Friday, April 16, 2010

Erie Canal Breached - 54th Regiment Called Out

In addition to its Civil War duty at the Prisoner of War camp in Elmira, Rochester's local militia unit, the 54th Infantry Regiment NY National Guard,  was on occasion also called by NY's Governor for local duty.  Among those call-outs was as a breach in the Erie Canal at the Ox Bow in the village of Fairport. in 1871  The following chronicles this incident as reported in the Rochester Union & Advertiser.

Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: April 29, 1871, p. 2

EXTENSIVE BREACH IN THE ERIE CANAL
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Thirty Thousand Yards of Earth Gone Out
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A CANAL BOAT WRECKED IN THE WOODS
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Two Weeks Delay of Navigation
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Intelligence was received in this city about daybreak this morning that a formidable breach had taken place in the Erie Canal at a place known as Ox Bow, in the town of Perinton, nine miles east of Rochester.  The Canal is on an embankment about forty feet high at this place.  The water began to rush out of the opening just before midnight, and ere daylight nearly the entire level of seventeen miles had been emptied upon the country below.  About thirty thousand yards of earth went out of the breach.
A Canal boat, light, and bound westward, was near the place when the breach took place and was drawn in and passed into the woods nearly half a mile below.
Commissioner Fay was on the ground about 6 o'clock with Engineer Richmond and others making preparations to begin repairs as soon as the water will permit.  The Commissioner sent the following dispatch to the Auditor:
C. A. DAYTON, AUDITOR, ALBANY:—Break occurred last night at Ox Bow embankment, one and one half miles west of Fairport.  Twenty-five to thirty thousand yards gone out.
Will take two weeks to repair.
                    J. D. FAY

A reporter was dispatched to the scene of the disaster this forenoon, and may return ere the first edition of the Union goes to press, with more particulars.
We understand that the canal where this breach occurred has been closely inspected within the last few days, and gave no signs of failure.  The repair boat was there yesterday, and tied up last night but a short distance from the breach.  There was never, perhaps, better cause to believe that this disaster was the work of some villain.  A serious breach occurred at the same place six years ago, and it may have been selected because it was likely to prove very disastrous.
A small breach or leak occurred yesterday at Lock Berlin, but it is nearly repaired ere this.
We are indebted to Miss Hall, operator in the Atlantic and Pacific office in Fairport, for the first announcement of this breach by telegraph, and to Mr. Blackall of the Rochester office for further particulars.
LATER—BY TELEGRAPH
Our reporter sends us the following by the Atlantic and Pacific line:
FAIRPORT, April 28—12:20 P.M.
ED. UNION:—The break is a very disastrous one.  Bank went out at 11o'clock last night; no premonitions.  The break is in the tow-path in the centre of the ox bow and of the immense basin or reservoir at that point.  It is at least thirty feet in depth, one hundred and twenty feet wide at the bottom, and over nine hundred feet at the top.  The bottom of the canal is taken out to a great depth a long distance east of the break, but the embankment is not damaged at the point of the break.
The canal boat Barney Bird was near Fullam's Bridge and was drawn through the breach and carried over fields a distance of a mile, and lodged in the woods, the bow striking a hemlock tree, thirty feet from the ground, and swinging around on a hillock, lies there.
The Captain—John Terrill, his wife, a steersman and span of horses were on board and took the fearful ride.  They all escaped uninjured; boat broken some.  The boats L. W. Clark and J. W. Raven, light, came near being drawn into the breach.
It will take two weeks to make repairs; perhaps three, as earth will have to be drawn a long distance.  Timbers are now being taken to the breach.
The bridge and dam at Haywood's mill, on the stage road to Fairport, are swept away.  Also the bridge and dam at Lincoln's mill on the next road east.  Great damage is done to farms and lands.  A barn owned by Benjamin Strong in the route was swept away.
Contractors are on the ground and the work of repairs will commence at once.

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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 1, 1871, p. 2

The Great Break in the Canal
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Our dispatches and correspondences Saturday relative to the break which occurred in the Erie Canal in the Ox Bow, a mile and a half west of Fairport Friday night, recited in a brief manner all the particulars attending the catastrophe.  An error of the telegraph operator put the width of the breach in the two-path at the top at nine hundred feet; it should have been two hundred feet.  The readers of the paragraph readily corrected the error.
The prism of the canal is washed out for several hundred feet each side of the breach, and it will be necessary to replace the bottom before it will be safe to let the water into the channel again.  To do this and to fill up the breach in the tow-path will require, it is estimated, from fifty to sixty thousand yards of earth.
At noon Saturday timbers to be used in the work of repairs were being hauled to the spot, and workmen were engaged in constructing a dam in the canal a few hundred feet west of the break.  Yesterday a large number of teams and men were at work, and the number will be largely augmented to-day.  Quite a little village of shanties for the accommodation of the men has sprung up in the vicinity of the breach.  It is now thought that it will take from fifteen to twenty days to put everything all right at the Ox Bow.  A large number of people visited the scene of the break yesterday.
The waters from the canal, on their way to the Bay, did other damage than that noticed Saturday, but not of sufficient importance to call for especial notice.  There are probably between one and two hundred boats, laden, between the break and the western line of this city.  All speculation as to the cause of the breach is useless, for every vestige of the cause was swept away by the immense body of water that went out.  We shall note daily the progress of the work of repairs.
 
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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 1, 1871, p. 2

Items in Brief
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The National Guard of the State will soon receive an order from the Governor to perform six days of camp duty.  The 54th will hold itself in readiness to go to the field.

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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 3, 1871, p. 2

THE CANAL BREACH—The work of repairing the breach in the canal at the Ox bow is progressing quite as well as could be expected.  There are as many men there as can be employed to advantage; more teams are wanted.
The arrangements for feeding men and teams are now well arranged, and there is no reason for delay in the work unless storms should set in.  It is impossible to predict when the work will be completed.  After the earth is in and feeding commences, it will be four days or more before loaded boats will move.  The lower levels as far as Montezuma will be empty, and there is no source for feeding east of Rochester.  The water is leaking fast from the levels.  When the feeding begins it will be necessarily slow, on account of the boats lying in the channel.

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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 3, 1871, p. 3

The Canal Break—Radical Organs Unwittingly Punching the Head of a Radical Chief
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The New York Tribune of Monday had a dispatch purporting to come from this city, in which the "Ox Bow" break was attributed to "Democratic mismanagement."
The New York Times, same day, saw in the break an unfavorable "commentary on Democratic canal management."
The Albany Express, Syracuse Journal, and other Radical organs along the line, take up and swell the strain of their file leaders—the last named paper making this wonderful variation:  "What are the provisions of the law lately passed by the Democratic Legislature, abolishing the office of Superintendent?  Do they not make each Commissioner responsible for his Division?  Do they not give him the power to appoint as many subordinates as he may deem best, no matter whether those subordinates are called 'patrolmen' or something else?  Certainly the Commissioner and these subordinates are not to be ornamental."
The ignorance of these Radical sheets is quite equal to their malice.  We do not know who is to blame, or that anybody is to blame, for the Ox Bow break.  But if any official is primarily to blame, it is the Repair Contractor, who holds his contract, expiring in 1872, from the Republican Canal Board of 1867; who is one of the chiefs of the Republican party of this State; who was the late Republican Member of Congress from this district; and who founded and [   ]cted the Rochester Chronicle, now the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the leading Republican organ here—Hon. Lewis Selye!  Therefore, the Tribune, Times, Albany Express, Syracuse Journal, &c., when they frenetically strike at Democratic canal management, aim their blows at a vision of their heated [      ] brains, punching the head of one of their own leaders and kicking one of the last [      ] of Republican canal management inheriting the Democracy from the late condemned defunct Republican administration in this State!  They are welcome to all the party capital they can make by thus assailing the Republican contractor, Mr. Selye, and the Republican Canal Board that gave him his contract!
The Syracuse Journal seeks information about the provisions of the canal act lately passed by the Democratic Legislature, the powers and responsibilities of the Canal Commissioners there, subordinates authorized, &c., as applicable to the management of the canals this season.  The Journal evidently does not know that the act of the Legislature to which it refers has not yet been reached in its order and signed by the Governor, and therefore is not yet a law, and has not taken effect.  When it becomes a law, and not till then, we will have centered in the Canal Commissioner the power which will justify the people in holding him responsible for any disaster upon the canals that might be ar[    ] by precautionary action.

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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 5, 1871, p. 2

THE STRIKE AT THE BREACH
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The Military on the Ground
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ARRESTS MADE
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The Rioters Surrender
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WORK RESUMED
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All Quiet at the Ox Bow
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In the later editions of the Union yesterday some particulars were given of a strike among the laborers employed in repairing the great breach in the Erie canal at the Ox Bow, nine miles east of the city.  We have now further particulars.
The occurrence of this break brought to the spot more than one thousand persons, who organized as laborers to make repairs.  These persons were from all parts of the country—many of them boat hands and not a few dissolute idlers from this city.  The gathering was one that contained many who were spoiling for mischief.  Still, the work was organized and got well under way without trouble.  Yesterday morning there were signs of disturbance.  The disaffected among the workmen began to talk of three dollars per day—the wages being twenty shillings.  About ten o'clock it began to rain, and the men began to leave the work.  Those who were disposed to continue on the work were dissuaded by threats or otherwise from continuing, and soon all work had ceased.  There was not much violence offered, and no injury done to property.  After partaking of diner there was disposition to be jovial over the strike, songs were sung and short speeches made.  At length a few of the leaders in the disturbance engaged in a fight, but this did not last long.
It now became clear that the rioters intended to put an end to the work until their demands were complied with.  Mr. Selye, the contractor, at once telegraphed to Mayor Brigs of this city for military assistance.  The Mayor called on Sheriff Campbell and the Sheriff took the necessary steps to obtain military aid.  Gen. Clark made an order for two companies of the 54th Regiment to repair forthwith to the scene of the disturbance.  Co. E, Capt. Henderson, and Co. B., Capt. Schoen, were the companies ordered into service.  Owing to the fact that most of the members of these companies were distributed over the city and engaged in business, they were not readily notified and brought in.  The uniforms and equipments were scattered about, as the old Armory has been abandoned and the new one is not ready for occupancy.  Camp equipage, tents, etc., had to be made ready.  All these preparations took time.  It was hoped that the announcement of the coming of the military might have a good effect at the scene of the disturbance and perhaps make it unnecessary to send the soldiers at all.  But as the request for help was repeated the military got off at seven p. m. and in half an hour were at Fairport Station, each man having 40 rounds of ammunition, and the whole having 35 tents to shelter them from the weather.
The Sheriff and Mayor accompanied the military.
On the arrival at Fairport last evening a large number of men were found congregated on the bridge over the canal in the village and the citizens were alarmed and feared that they would commit some violence.  The bridge was cleared and a guard of twenty-five men stationed in the village.  The rest of the soldiers were at once sent to the break where guards were stationed over the bridges and roads.  Those not placed on this duty pitched their tents and went into camp.  Everything remained quiet during the night.
This morning the military were in readiness for any emergency.  When the time for work to commence arrived, the laborers, or many of them, refused to work until the arrival of Mr. Selye, the contractor.  When he appeared the long line of wagons commenced moving.  There were a few turbulent spirits present and they counseled the men not to go to work.  Their action was clearly inciting to a riot and the Sheriff ordered the arrest of two of them and they were taken into custody by Deputy Sheriffs Campbell and Hubbachuck, with the assistance of some of the military.  They were handcuffed, brought to the city and lodged in jail.  The name of one prisoner is Williams.
As the officers were leaving the ground with their prisoners there was another disturbance, but what it amounted to they did not linger to ascertain.
The Sheriff will to-day swear in a large number of special deputies and put them on duty in Fairport and on the farms in the vicinity of the break.  The farmers and owners of property there complain of depredations at the hands of the laborers and they are fearful that if another outbreak occurs that they will suffer seriously.
After ten this forenoon a dispatch came to Comm. Fry stating that the strikers had surrendered, the men and teams had resumed work, and all was going on quietly.
Further preparations were made last night, if it should be found necessary, to send more force to the breach.  There were ninety men in the companies sent down.  Company C, Capt. Madden, and Company H, Capt. Lester, were ordered to hold themselves in readiness for duty, and the men were assembled at head-quarters, but were dismissed for the night.  They may be sent to the ground for relief.  It is the purpose of the officers to uphold the law and protect those who were willing to labor and punish all who create disturbance—to ensure the speedy completion of the work of the State.
The following is the requisition of the Sheriff:
Brig. General Charles H, Clark commanding 25 Brigade N.G.S.N.Y.
GENERAL:
A riot and breach of the peace having occurred in the town of Perinton, in the county of Monroe, I, the Sheriff of said county, do hereby, in pursuance of the statute, in such case made and provided, require you with two companies of the military under your command, armed and equipped, as the law requires, to aid me in quelling said 'riot, and breach of the peace, and that you report yourself forthwith to me, at the Armory in the City of Rochester, with two companies of the men under your command and ready for service.
ROCHESTER, May 4th, 1871.
                P. B. CAMPBELL
                Sheriff of Monroe County

Gen. Clark then issued the following order:
HEADQUARTERS 25TH BRIGADE
N. Y. S. N. G.
ROCHESTER, May 4, 1871
Special Orders No. 2, N. S.:
Col. J. Geo. Baetzel will detail from his command, forthwith, the two senior companies, to proceed to "Ox Bow" Bend, Fairport, armed and equipped, and provided with forty rounds of ball cartridge.  By order
                        C. H. CLARK, Brig. Gen.
                    Lt. Col. W. C. STONE, A. A. Gen'l

The following note from Adjutant Begy gives an idea of the situation at camp this morning:
CAMP SELYE
HEADQUARTERS DETACHMENT
54TH REG'T, N. Y. S. N. G.
FRIEND C.—We arrived here last evening and marched out to the break at Ox Bow.  The boys immediately went into camp, and called their camp, as you will see by the heading of this, in honor of the Hon. L. Selye.  The boys are in god spirits.  Mayor Briggs, Gen. Clark and Col. Baetzel are here with us.
Yours hastily,
    GEO. A. BEGY, Adjt.
P.S.—While the men were at breakfast two of the ringleaders were arrested and taken to Fairport under guard detailed by Co. B.  It is the intention of Sheriff Campbell to arrest all the ringleaders, and have peace and quietness prevail.
                B.

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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 5, 1871, p. 3

The Democrat's Defense of the Radical Contractor
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The Democrat wades through nearly a column this morning in a very stupid attempt at defense of the Radical Contractor upon whose section the Ox Bow break occurred, and whom nobody accuses or assails except hypothetically upon the charges of neglect of duty made by his own party friends.
As to the Democratic state authorities, upon whom the Radical organs have blunderingly cast censure, the Democrat affects to accept our challenge to show where they have failed to meet their full responsibility, and here is its showing:
We are now prepared to accept the challenge of the Union.  We point to the fact of the break as proof that the canal was insecure at that point.

There's "proof" for you!  A break occurs: ergo, the Democratic canal authorities caused it!  The very same Ox Bow embankment went out a few years ago under the administration of Republican canal authorities, the same gentleman being contractor:  therefore, according to the Democrat's logic, those authorities caused it!  The Democrat office has had the misfortune to be several times destroyed by fire:  consequently, if that paper's reasoning be correct, the authorities of the office—the managing proprietors, must have caused the conflagration!  Hadn't the Democratic people make restitution to the insurance company?
The fact is, the embankment of the Ox Bow was personally and thoroughly inspected by Commissioner Fay and the other canal authorities before and after the occurrence of the small break a short distance off that preceded its going out.  So far as the human eye could see and human skill render, it was considered safe; and it is the opinion of many that the bank was maliciously cut.  The contractor's repair boat and force were upon the adjacent land as required and directed by the authorities, and the only parties who charge that the contractor did not do his duty are his own partisan friends who blindly assail the canal officials and hit him over their shoulders.  We may ask to be saved from his short-sighted, slow-witted party friends.
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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 6, 1871, p. 2

THE RIOT AT OX BOW
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(From our Special Correspondent.)
DEAR UNION:—Paris no longer monopolizes the attention of the civilized world in her sanguinary  conflicts.  She now has a rival here in the insurrection line, and although "Gen. Rossel of the Communists has been wounded in the shoulder," Contractor Selye has not received a scratch—a number of his men, however, have been shot—in the neck, but not fatally.
Notwithstanding that the Versailles troops did not hesitate to fire upon the Masons, the National Guard will not shoot the shovel brigade.
Supplies continue to reach Ox Bow, and the inhabitants have not yet been compelled to eat canal horses to any considerable extent.
Many of the cooks on the boats are preparing themselves for hospital nurses in view of the commencement of hostilities.  Doors open at 7.  Hostilities to commence at 8.  No extra charge for reserved seats.
Certified lists of the killed and wounded for sale by all respectable newsboys, price four cents.  The Governor has appointed a jointed commission to inquire into the merits of the dispute, and to test the quality of the benzine in the canteens of the rioters.  The scow which was carried through the breach is now aground about half a mile distant.  Having no cargo to discharge, the captain discharged the driver.  She has singe righted, and the mate is now writing the consignees.  Gen. B. F. Butler has been telegraphed to come and take command.  It is believed that his experience at Ditch Gap will render him and invaluable commander.  An appeal will be made to-day for lint and bandages; if not wanted by the troops they will be for the horses of the tow-path cavalry.
The owner of the farm at the breach wants to sell it—including its "water privilege."
There are many visitors to the "disastrous break," but the residents here do not appear to appreciate the privilege of having the show in their vicinity, some of them desire the great embankment to be removed and a swing bridge substituted as being less likely to break and inundate their lands, while others openly declare that rather than have another such break here they would be willing to have the "State Fair" one season.
Every thing is now progressing favorably for an early resumption of navigation.
"When this cruel war is over."
                                SPADER
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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 6, 1871, p. 2

All Right at the Break
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The advices to-day represent all things going on right at the break in Perinton.  The following is a dispatch from Under Sheriff Campbell:
FAIRPORT, N.Y., May 6, 9:30 a.m.
All quiet at Ox Bow.  No disturbance since yesterday morning.  Men worked on the break last night.
                                C. H. CAMPBELL
                                UNDER SHERIFF
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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 8, 1871, p. 2

Items in Brief
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A large number of citizens drove to the breach at Ox Bow yesterday to see the work in progress there.  All was moving on systematically and in order.  Notwithstanding the large number of visitors on the grounds with a good supply of stimulating beverages, there was little disorder.
The two companies of the 54th remain at the breach and are doing guard duty and performing other soldierly exercises.  Mr. Seyle gave a silver cup to be competed for at a turkey shoot.  Capt. Henderson's company won the prize.
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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 8, 1871, p. 2

The Great Canal Breach
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EDS. U. & A.—Gentlemen:  When the great and appalling breach which occurred on the night of the 28th of April of the high embankment just west of Fairport took place, the commercial men had good reason to be disheartened.  I visited the breach on the 29th in the morning, and there beheld what made the heart sicken.  A great catastrophe had befallen the commercial men of this city, as well as of the State itself.
This great gulf, from which thousands upon thousands of yards of earth had been swept ruthlessly away, and that which lined the high towpath having been torn out for a quarter of a mile extending each way, and joining that in the great breach had been swept out and carried miles away from its place of repose, leaving the canal at "Ox Bow" ingulphed in one common ruin—the news of this disaster was heralded all over this and adjoining States, and seemed at the time to discourage everybody and paralyze everybody, and lay an embargo upon our commerce and commercial men, that bid fair to last into months—thousands of boats and horses left standing idle on the expanse, and the products of the West and merchandise from the East left to seek other routes and other channels to and from the great marts of our commerce—having much at stake and feeling the deepest interest for the welfare of those engaged in the carrying trade, as well as for the prosperity of the State itself.
I have visited daily these works, and noticed with pleasure the rapid progress being made.
And it is but common justice to say, as I most cheerfully do, that great credit is due to the State officers in charge, as well as Contractor Seyle, with his assistants.  His foreman, Mr. Spaulding, has proved himself quite competent for the position he holds.  His voice has been heard here and there, night and day.  All have shown and exhibited the right spirit, and have pushed forward this work, now nearly completed, with commendable zeal.  A very large portion of the men and teams engaged thereon were those engaged in navigating the canal, and it is but just to say that they have worked with great energy and fidelity.
It seems almost a miracle that so large a force could be got on the ground and be made so available, and to work with such regularity and great effect.
To such a place hundreds of idlers and roughs congregate to make disturbances, and hence the necessity for calling out Sheriff and military, who have contributed largely to the speedy completion of the this work, and are eminently entitled to the thanks of our people.  The authorities have assured me that they should commence drawing water this evening, and pass boats by Thursday.  For the energy and fidelity of all concerned in pushing forward these repairs to completion they are entitled to the thanks of the hundred thousand commercial men of our State, as well as those of Western States, who are depending upon our State to furnish them transit for their produce and merchandise, in getting the canal in working order at least two weeks sooner than the best judges predicted they could.  I propose to throw my best hat high up in the air and give three times three cheers for those in charge, as well as those who have performed this herculean labor, in doing in days what it was supposed would have taken weeks.  Let us give credit to whom credit is due.
                Truly yours,
                    Henry L. Fish

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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 9, 1871, p. 2

The Breach Closed—Water Let In—Discharge of Laborers
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The work of filling up the great breach in the Canal at Ox-Bow has progressed so far that water was this morning let into the level.  Ere the lower levels are filled the repairs will be completed and the Canal all in order again.
The work was so far completed this morning that six hundred men and most of the teams were dismissed, their services being no longer required.
The work has so far been well done, the bank at the breach and the bottom of the channel have been covered with gravel as a precaution against new danger at that point.
The time it has taken to repair this great breach is surprisingly short, and much less than the terrified croakers named for repairs.  The workmen were well organized, and never has so great a body of men brought into effective action before in our memory.  To the hearty co-operation of State officers and contractor is this success due.  Every honorable and intelligent man who ahs looked upon this work will readily and heartily join in awarding credit to all concerned in it.  But for the rain and the strike the work would have been completed a day or two sooner.
It will require about three days to fill the levels from this city to Montezuma so that fully laden boats can pass.  The water has been slowly wasting away during the suspension, and there is little left below the breach, which is on the Seventeen Mile Level, extending from Pittsford Lock to Macedon.  Efforts will be made to so distribute the detained boats that the work of feeding may not be interfered with.  We trust that the close of the week will show all the boats in motion, running forward to their destination, not to be again detained by a similar mishap this season.
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Rochester, NY Union & Advertiser: May 11, 1871, p. 2

Items in Brief
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The work at the breach having been completed, a guard has been stationed to carefully watch the new work night and day.
The two companies of the 54th which have been on the war path down the Canal, returned yesterday.  They bear no scalps in their belts as trophies of victory.  They may be classed among the first heroes, for they have achieved victory without using swords and bullets.
 
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