Notes on Botelor's Ford & Botelor's Mill

Reference in C&O Canal Companion: Mile 71.4 and 71.7

Map detail from Sheet #1, Plate XXIX, in the
Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1891-1895. [Available in reprint editions.]
There are several maps of the Antietam campaign in this collection. This one
is of particular interest because it shows the dam for Botelor's Mill, the mill buildings,
and Botelors Ford, with the roads leading to and from the ford. The bridge to
Shepherdstown is shown on several of the maps, but labelled "destroyed."


To be added

Mile 71.4:

Jackson's legendary quartermaster, Major Harmon, was once again in find form, "cussing across the wagons" as he had two weeks earlier at Whites Ford (see Mile 38.9).

Mile 71.7:

Though he built the mill with the grain trade in mind, Dr. Henry Botelor was alert to the potential use of local limestone for cement, and corresponded with President Mercer of the C&O in January 1828 to offer his services. Botelor could offer his cement at a much lower rate than the competitive suppliers in New York because of his convenient proximity to the canal works. Until 1837, when the Roundtop Mill started operation (see mile 127.4), Botelor was the primary supplier of cement to the C&O Canal. The relationship was symbiotic, as the mill became so dependent on the C&O to ship its cement that it occasionally had to cease operation because of low water in the canal. Though the Shepherdstown river lock was nearly a mile upstream, records indicate that the mill was also dependent on its being in good repair so that the cement could be boated across the Potomac and into the canal.

Henry Botelor died in 1836, and his 21-year old son Alexander, one year out of Princeton University and newly married, inherited his business concerns and an unfortunate amount of debt. The mill continued to produce cement for use in Baltimore, Georgetown, and Washington, and in 1851 received a contract to provide cement for the U.S. Capitol. Beginning in 1852, however, Alexander Botelor began leasing the mill to a Mr. Reynolds.

Because of Alexander Botelor's active participation in the Confederate cause, Union troops burned the mill on August 19, 1861. When General Hunter began the practice of burning the private homes of secessionists in the summer of 1864, Botelor's house was among the properties destroyed. The mill was restored to operation in 1867, and was continued, with occasional interruptions due to flooding, by Major Harry Woodward Blunt. The business finally came to a grinding halt when Major Blunt died in 1901.



Lt. Colonel Blackford's account of the cavalry crossing after the battle of Antietam:

Towards evening General Stuart came back to where he left his staff, to go to an interview with General Lee, to which he had been summoned, and told me he wished to proceed at once and examine the Potomac River in our rear above the regular ford near Shepherdstown, and find, if possible, a ford by which cavalry could cross, and that I must do this without making inquiries among citizens; that if suc a crossing could be found, to place some men at it and station a line of men at intervals of a couple of hundred yards along the route leading to the pace so that I could guide a column of cavalry to it in the dard without fail, and theat I must report to him by sundown. There was no time to be lost, so taking twenty men I started at a rapid trot to the river and then up the banks of the stream, noticing carefully every indication of shallow water. The only way to prove the fact was to ride in until the water became too deep, and in this way I son became wet up to my neck, for sometimes Magic would step off a ledge into swimming water.

At last, however, I found a crossing just below a fish trap where a shallow dam had been built of loose stones over which the water poured. For a distance of ten or fifteen yards below this dam the water was shallow enough for fording and then it became deeper and deeper until it was clear past the saddle. The place was very rough and the water swift, but it was the best that could be had; so after crossing several times to learn the position of some dangerous places, I stationed a picket at the bank to with orders to answer my call if I came in the dark, and returned to General Stuart, noticing carefully the unmarked route and leaving men along at intervals to guide from one to the other.


As soon as it was dark, fires were lighted all along our lines as usual, but the movement to the rear soon showed that my surmise was correct and that the army was going to cross back into Virginia. First the wagon trains, then the artillery, and then the infantry took up the line of march to and across the river. I was sent to guide Hampton's brigade to the ford I had found, and reached it without trouble, thanks to precautions taken, for it was very dark and a heavy fog arose from the river, wrapping everything in an impenetrable veil of mist.

The head of the column by my guidance, keeping close to the fish dam, crossed safely, but then there occurred one of those mishaps which will occur in war even after every conceivable precaution apparently has been taken. As before stated, the ford was a narrow one, along just below the fish dam; below this the water was deep and swift, and the distance across the river at this pace was considerable. The fog was so thick that only a few horses' lengths in front could be seen, and in the column each horseman followed the one before him. Each horse was pressed to a certain extent downstream, and not having been told that they must keep close to the fish dam, they followed their leaders all the time, losing ground by the current as they advanced. The result was that the rear of the column found itself in swimming water and had great difficulty in saving itself. Some men, I believe, were drowned and several horses were lost. The right thing would have been to post men all along the ford on the lower side, but this no one thought of until too late.

General Walker's account of the crossing of the main body of Lee's army:

Detained in superintending the removal of a number of the wounded of my division, I was among the last to cross the Potomac. As I rode into the river I passed General Lee, sitting on his horse in the stream, watching the crossing of the wagons and artillery. Returning my greeting, he inquired as to what was still behind. here was nothing but the wagons containing my wounded, and a battery of artillery, all of which were near at hand, and I told him so. "Thank God!" I heard him say as I rode on.


The dam for Botelor's Mill in ruins, with mill buildings in the background--
probably the result of flood damage and neglect after it closed in the early 1900s.
The intrepid explorer can still find many remains: the stone mill, the office
building along the river road, the limekilns upstream of the dam, and
timbers and spikes on the river bottom along the line of the dam.
from Library of Congress.



  • Alexander Robinson Botelor, Wheelhouse of Whiggery, Stonewall's Courier, compiled and edited by Charles S. Adams, Co-editor John S. Watterson III, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, 1998. [The Appendices reprint some of Botelor's autobiographical essays.]
  • Cement Mills Along the Potomac River, by Thomas F. Hahn & Emory L. Kemp, Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archeology, West Virginia University, Monograph Series Volume 2, Number 1, 1994
  • 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. [Compare Blackford's and McClellan's account of the cavalry crossing at Rowser's Ford]
  • Make Me a Map of the Valley--The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson's Topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss,
    edited by Archie P. McDonald, Southern Methodist University Press, 1973. [Hotchkiss was ordered to located the route to the primary ford used by the army; he describes Major Harmon as "cussing" the army train across the river.]
  • "Harper's Ferry and Sharpsburg," by (General) John G. Walker, in The Century Magazine, vol. 32, issue 2, June 1886, pp. 296-309. [Viewable on-line as a part of Cornell University's Making of America collection.]
  • Also see Limekilns in this collection.



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