01926 - African Americans in front of; Major Strong's Bomb Proof; Dutch Gap, 1864 [LC-DIG-cwpb-01926]
A Bomb Proof, today would probably be referred to as a “Bomb shelter” or “Bunker”. While it was known that the “Bomb Proof” could not stop a direct blast from a large shell such as a mortar, it did provide substantial piece of mind and relative protection from small fragments and indirect blasts.
At Dutch Gap, in August of 1864, US Gen Butler had commenced to build a canal to bypass confederate batteries on the James river. In an effort to prevent the canal being built, the confederates would constantly fire from an elevated position onto the job site.
During the canal's construction, seven thousand shells were thrown in and around the canal; fifty men were killed there, and two hundred wounded; forty-five horses were killed, three barges sunk, and nine tugs disabled.
Looking at this “Bomb Proof” with its glass windows and wooden door, it seems laughable today that it would be considered shelter. However, the few feet of earth above the structure did provide a measure of protection that otherwise would not have been afforded.
Often Bomb proofs were constructed on the side of hills, or dug into the ground to utilize the natural terrain as protection. Some were barely large enough to hold a few men, and some extended for considerable distance and could provide shelter for a large number of men.
The men pictured are part of the United States Colored Troops. The USCT had the dual roles of providing the manpower in building the canal while also protecting the construction site from the confederates.
Ultimately “Bomb Proofs” such as this one were not common since they were only built when an army stayed in a location for an extended period of time.