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Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Confederate Prisoner Remembered in a Northern Town


By Diane Janowski ©2006

Allen Smith and I are double historians - in our hometown of Elmira, New York and in our adopted hometown of New Roads, Louisiana. We co-authored Image of America: The Chemung Valley - a pictoral history of Chemung County, New York. In New Roads (Pointe Coupée Parish) we are involved in several history projects including the Pointe Coupée at the Millennium photography project.

We often discuss the differences and similarities between the North and the South. In their March 2006 visit to Pointe Coupée Parish, we spent an evening with Pointe Coupée historian Brian Costello and began a conversation about the Civil War. A question came up - Elmira had the infamous Elmira Prison Camp between 1864 and 1865 - did Costello know of any Pointe Coupée soldiers who were sent to Elmira? He believed there was one - named Fortlouis. Interest piqued in us - who was this soldier and what circumstances brought him from New Roads to Elmira. Before leaving Louisiana, we stopped along a sugar cane field on Gremillion Road and collected a bag of Pointe Coupée dirt. I had a purpose.

Back home in Elmira, I began research. Between internet history sites and emails to Costello, I pieced the information together and found Michel Fortlouis.

Number 995 in the death list of 2,950 Confederate prisoners of war at the Elmira Prison Camp, was Corporal Michel Fortlouis. Fortlouis and his two brothers, Leopold and Theophile, enlisted in the Pointe Coupée (Louisiana) Artillery Company B in June 1861. The Pointe Coupée Artillery Company B fought at the siege of Vicksburg, and with its losses was consolidated into Company A, which joined the Army of Tennessee and was active in the Atlanta Campaign. Michel Fortlouis, however, went missing at about the same time as the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign in April/May 1864. Union troops captured Michel Fortlouis in Clinton, Louisiana on August 20, 1864. He was received at Ship Island, Mississippi on October 5, 1864, subsequently received in New York City on November 16, 1864, arrived at the Elmira Prison Camp on November 19, 1864, and died in Barracks No. 3 on November 29, 1864 of pneumonia - just ten days after arriving in Elmira. His marker in Woodlawn Cemetery is erroneously marked “L. Forthewis.” Michel Fortlouis was 27-years old. Both his brothers survived the war.

On Memorial Day 2006, we visited Fortlouis' grave and in our own quiet ceremory gave him the dirt from home, and affixed his marker with his correct information.

New Book! Elmira Prison Camp
The Elmira Prison Camp existed from July 1864 to July 1865 and housed more than twelve thousand Confederate prisoners of war. Nearby, Woodlawn National Cemetery holds the graves of 2,950 Confederate soldiers who died in Elmira. The graves were dug, and meticulous personal information was recorded under the direction of John W. Jones, a former slave from Virginia. Jones played an important role in the Underground Railroad in Elmira in helping Southern slaves pass through the area.

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