Union soldiers under Gen. Nathaniel Banks passed through the Alexandria area twice during the Red River Campaign March-May 1864 – once on their way to Shreveport and again when they retreated after failing to take the city. Harassed by Confederate pursuers under Gen. Richard Taylor on the way back, the Union army made it to Alexandria as did a flotilla of gunboats on the river. Unfortunately for the gunboats, the Red River had fallen and the rapids at Alexandria were too shallow to pass.
Disaster loomed for the valuable Union fleet. The solution was to build a dam, back up the river, and “flush” the gunboats past the rapids. The unique escape saved the already doomed campaign from complete catastrophe. Banks burned much of the town and surrounding area on his way back to the Baton Rouge area.