The Dismal Swamp Canal, opened to waterway traffic in 1805, became a "prize of war" during the Civil War. In the early months of the war, southerners used the Canal to transport much-needed naval supplies via the Canal and prtected it with a tiny fleet defending Roanoke Island and Elizabeth City.
The Dismal Swamp Canal also became a construction are for the south's ironclads, causing Northern General J. L. Reno to move his command of 3,000 troops to South Mills and blow up the locks there, then proceed to the Currituck Canal and destroy its banks. However, a small confederate force prevented Reno from destroying the locks, even though they were defeated by the Union Army.
Soon afterwards, the confederates surrendered on May 10, 1862, and Union troops transported goods on the Canal.
Following the surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the Canal was returned to its owners in a deplorable condition.