Pictured here is the canal ditch

The Canal Ditch

Pictured here is the Canal Ditch State Marker


“The post-Civil War street in front of you, Kenmore Avenue, covers a wartime millrace or canal ditch. On December 13, 1862, the ditch became a maddening obstacle to Union soldiers advancing against Marye’s Heights. Five feet deep, 15 feet wide, and filled with frigid water, it could only be crossed on three battered bridges. As the Federals funneled across the waterway, they were pummeled by Confederate artillery.

Once across the ditch, the Federals formed in the shelter of a slight bluff, then charged the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights. By the end of the day, more than 1,000 Union soldiers lay dead on the plain that stretches out before you. Seven thousand more were wounded or captured. “It was a great slaughter-pen…they might as well have tried to take Hell.”


The Canal Ditch, or millrace, was a canal that separated the Union Forces from the Confederates.

To the east of the Canal Ditch was Marye’s Heights and Sunken Road.  Confederate Brigadier General Thomas R. R. Cobb and his men were there . To the west of the ditch were the Federal Divisions of Major General William H. French and Major General Winfield Scott Handcock. (1)

Cobb and his brigade held the right flank of Lafayette McLaws and his division. (2) The Union bombarded Cobb’s forces with artillery and cannon fire on December 13th, 1862. (3) As the battle continued, an artillery shell tore through the Stevens House and exploded. Cobb was hit with either shrapnel or a stray bullet and eventually bled to death. (4)

The First Rhode Island Light Artillery, meanwhile, were given orders to move across the Canal Ditch to position their guns approximately 200 yards from the enemy position at the stone wall. These and other Federal forces were eventually pushed back. (5)


Featured Image:

     Lakelyn Wiley, “The Canal Ditch Historical Marker,” 2018.

(1) Theodore P. Savas and David A. Woodbury. Blood on the Rappahannock: The Battle of Fredericksburg, (Campbell, CA: Regimental Studies, Inc., 1995), 28.

(2) Ibid., 31.

(3) Ibid., 33.

(4) Ibid., 35.

(5) Bradley Finfrock, Across the Rappahannock, (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1994), 130.

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