Notes on Dam #5

Reference in C&O Canal Companion: Mile 106.6

This drawing in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly shows the dam across the Potomac,
with Confederate sharpshooters in the mill building at left, and Union troops
returning fire from behind the canal embankment (lower middle)

To be added

Mile 106.6 :

In 1835, as the first canal dam was being completed here, Edward Colston entered into an agreement with the C&O Canal to lease water rights for $100 a year for a saw mill and a merchant mill on the (West) Virginia banks of the river. Edward Colston died in 1851, but his widow, Sarah Jane Colston, leased the ?Honeywood Mills,? as they were called, until the 1870s. The Colston?s son, William B. Colston, was part of the raiding party sent by Stonewall Jackson to try to destroy Dam #5.



Jackson's report on his winter campaign, dated in February or 1862,
gave this description of the action at Dam #5:

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal having been repaired to such an extent as to render it boatable and of great service to the Federal Army at Washington, I determined, if practicable, to cut off western supplies by breaking Dam No. 5. For this purpose an expedition was undertaken in the early part of December, but, in consequence of the enemy?s resistance and for want of adequate means, the object was not accomplished. A few days subsequently Capt. R. T. Colston, Company E, Second Regiment Virginia Volunteers, who was well acquainted with the locality of the dam and its structure, volunteered to take charge of the working party to accomplish the desired object. As there was reason to believe that General Banks could soon concentrate a large force there, I moved, with Garnett?s brigade, part of the cavalry under Lieutenant-Colonel Ashby, and part of Carson?s brigade, to the neighborhood of the dam. General Carson made a demonstration towards Falling Waters and Williamsport, while the remaining troops took such a position as to support the working party.

The work was commenced on the night of December 17, and by the morning of the 21st a breach, supposed to be sufficiently large for the object in view, was effected. Though Federal re-enforcements of artillery and infantry were ordered up and opened their fire upon us, our loss was only 1 man killed.

The day after the breach was made in the dam,
Major General Banks of the Union army reported
via telegram that the canal was still in operation.

December 22, 1861.

SIR: Telegram from Colonel Leonard states as follows:


Canal-boats running today both ways. Two guns were brought to Little George-town and some infantry appeared this morning. A few shots been exchanged. The Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania have moved to Dam 4. I hear no rebels have been there yet. From Falling Waters the rebels have moved up towards Dam 5, but a few pickets left there (F. W.). Captain Best has gone to Dam 5.

Respectfully submitted.

Major-General, Commanding.

Brig. Gen. R. B. MARCY.


Illustration courtesy Washingtoniana Collection,
Martin Luther King Public Library, District of Columbia


  • T. J. Jackson's report of February 21, 1862, Official Records, page 390, Series 1 - Volume 5
  • "Honeywood Mills, Dam No. 5, the Colstons, and the Civil War," by Don Wood in the 1977 special issue of the Berkeley Journal, published by the Berkeley County Historical Society, Martinsburg, West Virginia.


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