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[137] For the passage of the Chickahominy there were, at that time, only Bottom's Bridge, the railroad-bridge, and two bridges built by Sumner himself intermediate between the two above mentioned. But to reach the battle-field that day by Bottom's Bridge or the railroad-bridge was out of the question; his sole reliance, therefore, was on his own two bridges. Now, however, a new and dire difficulty presented itself: the lower bridge had been carried away by the freshet; the upper one was half adrift. When the head of Sumner's column, composed of Sedgwick's division, reached it, the rough logs forming the corduroy approaches over the swamp were mostly afloat, and were only kept from drifting off by the stumps of trees to which they were fastened. The portion over the body of the stream was suspended from the trunks of trees by ropes, on the doubtful staunchness of which depended the possibility of making the passage.

‘The possibility of crossing,’ says Colonel Alexander of the engineers, ‘was doubted by all present, including General Sumner himself. As the solid column of infantry entered upon the bridge, it swayed to and fro to the angry flood below or the living freight above, settling down and grasping the solid stumps by which it was made secure, as the line advanced. Once filled with men, however, it was safe till the corps had crossed; it then soon became impassable.’1

Sumner, debouching from the bridge with Sedgwick's division (Richardson's division did not arrive till about sunset), pushed impetuously forward through the deep mud, guided only by the firing. To move the artillery was found impossible.2 At about six o'clock the head of Sedgwick's column3 deployed into line in the rear of Fair Oaks, in a position where Couch, when separated from the main body, had taken his stand to oppose the enemy's advance. They were no more than in time; for at that moment Smith's troops,

1 ‘The Peninsular Campaign:’ Atlantic Monthly, March, 1864.

2 Lieutenant Kirby, Company I, First United States Artillery, by fairly carrying his guns to firmer ground, succeeded in getting up his battery.

3 Formed by Gorman's brigade.

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