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Attack on Dam Number 5
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Raids
December 7, 1861 Stonewall Jackson destroys the West Virginia side of Dam Number 5 on the Potomac River, disrupting the C&O Canal and impacting the Union's ability to repair the B&O Railroad. Maryland
West Virginia
  Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
  Stonewall Jackson


Stonewall Jackson fought from Bull Run until his untimely death shortly after Chancellorsville
Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
Recently promoted and reassigned to Winchester, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson set out to train his meager but growing army. The first test of these men would be an attack on a Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Dam.

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.

Site of Stonewall Jackson's first attack from Winchester in December, 1861
C & O Canal Dam Number 5
Stonewall Jackson wanted to disrupt the Union operations already hard at work rebuilding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between Grafton, West Virginia and Point of Rocks, Maryland. With Frederick Lander and Old Ben Kelley in northern West Virginia and Nathaniel Banks in western Maryland, Union work crews on the B & O were only occasionally subject to Rebel raids and they were using the C & O Canal to transport rail-building supplies where needed.

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




Links appearing on this page:

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Nathaniel Banks
Stonewall Jackson

Civil War Encyclopedia >> Raids

Attack on Dam Number 5 was last changed on - September 12, 2009
Attack on Dam Number 5 was added on - December 13, 2007



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