Time and Place
Union soldiers built Bailey’s Dam in Rapides Parish, near the city of Alexandria. The dam is on the Red River, which flows just east of the city. The Red River runs for over 1,200 miles from its source in Texas, giving a route across Louisiana. In places, the bottom of the river near Alexandria has rocky outcrops. During the Civil War, the rocks were a big hazard for boats.
The Red River played a relatively minor role during the Civil War, but it was the route of the Union's failed Red River Campaign. The goal of the campaign was to go from the Mississippi River to Shreveport, but it never got that far. After the Battle of Mansfield, the Union army and navy retreated. As they headed south, the water level in the Red River dropped. The river was so low that the Union fleet could not pass over the rocks at Alexandria. Bailey's Dam raised the water level in the Red River, letting Union boats escape.
Bailey's Dam was actually a series of small dams that worked together. The design was very unusual, and the dam played a key role in history. For these reasons, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Archaeologists studied the remains of the dam in the 1980s. They learned details about the construction that were not in historical drawings.
(Below) Illustration of the rapids. Sandstone and siltstone outcrops on the river's floor formed the rapids near Alexandria. These outcrops were higher than other parts of the river bottom. They caused the river to flow quickly when it was low and also blocked boats from traveling over them. The water flowed from the north to the south. Detail from Map and Profile of the Red River Falls, Board of State Engineers, 1874. Courtesy of the State Library of Louisiana.
(Above) Map showing the location and layout of Bailey's Dam. The lower (main) dam had two parts and the upper dam had three parts. All these together are Bailey's Dam.
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