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Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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No.2. Reports of Brig. Army, Chief Engineerof operations from May 23, 1861, to August 15, 1862.


I had twice reconnoitered the other side of the Chickahominy, and on the 28th found General Naglee’s (Casey’s division) pickets holding the very edge of the large wheat field occupying the high lands immediately facing our position at New Bridge. On the 30th I repeated the reconnaissance, and reached Golding’s house, a point overlooking our débouché from the New Bridge at a distance of 1 ½ miles. I returned from that reconnaissance in the torrents of rain which commenced to fall that afternoon and which continued during the night, completely changing the whole aspect of affairs.

On the afternoon of the 31st the enemy threw himself upon our left wing, doubtless believing that it was, by the swollen condition of the Chickahominy, entirely isolated. Fortunately General Sumner succeeded in getting over both divisions of his corps and one battery, though Richardson, finding the lower bridge impassable, was obliged to make a detour to the upper one, and did not arrive in time to take part in the action that evening. Soon after the upper bridge became impassable.

Orders from headquarters were given for throwing that night the bridges at the points selected at and near New Bridge. The night was intensely dark, and the dense foliage of the swamp excluded any little light there was in the heavens. The stream, which during the day had slowly exhibited the effects of the storm, rose rapidly during the night. Captain Duane, who at the New Bridge had the simplest task of all— that of bringing his pontoons into position between existing abutments— found the darkness, the powerful current, and the rising stream too much to contend with, and postponed his operations till daylight.

At the upper point the bridge materials (trestles), which had been deposited near the site, under cover of the swamp timber, were found to be afloat. This, with the much more difficult character of the task than that of Captain Duane’s, prevented any progress during the night.

At the lower point the same or even greater difficulties were encountered. The direction of the bridge, chosen while the water was down and well chosen, was found inadmissible after a rise of a couple of feet.

Detachments of General Woodbury’s brigade had charge of the construction of these two last-named bridges. He reports to me:

At 1.30 p. m., when the battle began over the river, I was at work 2 miles below New Bridge on a bridge or set of bridges over the Chickahominy. I comprehended in an instant the full import of the attack, and hastened back to prepare for bridges. The six teams left to me I caused to be harnessed up and added to them as many as I could raise in my brigade. * * * About 10 o’clock on the night of the 31st ultimo I received orders to commence bridges immediately.

The three sub-reports herewith, numbered 3, 4, 5, (Captains Brainerd, Ketchum and Spalding) of the officers charged with the construction, will show the difficulties encountered. General Woodbury adds:

No fault can be found with the officers or men of the Engineer Brigade. I have never seen officers work with more zeal or men work harder than they have done during the last two days. Only by more familiarity with the drill could they have had more experience available for the recent emergency.

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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.112

web page Rickard, J (20 June 2006)