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[218]

There was in the department of the Cumberland one regular bridge-train, which was scattered from Bridgeport to Chattanooga; this, by the strenuous exertions of Lieutenant Geo. W. Dressen, Fourth artillery, was collected in the vicinity of Brown's Ferry, by Wednesday, November seventeenth. The two saw-mills in my charge were also run night and day, and a new bridge started, under the superintendence of Captain P. V. Fox, Michigan Engineers. The river at the point designated to throw the bridge, was, at the time of measurement, one thousand two hundred and ninety-six feet in width, and the current gentle, so that no trouble was anticipated in the mechanical part of the operation.

In order to afford facilities for the occupation of the north bank of the creek, and to allow a cavalry force to break the railroad between Knoxville and Dalton, the Chickamauga also required bridging at its mouth. This stream was about one hundred and eighty feet in width, with a sluggish current. The North-Chickamauga, which is a stream emptying into the Tennessee River on the right bank about eight miles above Chattanooga, offered such facilities for launching the boats, that it was determined to put them in the water there and float them down, loaded with soldiers, to the point of crossing, as an operation quicker and more quiet than that of launching them at the place of passage. By Friday night, November twenty-sixth, one hundred and sixteen boats were in the creek, furnished with oars and crews, the creek cleared of snags to its mouth, and all the citizens in the vicinity put under strict guard to prevent the information getting to the enemy.

The boats were taken to the creek over byroads through the woods, and not exposed to view of the rebels in any point of the distance. In the matter of selecting the roads, cleaning the creek, furnishing crews for the boats, and keeping the citizens under guard, I must acknowledge my obligations to Colonel Daniel McCook, commanding a brigade posted near the mouth of North-Chickamauga. The rest of the bridge-material, and boats, (about twenty-five,) packed behind the river ridge of hills, and within four hundred yards of the place of crossing, entirely concealed from the enemy. During this time the Tennessee River, swollen by rains in the upper country, brought down drift-wood in such quantities, and of such a character, that, on Friday night, or early Saturday morning, the pontoon-bridge at Chattanooga was carried away, and so much of the material lost that it was impossible to re-lay it. On Saturday night the flying ferry at Chattanooga was disabled, and the pontoon-bridge at Brown's Ferry was so injured that it was not re-laid till Tuesday, November twentieth. This left to us for communication only the steamer Dunbar, at Chattanooga, and a horse ferry-boat at Brown's Ferry. On Monday night, however, the flying ferry was repaired and again in operation. Fortunately, the troops had all been placed in position before the disasters, and the only effort was to lull the enemy into security under the idea that no attack could be made with our communication so cut. The fear was, that it would be imposible to throw a bridge across the river for General Sherman's command, or that, if thrown, it could be maintained as long as it was needed. On Monday, November twenty-third, General Thomas moved to the front to reconnoitre, and occupied Indian Hill, with his left on Citico Creek. Captain Merrill and Lieutenant Wharton, of the Engineer corps, were instructed to attend to the building of bridges across that stream. On Monday night, at twelve M., the boats with the designated brigade left the North-Chickamauga and quietly effected a landing on the left bank of the Tennessee, both above and below the mouth of the South-Chickamauga, and the business of ferrying over troops then began. The rise in the river had increased its width so that we had not been able to accumulate boats sufficient for the bridges across the Tennessee, therefore only one was commenced. Lieutenant Dressen, in charge of the regular pontoon-train, began the construction of this bridge about five o'clock A. M. on the twenty-fourth, taking from the ferry the boats of his train as fast as they were needed, and allowing the others to be used in crossing troops. Colonel George P. Buell, in command of the Pioneer brigade, soon after the boats had landed their first load, deployed his men on the right bank, and went to work vigorously to clean up the ground on the shore, and level it when necessary for the passage of troops to the boats, and also to prepare a steamboat landing.

At daylight he sent a party furnished with ropes and ringbolts to catch and make fast to shore the rafts in the Chickamauga Creek, which we learned from deserters had been made for the destruction of the bridge at Chattanooga. The duty was well performed, as all duty is by Colonel Buell, and five rafts were anchored to the shore. The rebels had intended to prepare the rafts each with a small pilot raft having a torpedo attached, containing about fifty pounds of powder, to blow up by percussion, as they went under the bridge.

The arrangements were not completed when they were interfered with by General Sherman's passage of the river. At daylight, eight thousand troops were across the river, and in line of battle. Soon after, work was continued on the bridge across the river from both ends, and Captain P. V. Fox, Michigan Engineers, began the bridge across the South-Chickamauga. According to previous arrangement, Brigadier-General I. H. Wilson brought up the steamer Dunbar to assist in the passage of the troops. About eight thousand infantry, and one battery of artillery, besides the horses of the generals and their staff, were crossed in that manner, under the energetic directions of General Wilson. At twenty minutes past twelve P. M., the bridge across the river was complete, the one across the creek having been finished a little before, and by three o'clock P. M., the brigade of cavalry under Colonel Long had crossed and was


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