Made famous by Lincoln’s decision to cross it on foot during his May 23, 1862, visit to Fredericksburg (click here for a post on that), the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac RR bridge over Potomac Creek was oft-sketched, photographed, and written about. Without question it was one of the more remarkable building achievements in the Fredericksburg region–many times over. At least three iterations of the bridge were built by Union engineers during the various Union occupations–once in May 1862, in November 1862, and in May 1864. Images of at least three of them survive.
This image shows the bridge as it appeared in the spring of 1863.
Just a couple weeks later, a photographer took this shot. Note that the long supports under the trusses have been removed.
Here is a view of the bridge in May 1864–after it had been reconstructed in just 40 hours. More than 6,000 Union wounded from Wilderness and Spotsylvania travelled over this bridge between May 22 and May 26, 1864.
And then there is this view. It’s credited to A.J. Russell, either 1862 or 1863–though we know that Russell didn’t begin taking photographs until the spring of 1863. While it bears resemblance to the 1864 bridge, above, close inspection reveals that it is not the same bridge. Is it the 1862 bridge that Lincoln crossed? Or perhaps someone out there who knows more about Civil War photography than I do can clue us in.
While I know of no image that is definitively of the “beanpole and cornstalks” bridge described by Lincoln, this image certainly captures the essence (if not the fabric) of what Lincoln likely saw in May 1862–a rather haphazardly built structure, constructed not by engineers but by gangs of detached soldiers. Its designer, Herman Haupt, complained that he could not convince men to go out onto the bridge to complete the bracing. No wonder….
When I sat down to write this, I’d intended to do a full-blown piece in our traditional style. But there’s little need to do that. The folks over at the Historical Marker Database have already put together a very nice post on this site, including modern images, and I urge you to take a look at it here. In the meantime, any of you who can offer some illumination on this, we’d be grateful.