May 9, 1864: More on Bailey’s dam

Bailey's Dam

Bailey’s dam having been constructed to raise the water level in the channel of the Red River, some of the gunboats were able to make it down. It then gave way partially, and it was necessary to build more dams to raise the water level upstream. I give here the account from Banks’ report. I also give the report of Lt. Col. Pearsall, who claims that he could have built the dam better in the first place.


From Banks’ report:

It was perfectly apparent that the boats were not in condition to take advantage of the completion of the dam, and feeling that it could not stand another day, I wrote a note to Admiral Porter at 1 o’clock on the morning of the 9th, which was delivered in person in condition to move over the rapids at the earliest possible moment in the morning.

A little after 5 o’clock on the morning of the 9th, I saw a part of the dam swept away. The four boats that had passed the rapids the afternoon before were able to pass below through the opening which the waters had made. Only one of the vessels above the falls, the Lexington, was ready to move when the dam gave way, and that came down after the break and passed the dam safely, with all the vessels that were below the rapids. Had the others been ready to move all would have passed the rapids and the dam safely on Monday. Until after the dam had been carried away no effort had been made to lessen the draught of the imprisoned vessels, by lightening them of cargo, armament, or plating. Before the second series of dams was completed a portion of the armament and the plating, materially lessening their draught and the depth of water required to float them, was removed.

Lieutenant William S. Beebe, of the Ordnance Department, U. S. Army, superintended the removal of the heavy naval guns from above the rapids to a point below the dam by land, assisted by officers and soldiers of the army.

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From Pearsall’s report:

Large braces were set diagonally up stream from the barges on each side, which, with large hawsers, were to prevent its being swept away, but the water rising rapidly, the weight proved insufficient for the purpose, and on the morning of the 9th it broke away, carrying with it the loaded barge nearest the right bank, both swinging in below and on the left-hand side of the new chute thus formed. This accident (so considered at the time) was in my opinion the most fortunate occurrence that could have taken place, those barges which were swept away serving to lengthen the chute and confine the volume of water passing through between them and the right bank, thus creating an artificial depth of water for the boats until they were fully below the ledge of rocks. They also answered as a “fender” to the boats and prevented their turning in passing through. The water was actually higher on the main dam when this took place than at any time afterward, and the navy, although not moving a single vessel until after the break occurred, were enabled to pass the gun-boats Lexington and Fort Hindman, also the light-draught monitors Neosho and Osage, over the falls above into the pond, and thence through the dam below in perfect safety.

At 7 o’clock on the morning of the 9th, Colonel Bailey directed me to leave a reliable officer in charge of tightening and repairing the remaining portion of the dam extending from the right bank, and them report to him in person on the same side of the river near the head of the falls, at which point he had decided to increase the depth of water by means of light wing-dams thrown out from each side. The forces moved from the lower or main dam consisted of detachments from the various regiments and the pioneer corps of Thirteenth Army Corps.

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