Monday, May 16, 2022

How volunteer soldiers blocked Robert E. Lee — by burning the world's longest covered bridge

Once reports arrived on June 26 that Early’s entire division had turned eastward and now was in Gettysburg, with the bridge possibly in their crosshairs, Haller and Frick knew they had little chance with their relatively untrained force to defeat the Rebels. Together, they worked out a contingency plan involving a swift retreat across the bridge. Haller had three artillery pieces in Columbia with which to blow holes in the bridge deck in the event of an enemy advance, but his men lacked ammunition. Hence, carpenters and volunteers from Columbia bore holes in the bridge’s superstructure; Frick envisioned blowing up the fourth section from the Wrightsville side with charges of gunpowder, dropping the 200-foot span into the water. If that did not work, he planned to have barrels of coal oil rolled on the bridge from a Columbia merchant. Soldiers, in that case, would douse the bridge deck and stacks of kindling. Because the bridge was privately owned, Frick and Haller decided to have civilians associated with the Columbia Bank apply the torch, not government soldiers.


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