Burnside, and to-night I have thirty pontoon-boats ready for the water, and can put the bridge in to-morrow, unless my steam-engine fails. I have had the greatest obstacles to overcome, for not a log was cut at the mill when I commenced. I had nothing but mules to haul with, and no chains. I have made cable of telegraph-wire for anchoring, and made nearly enough small rope for lashings. I have found five yoke of oxen and put them at work, and borrowed several chains. My work has been delayed for want of carpenter and black-smith tools, as none are left in the shops suitable for this work, and none of those taken from the shop have been returned.
There are a sufficient number of oxen in the country, but the owners have safeguards from General Carter and will not allow their cattle to work. One Mr. Grant, near here, has two yoke of cattle and some blacksmith tools, but will not allow them to be used, and he has protection papers, though he is a notorious rebel, and I am informed has not taken the oath of allegiance. If I could get a bellows and anvil to put into the blacksmith-shop, I should be much better off. All the field-forges are busy with Government work, and it is only after a long routine and much annoyance that I can obtain the smallest jobs. But, against all these, I think I have as fine a bridge as you could ask in eight days. It will take until Sunday noon to complete my sawing for the flooring and balks, after which the mill should lie still some two or three days for repair.
The general wishes me to go on making boats. I have not a nail to put into one, and unless our capacity for blacksmithing is increased some way, I shall not be able to go on for a number of days. If you can give me a few days [three, say] to repair my machinery, have the tools of the shop sent back here, and furnish me some nails, I can go on and make 100 feet of bridge complete in a day, and will do so. Of course I shall go on as fast as I can under the circumstances, but the nails will be a great delay. If I could have several blacksmiths at work making nails of the seize of the tenpenny nails, I could go on much faster.
If the people having cattle, blacksmith-shops, &c., about here could be made to allow the Government the use of them, it would be of great service. They decline when I offer to pay for the use, and to buy their cattle. I am much in need of saws, saw-files, and like instruments.
I can run the cotton-mill and spin the cotton, and make as large a quantity of rope as the general may need. I have enough ready spun to make a large quantity. There is no regular rope-walk, but we can put one up out of doors, and make rope of any length we please. Of course the longest kind will be slow work. I find every kind of mechanic in the ranks that I can ask.
I shall be pleased to know the general's wishes about my going on with the boats, and unless you want them at once, I will construct a neat train.
I send you a specimen of the rope I am making. I can increase the size, but the size I send is sufficiently large for lashings. We can make the cable of moderate size.
I am, general, very truly, your obedient servant,
O. E. BABCOCK,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Asst. Insp. Gen., Ninth Army Corps.