this method, with a force of only 450 to 500 men (all I had available), and not more than one-half of what I could have worked to good advantage (thereby, of course, greatly reducing even teh short time occupied during the past week) and on our first trial with so large a bridge, with many of the men new to the work, we have prepared the bridge for crossing the Eastern Branch here, 1,300 feet long, dismantling it in five to six minutes, constructing it in eight to eleven minutes, and swinging it into position ready for a column of infantry to cross in eight to ten minutes.
On yesterday this bridge was dismantled completely in three and a half or in four and a half minutes (as different observers reported), it was constructed in ten and in position so that infantry landed and commenced fire from it in eight more, and it was ready for the passage of artillery in less than twenty minutes from the time the order to "construct" was given; while by my plan this bridge will carry, well concealed, an attacking force equal to one man for every foot of its length.
I have special satisfaction in reporting these facts, as showing the ability and importance of the drill here, and the proficiency attainable, which is absolutely impossible to be accomplished at the front or in the face of the enemy.
And this leads me to the object of the additions that had been hoped for from the drafted men for these regiments. On the 29th of July, I addressed a letter to your headquarters, asking that application should be made to the proper authority that mechanics or other select men should be assigned or permitted to go to these regiments from the newly drafted men, but to this I have as yet no reply, while I find by the reports of my officers sent to Elmira, according to orders, that while not a single man has been permitted to go to these regiments, notwithstanding the large numbers that desire to, these very officers are kept from my poorly officered regiments, and even put into the permanent garrison company at that most, thus still more weakening instead of strengthening my command.
It is desirable to kept up the efficiency of this brigade, now reduced in its effective force for the two regiments to less than one-third of the organization of one regiment of Engineers, and if the order previously asked for cannot be obtained, I would respectfully request authority for an officer to report at such point in the Army of the Potomac as may be deemed best, to select the mechanics and other men suitable for transfer to this brigade and to these headquarters, where they can be properly drilled, as they can nowhere else, my experience showing me that the new men may be months or years with an army at the front, and still be of no more use as pontooniers than only ordinary infantry, while even one month here may suffice to make them effective.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. BENHAM,
HDQRS. DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA, Numbers 2.
Norfolk, Va., September 9, 1863.
I. Hereafter under no circumstances shall a search be made or shall any property be taken from citizens, within the lines of this