Touting a ‘hidden gem’ in Cenla

It’s always good to discover a hidden gem of a place to visit in one’s community, and a few friends and I found such a place last week in Pineville – the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military History Museum at Camp Beauregard. One of my friends arranged a private guided tour. Retired Army Captain Richard Moran, our tour guide, informed and entertained us for some 90 minutes through fascinating displays in the two-story museum at the camp, which is now officially called the Louisiana National Guard Training Center.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll still refer to it as Camp Beauregard.

Camp Beauregard, by the way, was initially named Camp Stafford in honor of a major general in 1905 when the state legislature decided the state needed a permanent camp for the Louisiana National Guard’s annual training exercises. By the time of World War I, when the War Department needed it for a training area, it was renamed for the Confederate general Pierre Gustav Toussaint Beauregard.  

Back to our tour. Central Louisiana’s military history, Moran said, dates back to the colonial period, when Louisiana was not even part of the United States. It continues through the Revolutionary War and, of course the War of 1812 that ended with the famous Battle of New Orleans in 1814.

Then, the history carries through the Civil War, and one exclusive artifact at the museum is a Madison Artillery flag, representing the unit from Madison (La.) Parish, which fought for the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“The flag was supposedly found by a Union soldier after the flag bearer forgot it somewhere,” said Moran, noting the state of Illinois initially had possession of it but it has found its way “on permanent loan” to the museum in the last 10-15 years.

Another exclusive artifact at the museum is a torn, black and white Japanese battle flag, donated by a local veteran of World War II who got it off a Japanese ship. It was torn because half of it had reportedly been in a smokestack.

Moran, a graduate of Grant High School and Louisiana Tech, has for 13 years been the unofficial historian and curator for museum. He is working on his masters in military history at Southeastern Louisiana University. He is a veteran of Desert Storm and deployed twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He has a knack for engaging a tour audience with wit and wisdom. Moran knows all about the military hats and helmets of the different eras, not to mention the swords and ammunition and guns used in the different wars. He can tell you much, too, about the massive scale of the Louisiana Maneuvers training exercises, with a vignette about a civilian woman who didn’t understand – and refused to heed — military talk about a road being off limits because it had been “destroyed.”

These tours are terrific field trip material for students, not to mention us “senior citizens.” For those interested in scheduling a tour – and they are free (but there is a much-deserved tip jar) – call 318-641-5733. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and there are also after-hours tour on weekends, guided or unguided.

Moran is also available to speak at schools and do presentations.      

Bob Tompkins enjoyed a 43-year newspaper career as an award-winning writer and editor, serving the last 39 years at the Town Talk in Alexandria through most of 2015. He is a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a past winner of the LSWA’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism. An Alexandria resident, Tompkins is a contributing columnist sharing his talents with Rapides Parish Journal readers.