Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dams Dug on the Red River

Joseph Bailey
As the ships and men of Nathaniel Bank's Red River Expedition retreated, a serious problem was encountered. The water had fallen and Admiral David Porter could not get his ships over the Alexandria falls. There was only three feet of water, but the ships had an absolute minimum of 7 foot drafts. This was a major issue, since if the ships could not continue sailing, the entire fleet and army would soon fall into Confederate hands. A solution was devised by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, who had been a civil engineer before the war. He suggested building a dam to raise the water level so the ships could sail over the rocks, and then destroy it so they could continue sailing down the river. Many officers thought this a harebrained idea, but Banks adopted it as the best option he had.

Remnants of the dam in 1984
The work was begun 150 years ago today, and for ten days the army worked hard on the dams, knowing they had little time to save the fleet. As the dam rose higher the water began to rise. But on May 9th at 5:30 am part of the dam broke away, and the water began to quickly rush out. Several of Porter's boats were able to sail down before the water fell too low, but some were still stranded above the falls. So Bailey ordered the men to repair the dam and build two smaller ones to release the pressure. This time the plan worked. The remaining ships crossed the falls, and the dam was breached on May 13th so the ships could sail down the river.

The dam
Bailey's Dam, as the work was called, was one of the greatest engineering feats of the entire Civil War. He was presented with a difficult problem, but was able to solve it and save the fleet and army. The government recognized the value of his service, and he received one of only fifteen votes of the Thanks of Congress given during the Civil War, and was the lowest ranking man to do so. Bailey served in the Western Theater for the rest of the Civil War, commanding at various times a brigade of engineers and a division of cavalry. After the war he moved to Missouri and was elected sheriff, and was killed on May 21, 1867 by two thieves while making an arrest. He was posthumously promoted to brevet major general as a recognition of his service to the United States.
Sailing through the dam


Post a Comment