Mississippi River Flood Control 1812-1865


May 2, 2006
Here is a section of the US Army Corps of Engineers (Mississippi Valley Division) Mississippi River Engineering Timeline. I am not sure who might have been paying for levees and such before 1824-26, but does anyone have figures for what this might have cost up to and including the end of 1860?

1803 Louisiana Purchase
Napoleon Bonaparte negotiated the sale of the Louisiana territory with American negotiators James Monroe and Robert Livingston. The new American government sought to facilitate trade and to develop the region's rich economic potential. With the extension of American control, the floodgates were thrown open to frontiersmen eager to settle the fertile lands of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley , and the population of that region grew dramatically.
1811 The Arrival of the Steamboat
The arrival of the first steamboat, the New Orleans , on the lower Mississippi River heralded a commercial revolution that transformed the Mississippi Valley and ushered in a golden age for the city of New Orleans . A little more than a decade later, 75 steamboats worked the Mississippi River Valley ; by mid century, there were 187.
1812 Levee lines extended
By 1812, when Louisiana was admitted into the Union , the levee line extended from the lowest settlements to Baton Rouge on the left bank, and to Pointe Coupee on the right bank.
1822 Bernard and Totten Report
Army engineers Simon Bernard and Joseph G. Totten present the first official U.S. survey of the Mississippi River . Concerned primarily with the improvement of navigation, the study stressed the value of levees in promoting commerce.
1824 Turning Point in Federal Involvement
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Gibbons v Ogden decision that, under the “commerce clause” of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government had the power to regulate river navigation “so far as that navigation may be in any manner connected with commerce.” Thus empowered, the federal legislature quickly passed the General Survey Act, which set a precedent for appropriations for internal improvements on a national scale, and the first rivers and harbors legislation, which contained an appropriation of $75,000 to improve navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Yet, the authorities under which Congress passed the unprecedented bills did not grant the prerogative to finance flood-control works. Such an endeavor remained a function of the individual states.
1826 Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1826
Although the 1824 act was considered the first rivers and harbors legislation, the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1826 was the first law to combine authorization for both surveys (General Survey Act) and projects (RHA of 1824), thereby establishing a pattern that continues today.
1828 Mississippi River flood
The flood of 1828 is generally believed to be the greatest flood of the nineteenth century.
1831 Shreve's Cutoff
Henry Shreve executed an artificial cutoff at Turnbull Bend on the Mississippi River , with the aims of shortening the Mississippi River , eliminating shoaling at the mouth of the Red River , and increasing the volume of flow into the Atchafalaya River . Shreve's lasting actions played havoc on the dynamics of three rivers and their relationships with one another.
1837 Problems at the Passes
While the use of steam greatly increased the size of oceangoing vessels, these larger ships found it more difficult to navigate the bars that choked the Mississippi River 's several outlets to the sea. In 1837, navigators abandoned the badly shoaled Northwest Pass in favor of the deeper Southwest Pass.
1844 Levee lines reach the mouth of the Arkansas River
Continuous levee lines extended 20 miles below New Orleans to the mouth of the Arkansas River on the right bank and to a point opposite Baton Rouge on the left bank. In addition many isolated levees extended along the lower part of the Yazoo front.
1849-1850 Swamp Acts
Congressional members from Louisiana led a fight to secure the transfer of swamp lands of the states along the Mississippi Valley , culminating in the Swamp Land Grants of 1849 and 1850. Revenue raised from the sale of those lands paid for further levee construction and encouraged the organization of levee districts throughout the lower valley. The acts represented the first step toward the federalization of flood control on the Mississippi River , but the onus of flood protection remained on the shoulders of local governments.
1852 Ellet Report
Charles Ellet, a civil engineer working for the Corps of Engineers, completed a topographical and hydrographical survey of the delta of the Mississippi River . His report to Congress advocated greater federal responsibility for the control of floods in the lower Mississippi River and favored a comprehensive plan for controlling floods--a plan which included, in addition to levees, the construction of headwater reservoirs, the enlargement of existing outlets, and the creation of an artificial outlet.
1852 Latimer Board
Conditions at the Mississippi River 's outlets continued to deteriorate as 40 oceangoing vessels ran aground sandbars at the Southwest Pass , causing delays of up to 8 weeks. In response, the Secretary of War appointed an advisory board under the command of Navy Captain W.K. Latimer to study riddle of the passes. In addition to Latimer, three army engineers comprised the board, the most notable being Captain John Gross Barnard. The board recommends dredging at the passes and, should those efforts fail, advocated the construction of a jetty system. As a last resort, the board recommends the construction of a ship canal from Fort St. Philip to the Gulf.
1858 Highest pre-Civil War stage of levee development reached
Levees extended in an intermittent line of the west bank from Commerce Hills to Pointe-a-la-Hatchie. On the east bank, the levees protected the Yazoo basin and extended from Baton Rouge to Pointe-a-la-Hatchie. The levees were deficient in height and cross section and the 1858 flood caused 32 crevasses. The levee system of 1858 marked the highest stage of lower Mississippi Valley development and set a standard that could not be successfully maintained.
1861 Publication of the Delta Survey
After more than ten years of exhaustive research, A. A. Humphreys and Henry L. Abbot completed the Report Upon the Physics and Hydraulics of the Mississippi River , commonly referred to as the Delta Survey . The study represented the most thorough analyses of the Mississippi River ever completed and won the respect of engineers around the world. Both in terms of data gathered and the conclusions rendered, influenced the development of flood control policy well into the twentieth century.
1861-1865 U.S. Civil War
Necessarily preoccupied over the next four years and beyond, the people of the lower Mississippi Valley abandoned their flood control efforts altogether, and, very quickly, the levees began to deteriorate. The general neglect of the levee system throughout the war years resulted in untold damage to the system, as whole sections fell into disrepair and were washed away by the river. A major flood in 1862 hurried this process. The levees sustained further damage as a result of military operations in 1863 and 1864. By the end of the war, the neglected levee system was in shambles.