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NP: January 21, 1865 Harper’s Weekly: Dutch Gap Canal

Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte.


We have previously, in No. 410, Volume VIII. [Saturday, November 5, 1864], given an illustration of General BUTLER’S Canal at Dutch Gap, while the work was still in operation. The more picturesque and interesting sketch, which we give on the first page, we reproduce from a photographic view, for which we are indebted to Captain S. L. LANGDON, First United States Artillery. This sketch gives a view of the work in its last stages, while preparations were being made to explode the bulk-head.

Dutch Gap Canal was originally suggested by General BUTLER. James River is an extremely tortuous stream, and especially so in its around Farrar’s Island. This peninsula, misnamed an island, is forty miles from Richmond by the river, although it is only one-third that distance by a straight line. The bend of the river here takes it seven miles out of its way, bringing it around again to a point only two hundred yards from its point of deflection. A canal across these two hundred yards not only saves a journey of seven miles, but also evades the obstructions and batteries which make the bend impassable to our fleet.

The work was surveyed on the 7th of August, and three days afterward was actually commenced. Brigadier-General B. C. Ludlow, of General BUTLER’S staff, acted as superintendent, assisted by Major PETER S. MICHIE, Chief of Engineers. The enemy occupied elevated positions threatening the workmen, and it was necessary at first to proceed in the same manner as in throwing up parallels in front of an enemy’s fortifications. In the beginning a declivity covered the working parties who at first dug ditches, throwing the earth up as a breast-work. Several of these at length merged into a single wide ditch, with a dam left so that the rush of water in opening the lower part of the canal would not deluge the workmen in the upper part, who were to dig fifteen feet below tide-mark. Soon such progress was made that rails were laid and cars supplied the place of wheel-barrows.

The enemy erected mortar batteries under cover of the river bank, which proved a great annoyance. Then bomb-proofs had to be built for security to the workmen. In the beginning New York soldiers were employed, but these were subsequently relieved by colored soldiers. These suffered much from fever, brought on by the dampness to which they were exposed.

By the middle of November fifteen thousand cubic yards of earth had been removed by hand. The steam dredge removed, in addition, fifty tons a day. In little over a month more all that remained to be done was to remove the dam between the two sections and the bulk-head still left at the upper end. The dam was easily removed by mining. More elaborate preparations, however, had to be made for the removal of the bulk-head. This was cut into three pieces, as far as possible. Streets were cut through, and thus one-third of the mase of earth removed. From the vertical cut on the left of the centre galleries were run toward the centre; and, after reaching a proper point, a shaft was sunk twenty-eight feet in depth, from which galleries ran toward the river. Five magazines were constructed, capable all together of holding six tons of powder, and at four o’clock P. M. on New-Year’s Day the grand explosion took place. The effect was hardly what was expected. A great proportion of the earth fell back again in the canal, and will have to be removed by the dredging-machine under circumstances not especially advantageous. The length of the canal is between five and six hundred feet, its greatest width about one hundred and twenty-two feet, and its greatest depth about seventy feet. Unfortunately the entire length of the canal is now open to the enemy’s fire.

Since its commencement seven thousand shells have been thrown in and around the canal; fifty men have been killed there, and two hundred wounded; forty-five horses have been killed, three barges sunk, and nine tugs disabled. The engineer who has superintended the work, PETER S. MICHIE, has been made Brevet Major, for meritorious services during the campaign. He is a graduate of West Point, is modest in deportment, and a great favorite among his brother officers.1

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  1. “Dutch Gap Canal.” Harper’s Weekly. January 21, 1865, p. 38 col. 1-2
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