a book about the 7th Louisiana Infantry when he discovered the diary of one of its members, Henry C. Caldwell. Bauer stopped his writing to edit the diary for publication, then finished “The Destiny of Men: The Road to Gettysburg.” Bauer came to learn that a 7th Louisiana soldier later owned the house.

As it turned out, the home was no stranger to soldiers. It housed, at different times, Confederate and Union troops. A Union soldier’s remains are on the property behind the house, and military earthworks remain there. A bullet hole from the battle remains in one wall of the home.

So, with the UDC looking in vain for a permanent home for the monument, Bauer offered a spot in his front yard, just behind a weathered picket fence.

“It just seemed to be a natural place to me for the monument,” he said. “It would be visible, appropriate.”

Neither of which has been the monument’s fate for some time.

During the Depression, the Louisiana UDC collected $750, mostly in donations of small change, to purchase the 11,000-pound obelisk and dedicated it in 1930 to the defenders’ memory. After consulting Confederate veterans of Port Hudson, the UDC chose the site of Gen. Franklin Gardner’s headquarters where Confederates surrendered five days after the fall of Vicksburg, ending the 48-day siege. That site, off Port Hickey Road, is about a quarter-mile from the new location.

By 2002, however, a fence, trees and brush obscured the monument, and the landowners asked the UDC to remove it. In the meantime, the state had acquired land and established the Port Hudson State Historic Site on part of the battlefield area nearby, and many interested parties wanted the monument moved there.

But the state didn’t want it. So, the monument went into storage. But the struggle for its permanent home, like the siege itself, has been protracted.

The Louisiana Office of State Parks, which oversees the Port Hudson site, has a policy of only one monument on its historic sites, and Port Hudson had one honoring soldiers from both sides. The UDC received an offer to place it in Tangipahoa Parish, said Terri Forrest Reed, Louisiana Division UDC president, but that was too far from the battleground and wasn’t being offered as a permanent location.

Eventually, the UDC and state agreed that the best place would be the Confederate cemetery at Port Hudson. It, however, is inaccessible to the public, surrounded by private land. The state is negotiating to buy land providing access to the cemetery, but there’s no telling when or if it will happen, Reed said.

When the Bauers offered the use of their property in perpetuity, Reed said, the UDC readily accepted.

“My ladies are happy,” she said. “Mr. Bauer and his wife are happy to have it on their property. Of course, park officials direct all the visitors to Port Hudson State Park back into this area. They’ve got little landmarks on maps that they’ll tell you to look for, including Surrender Oak, which is just a few feet from where the original site was. They’re going to see … our beautiful monument.

“The most important thing is it’s at Port Hudson in a core area of the battlefield. What more could we ask right now?”

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