With the opposing armies locked in a protracted struggle around Petersburg and Bermuda Hundred, the James and Appomattox Rivers assumed added importance.
In August 1864, Union Gen. Benjamin Butler began excavations at Dutch Gap. When completed, his canal would bypass nearly five miles of the James River. Several powerful Confederate artillery batteries menaced that stretch of water. The Dutch Gap Canal would neutralize them.
Although the project neared completion in late 1864, Butler’s engineers never succeeded in opening the canal for warships. The Dutch Gap shortcut only came into use after the Civil War. It is now the primary James River channel.
(Images courtesy of the Library of Congress/Tehrkot Media)