Bright Future: Russ pens state’s top essayPublished 11:55pm Wednesday, February 27, 2013
NATCHEZ — Cathedral School fifth-grader Jack Russ wasn’t marching from New Orleans toward Baton Rouge on Aug. 27, 1779, but he can tell you the air was hot and sticky that day.
He can tell you an army of Cajun-French countrymen, including one of his ancestors, Jean Baptiste Champaign, traveled down rough roads and through thick forests to reach Fort Richmond and fight against British troops in the Battle of Baton Rouge.
And he can even tell you that the Cajuns’ tactics of distraction and their ability to fight in familiar terrain eventually gave Spain control of the mighty Mississippi River instead of England.
Russ knows all those things because he spent three months researching and writing an essay titled, “Forgotten patriots who supported American struggle for independence.” The essay was his entry into the Daughters of the American Revolution’s annual essay contest.
And Russ’ hard work and dedication paid off, as he was recognized at an award ceremony in Jackson for writing the top essay of all the fifth graders in the State of Mississippi.
“I was really excited at the reception when they called my name, and I went up on stage to get everything,” Russ said referring to a medal, certificate and $100 check he received. “Everyone was taking pictures of me and stuff — it was great.”
This year’s DAR essay required students to find and write about an unsung hero from the American Revolutionary War.
Russ said he began thinking about the Battle of Baton Rouge — one that he said often gets left out of history books.
“Typically, people only think about the 13 colonies when they think about where the war was fought,” Russ said. “Cajuns don’t get much credit for winning the war, but they stopped British troops in Baton Rouge.”
But writing about the battle was only the first step as Russ asked his mother, Sarah, whose family has French descendants, if anyone way up in the family tree may have fought in the Battle of Baton Rouge.
“We called my grandmother, and she started looking and found someone,” Russ said. “She found this foot soldier, Jean Baptiste Champaign, who fought in the battle, so it was perfect.”
Russ wrote the 586-word essay through the perspective of Champaign, describing in great detail the trials and tribulations he and his comrades faced throughout the battle.
The essay was a perfect opportunity for Russ to combine his favorite subject of social studies with a part of his family’s history.
“It showed me that everyone plays a part, even the little foot soldier,” Russ said. “The hardest part was writing the bibliography, but the research was fun and easy.”
Russ is also the son of Chandler Russ.