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CHAPTER VI.

THE PONTONS.

TH

HAT General Burnside's subsequent failure at Fredericksburg 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. General Halleck signed as General in Chief. 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

This order Besides this

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 returned 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, on which they were ordinarily transported when moving by land, with their horses and harness, should march under guard from Alexandria 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 would get through more rapidly and with less wear and tear to the horses." But even this arrangement was not made.

by the greatest exertions, the men lifting them out of the mire. But slow progress was made, and Captain Spaulding, finding that it was useless to think of proceeding in this way, sent back an officer to Alexandria on the 22d, with a request to the Quartermaster at that post to send a steamer to the mouth of the Occoquan, to take the bridge and rafts to Belle Plain. The steamer was sent down on the 23d. On the afternoon of the 22d, Captain Spaulding marched to the Occoquan, built a bridge two hundred and fifty feet in length, crossed and encamped on the other side. Early the next morning the bridge was dismantled, made up in rafts, all the bridge material loaded on the rafts, and the animals sent forward by land. The wagons were also taken apart and loaded upon the rafts. Descending the river, the rafts grounded upon the flats near the mouth, and could not be floated till the rise of the tide at four o'clock on the morning of the 24th. Captain Spaulding took his rafts out to the steamer in waiting, and making fast to her the train was towed to Belle Plain, arriving at the wharf there just before dark. Quartermasters' teams were there procured for him, and by midnight the wagons had been put together and the boats and material loaded. At four o'clock A. M., on the 25th, the train started and arrived near the general headquarters about three o'clock in the afternoon. Captain Spaulding's animals had gone by land, and on the 24th had reached Falmouth in safety.*

By this extraordinary series of misfortunes, such delays in the transportation of the pontons occurred as made any attempt abortive to cross the army before the enemy appeared in force. But of these mischances General Burnside knew nothing. He had supposed that the officials at Washington were as desirous as himself of forwarding the army towards its destination. He thought that they were as fully impressed as himself with the necessity of expedition. General Halleck had transmitted the President's suggestions for a rapid movement; but he had ne

*Captain Spaulding's Memorandum.

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glected to carry out the promises made to General Burnside, to send on the pontons without delay. Even if he had believed that General Burnside was to take his army down the south bank of the Rappahannock, he must also have known that the army needed supplies, and that the supplies could not reach beyond Falmouth without the means of crossing the river. In any view of the case, the pontons were sorely needed at Falmouth. General Halleck must certainly have known the fact of that necessity. Yet he neglected to furnish the very material which he was expected, and which-according to General Burnside's conviction-he had promised to provide.

General Woodbury's account of the affair places the conduct of the General in Chief in no more favorable light. In the interviews which he had with General Halleck, he was not informed that the success of any important movement depended, in the slightest degree, upon a ponton train to leave Washington by land." General Burnside, supposing of course, that General Halleck would inform General Woodbury of the necessity of despatch, did not think it requisite to hasten the preparations of an officer who was known to be faithful and energetic in the discharge of his duty. He did, however, through Lieutenant Comstock, inform General Woodbury on the 14th, that he desired "to have one more complete train mounted and horses as soon as possible, and with the other, sent with a company, at least, and Captain Spaulding in command, by land to Fredericksburg." General Woodbury declares that this was the only order that he had received in relation to transportation by land. It seems, that soon after the reception of this order, he saw General Halleck and found him averse to sending more than one train by land. That train, as General Woodbury telegraphs, could "be got ready to start Sunday or Monday morning." But on Monday, the 17th, it was found that Captain Spaulding had more work to do than was supposed, and General Woodbury telegraphed that the train would probably start the next morning. On the next day, the story was the same, and Captain Spaulding could not

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