From John Hennessy and Paul Nasca, field archeologist at Ferry Farm (we suggest you read our initial post on the canal boat bridge first; you should also read Noel’s very detailed post on a sketch of this, the “middle crossing” site, here):
In our prior post on the 1862 image of the canal boat bridge we focused on the group of African-Americans in the foreground of the image. In this installment, we’ll take a look at the rest of the image–a trove of details innumerable.
Photo courtesy Marc Storch.
As we mentioned earlier, the canal boat bridge at Fredericksburg was one of four constructed by the Union army in the spring and summer 1862–construction made necessary by the Confederates’ destruction of the bridges when they (the Confederates) abandoned Fredericksburg on April 18, 1862. For more than a week after the burning, the Union army did not enter Fredericksburg en-masse–a fact that inspired some quiet taunting by the locals. On April 25, steamboats chugged up to the wharf with as many as 20 canal boats in tow, and that day Union engineers started building the first bridge across the Rappahannock. The bridgebuilders were protected by a pair of Union howitzers likely placed on Ferry Farm, overlooking the bridge. Betty Herndon Maury recorded that as the bridge went into place, soldiers bantered loudly with African-Americans who had come to the town dock to watch the work.
The bridge built on canal boats was completed on May 1. Of the four bridges (a pontoon bridge would be completed below Chatham on May 2, the railroad bridge about May 9, and a bridge on the old abutments of the Chatham bridge sometime thereafter), the canal boat bridge was intended to carry the heavy wheeled and horse-borne traffic. That Mayday afternoon, May 1, Union generals Rufus King and Marsena Patrick led a contingent of cavalry across the new bridge into town. Two days later, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase crossed the bridge for the first visit of Union politicos to Fredericksburg. The four-month occupation of the town had begun.
So far as we know, the bridge would remain in place throughout the occupation, with the exception of a week or so in June when it was carried away by high water. Abraham Lincoln crossed the bridge on May 23 during his tour of Fredericksburg (which you can read about here).
This image of the bridge was taken, according to its label, in June 1862. We can likely narrow that time-frame to sometime after June 12 (or so), for the bridge as washed away on June 4 and took more than a week to re-gather and reconstruct. It’s virtually certain that this image is of the second iteration of the canal boat bridge.
In the image are many details that hint at the everyday work of occupation and the nature of the town in 1862. At both ends of the bridge are facilities to house the guards that regulated passage over the bridge. A the near end is a rude, triangular guard shack, a couple of soldiers peering from it toward the camera, with another, leggings in place, also aware of the photographer at work.
These men are likely from the 76th New York Infantry–from this unit several companies were detailed to guard the bridge and regulate traffic to and from town. These men were quartered on the boats themselves, which made for something of a wild ride on June 4 when the high water swept the boats as far as 20 miles downstream (steamboats hauled them back, and in the meantime a Union gunboat acted as a ferry between Stafford and Fredericksburg). Continue reading