Rebels destroying the C&O Canal from Harper's Weekly, July 30, 1864

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cumberland Threatened: The Battle of Folck's Mill

In August 1864, the western terminus of the Cheaspeake and Ohio Canal was under the threat of Confederate attack. The threat came in the form of Brigadier General John McCausland and his Confederate raiders. Opposing them, Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley and a rag-tag force of civilians, 100 days soldiers, and stragglers that were shell-shocked following the Union defeat at the Battle of Second Kernstown in July 1864.

John McCausland
During the summer of 1864, Confederates under Major General Jubal Early advanced his 2nd Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland fighting across the Maryland countryside before eventually reaching the outskirts of Washington, D.C. itself before being turned back. In late July, Early ordered Brigadier General John McClausland to take his cavalry brigade and the brigade of Edward Johnson northward and make a raid upon Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in retaliation for the burning of farms in the Shenandoah Valley. When the ransom of  $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in currency was not met, McCausland ordered the town burnt. Leaving a smoldering Chambersburg behind, McCausland turned his sights on Cumberland, Maryland, an important hub of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the western terminus of the C&O Canal. McCausland would have roughly 3,000 men and 4 pieces of artillery at his disposal for his next objective.

Benjamin F. Kelley
Cumberland, Maryland, as we know it today, began as Fort Cumberland, named for the Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II. In the years following its founding, the town grew and President George Washington believed that the route for western expansion would pass through Cumberland. By 1864, the town was a major economic center for western Maryland, Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the mountains of northern West Virginia. It was an important hub for the Baltimore & Ohio railroad and the western terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. With these two important transportation routes located in Cumberland, Union military commanders turned the town into a military outpost under the command of Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley. Kelley could call on three divisions to face the Confederates, but his command was spread out across the countryside covering other important areas in the region.

After burning Chambersburg, McCausland's command was being heavily pressed by pursuing Union cavalry under Brigadier General William Averill. McCausland moved his command from Chambersburg toward Hancock, Maryland where he would again demand a ransom. McCausland's main objective during this raid was the capture, ransom, and burning of Chambersburg but he had orders from General Early to ransom any town that his force may enter and if need be destroy them if they ransom cannot be met. One such town was Hancock, Maryland. McCausland entered the town on July 31st and demanded a $30,000 dollar ransom that enraged Marylanders within the Confederate force. The citizens of Hancock tried to raise the funds as quickly as possible but General Averill's 2,000 man brigade arrived and forced the Confederates to retreat from the town. McCausland put his men on the National Pike heading towards Cumberland.

Folck's Mill
Courtesy: Western Maryland Historical Library
Recieving reports of McCausland's advance towards Cumberland, General Kelley took command of a small force of 100 days regiments totaling perhaps 3,000 men, including 200 citizens of Cumberland. Kelley ordered the citizens to picket the roads leading into town and moved his main body about 2 and a half miles from the town onto a ridge line near Folck's Mill. The mill was operated by John Folck. The Folck's family owned the mill and the land surrounding it and they would find their property in the middle of the coming fight.

To buy time for his hastily gathered force, Kelley order his son, Lieutenant Tappen Kelley, to take a squad of cavalry and picket the Baltimore Road to hinder McCausland's advance and to report on developments. Now turning to his defenses, General Kelley ordered the 153rd Ohio to Oldtown on the Potomac River to destroy the canal bridges and to confront any Confederate attempt to recross the river. His main line would consist of parts of 4 infantry regiments, one company of cavalry, and three sections of artillery totaling 9 guns. As McCausland advanced towards Cumberland, Kelley positioned the 156th Ohio, 4 companies of West Virginia Infantry, and all his artillery near Folck's Mill located about 2 and a half miles from Cumberland. This would be his first line of defense and despite being outnumbered, Kelley enjoyed a superiority in artillery and he held a strong defensive position. Kelley was hoping that Averill would be able to push McCausland into his line and with the Confederates being hit from front and rear and the only escape route blocked, their force could be destroyed. Unfortunealy, Averill dictated a dispatch to Kelley saying that his horses were "all used up." Kelley would being going at it alone.

Covered bridge over Evitt's  Creek used by Confederates
Courtesy: Herman and Stacia Miller Collection
Cumberland, Maryland
 McCausland continued to push on towards Cumberland. His 3,000 troopers outnumbered Kelley's line 2 to 1 but he only had 4 pieces of artillery at his disposal. After the skirmish at Hancock, he believed his men were being pushed hard by Averill's cavalry and to help slow this pursuit, trees and brides were destroyed along the road. If McCausland was to capture Cumberland, he had to make his move now. McCausland's vanguard arrived near Folck's Mill at about 3 in the afternoon and marched across the covered bridge spanning Evitt's Creek. Unknown to these Confederates, Kelley's infantry was waiting and after they were within range of small-arms fire, Kelley's men opened up a furocious fire on the Confederates. Dazed from the unexpected fire, the Confederates retreated to the bridge seeking cover at the bridge and behind the buildings on the Folck's property. The Confederates attempted to return fire the best they could but Union sharpshooters kept the Confederates at bay.

McCausland brought up the remainder of his force and deployed it in a skirmish line the could envelop Kelley's left flank. After posting his artillery on a hill that could dominate Folck's Mill but it could do little damage to the union battle line. For the next 5 hours, McCausland would attempt to punch through Kelley's line only to be turned back each time. With darkness nearing, McCausland went into conference with his second in command, Bradley T. Johnson. Noting that their casualties were mounting, the two Confederate leaders decided to break off contact and return to Virginia. At 11 P.M., the Confederates began retreating towards the river crossings at Oldtown. Kelley's rag-tag army had beaten off the Confederate advance and saved Cumberland and its vital supply hubs. The Confederates lost about 30 killed and wounded while Union losses were substantially smaller, 2 wounded.

On August 2nd, McCausland would be forced to fight his way to the river crossing after running into the 153rd Ohio Infantry that Kelley had ordered to the area. After a brief but bloody encounter, the Ohioans surrendered and McCausland was able to get his men safely across the river.

Ruins of Folck's Mill
Courtesy: Western Maryland Historical Library
 McCausland left behind a mound of supplies that had been captured by his force during their raid into Pennsylvania. McCausland also left behind all his casualties to fall into Union hands. John Folck's Mill and property were damaged by the battle and his barn was burned by exploding shell from Kelley's artillery. Today the battlefield is drastically altered but there are markers that tell of the fight and how Kelley's band saved the town from possibly suffering the same fate as Chambersburg.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Alleghanian reports on damage to the C&O Canal in August 1864

The Alleghanian was a newspaper that covered the area in and around Cumberland, Maryland. During the raid by John McClausland into Pennsylvania and Maryland in late July and early August 1864, this newspaper reported on damage to the canal caused by the recent Confederate activity. From the August 3rd edition:

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. This great public work was injured by the late Confederate raids to such an incalculable extent that it is almost impossible to tell when navigation will be resumed. It appears that at the lower end of the Canal they took especial pains to do as much damage as possible. The aqueduct at the mouth of the Antietam was very materially damaged by throwing off the heavy stone walls which form the trunk, and digging holes through the arch way. Lock No. 40 was also considerably injured by the walls having been excavated and thrown in. The original materials of these works, however, consisting of dressed blocks, will be lifted by derricks from the depths below and again put in place, and thus the work will be more speedily reconstructed than otherwise would be the case. The damage done to the other locks is confined to the destruction of the wooden gates.

This article goes into great detail about the type of damage done. Damage of this extent would probably, in todays money, be in the millions of dollars. Amazingly, after weeks of work, the canal would recover from this damage and continue supplying needed supplies to eralWashington, D.C. and other communities along the canal.


Western Maryland Historical Library. The Alleganian, August 3rd, 1864

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Confederate Government desires the destruction of the C&O Canal

The following correspondance is from Robert H. Chilton, Assistant Adujutant General CSA, to Lieutenant Colonel Turner Ashby regarding the creation of a cavalry regiment consisting of four companies each from Colonel Angus W. McDonald's 7th Virginia Cavalry and Colonel Alexander Monroe's 114th Virginia, a militia regiment from Hampshire County. Ashby was given command of half of Colonel McDonald's regiment and operated independently but Ashby's command was known as the 7th Virginia. The militia would continue to act as infantry and Ashby was authorized to muster enough men from the surrounding countryside and from within his own command to man artillery pieces that were with him.

What is interesting about this correspondance is that Chilton clearly makes it known that the Cheasapeake and Ohio Canal is a military target worthy of Confederate attention. In my research into this topic, this is one of the letters that I've seen where the Confederates wish the canal to be destroyed. There is an earlier order in May 1861 to General Thomas Jackson from Robert E. Lee dictating the Jackson is to take all measures to prevent Union troops from occupying positions along the B&O railroad and the C&O Canal, even enticing residents of Maryland to sabotage the railroad and breaching the canal to prevent their use. In June 1861, Eppa Hunton, colonel of the 8th Virginia stationed near Leesburg, Virginia, was ordered by Lee to blow up the Monocacy Aqueduct and breach several dams along the river supplying water to the canal. I will post these two letters soon. As far as Ashby's orders go, I have been unable to determine whether he ordered any of his men on raids against the canal. If I come across any, I will update this post.
Adujutant and Inspector General's Office
Richmond, October 7, 1861

Lieut. Col. Turner Ashby, McDonald's Regiment:
Colonel: Inclosed herewith you will find copy of a special order increasing you command to four companies of Colonel McDonald's regiment of cavalry and four companies of Colonel Monroe's regiment of  Virginia  militia (infantry). You are also authorized to muster into service for local defense, in accordance given by inclosed copy of the law, a sufficient number of men to serve the pieces of artillery now with your command, organizing them into a company of artillery. It is desired that you will make out with the cavalry equipments now in the possession of the four cavalry companies, as they cannot be supplied from here.
It is especially desired that you will destroy the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal as quickly as possible wherever found practicable, whether at the Monocacy or other point.
I am, sir, very respectfully,
R.H. Chilton,
Assistant Adjutant General


The War of the Rebellion: a Compliation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Series 1, Volume 5. 892-893

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Pitch in boys, it is a free fight."

Garibaldi Grave, Stonewall Jackson Cemetey
Immigrating from Italy in 1851, John Garibaldi found himself taking up arms for his adopted home in 1861 when he enlisted in Co. C, 27th Virginia Infantry as a private. He would recieve his baptism under fire on July 21, 1861 at the Battle of First Bull Run where he and his comrades gained everlasting fame as the Stonewall Brigade. In December 1861, he would find himself on the banks of the Potomac River skirmishing with Union solders near Dam No. 5 during Stonewall Jackson's movement to destroy the dam and disrupt the movement of troops and supplies along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The following is a letter by Private Garibaldi to his wife Sarah describing the brief fight around the dam between December 17th and 20th, 1861 as the Confederates attempted to breach the dam. The letter was written just prior to Jackson's march on Bath and Romney.

Camp Stevenson, Virginia, December 30, 1861

Dear Miss-

I recieved yours of the 24 instant just yesterday evening from which I understand with the greatest pleasure that you was well and also the whole of the family, with the whole of the neighbors around you. This leaves me enjoying a perfect good health as it has been the case always. We have had right merry Christmas, we had plenty to eat such as it was and plenty to drink, pretty near the whole of Holloway's company was drunk. The Captain bought 10 or 15 gallons of liquor and gave it to the company, he was right merry himself. The whole of the 27 regiment was almost drunk even the Colonels, they were drunk too.

The last letter I wrote you I told you that we were under marching orders, but we did not know where to and now that we are all got back safe, except one killed out of our regiment, belonging to the Rockbridge Rifles, and another slightly wounded by a shell belonging to the artillery, I can tell you where we have been. We left this camp on Monday morning at three o'clock and reached the Potomac River on the second day after dark, at the dam number five about ten miles above Williamsport, there we remained for four days breaking the dam in order to dry the water in the Ohio and Chesapeake canal so as to prevent rations from being carried into Washington by that road.

The only time we could work at it was at night in the darkest so as to keep from being shot from the Yankees from the opposite side of the river. They had full view at us in the day time, we had to descend down on the dam from a high precipice of steep rocks while they on the other side had a small hill, which was in cultivation, to descend to the dam and had a full view at us. We, in the day time, had to march from there and go out in the countries where we had a full view of then and then march back again in the night in order to keep from being seen by the enemy, but we [had] good overcoats and blankets enough to keep from freezing.

There was a great large mill just below the dam, and was burn'd up by the shells thrown in there by the enemy on the second night. A company from our regiment called the Rockbridge Rifles was in the mill guarding those that were working on the dam just as the mill was set a fire from the other side they came out and that was when one of them got killed by a bombshell. The had a narrow path to go through where no more than one at a time could pass and the Yankees were throwing balls as fast as they could at the same time. Some of them remained behind rocks all day and came out at night about ten or fifeteen remained there all day and didn't come out til night. I anxious to see the Yankees crept up behind the rocks and remained there hid for about an hour and shot several times at the Yankees. After I got tire to stay there I got up and walked off, and as I was going away from my hidden place I believe there was no less than five or six shot at me but none of them hitted me, it was almost to far off to be killed by a ball although there was several of the Yankees shot we could see them laying on the ground and when they were falling.

There was constant shooting from the other side of the river from morning till night, it was no regular battle, only those that wanted to fight could go and take up position on this side of the river and fire away as much as they wanted. The General came by one evening and looked very much pleased with the boys and said pitch in boys, it is a free fight. We killed a good many Yankees and they killed one of us. After we succeeded in breaking the dam, we came back to our old camp where we now are. It is believed that we shall go from here and go to Romney to have fight with the Yankees. This is the general belief, that we will march in a day or two and if we go, Romney, we shall have a hard fight in driving away the enemy from behind their fortifications. They are just now taking a list of all the cartridges we have in order to give us a full supply and march us off to Romney. I have a heap more to tell you but I haven't  time to do it for we have to go out on a general review. So goodbye. I send you my likeness also. So  Goodbye.

John Garibaldi,

To Miss Sarah A.V. Poor

Write me as soon as you get this and direct your letter where you did the last one.


John Garibaldi, 27th Virginia collection at VMI

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The C&O Canal during the Civil War

With this being the first post of this blog, I figured I'll attempt at giving a brief history as well as an idea of why the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was important during the Civil War and how it was affected. Here goes..

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal came about as a result of the years of work done by the Patowmack Company, under the direction of George Washington, to create a canal along the Potomac River that would become America's gateway to the west. Washington's company constructed several canals that skirted around the areas of the Potomac that were inaccessible by boat, like at the Great Falls or Harper's Ferry. These smaller canals allowed boat traffic to move upriver to supply goods and transport settlers westward while bring goods from these western areas to market in Washington, D.C.'s neighborhood of Georgetown. In 1824, the land holdings of the Patowmack company were transferred to the newly charted Chesapeake and Ohio Company. Construction of the C&O Canal began on July 4, 1828 with a groudbreaking ceremony attended by President John Quincy Adams, who called the canal "The Great National Project". Initial plans called for the canal to stretch from Georgetown to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, connecting the Ohio River with the tidal waters of the Potomac at Georgetown.

The first section of the canal between Georgetown and Seneca, Maryland was opened for use in 1831. As construction crews neared Harper's Ferry, a narrow strip of land came under scrutiny when both the canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad laid claim to it as well as the right of way. Only after a contentious court battle did both sides agree to share the land. The canal reached Harpers Ferry and opened at that location in 1833. By 1836 the canal had reached Shepherdstown, Virginia and a mail delivery service was created to serve from Shepherdstown to Georgetown. In 1839, the canal approached Hancock, Maryland and in 1850 in reached Cumberland, Maryland. By the time it reached Cumberland, the B&O Railroad had already made the canal a thing of the past because it had reached Cumberland nearly eight years earlier. With exploding debt, the company decided not to continue on and Cumberland became the western terminus of the canal, which stretched over 180 miles from Cumberland to Georgetown.

When war came in 1861, operations on the canal went on a war footing with all supplies being carried from the west were used to power war industry in Washington and it was also used to transport soldiers when the railroads could not transport them. With it being on the border of the northern and southern states, it quickly became known that with a war on Union soldiers would be posted a various points along the canal and Confederate raiding parties would periodically appear. Surprisingly, Union strategist at first decided that the canal should be lightly guarded because of the belief of a strong secessionist feelings along the canal's route. This belief would quickly change.

The first major military operation that directly affected the canal would be Stonewall Jackson's Bath-Romney campaign in December 1861 and early January 1862. Based out of Winchester, Virginia, Jackson set out with his small army with plans to disrupt operations along the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad and destroy Dam No. 5 on the Potomac. Dam No. 5 was of great importance because it was one of several dams that forced water into the canal. If Jackson could destroy the dam, the canal would dry up for the time being and disrupt the movement of goods, primarily coal, from the western mountains to industry in D.C. Major Roger Dabney, at the time a soldier in Jackson's command, said, "No force would be adequate to to rebuild in the amidst the ice and freezing floods of winter.", if Confederate forces could breach the dam.

Confederates attacking Dam No. 5
Jackson's attempts to destroy the damn began on December 7, 1861 when he dispatched the 27th Virginia, under Major Elisha Paxton. Paxton's regiment, supported by artillery, arrived at the dam just before sunset of the 7th and shelled Union pickets that were guarding the dam. The surprised pickets fled and Paxton's men quickly went to work on the dam. Around 11 p.m., Union reinforcements in the form of the 13th Massachusetts arrived and drove off the Confederates who were in the Potomac hacking away on the wooden timbers of the dam. The next morning, a lively artillery duel and skirmish began but Paxton quickly found that enemy was, "so sheltered in the canal- from which in the mean time they had drawn off the water- that is was found impossible to dislodge them." With Union soldiers raining small arms fire down on his men from the shelter of the canal, Paxton was forced to abandon his endeavor and he reluctantly retreated back to Martinsburg, Virginia. Following Paxton's failure, Jackson himself would lead a larger force about the week before Christmas in an attempt to destroy the dam. On December 18, 19th, and 20th, Jackson's men went to work on the dam but strong Union reinforcements kept Jackson's men under pressure. Eventually, Jackson's men managed to open a break in the dam and seeing this as a success, Jackson called off his attempts and later stated that he had "reason to believe that the recent break in Dam No. 5 will destroy any vestiges of hope that might have been entertained of supplying Washington with Cumberland coal by the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.” Jackson would return in early January, popping up with his small army near Hancock, Maryland. His men skirmished with Union pickets and when he reached the shores of the Potomac, Jackson ordered his artillery to bombard the town to distract the Union garrison as he searched for a suitable crossing to get into Maryland and capture the town. The bombardment last two days and when Jackson failed to find a crossing, he retreated and advanced on Romney. The bombardment caused little damage.
Following Jackson's assaults, the canal experienced a period of relative quiet when Robert E. Lee decided to carry the war into Maryland in the late summer of 1862. When Confederates began crossing the Potomac, units spread out destroying canal boats, raiding lock keeper's homes, and breaching the canal. D.H. Hill's division was even entrusted with destruction of the Monocacy Aqueduct but a local lock keeper managed to convince Hill's men it was just as easy to breach the canal and halt traffic than to blow up the aqueduct. When the Union 5th Corps pursued Lee's retreating army to the ford below Shepherdstown, Virginia, Union forces were savagely beaten back by the Confederate rear guard. Those Union troops who hadn't crossed, took cover in the dry canal bed and fired across at those Confederates pursuing the defeated comrades. Many of those men who survived and managed to get back into Maryland, huddled in the safety of the canal bed, including the rookies of the 118th Pennsylvania.

When Confederate forces retreated deep into Virginia, workers began making repairs to the canal and traffic began to resume all along the canal. The following summer of 1863, the canal again saw  Confederate forces tramping across the canal and destroying canal boats, breaching the canal, and again raiding lock keepers homes and shops. When these same Confederates retreated to Williamsport following the defeat at Gettysburg, the Potomac was to high to ford so these same men had to wait for the river levels to lower. When they finally did lower, Lee's engineers stripped the wooden planks from buildings along the canal and lumber from a Williamsport lumber yard to construct a makeshift pontoon bridge to get his army back to safety. When the Confederates again retreated back deep into Virginia, workers went back to repairing the canal. But unlike the previous fall, Confederate pickets and partisans laid down occassional musket fire down on the workers preventing them from completeing their work in a speedy fashion.

In 1864, Confederate raids by the likes of Major General Jubal Early's 2nd Corps, John S. Mosby's partisan rangers, and other Confederate raiders caused damage to the canal unlike ever seen before. The berms of the canal continued to be breached, canal boats burnt and now the homes of the workers began to be destroyed and aqueducts began to recieve heavier damage. When the raiders would finally leave, those who worked on the canal pleaded with the government for protection, but little help was sent so the workers had to fend for themselves.

Following the war, the canal went back to business as usual and those workers who served on both sides of the war began to heal the wounds that had made during the war. The war had nearly bankrupted the canal company as a result of damages from the war and hindered transport of goods. When the canal got back on its feet, a period of prosperity occured like never before. The company began to pay off its debts, make improvements to the canal to make traffic move quicker, and even gave its workers a pay raise. Despite this prosperity, the canal would experience several floods and economic hardships during the last half of the 19th  and early 20th Centuries. These would cause the Canal company to collapse and in 1889 the B&O canal took over operations and after one last big flood, the canal was shut down in 1924. In 1938, the U.S. Government purchased the canal and began improving it and in 1971 it was made a National Historical Park.

As you can see, the canal was heavily influenced by events occuring along its path during the Civil War. It was a major transportation route for supplies and troops. It was a safehaven for those Union men who were fighitng off Confederate forces. While today the canal is remember as one of America's most preserved 19th century canals, its Civil War history cannot be ignored. At every attempt, Confederate forces rained havoc down on the workers of the canal and the canal itself, nearly bankrupting the Chesapeake and Ohio Company. So the next time you decide to walk along its towpath, take some time to remember those worked  and those who fought to defend it during those four years of turmoil between 1861-1865.


1. Mike High. The C&O Canal Companion. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,1997

3. Walter S. Sanderlin. “The Vicissitudes of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the Civil War”. The Journal of Southern History. Vol. 11, No. 1.(Feb. 1945)