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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,
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
start till the afternoon of the 19th. In the meantime, the pontons that were to go by water had been despatched.
At the outset of the expedition, moreover, General Woodbury had requested General Halleck to delay the army for a few days. " General Halleck's order to me, of the 13th," says General Woodbury, "made it apparent that the army was preparing to march to Fredericksburg. As to the time when the movement would be made, I never received any information. Fearing, however, that the movement would be precipitate, I went to General Halleck's office and urged him to delay the movement some five days, in order that the necessary preparations might be made to insure its success. To this he replied, that he would do nothing to delay for an instant the advance of the army upon Richmond. I rejoined that my suggestion was not intended to cause delay, but rather to prevent it. Had the emergency been made known to me in any manner," he adds, "I could have disregarded the forms of service -seized teams, teamsters and wagonmasters for instant service wherever I could find them. Then, with good roads and good weather, they might possibly have been in time. But I had no warrant for such a course, which, after all, could only have been carried out by the authority of the General-in-Chief."* That General Halleck understood the exigency and the absolute need of celerity in sending off and transporting the pontons, is simply to claim for him the possession of ordinary intelligence and powers of observation. But with this knowledge, he neglected to inform the officer in charge of the operations that any emergency existed, and when he ascertained that it was almost impossible, without some special order, to get the ponton train off in time, he neglected to use the means which he held in his own hands for its despatch. When appealed to by General Woodbury to delay the movement of the army--which he could do by a single word-until the ponton train was ready, he utterly refused. It certainly was unfortunate that wagons
* Report of Committee on the Conduct of the War, I., 665.
were not sent with the train which went by water. That was a lamentable oversight on the part of General Woodbury. But the omission was doubtless caused by the ignorance of General Woodbury that any special need for haste existed, and by his supposition that the wagons would go by land, and would reach headquarters in ample season for the operations that were contemplated. General Halleck could have enlightened his subordinate, but did not choose so to do. From a careful review of all the facts, no other conclusion can be reached than that the failure of the pontons, and consequently the failure of General Burnside's plan of advance, must be laid to the negligence of the General in Chief in discharging the trust reposed in him.
* Part I,, 671. Report of Committee, I., 662.
General Hooker is disposed to divide the responsibility between the General in Chief and the Quartermaster General. He said, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War,* that he "heard General Meigs or General Halleck assure General Burnside that they (the pontons) would be here (at Falmouth) in three days." In answer to the question, “As the matter was left at the time of the conversation, did you understand that the responsibility of having the pontons and supplies here rested upon General Burnside, or upon General Halleck and General Meigs?" General Hooker replied, "I think it necessarily rested upon General Halleck and General Meigs, because it was beyond the control of General Burnside, who was not where he could control it." General Sumner was positive, that if he had had the pontons within three days of his arrival at Falmouth, he could have occupied the heights in rear of Fredericksburg without material opposition. General Franklin wished" to impress as firmly upon the committee as it" was impressed upon his own "mind, the fact that the whole disaster had resulted from the delay in the arrival of the ponton bridges. Whoever is responsible for that delay is responsible for all the disasters which have followed."†