Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports

The Document

No.2. Reports of Brig. Gen. John G. Barnard, U. S. Army, Chief Engineer of operations from May 23, 1861, to August 15, 1862.


Camp near New Bridge, Va., June 10, 1862.

Sir: The officers of engineers on duty with the Army of the Potomac during the month of May are as follows:

Maj. D. P. Woodbury, brigadier-general of volunteers, commanding Engineer Brigade of volunteer engineer regiments (Fifteenth and Fiftieth New York).

Capt. B. S. Alexander, 1ieutenant-colonel and aide-de-camp, attached to the army corps of Brig. Gen. W. B. Franklin.

Capts. C. S. Stewart and J. C. Duane, commanding Engineer Battalion of Regulars (Companies A, B, and C).

First Lieuts. C. B. Comstock and M. D. McAlester, attached to headquarters of General Heintzelman.

First Lients. C. B. Reese, C. E. Cross, and 0. E. Babcock, commanding engineer companies under Captain Duane; Second Lieut. F. U. Farquhar.

The only engineer officers present at the battle of Williamsburg were Captain Stewart and Lieutenant Farquhar, attached to the headquarters of General Sumner, and Lieutenant McAlester, with General Heintzelman.

Captain Stewart was the first to point out, I believe, the unoccupied works on the enemy’s left and to ascertain the route leading to them; a service which had a decided influence on the battle.

Lieutenant McAlester rendered valuable services in reconnoitering and aiding in the disposition of the troops.

Lieutenant Farquhar accompanied General Hancock in his occupation of the enemy’s works, and was active throughout the day.

On the advance of the army Captain Stewart and Lieutenant Farquhar were attached to the advance guard under General Stoneman.

The engineer officers have been generally employed in reconnaissances during the month. The Engineer Brigade has done much work on roads and bridges.

On reaching the Chickahominy the passage of our left at Bottom’s Bridge was undisputed by the enemy, and a portion of the Engineer Brigade, under General Woodbury, constructed two trestle bridges in place of the destroyed bridge at that point.

On arrival of the right wing and headquarters of the army near New Bridge (May 22) it was found to be held by the enemy. The Chickahominy bottom varies from a half to one mile in width, about equally distributed on either side of the stream. The bed of the stream is usually bordered by a swamp, usually 300 or 400 yards in width. The bed is not much depressed below the marginal bottom lands, and a rise [p.133] of 3or 4 feet above the usual summer level overflows large areas. The bottom is usually cleared and cultivated, but intersected with deep ditches. The high lands rise on each side of the bottom with moderately steep slopes to a height of 70 or 80 feet. When we reached the New Bridge, and for a week thereafter, the stream, though somewhat swollen, did not overflow at all its margins, though the swamp proper was filled with water. The first day I caused it to be reached and forded, and a few days after, when we had driven the enemy’s pickets from the immediate vicinity, I caused it to be waded from the New Bridge site down about a quarter of a mile. Materials for bridging the stream were deposited at three points under shelter of the swamp timber—the New Bridge site, three-quarters of a mile above, and about the, same distance below.

The corps of, Heintzelman and Keyes had advanced over Bottom’s Bridge on the Williamsburg road to Seven Pines, a point from which the Nine-mile road diverged, running nearly north to its intersection with the New Bridge road at Old Tavern. General Sumner’s corps was intermediate between New and Bottom’s Bridges, and had thrown two log bridges across the swamp and stream in his front. It was believed that, with the co-operation of the left and center, the passage at this point could be forced. The expedition to Hanover Court-House probably delayed the execution.

On Friday, May 30, a violent rain-storm set in, and it rained in torrents during the night.

On Saturday the enemy attacked our left. Sumner with difficulty got his two divisions and one battery over. The commanding general directed the bridges here to be thrown that night. The attempt was made, but it was very dark; the stream was rising rapidly. A greater part of the night was spent in rescuing from the flood the materials of the upper bridge. Captain Duane succeeded in getting in a pontoon bridge, at the site of New Bridge at 8.15 Sunday morning. At the lower bridge the darkness and rising waters prevented any progress in the night, and after making some progress during the day it was found that the direction, well adapted to the ordinary stage of the stream, had to be changed.

It was 2 a. m. of Monday before a bridge was completed. The upper trestle bridge had been made practicable for infantry by 12 m. on Sunday; but these bridges were all mere bridges in the air. The flow extended over the bottom lands and the single causeway of New Bridge partially submerged, and for half a mile, with water on each side, was the sole practicable route for troops or artillery, and it evidently [was] impracticable in the military sense to pass an army in column over the route while under fire of the enemy from the heights beyond. Since the date of the battle the approaches to the bridges have been improved and the débouchés corduroyed as far as the enemy’s fire would permit and new bridges undertaken at other points.

The engineer officers are distributed as mentioned in the beginning of this letter. The only engineer officer with the corps engages on Saturday and Sunday was Lieutenant McAlester. He was absent on a reconnaissance in the commencement of the battle on Saturday and on Sunday the engagement was mainly with Sumner’s corps. Intrenchments had been commenced at the position occupied by General Casey’s division under direction of Lieutenant McAlester, but they were very incomplete. Capt. C. S. Stewart was relieved, on account of sickness, [p.134] from duty with this army, and returned to Fort Monroe on the 3d instant.

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,


Brigadier- General and Chief of Engineers, Army of the Potomac.

General J. G. TOTTEN, Chief Engineer, &c., Washington, D. C.

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.132-134

web page Rickard, J (20 June 2006),

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