Visitors Guide to the
Fort D
920 West Fort Street
Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Street Parking Accessible Interpretive Exhibits Accessible Missouri Historic Site Accessible Scenic View


Home to four Union military forts, Cape Girardeau was one of the most fortified cities in the United States during the Civil War. This southeastern Missouri city earned this military distinction because of its geography. It is the first high ground north of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and provided a strategic position from which to fire on approaching Confederate gunboats. All that remains of Cape Girardeau’s fort system is Fort D overlooking the Mississippi River.

The first regular Union troops, members of the 20th Illinois Volunteer Regiment, landed in Cape Girardeau on July 6th, 1861 to prevent the city from being occupied by secessionist forces. On July 28, 1861 fortifications were ordered by Gen. John Fremont, the Western Department’s Union commander in St. Louis with a contingent of engineers dispatched to work on their construction. Work would begin on four forts - Forts A through D - in August that would form a crescent along the outskirts of town. Assisting in the project was an officer, John Wesley Powell who supervised the work on Fort D. Powell would later be the first person of European descent to make descend through the Grand Canyon and would work at the Smithsonian Institution, found the Bureau of Ethnology, and became the 2nd director of the United States Geologic Survey.

Fort D consisted of earthwork walls with a palisade wall of upright logs along the rear that was pierced by a gate. The gap in the south wall may have been a “sally” port, allowing soldiers access to the rifle pits below the parapet. Along one side there were cannon emplacements and rifle pits. The fort also included “Quaker cannons” - logs carved to look like cannons named after the religious group that declined to fight during the Civil War. Fort D was garrisoned by Union troops from Illinois, Missouri, and other Midwestern states throughout the Civil War. The fort was never engaged in real combat and was not involved in the Battle of Cape Girardeau, April 26, 1863, a four-hour artillery duel between Union troops under General John McNeil and Confederates under General John S. Marmaduke that was fought west of the city. Bored soldiers at Fort D, would carve bowling pins and use one of their 32-pound solid-shot cannon balls as a bowling ball.

In 1936 the local American Legion purchased the fort as a public park for the city. The Works Project Administration agreed to perform restoration on the earthworks and improvements in the form of a replica powder house, while the City of Cape Girardeau agreed to maintain the project in perpetuity. The work on the new powder house and fort was completed in 1937 and has been used for a variety purposes including an American Legion, Girl Scouts as a recreation center, and a civil defense headquarters in the 1950s. Major stabilization and improvements to the site began in 2005 with new interpretive signs and the fort being used as a site for Civil War living history.

  Visiting Fort D
     6:30 am - 11 pm
There is no charge to visit Fort D.
Directions: Fort D is located south of Cape Girardeau's downtown district. Follow Sprigg Street south of  MO-34/MO-74 to Locust Street. Take a left (east) and proceed until Locust Street changes into W. Fort Street and Fort D.
  GPS Coordinates
37° 17.425'
W 89° 31.605'
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