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Dutch Gap Canal, Chesterfield, Virginia

After falling back to his prepared position in the Bermuda Hundred peninsula, Gen. Butler devised a plan to build a canal across the neck of land known as Dutch Gap. The purpose of the canal was to bypass Battery Dantzler and other Confederate guns along the James River. Construction of the canal began in August of 1864. Work on the canal was done primarily by African-American troops under the command of Brig. Gen D. S. Ludlow. Work continued through December of 1864, with over 67,000 cubic yards of material removed. Destruction of a dam at the eastern end and the bulkhead at the western end was all that was needed to complete the canal. On January 1, 1865 six tons of black powder were placed beneath the bulkhead and detonated. The bulkhead however, was not dislodged and the canal remained blocked. Shortly thereafter, the men working on the project were pulled away to the siege of Petersburg. Later in January, Gen. Butler was relieved of command following his failure to capture Fort Fisher in North Carolina. The canal project was abandoned until after the war.  In the 1870’s, Butler, then a Senator, saw the canal completed. The Army Corps of Engineers widened the Dutch Gap Canal to its current extent in the 1930’s.  The bluff at Henricus Historical Park marks the southern side of Butler’s canal."                   

 Source: "The Civil War in Chesterfield County, VA." The Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia.

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Record Details

Title: Dutch Gap Canal, Chesterfield, Virginia


Photograph shows African American men working at the canal.

"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 course 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."

-- Text from the article Harper's Weekly, January 21, 1865.

The  engraving from the photo and the article were published in  Harper's Weekly, January 21, 1865, cover art and article on page 38.

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