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transportation of the supplies of a large army from Aquia Creek to Fredericksburg and beyond. He declares, moreover, that "on Friday, November 14, General Halleck informed him that the change of base was approved by the President."*
General Halleck's third assertion is that the points in question were held in force by the enemy. There were but a few pickets at Aquia Creek, and those ran away as soon as some of our troops a small part of the engineer brigade-landed there. At Fredericksburg there was not a large force. Captain Dahlgren had made a dash into that place with a few cavalrymen not long before the army moved, and General Sumner testified, that he thought he "could have taken Fredericksburg and the heights on the other side of it any time within three days after" his arrival, if the pontons had been at Falmouth, for he did "not think there was much force of the enemy there up to that time." A remark of General Halleck's, in the same report, respecting an expectation of General Burnside, that "gunboats were to cover the crossing" of his troops at Falmouth has no foundation whatever. Thus General Halleck stands open to the grave charge of attempting, in an official document, to mislead the public mind.
General Burnside, having received the President's assent to his plan, and trusting that General Halleck would be as good as his word in forwarding pontons and supplies, proceeded to put his designs in execution. In accordance with the President's suggestion, he determined to move rapidly. He had organized his army into three grand divisions, of two corps each, the right under General Sumner, the centre under General Hooker, and the left under General Franklin. General Sumner's command started at daylight on the 15th of November, and the remainder of the army on the 16th. The Ninth Corps made demonstrations towards the Rappahannock, and the cavalry guarded the fords as the army passed. General Sumner's advance reached Falmouth on the 17th, and was
*Report of Committee on Conduct of the War, Part 1., p. 683.
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 ponton 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 Fal mouth 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 enemy's bayonets gleaming in the early light.
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. 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 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.”*
*Captain Spaulding's memorandum.
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