Many residents of Chesterfield have visited the Dutch Gap Conservation Area and the Citie of Henricus Historical Park at one time or another. If you walk out past Henricus to the Point or visit the boat ramp at Dutch Gap, you are looking at the results of a historical event that began this week, 147 years ago. According to “Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedman’s Colony,” by Patricia C. Click, “Union troops tried to build a canal at Dutch Gap late in 1864. Among their workers were paid African-American laborers from the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony, who were pressed into service away from their base in North Carolina. By that time, some freedmen were serving in the United States Colored Troops, and they took part in the military action at Dutch Gap. The Union Army intended to cut off the large [bend] of the James threatened by Confederate forts, such as Battery Dantzler.”
On Aug. 11, Confederate General Robert E. Lee visited Battery Dantzler to observe for himself what Union General Benjamin F. Butler was up to on the James River. Lee ordered a barrage of cannon fire to interrupt work on the canal. The Union army could not complete the extensive work on the canal during the war, but it was completed later. It has now become the main channel of the James River.