The importance of pontoon bridges during the Civil War cannot be over stated. And in fact, the inability to set up a pontoon bridge at Fredericksburg in a timely fashion was a major factor in the Union’s defeat.
Pontoon bridges needed to be transported to the river so that the army could cross. Then it had to be constructed, sometimes under enemy fire.
The bridge base actually a line of small boats held in place by anchoring. The small boats were tied together and then floor timbers were placed over them.
Remarkably the bridges held up better when being crossed by wagons or artillery than when the infantry was marching across. For some reason, in unison marching caused the bridges to rise and fall, throwing off its buoyancy.
After a battle, the fate of the pontoon bridge was closely tied to the battle victors. A pontoon bridge could be easily dismantled, by chopping the anchor lines on the boats on the opposite shore and allowing the bridge to float back to the friendlier side of the river. There it could be dismantled as easily as it was built.
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