WHO BRIDGED THE JAMES RIVER?
Honor to the Successful Engineers.
HEAD-QUARTERS ENGINEER BRIGADE,
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP AT CITY POINT, Va., June 22, 1864.
ED. PHILADA. INQUIRER:—In reply to the following remark made at the end of the editorial of your journal of the 20th instant [June 20, 1864], viz:—“At the point of transit the James River is two thousand feet wide and over eighty feet deep. We should like to know the names of the engineers, that we might do honor to their skill. We have no doubt that GODFREY WEITZEL was one. The campaign looks well,” I send the inclosed letter, being a copy of one written to the editor of the New York Herald by one of the engineer officers who assisted in laying the pontoon bridge across the James River, at Fort Powhattan, Va.
P[HINEAS]. C. KINGSLAND, A. D. C.1,
Engineer Brigade, Army of the Potomac.
DETACHMENT OF FIFTIETH N[ew]. Y[ork]. V[olunteer]. C[orps?],
CAMP AT CITY POINT, VA., June 19, 1864
To the Editor of the New York Herald:—As my name has been made unduly prominent in a description of the laying of the pontoon bridge at Fort Powhattan, upon the 15th instant [June 15, 1864], as given in your paper of the 17th [of June, 1864], the justice due to the other troops concerned, requires that I should offer you a statement of this successful effort at pontoneering, the most important that has ever yet occurred in our country.2
It is proper to state here in justice to Mr. MERRIAM that the account given is strictly correct up to the time of his leaving Fort Powhattan for General BUTLER’s head-quarters, that is to say his despatch embraces all he saw, the object of this card being to set forth the facts which occurred after he left.
The bridge [rafts?] were sent up from Fort Monroe on the 14th inst. [June 14, 1864], under charge of Captain LUBEY [sic, Timothy Luby]3, of the Fifteenth New York Engineers, and myself. Captain LUBEY, the senior officer, having with him Captain W[ILLIAM W]. HENDERSON and Lieutenants MARSH and MEGARY and two hundred men of that regiment, and I having Lieutenant BURDIN and sixty men of the Fiftieth New York Engineers, all being of General BENHEIM’s [sic, BENHAM’s] Engineer Brigade. On my arrival, General [GODFREY] WEITZEL, of General BUTLER’s staff, then at Fort Powhattan (and while awaiting the arrival of General [HENRY W.] BENHAM, who was ordered up that morning), directed the preparation of the approaches. And a portion of the Regular Engineers, under Captain MENDELL and Lieutenant GILLESPIE, and Colonel [EDWARD W.] SERREL’s Engineers [1st New York Engineers], under Captain LYONS’ command, commenced the work at the abutment on each side. Upon the arrival of General BENHAM about four or five P. M., the construction of the bridge was placed under his charge by [Army of the Potomac commander] General [GEORGE G.] MEADE, and the work was rapidly pushed forward by all the troops and officers above named (except SERRELL’s Engineers, who were at that time relieved) until its completion, at between ten and eleven P. M. that evening [June 14, 1864].
The regular engineers were relieved immediately after the bridge was laid, and from that time the care of the bridge, and the constant watchfulness and repairs necessary upon much of the planking, nearly worn out by previous use, was attended to entirely by the small number of officers and men of the engineer brigade, who (including Gen. BENHAM and his aids Captain P[HINEAS]. C. KINGSLAND and Lieutenant F. S. LIVINGSTON) were constantly on duty night and day, with scarcely two hours’ sleep in any twenty-four, for the seventy-five to eighty hours that the bridge was down.
During this time I would state that the mass of this large army, with its trains, artillery, and cattle herds even, were successfully crossed, the greater portion in forty-seven hours only, without the loss of a single man or animal, over this bridge or some two thousand two hundred feet in length, over two thousand feet of which was on pontoon boats only. Very respectfully,
JAMES S. ROBBINS,
Captain Fiftieth Regiment N. Y. Engineers.4
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: For confirmation of Kingsland’s first name, see the following at Google Books near the bottom of the page. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Captain Robbins is of course referring to the massive pontoon bridge laid across the James River, allowing the Army of the Potomac to cross over to Southside Virginia and threaten Petersburg. The operation is considered a brilliant one, and succeeded in no small part due to the efforts of the engineers to lay this bridge. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: See the roster of the 15th NY Engineers. ↩
- “Who Bridged the James River?” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). June 28, 1864, p. 2 col. 2 ↩