The repairs and the adjustments required during the continuous use of the bridge were attended to by the volunteers.
Beginning at six o'clock in the morning of June 16th, a continuous column of wagons (nearly six thousand), nearly all the artillery, cavalry, and infantry present, together with more than three thousand head of beef-cattle for the Subsistence Department continued to cross the bridge for forty hours, without a single accident to man or beast.
The officers and men in charge of the bridge were allowed very little sleep during this time, and General Benham
relates that he had only about four hours sleep in the eighty that the bridge was in operation.
He said it was in anxiety, not to say in trembling, that he saw the destinies of that whole army committed to the frail structure, with steamers and other vessels drifting against it, and with so much of its planking previously worn through by careless use on the Rappahannock
; while he did not dare stop that stream of men and supplies for a moment, in order to make repairs.
At length, the last animal was over by 7 P. M., on June 18th, and the guardians of the frail path commenced to breathe freely again, when, to their consternation, the Confederate artillery, about a mile away, began shelling.
The pontoniers almost gave up hope of withdrawing the bridge in safety; but it was ordered up, and General Benham
directed its removal in three rafts.
This was successfully accomplished before three o'clock in the morning of the 19th, and the great bridge reached City Point
, the Federal
headquarters, about sunrise of that day, a souvenir of the most successful bridge of boats in the military history of the world.
Compared with the bridge built by the same troops over the Chickahominy
two years before, this James River
bridge was the greater feat.
In the latter case, the water was deep for the greater portion of the distance, in some places nearly eighty-five feet, with a strong current running.
In the former, the stream was comparatively shallow for most of the