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.
|Confederates attacking Dam No. 5|