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[619] to the river, proceeded to Thompson's Bridge, which he found already in flames. In the mean time, the little Federal army was approaching the great bridge. Lee's brigade, which was in advance, found a portion of Clingman's troops posted on the right bank for the purpose of defending the railroad on that side. It dislodged them from their position after a sharp combat, and took possession of the track. But Clingman, rallying all his forces on the left bank, placed himself in a position so as to enfilade this track, and to command all the approaches to the bridge, to prevent the destruction of which was of the greatest importance to the Confederates. Foster sent nearly the whole of his artillery to Lee's assistance, whilst Wessells' brigade occupied an eminence from which it commanded the course of the river. The signal for the attack was given, and Lee's soldiers bravely followed the railroad track; but the enemy's fire compelled them to seek shelter on the right and left of the road. They thus advanced step by step, sustaining great losses. At last the superiority of the Federal artillery compelled their adversaries to slacken their fire; an iron-clad locomotive carrying one gun, which the latter had pushed to the verge of the river, was pierced by a shell, and exploded; after a struggle of two hours, Lee gained the approaches to the bridge. But every time that his soldiers showed themselves within the open space which still separated them from it, they were received by such a terrific fire that they could not reach the bridge itself. Many men who had volunteered to set fire to it had fallen victims to their devotion. Finally, Lieutenant Graham, as daring as, and more fortunate than, those who had preceded him, succeeded in setting fire to some of the beams amid a shower of balls. The fire spread rapidly, and the Federal guns, supporting the fire of Lee's brigade, which was lying in ambush along the bank, kept off the Confederates, who were vainly trying to extinguish it. In a few moments this great work fell a prey to the flames, and its blazing fragments dropped into the river, leaving nothing standing but the stone piers, which could not be demolished without blowing them up.

The main object of the expedition was accomplished. The Confederates did indeed retain possession of the small wagonbridge situated a few kilometres above the one which had just

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R. E. Lee (5)
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