I became intersted in this subject in an odd sort of way. In the early 1980's, i worked at Southern Illinois University. At that time, i re-read R. E. Lee
, a famous biography by D. S. Freeman. I took particular note of one section to which i hadn't paid particular attention the first time i read it--i think it was in volume two.
Before the Mexican War, Lee, who was a working engineer in the Corps, was a part of the Mississippi River navigation project. He really accomplished amazing things, when one considers that in those days, he was given a budget, and expected to go out completely on his own, or with a single, recent graduate of the USMA, and hire workers, buy or build any necessary boats, hire or purchase any necessary horses, and the accomplish any task set, which would be assigned without instructions on its accomplishment. There was no dynamite in those days, so if he did any blasting, it was with black powder. Although steam-powered pile drivers were available, they were expensive and hard to find on the edge of civilization, which Missouri and Illinois were in those days, and he often constructed his own pile drivers.
In late 1811 and early 1812, there were a series of earthquakes in that region, and the fault line has been named the New Madrid fault, after a town in Missouri which was subsequently built on the epi-center of the worst of the quakes. As a result, the Mississippi began to move east. By 1837, the docks at St. Louis were separated from the river by a hundred feet of mud flats, and it was estimated that left unchecked, by 1960, St. Louis would be fifteen miles inland. Congress would not appropriate funds for the work that the people of St. Louis wanted done, so money was raised by private subscription, and Lee was allowed to do the work with private money. He built a huge coffer dam on the Illinois side, with open walls and brush and boulders inside, which the river quickly filled with silt and detritus. He also built to huge wing coffer dams, each with an open end, one just less than a mile long, and the other more than a miles long. He also sank brush and boulders in those, which the river back-filled. Below is a crude, and not entirely accurate map (it is based upon the map made by Lee's young second lieutenant), but it gives you an idea of what he did--on this map, north is to your right.)
This made me sit up and take notice. Here's why:
Granite City, Illinois, and East St. Louis, Illinois sit on top of what once was Bloody Island. So, the point is, the next time the New Madrid fault fires off a big one, Granite City and East St. Louis, built on top of the river back-fill from Lee's coffer dams, are going to be heading down river.
You heard it here first, folks.
This lead me to read extensively on the Mississippi River basin, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, and made me painfully aware of the puny human efforts to tame and control an elemental force of nature.