Number 177. Siege of Petersburg Reports of Lieutenant William R. King, Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army, Acting Chief Engineer, of operations January 1-31

   

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in Siege of Petersburg Reports (95)

No. 177. Reports of Lieutenant William R. King, Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army, Acting Chief Engineer, of operations January 1-31.1

HDQRS. DEPT. OF VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA,
CHIEF ENGINEER’S OFFICE,
January 10, 1865.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of engineering operations in the Army of the James for the week ending January 7, 1865:

The corduroy road leading from the Twenty-fourth Army Corps line to Deep Bottom is completed, and the road from the department headquarters is finished to Kingsland road, a distance of 2,666 yards. Some

delay has been experienced in the construction of these roads, in consequence of the bad state of the roads over which the timber for them had to the transported. On the Bermuda Hundred front the new interior line from Battery Anderson, on the right, to Battery England, on the left, is completed, excepting the abatis, which, owing to the scarcity of transportation, is not yet finished. Repairs were made in Battery England, the old rivetting of rails being taken down and replaced by new pales. Battery Anderson was repaired and the parapet raised two feet. The infantry parapets from Battery England to Batteries Pruyn and Walker are being repaired. On Sunday, January 1, at 3.50 p.m., the mines at Dutch Gap were fired. The result of the explosion was the removal of the mass of earth forming the bulkhead of the canal, but owing to the high banks a large amount of debris (probably 2,500 yards) was left in the canal and in the river above. The highest point of this obstruction was in the river just outside of the canal, where a semi-circular ridge was formed nearly six feet above low-water mark. Profesor Maillefert has been endeavoring to make a channel by blasting, using small charges (100 or 200 pounds), and he has succeeded in getting quite a current through the canal, but it is not probable that a depth of water sufficient for even the light-draught monitors can be obtained without considerable dredging. The work of building a permanent bridge across the James near Varina was commenced on Thursday, January 5.

I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your servant,

W. R. KING,
First Lieutenant of Engineers, Acting Chief Engineer
Department of Virginia and North Carolina.

Bvt. Major J. G. BARNARD,
Chief Engineer Combined Armies of Virginia.

HDQRS. DEPT. OF VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA,
CHIEF ENGINEER’S OFFICE,
January 18, 1865.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of engineering operations for the week ending January 14:

It having been observed that the enemy was engaged in throwing up small detached works in front of Fort Burnham, I examined the same from our picket-line and found them to be small splinter-proof huts, evidently designed for the twofold purpose of keeping their pickets warm and affording cover for sharpshooters. This idea was confirmed by the report of deserters, who stated that sharpshooting would be commenced by the enemy as soon as these works were completed. I therefore directed Captain Parsons, First New York Volunteer Engineers, chief engineer Twenty-fifth Army Corps, to strengthen our picket-line by connecting the detached rifle-pits and providing loop-holes for our own sharpshooters. The work has been completed, and Captain Parsons has also done considerable work in repairing and extending corduroy roads.

The work in the Twenty-fourth Corps consisted chiefly in repairing roads. The recent freshens and rainy weather have retarded considerably the work on the permanent bridge across the James River, but it is now progressing favorably. Lieutenant Trenor has been engaged in completing the new line on the Bermuda front. Profesor Maillefert has

continued his blasting operations at Dutch Gap, and has succeeded in getting a channel two feet deep at low tide. This during the recent freshens was ten feet deep in the shoalest place.

I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. R. KING,
First Lieutenant of Engineers, Acting Chief Engineer
Department of Virginia and North Carolina.

Bvt. Major General J. G. BARNARD,
Chief Engineer Combined Armies of Virginia.

HDQRS. DEPT. OF VIRGINIA, CHIEF ENGINEER’S OFFICE,
January 25, 1865.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of engineering operations in the Army of the James for the week ending January 21, 1865:

The curdoroy to the Twenty-fifth Corps has been proceeded with, and a new road from the “Flying” hospital (a distance of 300 yards) has been completed. Repairs have also been made where necessary. Work has been done in strengthening the parapet, making good the revetment, draining, &c., on the line between Fort Burnham and Battery No. 5. Two magazines in Fort Burnham have been re-covered and one lined. Repairs have also been made to Redoubts Brooks, Wilcken, and Southard. The rifle-pits in advance of Fort Burnham are completed. The permanent bridge across the James has been proceeded with; but for delays in consequence of unfavorable weather it would have been finished. Repairs are still in progress on the Bermuda Hundred front.

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

W. R. KING,

First Lieutenant of Engineers, Actg. Chief Engineer Dept. of Virginia.

Bvt. Major General J. G. BARNARD,
Chief Engineer Combined Armies of Virginia.

HDQRS. DEPT. OF VIRGINIA, CHIEF ENGINEER’S OFFICE,
February 19, 1865.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of engineering operations in the Army of the James for the period of January 22 to January 31, 1865:

On the line of the Twenty-fourth Corps the work consisted in strengthening the parapet of Redoubts Brooks, Southard, and Wilcken, building magazine in the last-mentioned work, laying platforms, repairing revetment, and arranging loop-holes on breast-works between Redoubts Southard and Brooks. The loop-holes referred to were made of boards, as shown by the inclosed drawings,* and were substituted for sand-bag loop-holes for the following considerations: First. They present a smaller target for the enemy’s sharpshooters, and at the same time give a larger field of fire. This consideration renders them especially adapted to locations where the lines are very close, or where, from the nature of the ground, the enemy’s sharpshooters can find cover near our works, and will, I think, more than balance the disadvantage

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* See Plate LXVII, Sketch 6 of the Atlas.

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arising from splinters. (In cases there is a heavy artillery fire they may be easily removed.) Second. Their cost is less than one-twentieth that of sand-bags. While sand-bag loop-holes require three and should have five bags, at 50 cents, these cost less than 10 cents per loop-hole. One saw-mill can but boards for 600 or 700 in one day, and the only additional cost is for a few nails.

On the Twenty-fifth Corps front the revetment of the breast-work between Forts Burnham and Brady has been repaired and improved, and the magazine in Fort Burnham lined with boards and covered with an additional depth of earth. As the enemy’s artillery in front of this portion of the line consists almost entirely of mortars, some protection other than the ordinary parapet seemed necessary to cover the garrison. During the recent demonstration by the rebel rams the enemy opened twelve or fourteen Coehorn and 8-inch and 10-inch mortars on the fort, and drove the garrison to their bomb-proofs, silencing the artillery. To obviate this difficulty in future, casemates of the plan indicated by the accompanying drawings* have been commenced. One is nearly completed and materials for several others prepared. The damage done to Fort Brady during the recent bombardment has been repaired, and a small sunken battery has been built below the fort on the opposite side of the ravine. The parapet of this work has been made thirty feet thick, in order to withstand the heavy rifle projectiles of the enemy, which have been found to penetrate upwards of Sixteen feet in solid earth. It is proposed to mount a 100-pounder Parrott gun on a Dahlgren carriage, or a 30-pounder on a siege carriage, in this work, so that it may be shifted from one embrasure to another.

On the Bermuda front the following repairs and additions have been made: Battery Pruyn-embrasures repaired, parapet raised one foot, and magazine rivetted and drained; Redoubt Dutton-embrasures repaired, magazine and breast-height revetment rebuilt; Battery Marshall-unimportant repairs; Battery Anderson-new revetment, for embrasures, magazine repaired, and left flank raised, and a new embrasure cut to sweep the ditch of the new line of the left; Battery Drake- repairs to revetment and embrasures; Battery Spofford (water battery)-altered to mount two 100-pounder Parrott guns; both are in position. Battery Sawyer-the magazine and the covered way leading to the battery have been repaired, and the embrasure for the 100-pounder altered to obtain a wider range. A new sunken battery has been constructed about 150 yards to the left of Battery Sawyer, to mount a 100-pounder Parrott gun to command front reach and a portion of the river below. The pile bridge has been completed and the pontoon bridge removed. Drawings+ showing the construction of the bridge and draw are forwarded with this report. This work was superintended in detail by Captain Lyon, Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers, assistant engineer, who deserters great praise for the rapid and workmanlike manner in which it was executed. The bridge is 1,350 feet long, twenty-one feet wide, and about nine feet above low water. The bays are fifteen feet wide, and each supported by three piles. As the water in the channel is about twenty-five feet deep, some of the piles were cut fifty feet long; the greater number being thirty and forty feet long. Owing to the hardness of the river bed it was found impossible to drive piles more than eight or ten feet, and it was also found unnecessary to drive them farther, as they will break off instead of pulling out.

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* See Plate LXVIII, Sketch 8 of the Atlas.

+ See Plate LXVIII, Sketch 6 of the Atlas.

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In order to form ice-breakers and prevent a lateral motion of the bridge, an inclined brace was placed above each row of piles, the larger end being spiked to the cap and the other end chained to a pile fifty or sixty feet above the bridge, the pile being sawed nearly through before driving, and so arranged as to break off just above the chain. Near the draw similar braces were placed on the lower side also to give additional strength. The roadway is concentrated in the ordinary manner, with caps, stringers, and three-inch plank. The draw was constructed of three wood slighter, which were all that could be obtained at the time. The bays being very wide, light trusses were used to prevent sagging. The ends of the draw are connected with the bridge by aprons, which allow for rise and fall of tide. These are entirely lifted from the bridge by ropes and levers when the draw is to be opened, and the latter is maneuvered by means of a small chain which passes over a windlass on the draw, and when the draw is open sags down to allow vessels to pass over it. It may be proper to state that the entire cost of this bridge to the Government was about $750, the labor, including sawing of plank and hewing of timber, having been performed by enlisted men. But for the delays caused by freshens and the non-arrival of boats for the draw, the bridge would have been completed within fifteen days from the time it was commenced.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. R. KING,
First Lieutenant U. S. Engineers, Actg. Chief Engineer Dept. of Virginia.
(During the month of January, 1865.)

Major General J. G. BARNARD,
Chief Engineer Combined Armies.

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pp. 376-380

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