Confederate submarines could be under casino site, historian says
Four Confederate submarines built in Shreveport to protect the Red River from Union advances may be beneath the proposed site of the Margaritaville casino, a local historian says.
But developers of the 400-room resort-casino planned north of the Louisiana Boardwalk disagree, saying they're 100 percent confident the submarines are not on the land. Examinations of the property, which included digging 100-foot deep holes all over the parcel, did not yield any historic relics, they say.
"We did not find any Confederate submarines," said William Trotter, co-manager of Bossier Casino Venture, the company developing Margaritaville. Trotter said if the company had seen any evidence of an artifact, they would have pursued retrieving it.
But local Civil War historian Gary Joiner questions the company's analysis, saying the methodology may have been flawed.
"How do they know there is nothing there?" Joiner asked.
It's not the first time the submarines have piqued the curiosity of local historians and added to the area's Civil War legacy. Unsuccessful searches for the boats were commissioned in 1999 and 2006 at Cross Bayou. And a similar search for other historical artifacts before the Boardwalk was built also yielded no results.
Joiner, who has accompanied a marine archaeologist in prior searches for the boats, said war records indicate five 40-foot submarines were built in the early 1860s at a naval shipyard on Cross Bayou. One boat was dismantled and sent to Galveston Bay, while the others remained here through the end of the war.
"It's likely the submarines were scuttled in case the South chose to renew its campaign" , Joiner said.
At the time, the proposed casino site was an isolated area upstream from the Grand Duke, a surface gunboat berthed in a slough north of the naval boatyard. The proximity to the Grand Duke, which burned in 1863, is one of many factors contributing to Joiner's theory.
"That is the most logical place to hide four submarines, side-by-side, tied together," he said. "The Red River transports a lot of silt and sand and they would have been covered up and underground.
Joiner isn't the first historian to show interest in the missing submarines.
In 1999 and 2006, American author Clive Cussler sent famed marine archaeologist and diver Ralph Wilbanks, who Joiner worked with, to look for them. Wilbanks was the diver who found the lost Confederate submarine CSS Hunley in 1995. Shreveport historian Eric Brock has also written about them.
In a 1999 newspaper column, Brock wrote that shortly after the Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi surrendered in June 1865, a Federal naval force came up the Red River to demand the surrender of the ironclad CSS Missouri.
"To prevent them falling into Union hands along with the Missouri, the builders of the four submarines sank them in the muddy waters where Cross Bayou and the Red River meet," Brock wrote. "There they remain, buried in the river's mud and silt, to this very day."
Joiner said he would like Bossier City and Bossier Parish to "take the lead" in examining the land. A cultural resource survey was conducted prior to the development of the Louisiana Boardwalk, and the same should occur for the casino site, he said.
Joiner, who worked on the Boardwalk survey, said the study looked for archeological assets around the site, which could have included the submarines.
Boardwalk developers paid for the cultural resource survey, and if one was to be conducted on the casino site, its developers would have to fund it, Bossier City spokesman Mark Natale said. Bossier Parish administrator Bill Altimus referred comments on a potential survey to the city.
Joiner said while there is a lot of evidence pointing to the casino site, the submarines could also be within a set of ravines on Cross Bayou. The bayou has been searched many times, but nothing was discovered to show the submarines are there, Joiner said.
Even if the submarines are not located at the casino site, a proper survey of the land is still valuable because of the land's historical significance., he said.
"Early Bossier City extended that far up," he said. "We could find things about our history and our culture that we just don't know. If we find nothing, we find nothing. If we find something, it's for the public good."