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[243]

The Dutch gap canal: November, 1864-digging: April, 1865-completion After General Beauregard had repulsed the attempt of General Butler to move along the south bank of the James on Richmond, and had “bottled up” Butler at Bermuda Hundred, the Federal commander cast about for other means to accomplish his object. The opposing lines of entrenchments touched the river at Trent's Reach, a broad and shallow portion of the James completely commanded by Confederate batteries. Moreover, General Butler himself had built a line of obstructions across it after his retreat from Drewry's Bluff, much against the advice of the naval men in the river. The army seemed more afraid of the Confederate flotilla than were the men who would have to fight it on water. Butler had been fearful, however, that he would be cut off from his base of supplies at City Point, so he ordered the vessels to be sunk in the channel and made the formidable obstructions a mile south of the Bluff, where the Confederates soon built Battery Dantzler. The river, however, was so crooked that two miles below Trent's Reach at Dutch Gap, only 174 yards separated the lower river from the upper. If the Federals could cut through this neck, they could avoid the Confederate works and move on up the river by boat as far as the works at Chaffin's Bluff and Drewry's Bluff. Captain Peter S. Michie, of the United States Engineers, later a brigadier-general, was detailed to dig a canal through at Dutch Gap. This would cut off four and a half miles of river. The excavation was forty-three yards wide at the top, twenty-seven at the water level, and thirteen and five tenths yards wide at a depth of fifteen feet below water-level. It was ninety-three feet deep at the northwest end and thirty-six feet deep at the southeast end. The total excavation was nearly 67,000 cubic yards. The greater portion of the digging was done by colored troops who showed the utmost bravery under the constant fire of the Confederate batteries on the river.

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Dutch Gap (Virginia, United States) (2)
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Benjamin F. Butler (3)
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