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The Strange Case of the New Falls City


Photograh courtesy of Dellmon Collection

Cammie G. Henry Research Center

Northwestern State University of Louisiana


The New Falls City was a large side wheel steamboat built in 1858 at Paducah, Kentucky.  It is known that Mark Twain served as a pilot on board before the Civil War. The Falls City, as it was sometimes referred to, weighed 880 tons and was over 300 feet long.  Early in the Civil War she was used by the Confederacy to transport men and material on the Mississippi and other western rivers.  By 1864 the boat was on the Red River near Coushatta, Louisiana and had been ordered by General Kirby Smith to be sunk near the foot of ‘Scopern’s cutoff’ as an obtruction.  This is apparently a reference to Scopini’s Cutoff which allowed boats to bypass a rather extensive switchback on the Red River some 15 miles below Shreveport.



The New Falls City never made it far enough north to be sunk in the place designated by General Smith.  It was instead sunk approximately one mile above the mouth of Loggy Bayou on the Red River.  General Taylor evidently exercised his authority to take tactical control of the situation and ordered the New Falls City sunk as far south as practical.  He hoped this would prevent the Union fleet from penetrating to far into Confederate territory.  The farther up river the fleet could travel, the greater the risk of enemy troops flanking his army.  Sinking the huge steamer as far down the river as possible might help to prevent this.


C. Fendal map 1864


General Taylor was an able and aggressive commander.  Ever offensive minded, he believed there was a large force of troops on transports with the fleet.  He could not allow that force to envelope his army.  He knew that he was outnumbered but he thought he could meet and defeat the Yankees in detail much as Jackson had done in the Shenandoah Valley during the Valley campaign of 1862. In April of 1864 Richard Taylor had the advantage of knowing the terrain and the weaknesses of his enemy.  Taylor was with Jackson in the Valley during ‘62 and faced the same inept general he faced now….Nathaniel Prentiss Banks.


Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (OR)

Series 1 - Volume 34 (Part II)



Letter from General Richard Taylor to General W.R. Boggs,




Mansfield, April 4, 1864.


Banks is cold, timid, easily foiled.  He depends principally on the river for Transportation.  The rapid fall in the river and the sinking of the Falls City may well be expected to delay him (Banks). Captain McCloskey has been ordered to sink the Falls City as low down as possible.


Page 523

Letter from General Richard Taylor to General W.R. Boggs,




Mansfield, April 5, 1864.


A dispatch received from Captain McCloskey informs me that he would have the Falls City sunk by this morning near the mouth of Boggy Bayou*.


*Note- this is either a typo, a mistake during transcription or Gen. Taylor misspoke the name.  There is a Boggy Bayou in northwest Louisiana but it is on the west side of Red River and does not flow into the Red.



There are no fewer than five direct eye-witness accounts of the New Falls City being sunk at Loggy Bayou.  The most prominent of course is Admiral Porter himself.  He mentions the steamer in three separate letters.  One reference is in his official report of the campaign to Gideon Welles the other two are letters to his friend General W. T. Sherman.


Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies

in the War of the Rebellion. (ORN)


Series I - Volume 26: Naval Forces on Western Waters


Page 51

Report of Rear-Admiral Porter to Gideon Welles.



Off Grand Ecore, La., April 14, 1864.


It was intended that the fleet should reach Springfield Landing on the third day, and then communicate with the army, a portion of which

expected to be at Springfield at that time.  I found the difficulties of navigation very great, but we reached the point specified within an hour of the time appointed. At this point we were brought to a stop. The enemy had sunk a very large steamer, the New Falls City, right across the river, her ends resting on each bank, and her hull broken in the middle, resting on the bottom.


Page 56

Letter from Rear-Admiral Porter, U. S. Navy, to Major-General

Sherman, U. S.Army.


I have been up as far as Loggy Bayou, and there was brought to a dead stand by a large steamer sunk in the channel, resting on each bank.


OR Series 1 - Volume 34 (Part III)



Letter from Rear-Admiral Porter, U. S. Navy, to

Major-General Sherman


When I arrived at Springfield Landing I found a sight that made me laugh. It was the smartest thing I ever knew the rebels to do.  They had gotten that huge steamer, New Falls City, across Red River, 1 mile above Loggy Bayou, 15 feet of her on shore on each side, the boat broken down in the middle, and a sand bar making below her. An invitation in large letters to attend a ball in Shreveport was kindly left stuck up by the rebels, which invitation we were never able to accept.


Our next witness is Union General T. Kilby Smith:


OR Series 1 - Volume 34 (Part I)


Page 380

Report of Brigadier-General T. K. Smith.


On Steamer Hastings, Grand Ecore, La., April 16, 1864.


April 10, got under way at 10 a. in., arriving at Loggy Bayou at 2 p. m. At that point the large steam-boat New Falls City had been thrown across the river by the enemy, heavily loaded with mud, and sunk


Number three eyewitness is Lt. John Pearce in command of the Union tinclad Ft. Hindman:


USS Ft. Hindman


Page 786

Abstract log of the U. S. S. Fort Hindman, Acting Volunteer

Lieutenant John Pearce


April 10.—Lying alongside the bank in Red River. At 10: 30 a. m. fired one 5-second shell at 5 rebel cavalry. At 1: 30 p. m. fired on by guerrillas. At 2: 45 p. m. fired a 5-second shell. At 3 p. m. passed the mouth of Loggy Bayou and came in sight of steamer New Falls City [Confederate] sunk and lying across the river. At 3: 15 dropped downstream by the admiral’s order.


Our fourth eyewitness is a confederate soldier named William Henry King.  King was a private in the 28th Louisiana Infantry Regiment.  The following is an excerpt from his diary which was published in the book “No Pardons to Ask, nor Apologies to Make” 2006, University of Tennessee Press.


No Pardons to Ask, nor Apologies to Make

William Henry King

2006, University of Tennessee Press.


Page 170

May 12th, (1864) Thursday


At about 7 o’clock, A.M., we start, and just above the mouth of Loggy Bayou we pass the wreck of the New Falls City, sunk and then buried to obstruct the passage of federal gun boats.


Last but not least is Lt. Frank Church of the US Marines.  At the time the fleet reached Loggy Bayou, Lt. Church was stationed on board the Cricket which was serving as Porter’s flagship.  The following is an excerpt from the daily journal that he kept during the Red River Campaign.


Civil War Marine:  A Diary of The Red River Expedition, 1864

Frank L. Church

1975, History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.


Page 46

Off Mouth Grand Bayou, Louisiana, April 10


Got under way at 8 o’clock this morning.  Kept my men on deck as sharpshooters.  The Fort Hindman was in advance and was fired upon by guerrillas.  She fired one shell into them and we could see them scamper into the woods.  The atmosphere is filled with smoke from the cotton which is burning on every plantation and they are very thick here.  We fired several shots into the woods where we supposed guerrillas might be.  We reached this place “Loggy Bayou” at about three o’clock.  It is supposed that most of the light draft rebel boats have gone up it.  We went up about a mile further and found the steamboat, New Falls City sunk across the river making a complete obstruction.


There is other evidence that the Falls City was located at Loggy Bayou and the river obstructed there.  Two Union officers on transports with their units were prevented from proceeding further up the river.  Lt. Tiemeyer of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery mentions the New Falls City obstructing further passage and Lt. Col. Rogers of the 81st Illinois Infantry relates being turned back at Loggy Bayou.


OR Series 1 - Volume 34 (Part I)

Page 384-385
Report of Lieut. John H Tiemeyer, Battery M, First

Missouri Light Artillery, of operations March 26—April 13.


One section with me was on Emerald and one section with Lientenant Shepherd on board the Thomas E. Tutt. Left Grand Ecore at 1 p. in.; moved up the river to a point where the enemy had sunk a transport (the New Falls City) in such a manner that it obstructed our further passage.


Page 385-386

Report of Lieut. Col. Andrew W. Rogers, Eighty-first Illinois Infantry, Second Brigade, of operations April 7—13.

Grand Ecore. La., April 16, 1864.


According to orders my regiment embarked on the 7th instant, on board transports, in the following order: Myself, field and staff, on the Thomas K Tutt; Company B, First Lieut. Edmund Newsome commanding, on the steamer Southwester; H Company, Second Lieut. L. G. Porter commanding, on the steamer Diadem; and I Company, First Lieut. O. F. Richmond commanding, on the steamer Adriatic. The passage up the river was effected without anything passing worthy of note until we reached Loggy Bayou, when we received orders to return to Grand Ecore immediately.


There has been a theory put forward that part of Porter’s fleet was actually further up river than Loggy Bayou/Springfield Landing, that Porter didn’t know exactly where he was and that the New Falls City was sunk in it’s originally intended location of Scopini Cutoff.  There is no evidence of this.  If Porter didn’t know where he was then General Kilby Smith didn’t know where he was, Lt. Pearce of the Ft. Hindman didn’t know where he was and Pvt. King didn’t know where he was, not to mention the pilots on all the steamers of the fleet.  It seems unlikely that all of these people could have been mistaken about where they were and what they saw.  If this were a court case and the location of the New Falls City was critical to the outcome of the proceedings then all of the above named witnesses would have been called to testify.  In fact it was somewhat of a court case.  After hostilities ceased Congress conducted hearings on the conduct of the war.  The disastrous Red River Campaign was one of the objects of Congress’ attention.


Report of the Joint committee on the conduct of the war at the second session Thirty-eighth Congress.

United States. Congress.

Washington: Govt. print. off., 1865.


The Red River Expedition



The fleet was directed to advance to Loggy bayou, opposite Springfield, where it was expected communications would be established with the land forces at Sabine Crossroads, a distance of fifty-four miles by land from Grand Ecore, and one hundred miles by water.



The fleet having left Grand Ecore on the 7th, reached Loggy bayou, the point where it expected to communicate with the army, at two o'clock p. m. on the 10th, the same day that the army fell back to Grand Ecore.


Page 50

On the 15th the entire fleet had returned safely from Loggy bayou, notwithstanding the numerous attempts to obstruct its passage.


Page 201

On the 7th of April I was ordered by General A. J. Smith to take charge of the river transportation belonging to the 16th and 17th army corps, and to conduct it to the mouth of Loggy bayou opposite Springfield, at the foot of Lake Cannissia; and arriving at that point after a careful reconnaissance toward Springfield, to disembark one regiment and push it forward to Bayou Pierre and hold a bridge at that point.


Page  213

I close my evidence in bearing testimony in favor of the pilots of boats, who, in the affairs alluded to as well as many others that have transpired in the western waters, have developed high courage, coolness, and faithfulness to trust. The pilot at the wheel is the first man singled out by the sharpshooter of the enemy; his wheel-house is the easiest mark for the battery; if he falters one moment in his exposed and delicate trust, his boat is grounded upon a shoal, or bears broadside ashore, at the mercy of a relentless foe. He wins no fame; his name never appears in reports. I have never known an instance of his exhibiting cowardice or- treachery.


I present the following table of distances from Shreveport to New Orleans:


Shreveport to Waterloo.........................45 miles.

                    to Reuben White's.............15     "..........60

                    to E. C. Aiken's..................5       "......... 65

                    to Caspiana.........................5      "..........70

                    to Madame Bessiers.........10     "…….. 80

                    to mouth of Loggy bayou...30    "……...110

                    to Grand bayou..................15     "..........125

                    to Willow Point...................8       "..........133

                    to Coushattee chute...........7       "..........140

                    to Grappe's Bluff.............. 40     "..........180

                    to Compte..........................20      "..........200

                    to Grand Ecore................. 20      "..........220

                    to Tiger island................... 5       "..........225


In conclusion the preponderance of evidence indicates that the New Falls City was indeed deliberately sunk just above the mouth of Loggy Bayou on the Red River in the spring of 1864.  The reasons are obvious, even to a private.  Obstruct the channel as far down the river as possible in order to prevent the gunboats and transports from reaching the heart of the Trans-Mississippi Department.


Coincidentally the point at which the New Falls City was sunk was also the point designated by Gen. Banks and Admiral Porter to pause the fleet and attempt to communicate with one another. When Banks left the safety of the river and the fleet he had no way of knowing the exact progress of the fleet.  Springfield, La. was the place agreed to rendezvous between the army and navy.  Springfield was located at the foot of Lake Cannisnia and was about four miles west of the river bank.  Many official Union reports and communiqués refer to Springfield and Springfield Landing.  The small village inland from the river was called Springfield.  The landing on the river directly opposite Springfield to the west and Loggy Bayou to the east was often referred to as ‘Springfield Landing’.  Whether or not this landing on the river was formally named ‘Springfield Landing’ is not clear but it is logical to assume that the landing on the river closest in proximity to the village of Springfield would naturally be called ‘Springfield Landing’ by river travelers, yankee admirals, generals etc. 


While the New Falls City did stop the fleet cold, by design the fleet was supposed to stop there anyway and wait for communication from Banks.  This indeed took place but when contact was finally established, the news was not good.  The fleet had to turn around and head back down river.  Banks had been defeated on April 8 at Sabine Crossroads.  Although his army achieved a tactical victory on April 9 at Pleasant Hill, the retreat continued and didn’t stop until the bluecoats reached Baton Rouge.


The New Falls City served its purpose by preventing the northern advance of the Federal fleet but it also kept Confederate supply boats from reaching the pursuing army of General Taylor.  It is ironic that one of the most ingeniously improvised engineering achievements of the Trans-Mississippi Confederate Army also helped to hinder that same army in its pursuit of the yankee invaders. /