|Benham's wharf at Belle Plain: one month before his famous bridge across the James “Belle Plain, Upper Wharf, erected by Engineer Corps, General Benham, Chief, May 15, 1864.” So reads the inscription made by the photographer on his negative. The few words recall important events. At this time Grant was in the midst of his unsuccessful attempt to circumvent Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Spotsylvania. The work shown in this photograph was but child's play compared with the undertaking just one month later, when Grant finally decided to cross the James. One hour before noon on June 15th, General Benham received orders to prepare a pontoon-bridge across the James River for the passage of the entire army. In anticipation of this order, pontoons had been sent from Fort Monroe, and the work was started under Major Duane. General Benham reported to General Meade at the position selected, and was directed to proceed at once with the construction. General Meade smiled at the enthusiasm of Benham when he remarked that he would not sleep till the bridge was finished. About five and a half hours after Benham's arrival, a telegram was received from General Meade inquiring about the progress of the work. The indefatigable engineer was able to reply that the last bolt was in position, and that the troops could begin to move when they wished.|
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