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opened upon by a battery of artillery posted upon the opposite side of the river. One of our own batteries was brought up and soon silenced the enemy, who fled, leaving four guns unprotected. General Sumner wished to cross, but as his orders were simply to occupy Falmouth without crossing, and as the fords in the neighborhood were impracticable, he halted his troops until the remainder of the army should come up. General Franklin concentrated his command at and near Stafford Court House. General Hooker was upon the road for three days, reached Hartwood on the 19th, and remained there over the 20th. While he was at Hartwood he addressed a letter to General Burnside suggesting that he could cross his grand division at one of the fords in the vicinity, and march on Sexton's Junction. He requested permission to do so, alleging that he could live on the country through which he passed. General Burnside declined allowing this march to be made, for the reason that the army was not sufficiently supplied for such a detached movement, and also because he was unwilling that a body of men, not over twenty-five thousand in number, should march out upon an isolated expedition into an enemy's country and in the face of a superior hostile force. Such a movement, though partaking of the characteristic daring of General Hooker, was not sufficiently prudent to ensure its success.
General Burnside left Warrenton on the 16th, and on the 19th arrived at Falmouth. To his great surprise, no pontun train was there, and there was no intelligence of any. The movement had been made with great celerity as the President had suggested. But beyond Falmouth there was no possibility of an advance. A wide and deep river lay between the army and the coveted heights beyond Fredericksburg. There were no means of crossing. Below Falmouth not a wheeled vehicle could cross without boats. Above, the fords were impracticable without pontons except for a few cavalrymen in line, or infantry jumping from rock, to rock. Moreover, rain began to fall, the river commenced rising, supplies were short, and the roads were in bad condition. The enemy's cavalry had fol
lowed the army occasionally skirmishing with our rear guard. The movement had been developed, but it had failed. It had depended for success upon the prompt arrival at Falmouth of the ponton train. Without that nothing could be done. The fords were examined and pronounced to be impassable. Yet General Burnside hoped to “ cross over by the United States Ford some cavalry and infantry with some light pieces of artillery.” No enemy had yet appeared on the opposite bank in any great force, and the expectation of moving across the Rappahannock was not yet wholly dissipated. But, if General Burnside moved now, he must march his entire army, for General Lee was also moving. Precious time was passing. General Lee and the rebel government were somewhat puzzled to understand the reason of the sudden disappearance of our army from Warranton, and its as sudden reäppearance at Falmouth was still more inexplicable. But whatever was the motive, it was General Lee's duty to meet this force as speedily as possible and check its advance. Accordingly he hurried across the country and occupied the heights of Fredericksburg. The golden opportunity had passed. The unguarded avenue to Richmond was barred. The gates were closed. When General Burnside woke on the morning of the 22d, and looked across the river, he saw the enemy's cannon frowning on his position and the eneiny's bayonets gleaming in the early light.
THAT General Burnside's subsequent failure at Fredericks
burg was due to the non-arrival of the ponton train at Falmouth, in season to cross the army before General Lee appeared, was acknowledged at the time by the grand division Commanders and has since become painfully apparent. The responsibility of that failure must therefore rest, to a certain" extent at least, on the person or persons to whom the moving of the train had been committed. Whatever might have been General Halleck's intention, he certainly gave General Burnside the impression that he would do all that he could to expedite the business of sending forward the pontons and supplies. General Meigs, while at Warrenton, wrote an order for General Woodbury, the engineer officer in charge, to call upon the quartermaster at Washington for transportation for all his pontons and bridge material to Aquia Creek. This order General Halleck signed as General in Chief. Besides this order, General Halleck gave assurance to General Burnside to believe, that he would give his personal attention to the matter immediately upon his return to Washington. General Woodbury on the 12th ordered Captain Spaulding, in charge of the pontons at Berlin, to take up his bridges and transport them to Washington. This order had been anticipated by General McClellan's order of the 6th to his engineer officer Captain Duane. On the 12th this order was received, and Captain Spaulding was directed to move bridge material from Berlin to Washington, and to fit out a complete bridge train “ on wheels as speedily as possible, with the necessary transportation, and
be prepared to march at a moment’s notice.” Captain Spaulding immediately attended to the execution of this order by transporting his train by canal to Washington, arriving there himself on the 13th, and reporting to General Woodbury at midnight. General Woodbury requested him to call at nine o'clock the next morning. When Captain Spaulding called as appointed, he was desired to wait until General Woodbury had seen General Halleck. About an hour after, General Woodbury retarned from his interview with General Halleck, and directed Captain Spaulding to put his ponton material in depot at the brigade shops near the Anacosti river as fast as it arrived from Berlin, and to go into camp with his men. Captain Spaulding supposed that the change of commanders had produced a change in the plan of operations, and that the ponton train would not be needed. The pontons commenced arriving at Washington on the 14th, and had all arrived soon after noon on the 15th. The bridges were placed in depot and the men in camp. On the morning of the 15th, General Woodbury, after another interview with General Halleck, repeated the order to put the train in depot as fast as it arrived. Captain Spaulding casually heard of a despatch from Lieutenant Comstock, General Burnside's chief engineer, to General Woodbury, inquiring as to the whereabouts of the pontons. In the course of the same day, Captain Spaulding was directed to make up “two trains of twenty-four boats each in rafts to go by water, a train of twenty boats with transportation for forty to go by land, to draw the necessary number of additional horses and harness required for the land train, to prepare it as soon as possible and march his detachment with it to Fredericksburg."*
Both these directions were carried out during the afternoon. The two trains that were to go by water were made up,
towed below the bridge over the Anacosti, and made fast to the steamer Hero, that was to tow them to Belle Plain. The steamer was
*Captain Spaulding's memorandum.
delayed by fog, and did not start as soon as was expected. When fairly on her voyage she ran aground on some shoal place in the river, and after considerable delay, arrived at Belle Plain on the 18th. No wagons were sent with the boats and bridges, * as no intimation was given to Captain Spaulding that the pontons were needed for immediate use. General Woodbury himself had received no such intimation. General Halleck had evidently treated the matter as not of pressing importance. Had anything been said by any person of the immediate need, the wagons would have been sent with the raft, horses could have been procured of the Quartermaster at Belle Plain, and the pontons could easily have arrived at Falmouth by the night of the 18th.
The land train was equally unfortunate. Captain Spaulding drew his horses, two hundred or more, and had them in camp on the 16th. The harness was furnished in boxes, and had to be put together and fitted to the horses. Many of the animals had apparently never been in harness before, and it was difficult to find leaders that could be guided by one rein, in the ordinary manner of horses in the army trains. Besides this labor, drivers were to be procured, rations and forage drawn, and the boats loaded on the wagons. It was not till the afternoon of the 19th, that Captain Spaulding fairly got off upon the road. He passed through Alexandria that night, and encamped outside the city. Rain commenced falling before the train left Washington, and continued, with little intermission, for the next three days. The roads became very heavy and constantly grew worse.
In many places, the wagons could only be moved
*It was General Meigs's opinion that “the best way to get.pontons and ponton trains from Washington would be to pack the flooring, ropes, anchors, &c., of the bridges in the ponton boats and tow them down the river by steamer, while the wagons, ou which they were ordinarily transported when moving by land, with their horses and harness, should march under guard from Alex. andria to Aquia Creek, there to take up the ponton trains and transport them to Falmouth by the common road. By this means the wagons would go light and woull get through more rapidly and with less wear and tear to the horses." But even this arrangement was not made.