Centennial Times - February 28 1862 - Pontoon bridge to Harper's Ferry
February 28 1862
Confederates Driven From Harper’s Ferry; Pontoon Bridge Built By Yankees
A pontoon bridge has been built from the Maryland shore to Harper’s Ferry.
Confederate attempts to stop construction of the bridge have been stopped. Union forces strongly occupy Harper’s Ferry.
Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Prentice Banks, the Union commander here, has an engineering background as does George M. McClellan, the supreme Union Commander. Banks was president of th« Illinois Central Railroad at the same thing that McClellan was its chief engineer.
Perhaps for this reason, Banks’ suggestion of a pontoon bridge met with instant approval. Though on Jan. 21, the Potomac was ten feet above its normal point, Banks ordered pontoons strung across anyway.
While Banks waited for pontoons his scouts were met in Harper’s Ferry on the night of Feb 7 by •some of Colonel Turner Ashby’s men. Several were killed and wounded.
Colonel John W. Geary charged the townsfolk with helping Ashby, and ordered the Wager House and several other buildings burned.
After that, a number of residents left town.
The pontoon trains arrived on Feb. 23, and U.S. Army engineers, assisted by infantry work parties, set to work on Feb 26. Capt James Duane was in charge, and was assisted by James Stedman and James Rice of Harper’s Ferry. The bridge was finished in one day.
The first pontoon was a scowlike open boat of iron-clamped wood. Soldiers maneuvered it into place at the piers of the ruined railroad bridge. A wooden abutment was built from the Maryland shore, and the pontoon boat was securely lashed to it With ropes and nailed to it with timbers. Anchors helped hold the boat in place.
Another pontoon was floated alongside and lashed, nailed and anchored; and another; and another. Joists were clamped across these, and upon the joists, a plank floor. Side-joists were fastened to the plank floor.
When the bridge was finished, and moored to an abutment on the Virginia shore, a heavy cable was run across the Potomac above it. Ropes trailing from the cable were moored to each pontoon.
Even so, the Potomac River’s current bends the bridge into a downstream curve. But the bridge supports horses, men, and artillery.
On the Maryland side, General McClellan appeared to congratulate Duane and the other builders.
Meanwhile, Harper’s Ferry was strongly occupied. The 28th Pennsylvania Regiment skirmished with Confederates and captured several prisoners. These prisoners appeared shabby and unmilitary, compared to the well-supplied and well-drilled Union, infantry. Union troops were quartered in empty houses left by Harper’s Ferry residents who had fled the town.
On Feb. 27, Abercrombie’s and Hamilton’s brigades and Col. Maulsby’s regiment moved from Ferry to occupy Charles Town. They were not opposed.
On Feb. 28, Col. Geary with hiss own regiment, Knap’s battery and the First Michigan Cavalry, will cross the Shenandoah. Their destination will be Lovettsville, Waterford and Leesburg if all goes well.
Meanwhile, Gen. Williams’ brigade, including Kenley’s First Maryland and Cole’s cavalry marched from Hancock. Their destination will be Martinsburg, if all goes well.
On February 14, Russell’s and Fiery’s companies engaged Confederates at Bloomery Gap. The Confederate Commander and part of his command was captured.
Used with permission of the Herald-Mail
59 x 33 cms
Washington County (Md.), history; Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862; Sharpsburg, Battle of, Md., 1862; Centennial celebrations, etc:
Washington County (Md.), 1860-1862