Friday, March 23, 2007
Fort Waul, Gonzales, TX
Attraction or albatross?
Web Posted: 03/22/2007 10:26 PM CDT
GONZALES — Wayne Ellison acknowledges it's not much to look at in its current condition.
All that remains on Waldrip Hill are earthen mounds where the 8-foot outer walls of a little-known Confederate fort once stood.
The passage of time has eroded the outlines of Fort Waul into smaller, weed-covered swells. The blockhouse is gone.
"People in town, when they come out here to see it, they say, 'Well, this is not impressive,'" Ellison said. "They want stone walls, wood walls. Well, if we put it back to how it was, it would be."
But Ellison's efforts to restore the Confederate fort have gone nowhere.
Publicly, officials in this history-steeped town, known as the birthplace of the Texas Revolution, say the fort could be an asset to local tourism. Privately, however, some suggest the city would rather forget the fort — and its ties to the Old South.
Ellison and other members of the Confederate Sons of America said restoring Fort Waul is about preserving history, not celebrating the fight for slavery.
"It's an integral part of the community's background," said Mike Anthony of New Braunfels. "It did happen."
"History is history. I'm not trying to change anything. I'm just trying to save a little bit of it. Is something wrong with that?"
What makes the fort unique, Ellison said, is that it's the only one the Confederacy commissioned to be built west of the Mississippi River. Other Confederate works were evacuated by federal troops when war broke out, or were built later by the federals and then captured.
Edmund P. Turner, the Confederacy's assistant adjutant general for Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, ordered the fort built after Union forces captured the Texas port of Indianola in November 1863.
Officials feared a possible Union attempt to seize the central supply depot in Gonzales, further damaging the flow of supplies from Texas to other Confederate states.
That attack never materialized and work on the fort eventually was abandoned.
Ellison said this isn't the first time someone has tried to restore the fort — named in the late 1870s after Confederate Gen. Thomas N. Waul, a local lawyer and cotton farmer.
"There's been seven or nine attempts, but all half-hearted, I guess," said Sandra Wolf, manager of the neighboring Pioneer Village, which features structures from the 1800s.
Ellison said he was disappointed to find the hill being used as a dumpsite. Members of the Confederate Sons of America and other volunteers recently have been spending more time trying to keep the area clean.
He said he hopes he can rejuvenate restoration efforts with the support of those groups and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
"We're trying to get the town fired up," he said. "This is part of our history that has been kind of forgotten and we're trying to bring it back.
"It would be a great thing if we could restore the fort, and with Pioneer Village next to it, it would be a great tourist attraction."
Wolf said she believes enough local support can be found to restore the fort. Most Pioneer Village visitors who learn of the earthen encampment express interest in it, she said.
The village already displays some Civil War-era artifacts that have been retrieved from the grounds of the 250-by-750-foot fort.
There also are stories of a powder magazine believed to be buried in one of the walls, with cannon balls entombed.
The blockhouse, which was in the center of the fort, has long since been dismantled, its stones used to rebuild the Gonzales College dormitory, according to the Handbook of Texas Online.
Ellison said restoring the fort would be inexpensive, considering most of it was earthworks and trenches. The only other structure in the fort was a storage room.
"There's some things in this world that should be done," he said, "and by God, this is one of them."
There is something worth saving.
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