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This is the sixth in a series of posts about the Civil War in Frederick County, Md.
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Catoctin Aqueduct on the C&O Canal

Boating the border of warring nations

While the Mason-Dixon Line being the dividing line between the North and the South, an argument could be made that the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the dividing line between the Union and Confederacy. Running alongside the Potomac River as it does, Virginia was directly south of the canal and Maryland was to the north. Whenever you read about an army crossing the Potomac River, it also had to cross the canal.

The unlucky location meant that the canal was vulnerable to destruction by both the Union and Confederate armies

“In some instances, battles were fought so close to the canal that the company’s property was hurriedly made into hospitals and morgues,” Elizabeth Kytle wrote in Home on the Canal.

The Confederate Army attempted multiple times to destroy the canal during the war or at least damage it so it wouldn’t hold water, thereby stranding the canal boats and keeping the coal from reaching Washington. The Monocacy Aqueduct was a target of their destruction, but it was a failed target.

“The C&O Canal was a pipeline to Washington for coal and the Confederate Army wanted to destroy it to cripple the Union Army,” said Chris Haugh with the Tourism Council of Frederick County.

When the Confederate Army crossed the canal in September 1862 on its way to Frederick, Confederate Gen. Daniel Hill stayed behind to destroy the canal.

He quickly learned that there wasn’t enough black powder or tools to destroy the aqueduct so he tried to blow up Lock 27. His men managed to drill small holes for the black powder, but the blast did little damage.

Confederate Gen. John Walker tried his luck a week later.  His men drove off the Union pickets at the aqueduct and tried to drill holes in each of the seven aqueduct arches for the black powder. “After several hours, Walker’s chief engineer reported little progress, complaining that the drills were extremely dull while the masonry was of ‘extraordinary solidity and massiveness,’” Harland Unrau, a National Park Service historian, wrote in The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal During the Civil War: 1861-1865.

Demolishing the canal would have taken them days, not hours. So the plan was abandoned. They would damage other areas of the canal during the war, but not the 438-foot -long Monocacy Aqueduct.

Because of the problems with raiders disrupting trade on the canal, President Abraham Lincoln had also authorized Representative Francis Thomas, a former president of the canal company in 1839-41, to organize four citizen regiments to protection canal property and boaters on the canal and along boat sides of the Potomac River. The companies would be called the Potomac Home Brigade.

Other posts in this series

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