No. 13. Report of Bvt. Colonel Ira Spaulding, Fiftieth New York Engineers.1
HDQRS. DETACHMENT 50TH NEW YORK VOL. ENGINEERS,
Fort Berry, near Washington, June 14, 1865.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of engineering operations of this command from the commencement of the campaign in March last to the arrival of the army near Washington:
On the morning of the 29th of March I left my winter camp near Petersburg with all of my command except one company, Captain Arthur M. Jackson commanding, left to guard the trains, one company, Bvt. Major M. Van. Brocklin commanding, previously sent to report to General Warren with a pontoon train of twelve boats, and one company, Lieutenant Taylor commanding, previously sent to report to General Humphreys with a pontoon train of eighteen boats. I marched my command to the W. Perkins house, repairing roads and bridges on the way. At the crossing of Hatcher’s Run I found a pontoon bridge had
been built by Major Van Brocklin, and also a log bridge for the passage of trains. The crossing at Hatcher’s Run was found to be in a very bad condition, the stream rising rapidly and the roads almost impassable. All my troops were immediately set at work upon the crossing and upon the old stage road, repairing the worst places and assisting the trains. At midnight they were permitted to bivouac for a short rest, and at 4 o’clock the next morning the work was recommenced. The stream rose so rapidly at the crossing of Hatcher’s Run as to render the log bridge unserviceable. It became necessary to raise the abutments of the pontoon bridge about four feet and to build a corduroy bridge, nearly 100 yards in length, to the hill on the south side. It rained incessantly, and it was only by the constant and severe labor of my men that the road was kept passable for the trains.
On the morning of the 30th, by your orders, I moved my command and trains from the W. Perkins house to near general headquarters, on the Vaughan road, making my own road for nearly the whole distance and repairing roads for the passage of other trains. At 11 p.m. I was ordered to cross with my trains to the north side of Gravelly Run as a sater position against an apprehensive attack of the enemy.
During the 1st and 2nd of April my whole command was, by your direction, engaged in building a double corduroy track on the Vaughan road from the old stage road to Hatcher’s Run. During the whole of this time Major Van Brocklin had a pontoon bridge over Hatcher’s Run, near the W. Perkins house, and also one over Gravelly Run, near the Friends’ Meeting House. He was ordered to keep these bridges in use until the whole of the trains on the route of the old stage road had passed. In the meantime he was engaged, with his company, in building and repairing roads in the vicinity.
At 5 p.m. on the 2nd I was started with my command for the Boydton plank road, via Fort Fisher, sending at the same time an order for Major Van Brocklin to join with his train, and also to Captain Jackson to join me with his company and the pontoon train left in my old camp, together with the train of siege materials and entrenching tools. During the night all my troops and trains, except Lieutenant Taylor’s pontoon train, with General Humphreys, were concentrated near general headquarters, on the Boydton plank road. The wooden pontoon trains which I had left at City Point arrived at headquarters the same evening, but, by your direction, they were immediately sent back to City Point.
On the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th I moved my command and trains, via the Boydton plank road, the River road, Cox’s road, the Epps house, and Nottoway Court House, toward Burkeville, encamping on the 6th within two miles of Burkeville. During the whole of this march my men were engaged in repairing old and opening new roads for the passage of army trains and troops.
On the morning of the 7th I moved my command to Burkeville and went into camp. At 10 p.m. of the 7th I received an order from you to take a pontoon train of eighteen boats to Farmville, with sufficient troops to throw the bridge. At 10.45 I started with three companies and the pontoon train, accompanied by Major Folwell, leaving Major McDonald in command of the troops and trains left at Burkeville. From Rice’s Station to Farmville the roads were very bad indeed and required a large amount of work to provide for the passage of our own and other trains.
At 9.30 on the morning of the 8th my trains reached the Appomattox at Farmville, and Major Van Brocklin immediately built a pontoon
bridge across the river to take the place of one that had been in use belonging to the Twenty-fourth Corps. At the same time I sent an order back to Major McDonald, at Burkeville, to join me with the balance of my command and trains, and he reached my camp at 2 o’clock on the morning of the 9th. Leaving a detachment in charge of the bridge at Farmville, I marched the balance of my train at 9 o’clock on the morning of the 9th toward Appomattox Court-House, and late in the evening the main portion of my pontoon trains were within about one mile of army headquarters, and I reported to you in person. There I first learned of General Lee’s surrender.
During the whole march, from leaving my winter camp on the 29th of March until 9th of April, the labors of the men in my command, in building and repairing roads and bridges, had been incessant, and in addition to their arms, accouterments, knapsacks, and rations, the necessary axes, picks, and shovels. Major Van Brocklin marched his company and train thirty-three miles in less than twenty-four hours, doing considerable work to the roads on the way. The energy and zeal displayed by the officers and the promptness and cheerfulness of the men in the performance of their severe labors were beyond all praise.
On the afternoon of the 10th of April we commenced our return march to Burkeville, reaching the latter place at 6 p.m. of the 12th, having done a large amount of work on the roads and bridges during the march. Brevet Major Van Brocklin was left at Farmville with a detachment of two companies in charge of the two pontoon bridges over the Appomattox at that place, to remain until the Second Corps should recross the river.
On the 14th Brigadier-General Benham arrived at Burkeville with his command, and I rejoined the brigade, from which I had been detached since the 10th of October, 1864, having been on duty at headquarters of the army during this time with my command, under the direct orders of the chief engineer. On the same day one-half of Company A of the Fiftieth, under Lieutenant Brown, joined me, making a total of eleven and a half companies of engineer troops under my command. On the 20th Brevet Major Van Brocklin rejoined me with his detachment. On the 22nd I sent Major Folwell, with a detachment of three companies and a bridge train, to bridge the Appomattox at Genito Bridge for the passage of the Twenty-fourth Corps on its way to Richmond. On the 23rd I sent Brevet Major Van Brocklin, with a bridge train and a accompany the Sixth Corps on its march toward Danville. On the 24th Major Folwell rejoined me with his detachment, and I moved my command across the Staunton River to a point about one mile south of Clover Station, and on the morning of the 28th commenced getting out timber and sending it to the river for the reconstruction of the railway bridge. On the evening of the 29th I had the [timber] for three-fourths of the bridge delivered, Colonel Brainerd having procured timber for the one-fourth of the bridge on the north side of the river. On my arrival at Staunton River I had a pontoon bridge thrown across the stream, and this was taken up on the morning of the 1st of May and replaced by Brevet Major Van Brocklin, who had got thus far on his return from Danville with orders to wait at this point for the return of the Sixth Corps.
Early on the morning of the 1st of May I started with my command to accompany the brigade on its return to Burkeville, reaching the latter place on the evening of the 2nd of May. On the morning of the 3rd I sent Captain McGrath, with his company, to accompany General Benham to City Point, for the purpose of loading and forwarding engineer material to Washington, and started with the balance of the brigade, under the command of Colonel Brainerd, for Richmond; and at 5 a.m. on the 5th we reached Manchester, opposite Richmond, having marched forty-two miles during the last twenty-five hours. On the 6th we marched with the army thorough Richmond, and camped that night near Hanover Court-House. On the morning of the 7th the march toward Fredericksburg was resumed. At the Pamunkey I left Lieutenant Taylor, with a small detachment, in charge of a pontoon bridge over the river, and the balance of the wooden-boat trains, which I had left at City Point and which had been brought to this point, were turned over to me. We reached the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg on the evening of the 8th, and at 7 o’clock the next day I had a bridge completed across the river at Franklin’s Crossing. On the same day, by your order, I sent Captain Jackson with one company and a train of four boats to bridge Potomac Creek for the Fifth Corps. On the 10th I received your order to keep down the bridge at Franklin’s Crossing until after the passage of the Twentieth Corps, and on the same day, by your order, I sent Brevet Captain Van Rensselaer with a small detachment and a train of six boats to report to General Griffin, at Potomac Creek. Captain Jackson and Brevet Captain Van Rensselaer returned to my camp with their troops and trains on the 12th. On the 17th, having learned that the Twentieth Corps had crossed the river higher up, and that the bridge at Fredericksburg was considered sufficient for the passage of the remainder of the troops, I dismantled my bridge at Franklin’s Crossing, and, in accordance with your directions, made up the wooden boats in a raft, loaded all the bridge material on this raft, and placed it in charge of Lieutenant Brown, with a detachment of Company A, and directed him to start next morning in tow of a steamer for Washington. On the morning of the 18th I broke camp at Franklin’s Crossing and started with my troops and trains for army headquarters near Washington, marching via Stafford Court-House, Wolf Run Shoals, and Fairfax Court-House, and reaching army headquarters near Fort Berry on the morning of the 21st.
June 2, Brevet Major Van Brocklin rejoined me with his detachment and trains. All my bridge trains and engineer materials were then turned in to the engineer depot, near the Navy Yard, and the transportation to the Quartermaster’s Department.
The following is a synopsis of Major Van Brocklin’s report:
April 23, with Companies C and E of the Fiftieth New York Engineers, and the pontoon trains under their charge, consisting of twenty-four canvas pontoon boats and their equipments, and Captain Manger’s company of the Fifteenth New York Engineers, I joined the Sixth Corps and marched with it to Clark’s Ferry, on the Stanton River, where we arrived at 6 p.m. of the 24th, when I immediately laid a pontoon bridge of nineteen boats, making a bridge 315 feet long. Remained at this place until the morning of the 26th, when I took up the bridge and started for Danville with Companies C and E and their pontoon trains, leaving Captain Manger at the Staunton River to report to General Benham on his arrival at that place. Reached Laurel Hill, sixteen miles from Danville, at 12 m. of the 27th, when I received orders from Major-General Wright to report to Major-General Sheridan at Abbyville, on the Staunton River. While en route for Abbyville and when near South Boston I received notice from General Sheridan that he had already crossed the Staunton River, and therefore did not require the bridge. During the same day [April 28], in compliance with orders of General Sheridan, I started with my bridge trains for Moseley’s Ferry, on the Staunton River, with instructions to lay a bridge
at that place for the cavalry to recross the river. Had this bridge, which was composed of twenty-three boats, making a bridge 350 feet long, laid at 12 m. of the 29th, having marched a distance of twenty miles that day. This bridge was taken up by order of Brigadier-General Benham at 10 p.m. of the 30th, and moved during the night to Roanoke Station, where it was relaid across the Staunton River near the crossing of the railroad at 8 a.m. of the following morning. This bridge was composed of seventeen boats and was 270 feet long. In consequence of the heavy rains while marching from Moseley’s Ferry, I was obliged to lay a pontoon bridge fifty feet long across the Little Roanoke River at Roanoke Station for the purpose of crossing.
Remained at Roanoke Station until the morning of May 17, under orders from Major-General Wright, when the pontoon bridge was taken up and moved to Clark’s Ferry, three miles above, on the same river, where a bridge was laid of eighteen boats, being 300 feet long. The supply trains and artillery of the Sixth Corps crossed in the afternoon. The bridge was taken up the following morning, May 18, and moved with the trains of the Sixth Corps to Manchester, via Burkeville and Amelia Court-House, where we arrived at 10 a.m. of the 21st, having laid a pontoon bridge of five boats at Goode’s Bridge, on the Appomattox River. Remained in Manchester until the afternoon of the 23rd, when I moved my trains to the crossing of the Chickahominy River by the Mechanicsville pike, having Captain Kenyon with a portion of his company in charge of a pontoon bridge which had been laid the previous day across the canal at the foot of Eighteenth street, in Richmond, for the purpose of crossing the trains of the Sixth Corps.
During the morning of the 24th the crossing of the Chickahominy was repaired, in doing which four temporary bridges were constructed over water-courses and one trestle bridge sixty feet long put down. Lieutenant Cowan with twenty men was left in charge of this crossing, with instructions to follow the rear of the supply trains. The balance of the trains were then moved to the Pamunkey River, via Hanover Court-House, where we arrived at 4 p.m., and immediately laid down a bridge of ten boats, Captain Kenyon and Lieutenant Cowan coming up during the night. The Sixth Corps began crossing at noon. Remained at this place until the morning of the 26th, when, by order of General Wright, I left Captain Kenyon and a portion of his company in charge of this bridge, with orders to remain until the arrival of the artillery of the Sixth Corps, then at City Point, and to march with them until they should join the corps, and I started with the balance of the trains to reach the Sixth Corps, then at Chesterfield Station. In consequence of the rains during the day the trains of the Sixth Corps had a great deal of difficulty in moving. I came up to their rear at night. The following day the corps did not move in consequence of the continued rains. My trains were moved to the advance of the corps, and moved in that position until we arrived at the camp of the Engineer Brigade near Fort Berry on the 2nd day of June, marching by way of Fredericksburg, where we stopped one day, crossing the Potomac at Coakley’s Store, three miles west of the crossing of the telegraph road,f thence by way of Stafford Springs, Wolf Run Shoals, and Fairfax Court-House. Owing to the heavy rains the streams were very high and the roads in a bad state, requiring a large amount of work to make them passable for the supply trains following the corps. By reason of having the advance of the corps and starting from one to two hours before them in the morning, I was enabled to prepare the roads and build the necessary bridges without delaying them.
During this march one pontoon bridge sixty-five feet long was laid across the Po River, and eight corduroy bridges were built for crossing the infantry over streams, including once across the Occoquan at Wolf Run Shoals.
I cannot, without injustice, close this report without calling your attention to the energy and efficiency displayed by the men under my command and the cheerfulness with which they uniformly discharged their duties, which were many times of a very unpleasant and fatiguing nature. I desire especially to mention Company C, which, by its long experience in handling the canvas bridges and the zeal which it uniformly manifested in the discharge of its duties, has well merited the honor [to] which I believe them entitled-that of being second to no company of pontoniers in the service. For their promptness in laying the bridge at Moseley’s Ferry I received the thanks of Major-General Sheridan, and for the arduous duties of repairing roads and constructing bridges on the march from Richmond to Washington, performed by Companies C and E, I received the thanks of Major-General Wright.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
M. VAN BROCKLIN,
Captain, Fiftieth New York Vol. Engineers, Brevet Major, U. S. Vols.
Bvt. Colonel IRA SPAULDING,
Commanding Fiftieth New York Volunteer Engineers.
The following tabular statement shows the number, length, and location of the several pontoon bridges built by myself, and by officers and men under my orders, from the 28th of September, 1862, to the arrival of the Army of the Potomac near Washington, in May, 1865:
The above includes pontoon bridges built by officers and men under my command during the time stated, but does not include the large number of trestle, timber, and corduroy built by my own men, nor the pontoon, trestle, timber, and corduroy bridges built during the same time by other portions of the Engineer Brigade or by the regular engineer battalion. In addition to the six pontoon trains in my charge, I also had charge of two siege trains of twenty-two wagons each during the early part of the siege operations in front of Petersburg and of one siege train of twenty-two wagons during the latter part of these operations. All engineer and siege material used in front of Petersburg was drawn on my order, approved by the chief engineer. I have not as yet received the final reports of the expenditure of siege material during the latter part of March, but the following summary of expenditure will vary but little, if any, from the actual result:
Statement of the total expenditure of engineer and siege material in front of Petersburg, from the 14th of July, 1864, to the 29th of March, 1865.
In this my final report of engineering operations a few general remarks in relation to these operations may not be out of place. The advance guard train and the French pontoon trains taken to the Peninsula in 1862 were, as you are doubtless aware, very deficient in transportation, depending upon movement from place to place upon temporary loans of teams from the quartermaster’s department, and the consequence was that during the Seven Days’ Battles, nine-tenths of all the bridge material with the army at the commencement of these battles was necessarily either destroyed or abandoned to the enemy. The same evil, but to a less extent, prevailed in the organization of the bridge trains operating on the Rappahannock in 1863, and, though I made repeated protests against this system, the evil was but partially remedied. The trains sent into the field, both wagons and bridge material, were in many cases unfit for service, and often required nearly as much work in the field as had been done in the shops to fit them for efficient service. It was not until the spring of 1864 that the bridge trains of the Army of the Potomac were properly fitted up for active field operations. By the addition of the light canvas trains, as designed by yourself, and by your assistance and cordial co-operation with me in my efforts to fit up and organize those trains, they were at last organized in a manner to render the most efficient service. When these trains crossed the Rapidan in the spring of 1864 it is believed that they were more perfectly arranged than any bridge trains before organized in America; and for the truth of this statement and for the efficiency of the troops having them in charge, no better evidence can be given than a statement of the facts-that from the crossing of the Rapidan in the spring of 1864 to the close of the war no bridge mate-
rial was ever lost, destroyed, or abandoned to the enemy; nor, so far as I am aware, were any troops ever kept waiting for the construction of these bridges. The actual construction of the bridges is but a small portion of the labor required for the proper care and efficiency of pontoon trains. The truth is, the necessity for labor upon them never ceases, from the time they are first put in the field until the final close of operations requiring their use. Many and very great improvements have been made on pontoon bridge trains during the progress of the war; not only in the character of the boats and arrangement and construction of the bridges, but also in the character of the wagons, the arrangement of the loads, manner of loading and unloading, &c. It would seem to be very desirable that all these improvements should be collated and a record made of them for future reference. The organization and outfit of engineer troops, as sent into the field at the commencement of the war [the volunteers, at least], were very defective, and I was led to devote some thought and study to the proper manner of remedying these defects in my own department. As the result of these investigations and of experience my troops during the last year of the war were furnished with such an outfit as to render each company a unit. Each company was furnished with a company wagon, a commissary wagon, a forage wagon, a tool wagon, and a carpenters’ tool-chest. By this means the whole or any portion of the regiment was prepared to move at any time of the day or night, with fifteen days’ supplies and a complete outfit for the performance of all kind of engineer duty. That the troops thus organized were at all times admirably prepared for prompt and efficient service, my daily and weekly reports of engineering operations and your own knowledge of their labors furnish abundant evidence, and the works in front of Petersburg are monuments of the skill and industry of the officers and men engaged in their construction.
For your uniform kindness and courtesy, both to myself and the officers and men under my command while serving under your orders, I beg to tender you my most sincere thanks.
Brevet Colonel, Commanding.
Bvt. Brigadier General J. C. DUANE,
Chief Engineer, Army of the Potomac.
- 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. 642-650 ↩