General Joseph Bailey - Hero of the Red River

Joseph Bailey

+May 6, 1825,  born Ashtabula County, Ohio.

+1830s-1840s, raised in western Illinois farming and lead mining region.

+1846, marries Mary Spaulding in Elkhorn Grove, Illinois.

+1849, makes squatters claim to land in Town of Newport, Columbia County, Wisconsin.

+1850, receives charter from Wisconsin legislature to build a bridge across the Wisconsin River at Newport.

+1853, receives charter from Wisconsin legislature to build a dam across the Wisconsin River at Newport.

+1855, hired as Superintendent of Wisconsin Hydraulic Company to develop village of Kilbourn City (now Wisconsin Dells).

+1858, starts work on tree-and-crib dam to provide water power for industry at Kilbourn City.

+1859, dam completed and successful at holding back the river, but is too dangerous for lumber rafts coming down stream.  After three men die in the river, Bailey is forced to dismantle the dam that was to make his fortune.

+1861, President  Abraham Lincoln issues call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion in the southern states. Bailey answers his country's call and recruits one hundred men to form the "Columbia County Rifles." He is elected company Captain. The "Rifles" are mustered into the United States Army as Company D of the Fourth Wisconsin Infantry and  ordered to protect the railroad connecting Washington D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland and the northern states.

+1862, The Fourth Wisconsin is ordered to board steam transport ships and travel by sea to take part in the Union occupation of New Orleans and the Mississippi River. The Fourth Wisconsin takes part in the first attempted assault on Vicksburg. Bailey supervises a failed attempt to divert the Mississippi away from Vicksburg by means of a canal. Bailey and the Fourth Wisconsin also take part in the successful Union defense of Baton Rouge.

+1862-'63, Making use of his skills as a construction manager, Bailey is detached from the Fourth Wisconsin to oversee construction projects: improving the levees on the Mississippi River, building fortifications, and other jobs as an engineer. His work crews consist of black men who have fled from slavery and joined the Union forces. Now an Army engineer, Bailey commands work crews at the siege of Port Hudson. Also leads a detachment of freed slaves in a suicidal assault on the Confederate fortifications. For his labors, Bailey is promoted to Colonel by General Nathaniel Banks.

1864, Colonel Bailey is named Acting Engineer of the 19th Corps under  General William Franklin and takes part in the joint army-navy expedition to invade Texas by way of the Red River in Louisiana under the overall command of General Banks.  Defeated at the battle of Mansfield, the army is called back down the Red, but low water levels in the river trap the Union fleet of ironclad gunboats and monitors above the rapids at the city of Alexandria.  Bailey convinces Banks and Admiral David D. Porter that he can build a dam that will raise the water level and free the naval vessels. Bailey builds a crib-and-tree dam similar to his dam on the Wisconsin and the Union fleet--worth an estimated $2 million, is free to continue the war and save the Union.

Grateful naval officers present Bailey with a silver sword and punchbowl from Tiffany's in New York. The United States Congress presents him with an official Thanks of Congress and President Lincoln confirms his promotion to Brigadier General. The press declares him the Hero of the Red River.

+1864-'65, Bailey completes his service in the army commanding cavalry in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and engineering units at the siege of Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay. June, 1865, he returns to Kilbourn City after four years of  service with the Union Army.

+1866, Bailey, his wife Mary, and four children leave Kilbourn City to settle in Vernon County in southwest Missouri. Bailey is elected county sheriff.

+1867, while apprehending two livestock thieves, Bailey is shot and killed. The murderers are not apprehended and the mystery of who killed Joseph Bailey has yet to be solved.

+1895, the Wisconsin legislature agrees to purchase the silver sword and punch bowl from Bailey's daughter Ella to be preserved by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

+1912, Muralist Hugo Ballin depicts Joseph Bailey crowned with the laurels of victory in the Executive Chambers of the new state capitol in Madison.

+1960s, upon the recovery of the Perry Stroud papers in Wisconsin Dells by David and Bud Gussel, the name and fame of Joseph Bailey are rediscovered in Kilbourn City.

+2007, after years of research and writing, Hero of the Red River, The Life and Times of Joseph Bailey  is published.

Book | Joseph Bailey | Gallery | Contact | Home