Yesterday, agreeably to instructions from the commanding general, I visited, with Lieutenant-Colonel Harris, said bridges and causeways, or rather such portions of them, beginning from Legare's Point, as were reported upon by Colonel Simonton. My opinion confirms what is asserted by Major Echols and Captain Howard. The bridges and causeways are not finished, but will be,in all probability, in about two weeks. As soon as the communication from James Island to Morris Island will be established, so as to allow troops to be sent form one island to another, in case of an emergency, then it is the design of Lieutenant-Colonel Harris to have the bridges and causeways strengthened all the way, by adding intermediate supports and braces of sufficient resistance, should the case require it. That course, I submit, was the best that could be adopted. The object was to establish a communication as soon as possible between the two islands. That being accomplished, we could then strengthen the works, and take our time to do it.
A careful perusal of the reports of the different engineers, shows that no blame can be attached to that department. The works may have been delayed, and in many instances have been; but I believe through no neglect on the part of the engineer department. Engineers are not expected to give any direct orders to details of soldiers furnished to work on entrenchments or other military constructions. That duty falls on the officers sent in with the details. the fact is, engineers have no right to give such orders. They furnish all necessary plans, instructions, and explanations to the officers in command of the details; and it becomes then the duty of those officers, and not of the engineers, to execute them under the general supervision of the latter.
I would suggest that three, at lest, of the nine steamers or job boats now plying in the harbor should be permanently turned over to the Engineer Corps, to be under the entire control of said corps, it being understood that, on proper requisition to the chief engineer, said boats would be temporarily employed by the quartermaster's department for general transportation purposes; now, as things are regulated, the engineer department is never certain of having boats when they require them; so at lest I am informed by Lieutenant-Colonel Harris.
The removal of Captain Langdon Cheves, on Morris Island, and the assignment of Captain Mitchel to engineering duties, by order of General Orders, Numbers 95, the second paragraph of which reads as follows:
All field and other military works in this department will be ordered, planned,located, and constructed, as far as practicable, only under orders from these headquarters, superintended by the chief engineer and his assistants, excepting when this course shall be impracticable or attended with undue delay, in which cases the commanders of districts will be authorized to give the necessary orders to and through the senior engineer officer on duty in their districts, for immediate execution. Plans of the works thus ordered, and the ends to be subserved by their construction, will be promptly forwarded to these headquarters.
The report of Captain Cheves and the remarks of Colonel Harris show conclusively that General Ripley did not follow the requirements of this order. Captain Mitchel was sent to Morris Island to take charge of works properly assigned to an engineer officer, and no notice of the fact - though, indeed, a very extraordinary one - was ever given to the district engineer, or to the chief engineer of the department.