then directed to locate a line on the south side where the Second Corps, after crossing, could entrench and protect the remainder of the army during the dangerous movement.
One hour before noon, on June 15th, General H. W. Benham
, of the Engineer Corps, was ordered by General Grant
to prepare a pontoon bridge across the James River
for the passage of the army.
In anticipation of this order, pontoons had been sent from Fort Monroe
, and work was started under direction of Major Duane
. General Benham
was at Fort Monroe
when he received the order, but arrived at the site of the bridge, just above Fort Powhatan, about five o'clock in the afternoon.
The work was accomplished by four hundred and fifty men under the immediate command of Captain G. H. Mendell
, of the regular service, who had for this purpose a body of regulars and volunteers under his charge.
reported to General Meade
at the position selected, and was directed to proceed at once with the construction.
smiled at the enthusiasm of Benham
when he remarked that he would not sleep until the bridge was finished.
The regulars were placed at the east end and the volunteers at the west end, and work was commenced on several parts of the bridge simultaneously — by the method known to the engineers as that of “simultaneous bays.”
About five and a half hours after Benham
's arrival, a telegram was received from General Meade
asking the progress on the bridge, and the engineer was able to reply that the last bolt was in position, that a gap had been left, according to orders, but the bay necessary to connect the span was ready, and that in fifteen minutes from the time the order was given the communication would be complete from shore to shore, a distance of twenty-two hundred feet.
The gap was closed, but the bridge was not required until six o'clock in the morning of the next day. At that time the regulars were relieved, and the bridge continued under the charge of the volunteers until it was dismantled, three days