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Title: Bailey's Dam
Author: III, George J. Castille, Smith, Steven D.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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             Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism
       Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission
                      Anthropological Study No. 8

                              BAILEY’S DAM

                         Baton Rouge, Louisiana

    [Illustration: Porter’s fleet passing the dam at Alexandria. From
    _Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War_, May 1864. Courtesy of
    the Library of Congress.]

                           STATE OF LOUISIANA

                            Edwin W. Edwards


                             Noelle LeBlanc


                          _Ex-Officio Members_

  Dr. Kathleen Byrd                             _State Archaeologist_
  Mr. Robert B.             _Assistant Secretary_, Office of Cultural
  DeBlieux                                                Development
  Mr. B. Jim Porter      _Secretary_, Department of Natural Resources
  Mrs. Dorothy M.                _Secretary_, Department of Urban and
  Taylor                                            Community Affairs

                          _Appointed Members_

                       Dr. Charles E. Orser, Jr.
                           Mr. Brian J. Duhe
                          Mr. Marc Dupuy, Jr.
                        Dr. Lorraine Heartfield
                         Dr. J. Richard Shenkel
                          Mrs. Lanier Simmons
                          Dr. Clarence H. Webb

                        Published    March 1986

This public document was published at a total cost of $3,995.00.
Ninety-five hundred copies of this public document were published in
this first printing at a cost of $3,995.00. The total cost of all
printings of this document including reprints is $3,995.00. This
document was published for the Division of Archaeology by Bourque
Printing, Inc., P.O. Box 45070, Baton Rouge, LA 70895-4070 to make
available to the citizens of Louisiana information about prehistoric and
historic archaeology under authorization of La. R.S. 41:1601-1613. This
material was printed in accordance with standards for printing by state
agencies established pursuant to R.S. 43:31. Printing of this material
was purchased in accordance with the provisions of Title 43 of the
Louisiana Revised Statutes. This publication has been funded entirely by
the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Vicksburg District.

                              BAILEY’S DAM

                            Steven D. Smith
                        Division of Archaeology

                         George J. Castille III
                       Coastal Environments, Inc.

I trust some future historian will treat this matter as it deserves to
be treated, because it is a subject in which the whole country should
feel an interest, and the noble men who succeeded so admirably in this
arduous task should not lose one atom of credit so justly due them.

                                           —Rear Admiral David D. Porter
                                                            May 16, 1864
                                            Letter to Hon. Gideon Welles

                       STATE ARCHAEOLOGIST’S NOTE

Louisiana has a rich cultural heritage dating back over 12,000 years.
During these 12,000 years, many different peoples have lived and worked
in the state. Archaeologists, who study the remains of these long gone
people, learn much about their ways of life. The Anthropological Study
series published by the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism
provides a readable account of the various activities of these different
groups. _Bailey’s Dam_ is the eighth in this series.

The _Bailey’s Dam_ volume is somewhat different than its predecessors in
that it highlights a relatively recent event of Louisiana’s long
cultural past—the building of Bailey’s Dam during the Civil War. The
research for this volume resulted from work initiated by the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District to record important historical
resources within the Red River Waterway Project. Steven D. Smith of the
Division of Archaeology and George J. Castille III of Coastal
Environments, Inc., the authors of this volume, have taken the technical
reports resulting from this research and have provided a very readable
account of the events surrounding the construction of Bailey’s Dam. The
Corps of Engineers funded the publication of this volume.

We are pleased to make the _Bailey’s Dam_ story available and trust that
you will enjoy this volume.

                                                         _Kathleen Byrd_


This booklet is a synthesis of two, more detailed and scholarly,
manuscripts about the history of Bailey’s Dam sponsored by the Vicksburg
District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These two excellently prepared
documents are “Gunboats, Low Water, & Yankee Ingenuity: A History of
Bailey’s Dam” by Dr. Michael C. Robinson, Division Historian, Lower
Mississippi Valley Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and
“Archaeological Investigation and Preparation of Historic American
Engineering Record Documentation for Lower Bailey’s Dam (16RA90),
Rapides Parish, Louisiana” by David B. Kelley and George J. Castille,
archaeologists with Coastal Environments, Inc. Undoubtedly, we owe Dr.
Robinson and Mr. Kelley a great deal of thanks for allowing us to use
their research to complete this booklet. We also would like to thank
Corps archaeologists Kate Yarbrough, Thomas Birchett, and Sheila Lewis
for their help. Finally, this booklet would not have been possible
without the editing skills of archaeologist Nancy W. Hawkins of the
Louisiana Division of Archaeology.

    [Illustration: Nathaniel Banks. Courtesy of the National Archives.]

    [Illustration: David Porter. Courtesy of the National Archives.]

    [Illustration: Joseph Bailey. Courtesy of the National Archives.]


Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, Union commander of the Red River
military expedition, found himself in a particularly tight situation in
April of 1864. He had been defeated at the Battle of Mansfield while
attempting to capture Shreveport, Louisiana, and now he was retreating
down the Red River, harassed by Confederate troops at every turn.
Throughout the campaign, the river’s low water level had been a constant
problem to his naval support of gunboats under the command of Rear
Admiral David D. Porter. Now, Banks and Porter discovered that the river
was so low that the gunboats were trapped above the rapids at

To save the flotilla, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey suggested that
the river could be dammed to raise the water level and float the
gunboats over the shallow rapids. Despite the doubts and jeers of many,
Banks authorized Bailey to begin construction. Through the next two
weeks, troops struggled to build the dam which eventually made it
possible for the fleet to escape.

In 1976 the archaeological remains of Bailey’s Dam were placed on the
National Register of Historic Places, and through 1986, they could be
seen at times of low water. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is
constructing a modern lock and dam downstream of this historic site, and
the Red River will permanently cover Bailey’s Dam. Recognizing the
historical and archaeological importance of the dam, the Corps sponsored
archaeological excavations there in 1984.

This booklet relates the history and archaeology of the dam complex, a
series of different types of dams collectively called Bailey’s Dam. The
story combines the rich annals of the 1864 Red River Campaign with the
finds of modern archaeological investigations. This combination provides
a fascinating glimpse into a desperate period in Louisiana history.

                         ADVANCE TO SHREVEPORT

  Mississippi Squadron,
  Flagship Black Hawk, off Red River,
  March 2, 1864.

  SIR: I came down here anticipating a move on the part of the army up
  toward Shreveport, but as the river is lower than it has been known to
  be for years, I much fear that the combined movement can not come off,
  without interfering with plans formed by General Grant....

  The Mississippi River is very quiet, and the rebels retreated into the
  interior on hearing of the advance of the gunboats.

  I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                         David D. Porter
                                                         (Porter 1914:7)

With this communication to the Secretary of the Navy, Rear Admiral David
D. Porter foretold the crisis that would come close to destroying his
squadron of gunboats two months later. Low water on the Red River in
early March was an unexpected sight. Since 1855 the annual spring rise
had appeared without fail. But now in 1864, while Porter waited at the
mouth of the Red River for his fleet to assemble and for Major General
Nathaniel P. Banks’s army to begin its march north from Franklin,
Louisiana, the Red River’s water level was causing Porter to have doubts
about the upcoming campaign.

Doubts concerning the Red River Campaign were shared by other Federal
officers, but for different reasons. The necessity of a thrust up the
Red River in 1864 had been debated since the fall of Vicksburg the
previous year. Generals Grant and Sherman, and even the Red River
expedition’s commander, General Banks, believed that the North’s next
logical military objective was to capture Mobile, Alabama. But
Commanding General of the Army Henry W. Halleck and President Lincoln
felt that control of Texas was urgently needed to keep Mexico from
joining the Southern cause. The Red River presented the best route to

    [Illustration: Map of the Red River campaign, showing the routes of
    the Union army and navy.]

    Army Route
    Navy Route
  Loggy Bayou
  Grand Ecore
  Pleasant Hill
  Sabine River
  Red River
  Bailey’s Dam
  Ft. De Russy
  Mississippi River
  Porter’s Assembly Area

There was another underlying reason for the expedition, which may have
changed Banks’s mind. The Red River area was rumored to contain large
stores of cotton critically needed by the North. Some historians feel
that Banks’s desire to secure this cotton influenced his decision to
promote the campaign, and that the capture of cotton became all
important to him. After the campaign, the Joint Committee on the Conduct
of the War charged that the expedition failed because Banks and Porter
were overly concerned about capturing cotton. How much their attention
strayed is unknown, but it is true that competition between the army and
navy for cotton caused great tension during the campaign. At Alexandria
soldiers were angered “to see the navy seizing the cotton for prize on
land, while they did not get any” (J.C.C.W. n.d.:18,74).

Whatever the real motivation for the campaign, the official military
objective was Shreveport. Once Shreveport was in Union control, Texas
would lay open to invasion. To capture Shreveport, Banks’s army,
supported by Porter’s flotilla, would drive up the Red River while
another force under Major General Frederic Steele would move south from

Opposing the Federal attack in Louisiana was Confederate Major General
Richard Taylor, who had only around 6,000 troops scattered throughout
Louisiana in Monroe, Alexandria, Marksville, and on Bayou Teche. Badly
outnumbered, Taylor worked to gather his forces and then waited for
reinforcements from Texas so he could eventually make a stand.

On March 12, 1864, Porter began his move up the Red River. Within three
days, he captured Fort De Russy, near Marksville, with the help of a
detachment of infantry. Meanwhile, Banks’s main army began its march
north from Franklin, Louisiana, fighting rain and muck.

    [Illustration: Richard Taylor. Courtesy of the Louisiana State

The forward units of the army reached Alexandria on March 24. Arriving
as a tired yet conquering army, they had already traveled 165 muddy road
miles. Still, “the colors were unfurled, the band struck up, and the men
marched through the streets” with Banks watching the troops pass in
review from a house veranda (Beecher 1866:298-299). Once assembled, the
Federal forces numbered nearly 30,000 troops, 13 gunboats, and 60
assorted transport vessels.

Here Banks and Porter had their second warning that the Red River was
not going to cooperate. It quickly became obvious that the expedition
would be delayed by the low water at the rapids. Although eventually the
water level rose, the expedition was forced to leave many vessels
behind. North of Alexandria, Porter’s fleet consisted of only 12
gunboats and 30 transports. To carry all the supplies needed by the
army, wagons had to be used to make up for the supply boats left in
Alexandria. Banks was also forced to leave behind troops to protect the
fleet and the town.

While they waited for the Red to rise, the soldiers and sailors had to
use the water for washing and cooking. As one member of the 114th New
York described it:

  It is a dirty, sluggish stream, about the eighth of a mile wide,
  flowing in an extremely crooked channel. Its bends and curves are so
  exaggerated that they seem almost unnatural....

  In all the water charged with mud which our men had been compelled to
  drink, they had never before seen anything that came so near being a
  compromise between earth and water as the Red River (Beecher

    [Illustration: U.S. fleet in the Red River at Alexandria. Courtesy
    of the Louisiana State Library.]

Naturally, the delays in Alexandria were a godsend to Confederate
General Taylor. Some 5,000 cavalry reinforcements arrived from Texas to
help block the Yankee advance from Alexandria. Now, despite still being
outnumbered, Taylor boldly looked for an opportunity to engage Banks
before they reached Shreveport. As Taylor later related in his memoirs,
“My confidence of success in the impending engagement was inspired by
accurate knowledge of the Federal movements, as well as the character of
their commander, General Banks, whose measure had been taken in the
Virginia campaigns of 1862 and since” (Taylor 1879:161).

Taylor’s opportunity came when Banks reached Grand Ecore, a landing
north of Natchitoches. There, Banks decided that the bulk of his land
forces would approach Shreveport along a narrow road, twisting away from
the Red River and passing through the villages of Pleasant Hill and
Mansfield. This decision prevented Banks’s army and Porter’s gunboats
from mutually supporting each other during their advance. The army soon
became strung out for some 20 miles along the slender road Banks chose.
Awaiting him near Mansfield on April 8 were Taylor’s smaller but better
concentrated forces. In the battle, the tired Federal troops panicked
and were thrown back down the road.

    [Illustration: A Confederate charge at the Battle of Pleasant Hill.
    From _Harper’s Weekly_, May 7, 1864 Courtesy of Edwin Adams Davis.]

The next day Banks was able to pull his army together. They stood
against Taylor’s attack at Pleasant Hill, forcing the Confederates to
withdraw. But despite this success, Banks was left with a disheartened
army that was quickly losing confidence in his leadership. After the
retreat to Grand Ecore, one “officer in high position” even suggested
putting Banks on a steamer to New Orleans (Hoffman 1877:96-97).

                         RETREAT TO ALEXANDRIA

In spite of his army’s loss of courage, Banks wanted to continue the
attack. But realizing that the troops were discouraged, and that General
Steele was not coming down from Arkansas to support the Union attack on
Shreveport, Banks’s officers convinced him to fall back to Alexandria.
With this turn of events, the campaign’s goal of capturing Shreveport
was all but forgotten. Now the main concern of Banks and Porter was to
get their troops and boats out of the Red River area while keeping their
forces intact.

After Porter’s gunboats returned to Grand Ecore from their own advance
upstream, the dispirited soldiers began their retreat. Confederate
General Taylor was now in a position to do real damage to the Union
expedition. Confederate cavalry constantly tormented the retreating
Union forces along the road to Alexandria. Meanwhile, others ambushed
the gunboats along the twisting riverbanks. The river itself resisted
the Federals as the boats continually ran aground in the shallow stream.
One gunboat, the _Eastport_, was sunk by a rebel mine, refloated, towed,
run aground several times, and finally blown up by the navy, to prevent
her from being captured by Taylor’s rebels. Frank Church, a Marine
officer aboard the tinclad _Cricket_, described what must have been a
typical skirmish during the retreat:

  We had not been fired upon for some time and were all sitting down not
  thinking of guerrillas when we were opened on by about a hundred men.
  My men sprang to their feet and fired back. I put two shots through
  the front door of the house where there were several men. After I
  fired three shots our boat swung around and got aground leaving us
  without a breastwork. My men behaved splendidly standing up and firing
  away while they were sending a perfect shower of ball and shot over
  us. As we could not get any opportunity to use our rifles to advantage
  I ordered my men to lay down until we swung around. I sought
  protection behind the bell but some fellow saw me and fired at me—two
  bullets struck the bell and I concluded I had better get somewhere
  else (Jones and Keuchel 1975:48-50).

    [Illustration: The tinclad gunboat _Cricket_. Courtesy of the
    Library of Congress.]

Eventually, the army and its naval support made their way back to
Alexandria, where the rest of the Union forces waited. As the weary
Yankees dragged into the town, an officer recorded in his diary:

  April 25—At 3 o’clock P.M., to-day, we reached Alexandria, and
  encamped on the river, just above the town. The army presented the
  appearance of having seen hard service, and a long campaign. The men
  were dirty and ragged, some of them shoeless. Our trains were somewhat
  dilapidated, the snowy covers of a month ago were dust covered, and
  some in tatters; the horses and mules as nearly fagged out as the men.
  How unlike the army which a month ago marched so proudly through the
  streets of this town (Pellet 1866:229).

By April 28, Banks and Porter had reassembled their forces at
Alexandria. Now the low water dilemma, which had teased and threatened
the fleet throughout the campaign, became a crisis. The water in the Red
had dropped so low that portions of the rocky rapids were exposed, and
at some points, the water was only 3 feet deep. Even the lightest
gunboats needed at least 7 feet of water to pass. Ten of Porter’s
gunboats were trapped above the rapids. Unless some means were found to
get them below the rapids, they would have to be destroyed like the
_Eastport_, otherwise they would be lost to the rebels. While many
officers, including the expedition’s formally trained engineers, were
preparing for the disastrous loss of the backbone of Porter’s fleet,
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey was proposing the solution—a dam.

                       JOSEPH BAILEY AND HIS DAM

Military engineer Joseph Bailey’s presence with the Red River expedition
was, in a sense, one of those coincidences of history that sometimes
result in turning the course of events. His knowledge of engineering was
not acquired through formal study at West Point. Instead, he had learned
practical engineering on the Wisconsin frontier, where damming was a
skill perfected by lumbermen to float logs to their sawmills.

Born in Ashtabula County, Ohio on May 6, 1827, Bailey grew up in
Illinois. In 1850 he moved to Wisconsin, where for the next 20 years he
was involved in the construction of dams, mills, and bridges. At the
beginning of the war, Bailey formed a company of lumbermen and became a
captain. Soon, though, his construction genius was recognized and he was
supervising various engineering projects for the North, including
construction at Fort Dix in Washington D.C. and the attempts to build
canals during the Vicksburg campaign.

In 1863 Bailey won distinction at the battle of Port Hudson. There,
despite the scoffs of formally trained military engineers, he
constructed a gun emplacement in full sight of rebel fortifications and
proceeded to silence the Confederate guns. He also built a dam during
the siege to refloat two grounded steamboats.

All this had been accomplished while he was, officially, an officer in
the Wisconsin 4th Cavalry. Recognizing Bailey’s talent, General Banks,
without authority, promoted him to colonel. But this promotion was the
right of the Governor of Wisconsin, and it was retracted. Instead,
Bailey was made a Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers. Bailey was
infuriated at this seeming injustice, and fortunately for Porter’s
stranded fleet, he had applied for and received a staff position as
engineer for Major General William B. Franklin, one of Banks’s officers.

To Bailey, constructing a dam to float the gunboats over the rapids was
a challenging but not impossible task. After all, he had undertaken
similar work in Wisconsin and at Port Hudson. In fact, he had foreseen
the problem as early as April 9 and offered to construct a dam at that
time. But while Franklin liked the idea, the matter was not yet
critical, and other more important problems needed tending.

Most of the staff officers thought Bailey’s idea was outrageous. Porter
had joked about an earlier proposition by Bailey to build a dam to
refloat the stranded gunboat _Eastport_ saying: “Well, major, if you can
dam better than I can, you must be a good hand at it, for I have been
d——g all night” (Hoffman 1877:99). Now, though, a major part of the
fleet was about to be lost and Porter instructed a messenger, “Tell
General Franklin that if he [Bailey] will build a dam or any thing else,
and get me out of this scrape, I’ll be eternally grateful to him”
(Hoffman 1877:101). Later, Porter would record that “the proposition
looked like madness, and the best engineers ridiculed it, but Colonel
Bailey was so sanguine of success that I requested General Banks to have
it done, and he entered heartily in the work” (Beecher 1866:342).

Fortunately, once Franklin and Banks decided to accept Bailey’s idea,
they ordered everyone’s cooperation. Some 3,000 troops were put to work
chopping down trees, gathering stones and bricks, and dragging the raw
materials down to where the dam would be constructed. On the Pineville
side of the river, Maine, New York, and Wisconsin soldiers cut down
trees, while on the Alexandria side, black troops were put to work
gathering wood from buildings. One historical account describes the

    [Illustration: Map showing location of Bailey’s Dam in relation to
    Alexandria during the Civil War.]


  Night and day the work was carried on without cessation, the men
  working willingly and cheerfully, although many were compelled to
  stand up to their waists in water during the damp and chilly nights,
  and under a burning sun by day, and notwithstanding very many had no
  faith in the success of the great undertaking.... Oak, elm, and pine
  trees ... were falling to the ground under the blows of the stalwart
  pioneers of Maine, bearing with them in their fall trees of lesser
  growth; mules and oxen were dragging the trees, denuded of their
  branches, to the river’s bank; wagons heavily loaded were moving in
  every direction; flat-boats carrying stone were floating with the
  current, while others were being drawn up the stream in the manner of
  canal boats. Meanwhile hundreds of men were at work at each end of the
  dam, moving heavy logs to the outer end of the tree-dam, ... wheeling
  brick out to the cribs, carrying bars of railway iron to the barges,
  ... while on each bank of the river were to be seen thousands of
  spectators, consisting of officers of both services, groups of
  sailors, soldiers, camp-followers, and citizens of Alexandria, all
  eagerly watching our progress and discussing the chances of success
  (Moore 1868:11-12).

    [Illustration: The tinclad _Signal_ towing material for Bailey’s
    Dam. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.]

In the midst of this furious activity, Bailey was constantly on hand
directing the construction. On site, the soldiers toiled through the day
and night; the slightest disobedience was harshly corrected. Two
officers were even arrested for allowing a barge, which was to be part
of the dam, to sink in the wrong place. Meanwhile, on shore, the dam and
Bailey were the main source of amusement. To most of the navy, half the
army, and much of the townspeople, the dam was a great joke. Word of
Bailey’s dam quickly spread to the rebels, who would taunt their enemy
with “How’s your big dam progressing?” (Moore 1868:12). But Bailey
ignored the wisecracks and concentrated on his plan.


During the Civil War, the rapids at Alexandria were composed of rocky
outcroppings of sandstone and siltstone forming shoals along a mile
stretch of the Red River, even at times of high water. At low water, the
upper and lower ends of the rapids were exposed. Long before the war,
the rapids had been a problem to river traffic. When the water was low,
goods being transported by steamboat up and down the river had to be
unloaded, carried past the rapids by wagon, and reloaded on different

Numerous ideas had been proposed to improve the river passage; even the
famous Henry Miller Shreve proposed a solution, but no action was taken.
By 1864 the only navigational aid at the rapids was a small channel cut
out of the rocky river bottom. While this was an improvement, the water
was still too low to navigate the rapids during the campaign.

It is a strange twist of history, but we can say that today we know more
about some details of Bailey’s dam construction than did the soldiers
who built it. Those men were laboring day and night to build the dam as
quickly as possible. In the confusion and fury of activity, there was
little time for anyone but Bailey to fully comprehend the plan. Today,
historians have studied the many reports and eyewitness accounts of the
dam construction to piece together what happened. In addition, careful
archaeological excavation of the actual dam remains provided undeniable
evidence of the techniques used. In 1984 a combined historical and
archaeological study was undertaken by a historian from the Corps of
Engineers and archaeologists from Coastal Environments, Inc. The results
of their studies provide a detailed view of the activities at Bailey’s
Dam and testify to the magnitude of Bailey’s engineering feat.

Historical documents indicate that Bailey first built his dam just above
the lower, downstream rapids. There, the river was around 758 feet wide,
and a 10-mile-per-hour current rushed over the shoals. By constructing
the dam at that particular location, he hoped the water would rise
enough behind the dam to allow the gunboats to float over the upper
rapids. Then, with the built-up water pressure, the dam could be broken
through at the proper time and the gunboats could rush over the lower
rapids, carried by the force of the released water.

    [Illustration: Sketch of crib dam which accompanied Colonel Bailey’s
    report (U.S. War Department 1891-1895:Plate 53-3).

                             CRIB OF STONE.
                 Iron Bars    14 × 22 Ft.    Iron Bars]

Following Bailey’s practical nature, the dam was built with any locally
available material readily at hand. To do so, he used different methods
of construction for each riverbank. On the west (Alexandria) bank, he
built the dam of large wooden boxes called cribs. Bailey constructed a
number of cribs which were placed side by side from the bank out into
the river.

Archaeologists investigated these structures during a low water period
by carefully digging two small excavation units around partially exposed
crib remains. These units were 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. As the
archaeologists removed the surrounding mud and dirt and exposed the
cribs, they painstakingly recorded the position of each timber and beam.
Afterward they studied their photographs and notes, comparing their
findings with the historical records.

Historical accounts indicate that lumber from Alexandria mills, homes,
and barns was quickly stripped for use in building the cribs. Bricks,
stone, and even machinery were used to fill and anchor the cribs.
Additionally, historical illustrations show that iron bars were placed
vertically in the four corners of each crib, to provide a supporting

The evidence from modern archaeological excavations generally supports
the historical accounts with some interesting variations. Both lines of
evidence testify to the ingenuity of Lieutenant Colonel Bailey. The
excavations revealed that the crib framework was constructed of hand
hewn 4-by-10-inch timbers, which is strong evidence that the lumber was
from nearby buildings. The ends of these timbers were notched so that
they fit tightly together at the corners of the cribs. The corners were
supported by smaller vertical wood posts. However, in the cribs
excavated by the archaeologists, there was no evidence of the iron
support bars. Furthermore, there was no evidence of machinery parts in
the cribs. Instead, they found that the cribs were filled mostly with
sand and mud and only capped with a layer of loose brick and stone. A
metal fragment of a large sugar kettle was also found among this brick
and stone. A sugar kettle was just the kind of loose but heavy object
that could be quickly transported to the cribs for anchoring material.

On the east (Pineville) bank, there were no town buildings to strip for
lumber but there was, quite conveniently, a forest. With abundant trees
available, Bailey constructed a “self-loading” tree dam. According to
historical diagrams, trees were stacked lengthwise with the flow of the
stream. The upstream treetops were anchored to the river bottom with
stones. The downstream trunks were raised higher than the upstream tops
by alternating layers of other logs running perpendicular to, or across,
the stream. This technique presented a dam face of logs angled upward
with the stream flow. As the river was held back by the log face, the
water pressure actually made the dam stronger or “self-loading.”

    [Illustration: Sketch of tree dam which accompanied Colonel Bailey’s
    report (U.S. War Department 1891-1895:Plate 53-3).]

The archaeological investigation of the tree dam was completed in a
manner similar to the excavations at the crib structures. But here a
trench excavation unit was dug. This trench was 22 feet long and 5 feet
wide, and it was positioned parallel to the flow of the river. During
these investigations, the river began to rise, and when the excavation
unit was finally abandoned, the archaeologists were working about 2 feet
below the water level. The field crew was successful in reaching that
depth only with the aid of a water pump. Archaeologists had hoped to
excavate a slice of the dam completely down to its base, but attempts to
excavate deeper were halted when the pump could not keep out the
incoming water.

    [Illustration: Archaeologist David Kelley drawing map of logs
    uncovered during the tree dam excavation.]

The tree dam excavations revealed that both pine and hardwood logs were
used and that the tree bark was left intact. The tree limbs had been cut
off, but by observing the knots on the tree trunks, archaeologists were
able to note the direction in which the trees were positioned. They
found that many of the trees were positioned with their tops downstream,
exactly opposite of that shown in historical illustrations. Also, all of
the upstream ends of the trees had been trimmed of their branches, and
their tips had been pointed with an axe. Spaces between the logs were
filled with sand and mud, and the entire structure was covered with
brick and stone. Interestingly, the archaeologists also found a hewn,
octagonal, wood column among the logs. The upstream end of the column
had been rough cut, seemingly to fit into that particular spot in the
tree dam. The column was most likely a mast from a riverboat.

    [Illustration: Portion of the tree dam exposed during the low water
    in August 1984.]

Together, the crib and tree dam sections did not cross the entire
758-foot riverbed. A 150-foot gap existed between the two dams. To close
this gap, four coal barges were used. While the remains of these barges
were not found in the archaeological excavations, historical photographs
provide a fairly detailed picture of their appearance. These
24-by-170-foot barges were sunk in the gap, lying lengthwise with the
current, and more stones, brick, and iron rails were used to anchor
them. Braces and ropes, anchored to the riverbanks, were also needed to
secure the barges against the rising water pressure.

Bailey directed that the second barge from the Alexandria side be only
partially filled with anchoring materials. This was the barge that he
hoped either to ram or blast out of the way, creating a flood that the
gunboats would ride like kayaks. As it turned out, Bailey’s idea worked,
but not exactly as he would have liked.

    [Illustration: Building the Red River Dam. Courtesy of the Library
    of Congress.]

                             THE DAM WORKS

To the amazement of practically everybody except Bailey, the dam complex
was working. By May 6, the water held by the dam had risen 4 feet. By
May 8, the water level was up 5 feet 4 inches. Three of the lighter
vessels even crossed the upper rapids and now waited behind the dam for
the heavier gunboats. As the soldiers worked to finish the dam, the
water continued to build until the pressure against the dam became
tremendous. General Banks feared the pressure would soon burst the dam,
and the next day, at around 5:30 in the morning, one officer “heard a
great crashing in the direction of the dam. Jumping out of the blankets
and slipping on my coat, cap, and boots, I ran down to the bank. The
water was rushing through at a great rate” (Tyson May 9, 1864).

Two of the barges used in the dam had broken loose, and the water was
gushing through. Porter, seeing the crisis, quickly ordered the gunboat
_Lexington_ to run the gap:

    [Illustration: Porter’s fleet passing through Colonel Bailey’s Dam
    above Alexandria, May 1864. From _Frank Leslie’s Illustrated
    Newspaper_, July 16, 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.]

  The Lexington succeeded in getting over the falls and then steered
  directly for the opening in the dam, through which the water was
  dashing so furiously that it seemed as if certain destruction would be
  her fate. Ten thousand spectators breathlessly awaited the result. She
  entered the gap with a full head of steam; passed down the roaring,
  rushing torrent; made several spasmodic rolls; hung for a moment, with
  a harsh, grating sound, on the rocks below; was then swept into deep
  water, and rounded to by the bank of the river. Such a cheer arose
  from that vast multitude of sailors and soldiers, when the noble
  vessel was seen in safety below the falls, as we had never heard
  before, and certainly have not heard since (Moore 1868:12).

The _Lexington_’s run was followed by the three gunboats waiting behind
the dam. Had the rest of the fleet been prepared, all of the boats might
have escaped at that time. However, the navy’s lack of confidence in the
dam had given way to apathy, and as the released water rushed through
the break, valuable time was wasted as the fleet gathered steam to
attempt the run. Eventually, the water behind the dam fell and six
gunboats still remained trapped.

But the _Lexington_’s adventure had proven that the dam could work, and
troops confidently went back to work. Bailey worried that the dam would
break again and decided to leave the 70-foot gap in the dam as it was.
But this time he added smaller, lighter dams near the upper rapids. Like
the dam sections at the lower rapids, both crib and tree dam methods
were employed. These dams helped channel the water while reducing the
pressure on the main dam. Thus, instead of relying on one dam to hold
back the water until another run could be made, a series of dams were
built to create a deep channel of water along the whole course of the
shoals in that part of the Red River.

Unfortunately, during Coastal Environments’s archaeological excavations,
this dam complex at the upper rapids was believed to be destroyed by
modern development. Later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted an
underwater survey, locating what clearly appear to be parts of these
upper works. If so, these submerged dam sections are preserved so that
perhaps someday archaeologists may have an opportunity to investigate
more of Bailey’s engineering feat.

While the army labored to build the upper dam, the navy, more confident
of rescue, worked to lighten the loads on the trapped gunboats. From May
10 through 12, the remaining gunboats above the rapids struggled through
the upper shoals to the pool behind the main dam. Yet another dam had to
be built to refloat a gunboat that got stuck during this passage. Then
on the twelfth of May, the _Mound City_, the largest gunboat of the
fleet, ran for the gap in the main dam. The previous scene was repeated,
with thousands lining the banks to watch the excitement. Marching bands
played the “Star Spangled Banner” and the “Battle Cry for Freedom.” Like
the _Lexington_ before it, as the _Mound City_ hit the gap, it ground
against the rocky river bottom, and then shot through. The next day all
of the trapped vessels lay safely below the rapids.

                           THE CAMPAIGN ENDS

While Federal troops labored to build the dam, Taylor’s Confederate army
was not idle. Some rebels continued to harass the outposts around
Alexandria, while others destroyed bridges and blocked roads in an
attempt to entrap the Union forces. Federal boats already below the
rapids were constantly ambushed along the lower Red River as they
attempted to supply the army. In fact, the Confederate soldiers were
able to cut off all navigation on the river for a while, isolating the

On May 13, with all the gunboats now safely below the rapids, Union
forces moved out of Alexandria. The Union soldiers left with mixed
feelings. They had been beaten in battle, harassed, and almost
completely destroyed. They were exhausted. Still, they had accomplished
a magnificent feat in building the dam and rescuing the fleet, and some
had even made friends among the townsfolk.

    [Illustration: Admiral Porter’s fleet on the Red River. From
    _Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War_, March 1864. Courtesy
    of the Library of Congress.]

But for the local population this was a critical time. Rumors spread
that the town would be torched when the army left. Banks ordered a
detail of 500 men to be left behind to protect the town from arson. But
fires quickly broke out as soon as the main army was out of town. It is
unclear who started the fires, as some accounts describe soldiers
looting and setting fires, while other accounts note that army guards
shot looters. Probably, both Union troops and local looters were
involved. One detachment, the 92nd Colored Infantry who also helped
build the dams, was known to have fought a fire for many hours, until
the building was doomed and the troops were forced to continue their
retreat. One Yankee soldier described the scene:

    [Illustration: Alexandria, May 1864. Courtesy of the Louisiana State

  Cows ran bellowing through the streets. Chickens flew out from yards
  and fell in the streets with their feathers scorching them.... Crowds
  of people, men, women, children and soldiers, were running with all
  they could carry, when the heat would become unbearable and dropping
  all, they would flee for their lives, leaving everything but their
  bodies to burn. Over the levee the sights and sounds were harrowing.
  Thousands of people, mostly women, children and old men, were wringing
  their hands as they stood by the little piles of what was left of all
  their worldly possessions (Van Alstyne 1910:320-321).

As the expedition retreated south down the Red River, Confederate
cavalry did what it could to badger the Union forces at every
opportunity. However, no matter how courageously the men fought, the
rebel army was too small to seriously oppose the retreat of the entire
expedition. At Mansura, Louisiana, Taylor attempted to stand against the
Federals, but after a four-hour artillery duel, he had to withdraw.

Though the campaign seemed about at an end, Banks found that he had to
call on the services of Lieutenant Colonel Bailey once more. At the
Atchafalaya River, Bailey directed the construction of a bridge which he
promptly fashioned out of transport vessels. Around 24 transports were
placed across the river and held together with large timbers. Then, long
planks were laid across the prows of the transports to form a temporary
bridge. Banks’s army was able to cross the river quickly and safely and
continue the retreat south to Baton Rouge. By that time, every soldier
knew and appreciated the frontier engineer from Wisconsin.


Measured against the backdrop of the entire Civil War, the results of
the Red River Campaign cannot be considered critical to either side.
Overall, the end of the war simply had been delayed. Some of the Federal
troops on the expedition were from Sherman’s army and could have been of
great help to him. Furthermore, an attack against Mobile, Alabama, which
General Grant wanted, was postponed for 10 months by the Red River

The campaign had also cost the Union army 5,200 men and 21 artillery
pieces. The navy lost some 320 men, two pump boats, one ironclad, two
tinclads, and four transports. Yet Banks still had his army relatively
intact, and just as importantly, the fleet was saved, thanks to
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey.

On the other hand, the campaign was of tremendous significance to
Louisiana. The invasion brought the war home to thousands of Red River
settlers, destroying their property, economy, and lives. Beyond civilian
casualties, 4,000 Confederate troops were lost. On the positive side,
victory at Mansfield and the failure of the Union expedition must have
helped to strengthen Southern resolve.

For Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, the campaign brought fame. Porter
praised Bailey in newspapers and wrote letters of thanks and approval.
Congress gave Bailey a gold medal, Porter personally gave him a gold
inlaid sword, and other naval officers gave him a silver punch bowl.

Eventually, Bailey’s distinguished military career earned him a
promotion to brigadier general. But after the war, the hero of the Red
River campaign met a tragic end. On March 21, 1867, Sheriff Joseph
Bailey, of Vernon County, Missouri, was murdered by two prisoners he was
taking to jail. Today, Joseph Bailey is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, at
Fort Scott, Kansas.

Historian Michael Robinson best summed up the significance of Bailey’s
Dam when he wrote:

  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Bailey’s Dam was the toil
  expended by the Union soldiers.... Through the hot days and chilly
  nights they labored diligently despite harassment from the enemy; the
  depression and fatigue of a long, failed campaign.... In many
  respects, their efforts offer some basis for Porter’s claim that
  Bailey’s Dam was “without doubt the greatest engineering feat ever
  performed” (Robinson 1985:66-67).

Today, “the dam still remains intact as we left it, and bids fair, if
undisturbed, to stand a hundred years—an imperishable monument of
American energy, ingenuity, and skill” (Moore 1868:13-14).

    [Illustration: View west across the Red River at Bailey’s Dam during
    low water in 1984.]

                            REFERENCES CITED

Beecher, Harris H.

  1866 _Record of the 114th Regiment N.Y.S.V._ J. F. Hubbard, Jr.,
        Norwich, New York.

Hoffman, Wickham

  1877 _Camp court and siege._ Harper & Brothers, New York.

Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War

  n.d. Red River expedition. _The report of the Joint Committee on the
        Conduct of the War_ (Vol. 11). 38th U.S. Congress, 2nd Session.

Jones, James P. and Edward F. Keuchel (editors)

  1975 _Civil War Marine: a diary of the Red River expedition, 1864._
        History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,
        Washington, D.C.

Kelley, David B. and George J. Castille

  1985 Archaeological investigation and preparation of historic American
        engineering record documentation for lower Bailey’s Dam
        (16RA90), Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Report prepared for the
        U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, Purchase Order
        No. DACW38-84-P-3510, Coastal Environments, Inc., Baton Rouge,

Moore, Frank (editor)

  1868 Document No. 2: the Red River Dam. _The rebellion record: a diary
        of American events_ (Vol. 11). D. Van Nostrand, New York.

Pellet, Elias P.

  1866 _History of the 114th Regiment, New York State Volunteers._
        Telegraph and Chronicle Power Press Print, Norwich, New York.

Porter, David D.

  1914 Letters to Hon. Gideon Welles. In _Official records of the Union
        and Confederate navies in the War of the Rebellion_ (Series I,
        Vol. 26). Washington, D.C.

Robinson, Michael C.

  1985 Gunboats, low water, and Yankee ingenuity: a history of Bailey’s
        Dam. Report prepared for the Lower Mississippi Valley Division,
        U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Taylor, Richard

  1879 _Destruction and reconstruction._ D. Appleton, New York.

Tyson, Robert A.

  1864 Diary. Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Louisiana State
        University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

U.S. War Department

  1891-1895 _Atlas to accompany the official records of the Union and
        Confederate armies._ Government Printing Office, Washington,

Van Alstyne, Lawrence

  1910 _Diary of an enlisted man._ Tuttle, Morehouse, & Taylor, New
        Haven, Connecticut.

                      Anthropological Study Series

                       No. 1 On the Tunica Trail
                          by Jeffrey P. Brain

                  No. 2 The Caddo Indians of Louisiana
                 by Clarence H. Webb & Hiram F. Gregory

      No. 3 The Role of Salt in Eastern North American Prehistory
                              by Ian Brown

                        No. 4 El Nuevo Constante
                     by Charles E. Pearson, et al.

                  No. 5 Preserving Louisiana’s Legacy
                          by Nancy W. Hawkins

                       No. 6 Louisiana Prehistory
                 by Robert W. Neuman & Nancy W. Hawkins

                          No. 7 Poverty Point
                            by Jon L. Gibson

                           No. 8 Bailey’s Dam
              by Steven D. Smith & George J. Castille III

             These publications can be obtained by writing:

                        Division of Archaeology
                             P.O. Box 44247
                         Baton Rouge, LA 70804

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is a government public document, and can be freely copied and

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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