November 12, 2009

Haupt's encounter with Hooker about the rebuilt Potomac Creek bridge

Here is an excerpt from Haupt's autobiography about the rebuilding of the Potomac Creek bridge. He didn't describe the actual process, but I now believe they built it over the existing trestle as I described in an earlier post. Haupt's reply to Hooker gives some insight into his personality. I find it somewhat condescending and possibly disrespectful way to talk to a superior, but he got away with it. Hooker died in 1879 and did not write a memoir, so we have no record of his version of the story.

After leaving General Hooker I determined at once to build a new bridge across the Potomac run. One of the Corps commanders had, very unwisely, as I thought, cut down all the timber in the valley above the bridge, which, in case of a freshet, would be carried against the bridge and sweep away the trestle-work. I therefore gave orders to E. C. Smeed to proceed at once to erect a new military truss-bridge in spans of 120 feet resting on the stone piers, and remove the old bridge.

As soon as the work was commenced I was summoned again by General Hooker, who wished to see me immediately.

I reported at Headquarters, when he said rather excitedly: "I understand you are going to take down that large bridge at Potomac Creek and build another."

"Yes, sir."

"Well! I cannot permit it. I am now loading my wagons, and cannot allow any interruption to the trains."

I rejoined: "I do not propose to interrupt the trains."

"Why, how can you take down that bridge and build another without stopping transportation for some days at least ?"

I said: "General, it is your place to indicate to me what you wish to have done, and mine to carry out your wishes in such manner as will best secure the results desired. If you wish a detailed explanation, I will make it; but I say to you now that the bridge will, before you are ready to move, be replaced by a more safe and substantial structure, and not a single train will be detained for a single hour."


"Well!" replied the General, "if you say so, go ahead; but I don't see how you can do it." His chief of staff, General Butterfield, echoed: "And I don't see how you can do it either."

The new bridge was erected and was in use for some weeks before the forward movement commenced, and no train was delayed during its construction. I cannot find the report of the time required in its erection, but my impression is that it did not exceed three or four days.




Note that Haupt describes the spans at 120 feet. That contradicts other reports that list the bridge at 400 feet total.

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