Shreveport is the third largest city in the state of Louisiana and the 113th-largest city in the United States. It is the seat of Caddo Parish and extends along the Red River (most notably at Wright Island, the Charles and Marie Hamel Memorial Park, and Bagley Island) into neighboring Bossier Parish. Bossier City is separated from Shreveport by the Red River. The population of Shreveport was 199,311 in 2010, and the Shreveport-Bossier City Metropolitan Area population exceeds 441,000. The Shreveport-Bossier City Metropolitan Statistical Area ranks 111th in the United States, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Shreveport was founded in 1836 by the Shreve Town Company, a corporation established to develop a town at the juncture of the newly navigable Red River and the Texas Trail, an overland route into the newly independent Republic of Texas and, prior to that time, into Mexico.
Shreveport was established to launch a town at the meeting point of the Red River and the Texas Trail. The Red River was cleared and made newly navigable by Henry Miller Shreve, who led the United States Army Corps of Engineers effort to clear the river. A natural log jam, the Great Raft, had previously obstructed passage to shipping. Shreve used a specially modified riverboat, the Heliopolis, to remove the log jam. The company and the village of Shreve Town were named in Shreve's honor.
Shreve Town was originally contained within the boundaries of a section of land sold to the company by the indigenous Caddo Indians in 1835. In 1838 Caddo Parish was created from the large Natchitoches Parish, and Shreve Town became its parish seat. On March 20, 1839, the town was incorporated as Shreveport. Originally, the town consisted of 64 city blocks, created by eight streets running west from the Red River and eight streets running south from Cross Bayou, one of its tributaries.
Shreveport soon became a center of steamboat commerce, mostly cotton and agricultural crops. Shreveport also had a slave market, though slave trading was not as widespread as in other parts of the state. Steamboats plied the Red River, and stevedores loaded and unloaded cargo. By 1860, Shreveport had a population of 2,200 free people and 1,300 slaves within the city limits.
During the Civil War, Shreveport was the capital of Louisiana from 1863 to 1865, having succeeded Baton Rouge and Opelousas after each fell under Union control. The city was a Confederate stronghold throughout the war and was the site of the headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate Army. Fort Albert Sidney Johnston was built on a ridge northwest of the city. Because of limited development in that area; the site is relatively undisturbed.
Isolated from events in the east, the Civil War continued in the Trans-Mississippi theater for several weeks after Robert E. Lee's surrender in April 1865, and the Trans-Mississippi was the last Confederate command to surrender, on May 26, 1865. Confederate President Jefferson Davis tried to flee to Shreveport, intending to go down the Mississippi, when he left Richmond but was captured en route in Irwinville, Georgia.
Throughout the war, women in Shreveport did much to assist the soldiers fighting mostly far to the east. Historian John D. Winters writes of them in The Civil War in Louisiana:
"The women of Shreveport and vicinity labored long hours over their sewing machines to provide their men with adequate underclothing and uniforms. After the excitement of Fort Sumter, there was a great rush to get the volunteer companies ready and off to New Orleans...Forming a Military Aid Society, the ladies of Shreveport requested donations of wool and cotton yarn for knitting socks. Joined by others, the Society collected blankets for the wounded and gave concerts and tableaux to raise funds. Tickets were sold for a diamond ring given by the mercantile house of Hyams and Brothers...
A Confederate minstrel show gave two performances to raise money for the war effort in Shreveport in December 1862. The Shreveport Ladies Aid Society announced a grand dress ball for April 6, 1863. That same month students at the Mansfield Female College in Mansfield in De Soto Parish presented a vocal and instrumental concert to support the war.
The Red River, which had been opened by Shreve in the 1830s, remained navigable throughout the Civil War. Water levels got so low at one point that Union Admiral David Dixon Porter was trapped with his gunboats north of Alexandria. His engineers quickly constructed a temporary dam to raise the water level and free his fleet.
By 1914, neglect and lack of use due to diversion of freight traffic to railroad lines resulted in the river becoming unnavigable. In 1994, the United States Army Corps of Engineers restored navigability by completion of a series of lock-and-dam structures and a navigation channel. Today, Shreveport-Bossier City is being re-developed as a port and shipping center.
By the 1910s, Huddie William Ledbetter—also known as "Lead Belly", a blues singer and guitarist who eventually achieved worldwide fame—was performing for Shreveport audiences in St. Paul's Bottoms, the notorious red-light district of Shreveport which operated legally from 1903 to 1917. Ledbetter began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport's Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms. Bluesmen Jesse Thomas, Dave Alexander, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the early jazz and ragtime composer Bill Wray and composer Willian Christopher O'Hare were all from Shreveport.
Shreveport was home to the Louisiana Hayride radio program, broadcast weekly from the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. During its heyday from 1948 to 1960, this program stimulated the careers of some of the greatest figures in American music. The Hayride featured musicians such as Hank Williams and Elvis Presley, who made his broadcasting debut at this venue.
In 1963, headlines across the country reported that musician Sam Cooke was arrested after his band tried to register at a "whites-only" Holiday Inn in Shreveport. Public facilities in Louisiana were still segregated, an example of the kinds of injustices that the Civil Rights Movement was working to change. In the months following, Cooke recorded the civil rights era song, "A Change Is Gonna Come." In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act to end segregation of public facilities.
In the mid-1990s, the coming of riverboat gambling to Shreveport attracted numerous new patrons to the downtown and spurred a revitalization of the adjacent downtown and riverfront areas. Many downtown streets were given a facelift through the "Streetscape" project, where brick sidewalks and crosswalks were built, and statues, sculptures, and mosaics were added. The O.K. Allen Bridge, commonly known as the Texas Street bridge, was lit with neon lights that were met with a variety of opinions among residents.
Shreveport was named an All-American City in 1953, 1979, and 1999.