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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
New Madrid in New Madrid County, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
 

Bissell's Submergible Saw

 
 
Bissell's Submergible Saw Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
1. Bissell's Submergible Saw Marker
Inscription. More than one hundred and fifty years ago, Brigadier General John Pope faced a tactical dilemma on the Mississippi River. Confederate batteries at Island No. 10 blocked passage through a complex series of river bends. Although Pope held New Madrid, downstream from the Confederates, his troops were on the wrong side of the river. With transports and gunboats, Pope could cross the river into Tennessee and turn the Confederates out of their fortifications. However, Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, commander of the Mississippi River Squadron above Island No. 10, declined to risk running the Confederate position as he was still felt the sting of repulse from the February Fort Donelson expedition. Foote preferred a standoff bombardment while waiting for an opening to exploit, but Pope was a man in a hurry and could not wait for developments.

In mid-March 1862, Colonel Josiah Bissell, commanding the "Engineer Regiment of the West," surveyed the land north and east of New Madrid. Reporting to Pope, Bissell found swamps and bottomland inundated with the early spring floodwaters. Bissell suggested a canal to provide passage for steamboats. Bissell's plan called for a path through some 12 miles of swamp, using some of the natural bayous and sloughs, cut 50 feet wide and 4½ feet deep. The chosen course followed Wilson's Bayou into the
Bissell's Submergible Saw Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
2. Bissell's Submergible Saw Marker
swamps, and then cut across to join St. John's Bayou—north of New Madrid. The mouth of St. John's Bayou provided a save (sic) cove to hide the transports from Confederate observers. Instead of facing an enemy force, Bissell's engineers would fight the barriers set in place by the Mississippi River.

For nineteen days Bissell's men worked to clear the passage. Where open bayou allowed, the engineers used a submerged saw to clear the trees. In other cases, the only practical method to clear the way was by hand. When completed on April 4th, the canal, or more accurately a channel, allowed passage of four steamboats and several barges—but no gunboats. The gunboats ran on Island No. 10 and were able to success with help from the forces that came around through the channel and up behind the Confederates leading to a Union victory on April 9, 1862.

A great deal of imagination is required to visualize steamboats working through what was once a swamp. A visitor to the battlefield of Island No. 10 today will see a landscape vastly different than that of 1862. The site of the canal is not easy to find. In the decades after the Civil War, flood control measures and bottom land reclamation projects turned swamps into farmlands. As a result, the swamps around Wilson's Bayou became little more than a strip of trees.
 
Marker series.
A modern reconstruction of Bissell's submergible saw image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
3. A modern reconstruction of Bissell's submergible saw
This marker is included in the Missouriís Civil War marker series.
 
Location. 36° 35.024′ N, 89° 31.607′ W. Marker is in New Madrid, Missouri, in New Madrid County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street and Levee Road, on the right when traveling south on Main Street. Click for map. Located directly across from New Madrid Historical Museum. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1 South Main Street, New Madrid MO 63869, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 11 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Fort Bankhead (here, next to this marker); New Madrid (a few steps from this marker); New Madrid & Island No. Ten (within shouting distance of this marker); Higgerson School (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Siege of New Madrid (approx. 1.6 miles away); Capture of Island No. 10 (approx. 10.1 miles away in Tennessee); Confederate Forts & Batteries (approx. 10.1 miles away in Tennessee); Confederate Burials (approx. 10.7 miles away in Tennessee). Click for a list of all markers in New Madrid.
 
Also see . . .  New Madrid Historical Museum. (Submitted on March 29, 2015.)
 
Categories. War, US Civil
 
A modern reconstruction of Bissell's submergible saw (detail) image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
4. A modern reconstruction of Bissell's submergible saw (detail)
Bissell's Submergible Saw Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
5. Bissell's Submergible Saw Marker
Site of canal east along Levee Road. This image taken at 36.585438, -89.522353. image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
6. Site of canal east along Levee Road. This image taken at 36.585438, -89.522353.
Detail of left figure: Route of Canal image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
7. Detail of left figure: Route of Canal
Detail of upper right figure: Depiction of Saw in Use image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
8. Detail of upper right figure: Depiction of Saw in Use
Detail of lower right figure: Canal Today image. Click for full size.
By William Bruce, January 13, 2015
9. Detail of lower right figure: Canal Today
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by William Bruce of Madison, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 211 times since then and 3 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. submitted on , by William Bruce of Madison, Wisconsin. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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