the movement was commanded by Major-General N. P. Banks
; the navy by Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter
The disastrous battle of Sabine Cross Roads
, fought April eighth, compelled the abandonment of the object of the expedition, which was the capture of Shreveport
, and the army and navy fell back to Grand Ecore
Nothing now remained to be done but to take measures for relieving the squadron from the critical position in which it was placed by reason of the low water in the Red River
There was strong ground for apprehending that all the vessels under Admiral Porter
's command, comprising some of the most effective iron-clads of the Mississippi
fleet, would have to be destroyed to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy.
The capture or destruction of the squadron, with some two millions of dollars, would involve the blockade of the Red River
, and great inconvenience to the army, if not its destruction, and would also for a time give the rebels control of the Mississippi
After the gunboats succeeded in passing over the bar near Grand Ecore
, the army moved from there to Alexandria
, having on the way several severe skirmishes with the enemy, and a battle at Monett's Bluffs, on Cane River
On the arrival of the fleet at the falls near Alexandria
, which are about a mile in length, filled with rugged rocks, it was discovered that the water had fallen so low that it would be impossible for the vessels to pass them.
This difficulty had been anticipated by many officers of the army, who were acquainted with the treacherous character of Red River
navigation, before our return to Grand Ecore
, and the idea had been suggested of rescuing the squadron by means of a dam. Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey
, of Wisconsin
, who had had much experience on the rivers of the North-west, and was familiar with the difficulties of swell-water navigation, consulted with Major-General William B. Franklin
, commanding the Nineteenth army corps, on whose staff he was at the time, and submitted to him the plan of a tree-dam.
No action was, however, taken until the arrival of the forces at Alexandria
, when the matter was placed before General Banks
, and the proposed plan explained in detail by Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey
The General entered fully into the project, with perfect confidence in its practicability, and Major-General David Hunter
, who was then at Alexandria
, on a mission from the Lieutenant-General
of the army, suggested that, although he had little confidence in its feasibility, he nevertheless thought the experiment had better be tried, inasmuch as General Franklin
, an engineer, recommended it. The Admiral
had no faith in its success.
As he expressed it in his own way: “If damming
would get the fleet over, it would have been afloat long before.”
On the morning of April thirtieth the work was begun by Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey
, who was aided by several staff officers, and details of nearly three thousand men, consisting chiefly of regiments from the Western States
There were also employed in the construction of this great work some two hundred army wagons and about a thousand horses, mules, and oxen.
Several hundred hardy lumbermen belonging to a regiment from Maine
, were employed on the right, or north bank in felling trees, while an equal number were engaged in hauling them to the river bank.
Flat-boats were constructed on which stone was brought from above, after being quarried, and the work was begun at the foot of.the falls by running out a tree-dam made from the heavy timber and stone, crosstied with the trunks of other large trees, and strengthened in every way which Yankee ingenunity could devise.
This dam extended out into the river a distance of about three hundred feet. Four large navy coal barges were then filled with stone and brick and sunk at the end of the dam. From the left, or south bank — there being no timber there — a series of heavy cribs were constructed from material obtained by demolishing some old mills and barns, while the brick, iron, and stone required to sink them and hold them in their place, were procured by tearing down two large sugar houses, and by taking up a quantity of railroad iron
, buried in the vicinity of Alexandria
In this work several colored regiments were employed, while the white troops carried forward the work on the other side of the river, both details working day and night.
The width of the Red River
at the lower end of the falls, the point where the dam was constructed, is seven hundred and fifty-eight feet, and the depth of the water from four to six feet, the current running about ten miles an hour.
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.
The scene presented in the vicinity of the dam was novel and interesting.
Oak, elm, and pine trees, whose gigantic growth dated from the days of the daring De Soto
, 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, throwing in brushwood and branches of trees to make it tight; wheeling brick out to the cribs, carrying bars of railway iron
to the barges, and in various other ways contributing to the completion of the work, while on each bank of the river were to be seen thousands of spectators, consisting of officers of both services, groups