Bailey's Dam

First Edition March 1986

Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism

Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission

Steven D. Smith

Division of Archaeology

George J. Castille III

Coastal Environments, Inc.

I trust some future historian will treat this matter as it deserves to be treated, because it is a subject in which the whole country should feel an interest, and the noble men who succeeded so admirably in this arduous task should not lose one atom of credit so justly due them.

-Rear Admiral David Porter
May 16, 1864
Letter to Hon. Gideon Welles

Editors Note

Louisiana has a rich cultural heritage dating back over 12,000 years. During these 12,000 years, many different peoples have lived and worked in the state. Archaeologists, who study the remains of these long gone people, learn much about their ways of life. The Anthropological Study series published by the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism provides a readable account of the various activities of these different groups. Bailey's Dam is the eighth in this series.

The Bailey's Dam volume is somewhat different than its predecessors in that it highlights a relatively recent event of Louisiana's long cultural past-the building of Bailey's Dam during the Civil War. The research for this volume resulted from work initiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District to record important historical resources within the Red River Waterway Project. Steven D. Smith of the Division of Archaeology and George J. Castille III of Coastal Environments, Inc., the authors of this volume, have taken the technical reports resulting from this research and have provided a very readable account of the events surrounding the construction of Bailey's Dam. The Corps of Engineers funded the publication of this volume.

We are pleased to make the Bailey's Dam story available and trust that you will enjoy this volume.

Kathleen Byrd


This booklet is a synthesis of two, more detailed and scholarly, manuscripts about the history of Bailey's Dam sponsored by the Vicksburg District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These two excellently prepared documents are "Gunboats, Low Water, & Yankee Ingenuity: A History of Bailey's Dam" by Dr. Michael C. Robinson, Division Historian, Lower Mississippi Valley Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Archaeological Investigation and Preparation of Historic American Engineering Record Documentation for Lower Bailey's Dam (16RA90), Rapides Parish, Louisiana" by David B. Kelley and George J. Castille, archaeologists with Coastal Environments, Inc. Undoubtedly, we owe Dr. Robinson and Mr. Kelley a great deal of thanks for allowing us to use their research to complete this booklet. We also would like to thank Corps archaeologists Kate Yarbrough, Thomas Birchett, and Sheila Lewis for their help. Finally, this booklet would not have been possible without the editing skills of archaeologist Nancy W. Hawkins of the Louisiana Division of Archaeology.

Nathaniel Banks. Courtesy of the National Archives.

David Porter. Courtesy of the National Archives.

Joseph Bailey. Courtesy of the National Archives.


Major General Nathaniel P Banks, Union commander of the Red River military expedition, found himself in a particularly tight situation in April of 1864. He had been defeated at the Battle of Mansfield while attempting to capture Shreveport, Louisiana, and now he was retreating down the Red River, harassed by Confederate troops at every turn. Throughout the campaign, the river's low water level had been a constant problem to his naval support of gunboats under the command of Rear Admiral David D. Porter. Now, Banks and Porter discovered that the river was so low that the gunboats were trapped above the rapids at Alexandria.

To save the flotilla, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey suggested that the river could be dammed to raise the water level and f1oat the gunboats over the shallow rapids. Despite the doubts and jeers of many, Banks authorized Bailey to begin construction. Through the next two weeks, troops struggled to build the dam which eventually made it possible for the fleet to escape.

In 1976 the archaeological remains of Bailey's Dam were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and through 1986, they could be seen at times of low water. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a modern lock and dam downstream of this historic site, and the Red River will permanently cover Bailey's Dam. Recognizing the historical and archaeological importance of' the dam, the Corps sponsored archaeological excavations there in 1984.

This booklet relates the history and archaeology of the dam complex, a series of different types of dams collectively called Bailey's Dam. The story combines the rich annals of the 1864 Red River Campaign with the finds of modern archaeological investigations. This combination provides a fascinating glimpse into a desperate period in Louisiana history.