John Wesley Powell’s
Fort D Historic Site
In the summer of 1861, four forts were built around the strategic city of Cape Girardeau on the orders of General John Frémont. Designed by German-American engineers from St. Louis, the forts were built by soldiers of the 20th Illinois Infantry, Bissell’s Engineers of the West, and local militia under the direction of Illinois Lt. John Wesley Powell. Powell, who would later gain fame as the explorer of the Grand Canyon, was detached from his regiment by the new general, Ulysses S. Grant, in order to raise a local company to man the forts. This Powell did, and his new Battery F served the forts until leaving for the Tennessee River campaign and the Battle of Shiloh. Of the four earthen forts, only Fort D still exists, an intact survivor thanks to civic action in the 1930’s and is now a city historic site. Fort D is located 5 blocks south of the intersection of Missouri Rte. 74 and Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau, just west of the Mississippi River bridge.
Come see the newly renovated blockhouse!
2023 Living History Demonstrations
For the four years of the Civil War, Fort D protected the city of Cape Girardeau from attack. The old fort continues to share its story.
American Battlefields Park Day
Saturday, April 15th, 9 am-3 pm
In conjunction with the annual American Battlefield Trust Park Day Clean-up, volunteers will be on the grounds for spring cleaning. The stone building known as the blockhouse will be open for visitors.
Memorial Day Weekend
May 27th – May 29th, 9 am-3 pm
First observed after the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day honors the memory of U. S. soldiers who have died in military service. During the weekend, local re-enactors will honor the memory of veterans past and present.
Fourth at the Fort!
Tuesday, July 4th, 9 am-3 pm
The soldiers of Fort D were very patriotic. At the national holiday, they would celebrate by firing their rifles and cannon and flying their flags proudly. Come join with us as we celebrate the birth of our nation.
September 2nd – 4th, 9 am-3 pm
Learn more about everyday life during the Civil War by taking part in this family weekend. For more information, stay tuned to the “Friends of Fort D Historic Site” Facebook page.
Saturday, November 11th, 9 am-3 pm
We salute all the men and women who have served to protect America, home of the free and the brave!
Plan Your Visit
As a public historic site, self-guided tours, at no charge, may be taken of the fort grounds at any time. The original earthworks can be viewed and there are ten display panels that tell about the history of the fort and those who served there.
Directions to Fort D:
From I-55: exit at Highway 74 east. Go east on 74 toward the Mississippi bridge. Go to the fifth stoplight (Sprigg Street) and turn right (south). Go four blocks to Locust Street and turn left. The fort is two blocks straight ahead (east) at 920 Fort Street. Parking is available on the street.
School Tours Available:
- The basic tour includes tour of the fort, marching exercise, and a soldier’s uniform and accoutrements demonstration.
Time: allow 1 hour.
- An activity tour includes the basic tour plus at least one of the following hands-on activities: advanced marching and weapon drill, 1860’s baseball, historical children’s games or assembling a pup tent.
Time: allow 2 hours.
Minimum arrangements have been made with the House of Hope to use their parking lot.
Tours are $1 per student for the basic tour or $2.00 for the activity tour. Checks should be made to: Cape Girardeau Parks Foundation with a notation “Fort D Fund” and may be brought with the group.
There are no restrooms on the grounds.
If you are doing a picnic lunch you may use the fort grounds provided another group is not having a tour. There are also pavilions available in many of the other parks in Cape Girardeau. To reserve a pavilion at a park call the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department at 573-339-6340.
History & Resources
Construction work on Fort D began on August 6, 1861. Eight months earlier, few would have dreamed that the fort would have been a necessity. Tensions between the non-slave states and the slave states grew during the 1850’s and conflict spread along the Missouri and Kansas border. Secessionists in the southern states feared that a new president might move to control their institution of human slavery.
Civil War sites like Fort D don’t come to life without the dedicated help of volunteer Civil War Reenactors. Civil War reenacting is an exciting and rewarding hobby. Reenactors such as the Turner Brigade members here portray infantry, artillery, engineer, and medical units of Missouri Union volunteers and civilians of the Civil War period. We are a family-oriented group, with members from all around the Missouri – Illinois region.
Fort D is a project of the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department, the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Turner Brigade Association, and the Civil War Roundtable of Cape Girardeau.
All interpreters and guides are volunteers and funding is provided by donations of visitors and friends.
Donations are necessary to the continued protection and interpretation of this unique Civil War site.
Use the Donate Button below to download a membership form and become a member of The Cape Girardeau Parks & Recreation Foundation to support our parks!
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