the forty-two hours previous to writing the first part of this letter, of which I was some fourteen hours in the saddle from the first, sixteen after I received the order, and with the aid of all my staff and, as far as I know, every officer and man attached to this brigade - all was done to secure an implicit compliance with the orders of the commanding general.
With the copy of the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Pettes,* the only one as yet received, I respectfully inclose a statement of my brigade veterinary surgeon* upon one matter referred to in this report.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. BENHAM,
General S. WILLIAMS,
Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.
HEADQUARTERS ENGINEER BRIGADE,
Near Banks' Ford, Va., May 1, 1863.
SIR: The early calls to other duty prevented my completing the report, as I designed to make it up, on the laying of the bridges below Fredericksburg on the morning of the 29th instant.
I desire to say more explicitly that, being charged by General Hooker with the responsibility of laying the bridges by the hours stated, and my plans being approved or ordered to be carried out, as far as he was concerned, by General Sedgwick, at that time in command, and the necessary troops being supplied therefor by him, I considered myself in command, and, in fact, obliged to give orders, when necessary, to all the troops on this duty, to the close of these operations, equally with the force under General Pratt, required to aid my pontoniers, and to the force also of General Brooks, assigned by General Sedgwick for the purpose of first passing over to protect the laboring force, and required by a part of my plans (also approved with the rest) as indispensable to success.
General Sedgwick is my witness that I planned, and in his presence, about sunset on the 28th, urged on General Brooks that his crossing squads of about 60 men each should be assigned to and accompany the pontoons as they were leaving the limits of concealment at the edge of the woods, my reasons for which had been given - the fear that these squads would otherwise fail in joining the boats properly. General Sedgwick was a witness to General Brooks' proposition to have the squads join at another point, which I assented to reluctantly, and only on condition that General Brooks would be responsible for their accurately joining there on having due notice from me, and which notice on the afternoon of the next day he admitted to have received from Captain Halsted; yet it is a fact that is undeniable that, on returning from a rapid ride to the lower column, at the last moment, and very nearly, if not exactly, at midnight, found that some of the leading pontoons had passed the points designated without being joined by the crossing squads; that, from a strong sense of my own responsibility for the fulfillment of the orders given me by the time indicated, and for the saving of the lives of our men, on meeting General Brooks, whom I fully believed then to be under my orders for the duty, I expressed to him my strong feeling of disappointment at his failure, but in no words personally harsh to himself, and, to his offer to make explanations, I said, "I have no time for explanations; I want no explanations; I want the men." This
* Not found.