The 1854 Rappahannock River Crib Dam
Historical Woods of America reclaimed timbers from The 1854 Rappahannock River Crib Dam. The Crib Dam was completed in December of 1854; its wooden timbers have been underwater for the past 150 years.
Its modern counterpart, the 1910 Embrey Dam, was removed in 2004, exposing these valuable timbers. Historical Woods of America has reclaimed a number of these timbers and continues to create handcrafted products for sale.
The Crib Dam and the Civil War:
While the Civil War era sketches from Union soldiers and media provide details of what the crib dam and canal looked like, it was also mentioned in the Official Records and letters of the period. The dam, its reservoir, and canal were an impediment to the Union Army quartered on the north side of the river with the Confederate Army entrenched on the south side. The dam was a prominent landmark just in front of the extreme left flank of the main Confederate defensive line during the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg.
Breck’s Island shown on the map was also known as Winchester, Breck’s, Hunters and finally Lauck’s Island during differenthistorical periods. Union Colonel Charles Wainwright thought that the river could be forded near the dam and that a stone causeway could be raised to within a couple of feet of the surface. He also suggested crossing the dam because the water was only six inches deep and wide enough to push a narrow column across. As a result, the chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac requested a study be made in December 1862 of the stone dam a mile above Falmouth across the Rappahannock and “see if it is possible to drain the pond above either by digging around the end of the dam on our side, digging through the dam, or damming it up while [the] enemy hold the other bank.” 1
During the 1863, Chancellorsville Campaign, the upper canal and the Union ignorance of the Fredericksburg geography combined to stop an attack by Union General John Gibbon’s troops during the battle on May 3, 1863. Although the Union leaders had been warned of a “deep trench or canal [that] ran around the town, between it and the hills, which would prove a serious obstacle to the passage of troops,” that vital piece of information was ignored and Gibbon and his forces were sent in. They crossed the lower canal, but the Confederates forces destroyed the only bridge that spanned the upper canal.
The canal was about 30’ wide, about 6’ deep, and in the Confederate field of fire. With no way to cross the canal, Gibbon’s forces were stymied.2
The dam was also the scene of North-South fraternization and unofficial truces that occurred on the Rappahannock River in 1862-63. In mid-April 1863, several southern soldiers “were up to their necks seining for fish” just below the dam. One Union soldier recounted the banter hollered across the dam. During the exchange, the Union soldier said he had come to help take Richmond. The rebel replied that we would have a tough time doing that, and that “we would have a Hill to climb, a Longstreet to travel and a Stonewall to batter down…”3