A Confederate Prisoner Remembered in a Northern Town
By Diane Janowski
Diane Janowski and Allen Smith are double historians in their hometown of Elmira, New York and in their adopted hometown of New Roads, Louisiana. Janowski and Smith are local historians in Elmira. In New Roads (Pointe Coupée Parish) they are involved in several history projects including the Pointe Coupée at the Millennium photography project (www.pcatm.org) funded by the Wurtele Foundation.
Janowski and Smith often discuss the differences and similarities between the North and the South. In their March 2006 visit to Pointe Coupée Parish, they 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 Janowski and Smith who was this soldier and what circumstances brought him from New Roads to Elmira. Before leaving Louisiana, they stopped along a sugar cane field on Gremillion Road and collected a bag of Pointe Coupée dirt. Janowski had a purpose.
Back home in Elmira, Janowski began research. Between internet history sites and emails to Costello, she pieced the information together and found Michel Fortlouis.
Number 995 in the death list of 2,950 Confederate prisoners of war, Corporal Michel Fortlouis died at the Elmira Prison Camp in Elmira, New York. 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, Janowski and Smith visited Fortlouis' grave and in a quiet ceremory gave him the dirt from home, and affixed his marker with his correct information.
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.