War of the Rebellion: Serial 012 Page 0127 Chapter XXIII. GENERAL REPORTS.

Search Civil War Official Records

I have stated above in what manner the officers of engineers performed they duties; yet thus far their services are ignored and unrecognized, while distinctions have been bestowed upon those who have had the good fortune to command troops. Under such circumstances it can hardly be expected that the few engineer officers yet remaining will willingly continue their services in this unrequited branch of the military profession. We have not sufficient officers of engineers at this time with any of our armies to commence another siege, nor can they be obtained. In another war, if their services are thus neglected in this, we will have none.

another evil of no inconsiderable magnitude was experienced in this campaign, growing out of the want of a properly- organized engineer service in this country. In a European service every corps d'armee (or division, if this were the highest unit of command) would have its proper proportion of engineer troops, and to their charge would be committed the engineer train, carrying the intrenching tools for the use of the troops. For example, a corps of 30,000 or 40,000 men would have in the French service a train of 41 wagons, of which 30 would carry 10,000 intrenching tools. This train would be under the immediate charge of a company of suppers, whose business it would be to issue them to the troops where wanted, to be with the working parties, directing the same, and to receive the tools back again when the work was completed.

For want of such an organization the issue of intrenching tools to the army was necessarily left to the Quartermaster's Department. This department, burdened with his its immense duties, could not give especial attention to this, in consequence of which important works were frequently delayed, as at Yorktown, where details assembled to make roads were sent back for want of tools, though they were in ample quantities on board the transports. Furthermore, it was impossible to maintain any system of responsibility for the tools. The soldier found an ax or a shovel a very convenient thing to have at his camp, and carried one off with him. When the army moved he found it inconvenient to carry and threw it away. Thus, notwithstanding the number of tools issued to the army at Yorktown and on the Chickahominy, we were almost wholly dependent in making the works at Harrison's Landing upon new supplies from the transports sent to the James River.

The pontoon equipage which accompanied the army was got up, as already mentioned, by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander, assisted by Captain J. C. Duane. The former had acquired an enviable reputation as the builder of the Minot's Ledge light-house, possessed great practical ingenuity, and had had the means of knowing the best result arrived at in other services in this branch of military art. Captain Duane possessed a more extensive and thorough practical and experimental knowledge of military bridges than other man in this country. They gave, after full consideration of the subject, their preference to the French system. Even had they adopted this system blindly, because it was French, they would not have been without solid reasons, for the French have studied and experimented upon the best system's known to the world. Whatever may be said about the difference in the character of the country, roads, &c., the thing to be done here and in Europe (now that our armies have assumed European magnitude) is essentially the same. But these officers had before them the best modern inventions of Europe and America. The India-rubber pontoons they knew thoroughly; corrugated iron bodies and countless other inventions of American genius were before them, and the former experimented upon.