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Chapter 42: Red River expedition.--continued.

  • Building of the famous Red River dam at the falls.
  • -- difficulties overcome by Colonel Bailey. -- communications between General Banks and Admiral Porter. -- General McClernand attacked by the Confederates. -- the Ragged guerillas are unexpectedly provided with new outfits. -- cotton steamers attacked and disabled. -- Admiral Porter's report on the building of the dam. -- the fleet passes the falls. -- names of officers and regiments engaged in building the dam. -- burning of Alexandria. -- the end of the Red River expedition. -- cause of failure. -- results. -- correspondence between Generals Sherman, Banks, Halleck, Grant and others. -- dispatches and orders. -- review of the operations of the Navy. -- General Banks' story of the expedition. -- letter of General Kilby Smith. -- extract from reports by Captain Burns, acting -- Assistant Adjutant-General. -- the Confederate view of the situation. -- extract from General Banks' report. -- recapitulation.

General Franklin had mentioned to Admiral Porter at Grand Ecore, on his stating that the naval vessels could not pass the Falls at the then stage of water, that Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey had suggested a plan of raising the water above the Falls by building wing-dams. Colonel Bailey had had great experience in lumbering, and had frequently resorted to this method to raft timber in shallow rivers.

The Admiral paid little attention to this suggestion at the time, and expressed his doubts of the practicability of getting large vessels down in that way. When he met General Franklin again in Alexandria, he recurred to this proposal of Bailey's, and Franklin was so satisfied with the feasibility of the scheme that the Admiral asked him to send Colonel Bailey to him at once, and the latter soon appeared, in company with Colonel James Grant Wilson. The Admiral was so impressed with Bailey's plans that he agreed with him that they ought to be tried, and he was surprised in reading General Franklin's evidence before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, where he states as follows:

When we returned to Grand Ecore, I sent Colonel Bailey to Admiral Porter, so that he might present his plan to the Admiral; but it was looked upon with derision as a foolish thing. I was, however, convinced that Colonel Bailey knew his business very well, and sent him to Admiral Porter again; and, after he got down to Alexandria, I sent him two or three times. Finally, I sent him to General Banks. to try and impress upon the General the necessity for giving the orders for details of men to build the dam.

General Hunter was there at the time, and he told General Banks that he thought, as I had recommended the thing, he ought to try it; and it was tried. I have the report of Colonel Bailey to my adjutant-general, which gives all these facts, as I have stated them here.

General Franklin's memory was certainly treacherous here, for the statement above quoted is incorrect in several particulars. The Admiral was only too glad to grasp at any plan likely to extricate his vessels from their unfortunate predicament; and this will appear by Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey's report.

There was no objection on the part of the Admiral to anything, but he had no power to build a dam which would require half the army to perform the work. General Banks was the man to be consulted, for on him depended the execution of the work.

No doubt, Franklin and Bailey worked assiduously to get every one to think favorably of the plan of damming the river, and [526] the Admiral went in person to General Banks, as soon as he could leave a sick-bed, and urged him to try Bailey's plan. Not much time was lost in consultation, for the order to build the dam was given by General Banks immediately, and the work commenced on the 30th of April. The Admiral arrived in Alexandria on the evening of the 27th, and conferred with Colonel Bailey and General Banks on the morning of the 28th, when the order was issued.

Where all this indisposition to adopt Bailey's plan appears, we are at a loss to imagine. In fact, we are not aware that any one opposed the dam — if any did, they were persons whose opinion had no influence. The Army engineers may have doubted the practicability of the scheme, never having had experience in that kind of engineering; or General Banks may have said, “Wait till the Admiral arrives.” But even those who doubted the feasibility of the plan were in favor of trying it, especially as it had been recommended by General Franklin, an engineer officer.

It seems to us that so much effort to show that there was a great opposition to Bailey's plan, demonstrates a desire to enhance the value of the recommendations of those who first favored the idea. General Banks, from whom alone authority could come for the employment of troops to build the dam, entered into the scheme with alacrity and pushed the work from beginning to end.

General Banks, in his testimony before the committee, said: “But Admiral Porter did not seem to think much of the plan, as he expressed it in his way — if damning would get the fleet off. he would have been afloat long before” --but Banks could not understand a joke.

Colonel Bailey, in his report, says: “Admiral Porter furnished a detail from his ships' crews under command of an excellent officer, Captain Langthorne, of the Mound City. All his officers and men were constantly present, and to their extraordinary exertions, and to the well-known energy and ability of the Admiral, much of the success of the undertaking was due.”

A great mass of testimony was taken by the “Committee on the conduct of the war” in relation to the building of the dam, and an attempt was made to cast odium upon the Navy in order to divert attention from the real subject at issue — Banks' retreat — but the attempt was a failure.

Every man in the fleet was engaged in the operations connected with the construction of the dam, conveying stone in boats to weight the big cob-frames forming the dam. moving the frames into position — a tedious and dangerous duty — and floating down the logs which were cut and hauled by the soldiers to the river banks. Many boats had to be kept lying on their oars day and night ready with hawsers, and at least three thousand soldiers were constantly working up to their necks in water.

While this was going on, all the forges in the fleet were employed in making long iron bolts to bind the dam together. Getting the iron off the sides of the vessels to lighten them — a most harassing and difficult job — employed many men. In addition, all the heaviest guns had to be taken on shore.

Thus, while the dam was under construction, the sailors worked night and day; and every four hours a report of progress was made to the Admiral But General Ranks, in his evidence before the Committee, says, when the right wing of the dam broke away, “I immediately rode up to the fleet to see if they were prepared to move by daylight in the morning. It was a couple of miles above the dam. When I got there, there was not a light to be seen, not a man was stirring, not a ship had been lightened” [!]. (Army gun-wheels had already taken the guns to the levee in Alexandria, and army wagons had removed all stores and ammunition, and the iron-clads had thrown their iron plating into deep water up river). “I could not arouse anybody there. I went down to my headquarters, and wrote a letter to Admiral Porter” [No such letter was ever received, if it was written], “stating my belief that it was not possible for the dam to stand, and, if it was carried away, it did not seem as if we could replace it” [How did the General expect the vessels to get through, unless part of the dam was removed?]; “that I had been up to see his fleet, and found every one asleep, and I feared they would not be ready to move by morning. This letter was delivered to him (the Admiral) by Colonel Wilson, at 1 o'clock (A. M.) that night.

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