HEADQUARTERS ENGINEER BRIGADE, August 3, 1863.
General S. Williams,
Assistant Adjutant-general, Army of the Potomac:
SIR: I respectfully inclose, to be laid before the commanding general, copies of two letters, of March 18 * and June 11, + which were prepared for the consideration of General Hooker, on the last of which, at least, I believe he took no action in consequence of the change of position of the army, which occurred soon after.
I would simply add that my continued experience only still further shows the necessity of the arrangements therein proposed, for in taking up the bridges (laid June 5) upon the night of the 13th, the general who was directed to furnish the assisting force withdrew the brigade which he had furnished me, after I Had ordered it where it could be near at hand, under the bank or the river bottom, and where I hew it was out of the way of the crossing force; and on the plea that it would interfere with such crossing, he ordered it to the plain above, by which I only with great difficulty could obtain them, two of my staff at a time spending twenty to thirty minutes in finding the commander, and still longer at different times in obtaining the troops needed, by which at one time (while hurrying so greatly to get the bridges up before we should be fired upon) we had our roadway blocked up for nearly half an hour, and at others had many pontoons waiting for squads to load them; and we were delayed from 11 o'clock of the 13th until after daylight of the 14th in getting this bridge away, which, if the enemy had pursued us closely, must have caused great destruction of life. And, again, at Edwards Ferry, where I understood that General Sedgwick was to protect our withdrawal of the bridges, the mass of troops had passed and left us long before our bridges were brought up to Poolesville, or even before they were disposed of at the river bank, while we ran the most imminent risk of capture the day after, without, to my knowledge, there being so much as a single regiment within double the distance of the rebel forces from us.
These different experiences give me the fullest conviction that a plan such as at first proposed would be of the utmost advantage for the success and rapid advance of this army.
I think that if this brigade goes into the field with the light bridge train, now preparing, or a portion of it, as an adjunct (in fact, scarcely greater than a supply train of an army), and with its train of tools, with the accompanying protecting corps, as recommended in the first letter, it can make all ordinary roads and bridges, protect itself fully when and where most needed in the judgment of its commander, and force its way safely and rapidly against everything but an enemy of largely superior force, so that the mass of the army will but need to move forward with greater rapidity than ever heretofore, over prepared roads.
The troops thus selected for the aiding and protecting corps, I would respectfully suggest, would only be continued upon the highest and most important kinds of military duty, that of reconnaissance in advance, the most effective and useful they could be placed upon; and it would be in accordance, but with far greater efficiency, with all past practice (whether the necessity was for building forts, making roads, or laying bridges), General Woodbury, as I learn, having had
+See Bonham to Williams, p. 62.