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REPAIRS OF EXISTING BREAKS.
The condition of the levees of the Mississippi, in the preceding January, is detailed in your report to the Secretary of War, dated May 31, 1866. Respecting the changes in their condition, since that date, the information in my possession is of a general character, being confined to the annual report of the board of levee commissioners of Louisiana, dated January 31, 1867; to a letter from Mr. J. A. Parker, recently chief engineer, second division, Louisiana levees, detailing their condi. tion in that State, above Red River Landing, in May, 1867; to a letter from Mr. Minor Meriweather, chief engineer of the southern levee district of Mississippi, giving the condition, in April, 1867, of the levees under his charge, and, in general, of the other levees of that State; to certain vague information respecting the levees of Arkansas; and, lastly, to the general facts, that the high water of the spring of 1866, although not properly a great flood, did very considerable damage to the unfinished works then in progress, reducing them to nearly as bad a condition as they were in before the work of repair was undertaken, in the autumn of 1865; that the high water of 1867 was a great flood, causing immense destruction throughout the alluvial region, and that the high water of 1868 did not rise above the ordinary spring stage of the river, doing only trifling injury. It is, therefore, evident that the following exhibit of the present condition of the Mississippi levees, although sufficiently exact for general purposes, can only be considered an approximation to the truth.
The State of Louisiana alone seems to have made any determined effort to close the breaks in the levees. Between November 14, 1865, and January 31, 1867, there was expended, under the direction of the board of levee commissioners, $2,061,516 13 in making 4,674,414 cubic yards of embankment; leaving an estimated amount of $46,795 still required to complete the repairs. The amounts paid for superintendence, for closing crevasses in 1866, for negotiating bonds, &c., &c., amounting to over $600,000, are not included in this sum. The early flood of 1867 caused immense destruction throughout the State, notwithstanding this outlay.
The State of Louisiana may be conveniently divided into three great levee districts—the right bank from the northern boundary to Red River, the right bank below Red River, and the left bank below Baton Rouge.
Of these, the first is subject to peculiar difficulties, arising from the fact that the alluvial bottom lands extend above the State line into Arkansas, where they become too narrow to offer the greatest inducements for their owners to reclaim them, especially, as in the northern part danger is to be apprehended from overflow, both from the Mississippi and from the Arkansas. This unfortunate geographical position has always caused the planters of the Tensas bottom lands to suffer from overflow due to defects in levees not under their own control.
The most obvious means of protecting this part of Louisiana is a guard levee; which, starting from the Mississippi near the boundary line, shall be extended westward, diverging a little toward the south to follow a low ridge, until high land is reached. The length of the route is 22,800 feet, and the mean depth of overflow in the greatest floods, 7.1 feet; the latter corresponding to a horizontal line drawn from the high-water mark of 1828 on the bank of the Mississippi.
Adopting the present grade line of the State of Louisiana, these fig. ures call for a ten-foot levee, containing about 300,000 cubic yards of embankment, and costing about $120,000.
This is, no doubt, the most sure, and probably the most economical method of obtaining temporary security against overflow froin the State of Arkansas.
There are, however, two serious objections to the project: first, such a levee would close Bayou Maçon, the natural drain of a large district of swamp lands in Chicot County, Arkansas. This would entail the additional expense of providing a new channel for its rain-water discharge, at a cost which can only be determined by detailed surveys. Second, in flood seasons, such a levee would form, from any crevasse water escaping from the Mississippi, in Chicot County, Arkansas, an immense lake, which would effectually overflow the plantations in the vicinity from backwater. The project would, therefore, be vigorously opposed by the land owners in that district, and there would be danger of the levee being designedly cut. A compromise might, perhaps, be made by leaving Bayou Maçon open, and extending levees down its banks to a point southwest of Providence, where the natural drains become so large as to permit the passage of about 100,000 cubic feet per second, without injury to the bordering plantations; but, as will soon be explained, the ultimate requirements of a perfected levee system will make this scheme too dangerous to be adopted without careful surveys and borings.
Another method of protecting Northern Louisiana against overflow from Arkansas, is to extend the main Mississippi levees up the bank to Gaines's Landing, or perhaps only to the vicinity of Columbia, near which a part of the overflow from above is diverted into bayou Bæuf, thus partially relieving bayou Maçon.
It is to be regretted that the report of a recent survey, (1866 or 1867,) made in Chicot County, Arkansas, under the direction of the levee board of Louisiana, to throw light upon this problem, is not at hand. In the winter of 1865–66, these levees were in a very bad condition, and it is believed that they are even worse at present.
There were then seven breaks between the Louisiana line and Columbia, requiring about 390,000 cubic yards of embankment, costing about $156,000; and four breaks between Columbia and Gaines's Landing, requiring about 350,000 cubic yards of embankment, costing about $140,000. The levees still standing were much worn in many places, and the river was badly eroding its bank in the bend above Columbia. It may be safely assumed, therefore, that the present cost of repairing the levees to the existing grade from the State line to Columbia will not fall below $200,000, and thence to Gaines's Landing not below $200,000.
Whatever project is adopted, we may, therefore, be sure that $250,000 is a very moderate estimate of the outlay which is absolutely essential to prevent crevasse waters from flowing through Chicot County, Arkansas, into Northern Louisiana, even supposing that the present height of the levees is sufficient.
From the northern boundary of Louisiana to the mouth of Red River, it would appear that a decided improvement was made between January, 1866, and May, 1867; for, on the latter date, Mr. J. A. Porter, chief engineer, second division Louisiana levees, furnished the following list of crevasses, which shows that the new levees, at several bad breaks, named in your report to the Secretary of War, had resisted the flood. Mr. Porter, however, adds that his estimates of the extent of the breaks is not based upon “ that instrumental data which is alone accurate and reliable."
No. 1. Bass levee, three miles below Providence. Break occurred in upper wing connecting old and new levee; width, one thousand feet; mean depth of water, nine feet.
No. 2. Hawes Harris's place, on boundary line between Carroll and Madison parishes. Break occurred in a temporary levee, the main line, as located, not having been worked upon; width, three-fourths of a mile; mean depth of water, six feet.
No. 3. Towne's place, at lower mouth of General Grant's Canal, four miles below Vicksburg Break occurred in an old levee; width, one thousand feet; depth of water, six feet.
No. 4. Buckner's place, in upper part of Tensas Parish. Break in an old levee; width, four hundred feet; depth of water, three feet.
No. 5. Lower end of Point Pleasant levee, just above the Davis cutoff. Break in new levee, supposed to have been cut; width, seven hundred feet; depth of water, five feet.
No. 6. Brownler's, about five miles below Grand Gulf. Break caused by a cave, partly in old and partly in new levee; width, six hundred feet; depth of water, two and a half feet.
No. 7. Bondurant's, opposite Bruinsburg. Break caused by a cave in new levee; width, three hundred feet; depth of water, three feet.
No. 8. J. M. Gillespie's, one mile above St. Joseph. Break in old levee; width, five hundred feet; depth of water, five feet.
No. 9. Kempe's levee, about six miles below Rodney. Break occurred in new levee; width, one thousand five hundred feet; depth of water, pine feet.
No. 10. Surget's place, near Lake Concordia, known as the Marengo levee. Break caused by the giving way of the levee in an old bayou; width, one thousand feet; depth of water, eight feet, (in bayou, thirteen feet.)
A comparison of certain of these breaks with their condition as given in your report to the Secretary of War, indicates that Mr. Porter's "depth of water” refers to the surface flowing through the opening, and that this is about three feet below the top of the levees in the vicinity. Upon this supposition, if the breaks could be repaired upon straight lines connecting their ends, there would be required about 134,000 cubic yards of embankment. But such a location cannot be given to the new levees, which must, in several of the crevasses, take the form of extensive hoops, in order to be out of danger from caving bends.
In January, 1866, the embankments required for repairs in this district, (above Red River,) omitting what was probably completed before the high water of that year, exceeded 800,000 cubic yards. Although several of the worst breaks had been permanently closed, some new ones had been made, and it may safely be assumed that 500,000 cubic yards of embankment, costing about $200,000, was required at the date of Mr. Porter's letter, to put the levees in a state of ordinary repair upon their present grade. Probably no less sum is required now.
Below the mouth of Red River, I have no information subsequent to the date of the report of the levee commissioners, which was presented before the flood of 1867. This states that the levees were either finished or in such a state of progress as to be considered secure on January 4, 1867, except the Chinn, and Robertson, Grand and Morganza levees; and that it was anticipated that these would be completed by February 1. This was, however, hardly as favorable an exhibit as for the district above Red River, in which we have seen that the flood committed great ravages. In January, 1866, there were fifty-nine breaks below the mouth of Red River, requiring 1,564,000 cubic yards of embankment. Assuming the same probable ratio of destruction below as above, the flood of 1867 should have left in this district crevasses requiring 1,000,000 cubic yards of embankment, at a cost of $100,000. Subsequent deterioration has probably raised this sum to $600,000. This estimate is hardly better than a guess; but, in the absence of authentic information, it will be adopted as perhaps sufficient for the general purposes of this report.
The total cost of repairing existing breaks in Louisiana, not including water entering through Chicot County, Arkansas, is, then, $800,000. In 1866, this amount was estimated at $1,200,000.
The State of Mississippi is fortunate in having her great district of alluvial lands entirely under her own control, exposed to danger of overflow from no other State. It is situated, however, in precisely that part of the valley where the difficulty of restraining the floods is greatest. Her system of levee organization, adopted 1858, was far in advance of that in other States; and her levees would doubtless now be the best upon the river, had not the war caused them to be neglected, and in part destroyed.
My information concerning the breaks in this State is more exact than for any other-in fact, is partly official; being for the district comprised between Sunflower Landing, in Coahoma County, and the Vicksburg Bluffs, supplied by Mr. Minor Meriweather, chief engineer; above it, is from Mr. William Henson, civil engineer, residing at Friar's Point. Both letters bear date in 1867, after the flood had begun to recede. In connection with your report of 1866, they render it possible to make reliable estimates for this region, which comprises the Yazoo bottom land.
Beginning at the north, there were in 1866, in De Soto County, about 4.5 miles of breaks, contents 150,000 cubic yards; in Tunica County, 8.5 miles of breaks, contents, 460,000 cubic yards; in Coahoma County, above Hushpuckana, nine breaks, contents, 270,000 cubic yards; making, on the Yazoo front, above Sunflower Landing, a total of 880,000 cubic yards of embankment necessary in 1866. No repairs have been made since the date of these surveys, and in the flood of 1867, "numerous minor breaks” were formed, “nearly all small." Allowing for the wear of the exposed ends of the levees, and for these new breaks, 1,000,000 cubic yards of embankment, costing $400,000, is a fair estimate of the requirements for this district. The only other break in Coahoma County is Hushpuckana crevasse. About five miles of new levee were constructed in 1866, upon the permanent location, to close this break, one of the most troublesome upon the river; but it broke in the flood of 1867. There are three nearly equally costly locations for the new levee; contents, about 700,000 cubic yards. In Bolivar County, there are three bad breaks, Pride's, Niblets and Easten's, which required, in 1867, according to Mr. Meriweather, 11.65 miles of levee to close them on the permanent location. The contents would probably be about 500,000 cubic yards. In Washington County, there is only one bad break, the Miller Bend crevasse, contents, 150,000 cubic yards. In Issaquena County, two important points only required repair in 1867, viz: Wade's and Christmas's; length of new levee necessary, 3.5 miles; contents, probably about 200,000 cubic yards. This completes the levees of the State of Mississippi. The total requirements to close existing breaks are 2,550,000 cubic yards, at a cost of about $1,020,000. Repairs in caving bends, which cannot long be deferred, will raise this amount to fully $1,500,000.
The State of Arkansas is naturally divided into three level districts; that extending from the Missouri line to Helena; that extending from
Helena to the mouth of White River; and that extending from the Arkansas River to the Louisiana boundary.
The district extending from the northern boundary to Helena is the most unfortunate, in its geographical location, of any upon the river, being entirely dependent for its security upon the perfection of the levees of Missouri. Water leaving the Mississippi, between Cape Girardeau and Commerce Bluffs, or between New Madrid and the Arkansas boundary, pours through the back country and returns to the Mississippi, in Arkansas, through Mill Bayou, opposite Island 30; Wappenoky Bayou, near Island 40; a bayou near Island 46, or, generally, over the banks below Council Bend. Unless such water can be kept in the channel, the levees are attacked from the rear and washed into the river at and near the points indicated. It is, therefore, evident that no general system of protection can be carried into effect for Arkansas, without including, as an essential part of the project, the perfection of the levees in the two districts of Missouri above named. Added to this difficulty is the one even greater, that the river erodes its banks much more rapidly in this part of its course than nearer its mouth, owing to the more frequent and violent oscillations of its surface. Hence the construction of a levee system upon the immediate banks of the stream would be highly injudicious, so far as the protection of the back country is concerned; moderate levees, for local interests, might probably repay investment, as the recurrence of very great floods is rare. In a later portion of this report, when treating of a perfected levee system, these facts will be again considered; here, they are only mentioned in order to explain the necessity of including a part of Missouri in the estimates for repairing existing breaks in the Arkansas levees.
The inlet between Cape Girardeau and Commerce is small, and may be neglected in so very partial a treatment of the problem as that now under consideration.
C From New Madrid to the Arkansas boundary the levees are in a tolerably good condition, and in 1866 there was a balance of the original levee fund, donated by the general government to the State, still on hand. The distance by the levee route is about fifty miles; the needful repairs would probably be covered by $150,000.
From the boundary to Memphis there were, in 1866, ten breaks, generally not long, but often deep. About 700,000 cubic yards of embankment were required, probably at a cost of fifty cents per yard, amounting to a total of $350,000. As the country had then recently assessed a tax for levee purposes, it is probable that further deterioration has been prevented.
Below Memphis, the levees, in 1866, were in a very bad condition, constructed in the first instance too near the river, which in this vicinity is rapidly eroding its banks, (about 1.5 mile in forty years in Council Bend,) subject in the lower third to overflow from the rear; and, above all, having been neglected for several years, the levee might safely be considered as worthless. To repair it would be more expensive than to build a new levee on a proper location, removed from caving bends.
The total distance is about seventy miles, and the cost of repairs (to old grade) would not be less than $500,000.
In fine, then, the repair of existing breaks on the St. Francis front, necessary to bring the levees, upon which depends the safety of the Arkansas lauds, into as good condition as the portions still remaining uninjured, would involve an expenditure of about $1,000,000. When completed, these repairs would have so temporary a value that in ten