the two barges that were forced out by the terrific pressure of the water swung round against some dangerous rocks, making a cushion for the vessels, and doubtless preventing, as afterwards appeared, the certain destruc on of a portion of the fleet.
, in a communication addressed to the Chairman
of the Committee
on the Conduct of the War
, says: “The water has been raised upon the dam for a mile and a quarter, about seven feet, with a fall below the dam of about six feet, making in all a fall of about thirteen feet, above and below the falls.
The pressure of the water at its completion was terrific.
I went over the work at eleven o'clock on the evening of the eighth, with one of my staff officers, and felt that the pressure of the water was so great that it could not stand.
I rode immediately to the point above where the fleet was anchored to ascertain if possible if they were ready to follow the three boats that had already passed the rapids.
I reached the fleet about twelve o'clock, midnight. Scarcely a man or light was to be seen.
It was perfectly apparent that the boats were not in a 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 one o'clock on the morning of the ninth, which was delivered in person at two o'clock A. M., by Colonel J. G. Wilson
, stating my belief as to the condition of the dam and fleet, and asking that measures should be taken to put the boats in condition to move over the rapids at the earliest possible moment in the morning.
My apprehensions were fully verified.
A little after five o'clock on the morning of the ninth, I saw myself a material part of the dam swept away The three 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.”
The army, not in the least disheartened, immediately commenced the reconstruction of the dam, but not to close the breach, that being left substantially as it was. The question originally was, whether we should make one dam at the foot of the falls, with an opening for the ships to pass through, with wing-dams above, thus dividing the pressure, or trust all to one principal structure.
The dam had been carried away because the whole body of water had been stopped at one point, leaving no passage for the escape of any portion of it; Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey
, therefore, determined to leave the gap of about seventy feet, caused by the carrying away of the two barges, and construct a series of wing-dams on the upper falls in accordance with his original plan, thus turning all the water into one narrow channel.
Several of these were built on each side of the river, thereby increasing the depth one foot two inches, and enabling all the fleet to pass the upper falls.
This was accomplished in three days and nights, the wing-dams being constructed in the same manner as the tree-dam on the north side of the lower falls, and on the fourth day the work was completed on the main dam, by which the depth of water was increased five feet four and a half inches--a depth sufficient to enable the largest iron-clads to cross.
On the afternoon of the twelfth, three of the gunboats, their hatches battened down and every precaution taken to guard against accident, safely passed the dam. Early the following morning the remaining five passed in succession, amid the cheers of the assembled thousands.
By three o'clock that day the vessels were coaled; the guns and ammunition, which had been removed to lighten the vessels, replaced; the pontoon bridge at Alexandria
laid down to facilitate operations on the dam, taken up; and the whole fleet, with their convoy of army transports, were steaming down the river, while the troops moved forward on the river road to cover and protect them from the attacks of the enemy.
A few hours later, after the rearguard had left Alexandria
, the enemy took possession of the town, and, with rueful and elongated countenances, gazed sadly upon the work of a Northern army, whereby a fleet worth several millions of dollars, with a magnificent armament of powerful guns, which they had looked upon as their certain prize, had been rescued.
As the Admiral
says in his report to the Secretary of the Navy
: “This is, without doubt, the best engineering feat ever performed.
Under the best circumstances a private company would not have completed the work under one year, and to an ordinary mind the whole thing would have appeared an utter impossibility.
I do not believe that there ever was a case where such difficulties were overcome in so short a space of time, and without any previous preparation.”
of the Fifteenth regiment Maine
volunteers testified before the Committee
on the Conduct of the War
, in January, 1865, “that it was a very common thing among the lumbermen of Maine
to build such dams, and that he had one hundred and fifty men in his regiment who could build just such a dam,” a statement which we presume must be taken cum grano salis
The construction of the Red River dam
was almost exclusively the work of the army.
But little aid or encouragement was rendered by the navy, except by Volunteer Lieutenant Lang
-thorne, commanding the Mound City
,who assisted in setting the heavy cribs and coal barges.
The soldiers labored zealously night and day, in and out of the water, from the thirtieth of April to the twelfth of May inclusive, when the passage of the boats below the upper falls was completed.
The dam still remains intact as we left it, and bids fair, if undisturbed, to stand a hundred