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Attack on Dam Number 5
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Raids
Canal building hit a frenzied peak in the 1820's and although railroads were already lurking on the sidelines, canals offered farmers an easy, inexpensive alternative to moving their goods to nearby markets. Although many people relied on the services of the C&O Canal, it was the farmers who truly kept the canal near profitability well into the 19th century. When building the C&O the Canal company would build a dam to impound water for a special type of lock known as an inlet or guard lock. According to the C & O Canal Association, there were 6 guard lock dams built to impound water to "feed" the canal. In the 1850's both Dam No. 4 and Dam No. 5, originally a wooden structures, were replaced with a more substantial masonry dams.
With the main Union force at Williamsport, a little over 6 miles south of Dam Number 5, Jackson dispatched a diversionary force to Falling Waters, West Virginia, about 5 miles further downstream from Williamsport on the Potomac River. He then advanced his main force to Dam Number 5, arriving at the dam on Saturday, December 7, 1861. Facing Jackson's 5,000 man Army of the Valley was a company of the 13th Massachusetts Regiment. Their smoothbore muskets did not have the accuracy required to reach across the river to the far side of Dam No. 5, nor could they reach Jackson's men as they deployed.
Although the weather had been unusually warm, the Potomac is fed by cold mountain streams. Men braved the icy waters to destroy the bridge while the Union pickets on the far side could do little. Only one man working on the dam's destruction was killed as a result of enemy fire. Work continued into the night and slowly that night the dam was partially damaged.
A second company from the Massachusetts 13th arrived on a flatboat using the C & O Canal during the night. These men, armed with rifled Enfields, were concealed behind a stand of trees on the Maryland side. When dawn broke, the men with the Enfields began firing on Jackson's Army, driving off some of the artillerists. Having completed the mission, Jackson withdrew most of his men and returned to Winchester. That night the Rebels returned to Dam Number 5 and retrieved their cannon.
Location of Dam No. 5
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Attack on Dam Number 5 was last changed on - September 12, 2009
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