Notes on Rowsers Ford, Rushville, & Violettes Lock

Reference in C&O Canal Companion: Mile 22

The remains of Dam#2 are still visible at low water,
when it's easy to wade over to the island adjacent
to the double lock at mile 22.
(Photo by M High, September 2002,
during drought conditions.)

Errata: The first edition, first printing of The C&O Canal Companion mistakenly listed Rushville at mile 22.7, adjacent to Riley's Lock. This town, which never developed on the scale the canal company had hoped, was to be sited at mile 22.

To be added

Mile 22:

John S. Mosby, the famous partisan raider, had Rowser's Ford in mind when he maintained in his memoirs that the Confederates had enough cavalry to have taken Washington after their victory at Bull Run (Manassas) on July 22, 1861: "It is true, as General Johnston said, that the city is situated on an unfordable river, but less than twenty miles above is a ford at Seneca where Stuart crossed to Gettysburg, and I often afterwards crossed there. Our cavarly were nearer Seneca than McDowell's army was to Washington when the retreat began, and ought to have crossed the Potomac that night. The next day it could have easily moved around towards Baltimore, broken communications, and isolated Washington."


Additional Notes

From Dam #2 Study by the National Park Service:

Bids for Dam #2 were solicited in the October 21, 1828 issue of the National Intelligencer. In January, the contract was awarded to Dibble, Beaumont, and McCord and in March a contract was let to Holdsworth and Isherwood for the Seneca Falls guard lock. The dam was to be built of loose rubble, covered with an arch of dry-laid stone. The guard lock was to be built ?in the regular form of a lock? with a 9-foot lift to let boats pass to and from the Potomac.

By October, 1830, the canal was watered from Dam #2 down to Little Falls, and in November, canal dignitaries came up the canal in the excursion boat Charles Fenton Mercer to celebrate the first leg of the canal to open. (The work below Little Falls took longer; the canal was not opened through Georgetown until the next year.)

The dam, like Dam #1 at Little Falls, suffered severe damage over the years from flooding. The 1866 Annual Report to the C&O Canal stockholders stated that both dams were ?dilapidated and ineffective for a full supply of water when the river is low.? By 1873 a canal engineer had concluded, ?now there is hardly a trace of either dam left ... They have been replaced by dykes of stone and brush.?



Stuart's crossing described by Lieutenant Colonel Blackford:


Mosby had reported the enemy still in their encampments the day before and Stuart expected to move eastward through Haymarket and thence direct to Fairfax C.H., but at Haymarket, early in the first day's march, he found Hancock's corps on the march occupying the road he wished to cross for many miles each way. After shelling them awhile and capturing some prisoners, he had to wait most of the morning for them to pass, and then by a detour he passed around their rear and by a more circuitous route pushed on, crossing the Occoquan at Wolf Run shoals, capturing a small force at Fairfax C.H., passing through Dranesville, and reaching Rowser's Ford of the Potomac on the night of the 27th. The ford was deep and wide and might well have daunted a less determined man than our indomitable General, for the water swept over the pommels of our saddles. To pass the artillery withyout wetting the ammunition in the chests was impossible, provided it was left in them, but Stuart had the cartridges distributed among the horsemen and it was thus taken over in safety. The guns and caissons went clean out of sight beneath the surface of the rapid torrent, but all came out without the loss of a piece or a man, though the night was dark, and by three o'clock on the morning of the 28th of June we all stood wet and dripping on the Maryland shore.


Major Henry B. McClellan, Stuart's Assistant Adjutant-General (and a cousin of the more famous commander of the opposing Army of the Potomac) gives another vivid description of the crossing of this relatively obscure local ford.:

It had been necessary to halt the command several times since the 25th to graze the horses, for the country was destitute of provisions, and Stuart had no vehicles with him save ambulances. Upon reaching Dranesville Hampton's brigade was sent to Rowser's Ford, and made the passage early in the night ; but the Potomac was so wide, and the current so strong, that the ford was reported impracticable for the artillery and the ambulances. Another ford in the vicinity was examined, under circumstances of great danger, by Captain R.B. Kennon of Stuart's staff, but it was found to offer no better prospect of success, and Stuart determined to cross at Rowser's, if it were within the limits of possibility. The caissons and limber-chests were emptied on the Virginia shore, and the ammunition was carried over by the cavalrymen in their hands. The guns and caissons, although entirely submerged during nearly the whole crossing, were safely dragged through the river and up the steep and slippery bank, and by three o'clock on the morning of the 28th the rear-guard had crossed and the whole command was established upon Maryland soil. No more difficult achievement was accomplished by the cavalry during the war. The night was calm and without a moon. No prominent object marked the entrance to the ford on either side, but horse followed horse through nearly a mile of water, which often covered the saddles of the riders. Where the current was strong the line would unconsciously be borne down the river, sometimes so far as to cause danger of missing the ford, when some bold rider would advance from the opposite shore and correct the alignment. Energy, endurance, and skill were taxed to the utmost ; but the crossing was effected, and so silently that the nearest neighbors were not aware of it until daylight. Possession was immediately taken of the canal, which constituted one of the lines of supply for Hooker's army ; a number of boats, some of them containing troops, were captured, and the canal was broken. After the arduous labors of the night some rest was indispensable, especially for the artillery horses, and the sun was several hours high before the command left the Potomac for Rockville. Hampton's brigade moved in advance by way of Darnestown, and found Rockville in the possession of a small force of the enemy, which was speedily scattered.



  • The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby, published Little, Brown, & Co., 1917, and available as a reprint in the "Southern Classics Series," J.S. Sanders & Co., Nashville, Tennessee, 1995. [See Chapter VI, "The Strategy of the Battle of Manassas."]
  • War Years with Jeb Stuart, by Lieutenant Colonel W.W. Blackford, originally published in 1945 by Charles Scribner, republished with new editorial material by Louisiana State University Press, 1993 Used by permission of the Press.
  • I Rode with J.E.B. Stuart, by Major Henry B. McClellan, originally published in 1958 by the Indiana University Press. Used by permission of the Press. [Available in reprint.]


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