Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Civil War Story

William Scott

David Cunningham writes from up North:

Your posting of the great photos of the Potomac and mention of Chain Bridge brought to mind William Scott, the (infamous?) Vermont Civil War soldier known as 'The Sleeping Sentinel'. William Scott was found asleep on guard duty at Chain Bridge in August of 1861, and sentence to be executed. President Lincoln pardoned him, and he was released and returned to duty, but was killed in action near Lee's Mill about 8 months later at about 23 years old.

William Scott was my great grandmother's brother. He and three of his brothers left their father's little hardscrabble farm in Groton, Vermont to fight in the war and never returned. Despite my great great grandfather's heartbreak at the loss of his sons, imagine what a hardship that must have been for a man struggling to work a stony farm here in Vermont where the labor of his sons usually provided his only help.

I have attached the only known photograph of William Scott (see above) proudly posing in his uniform. If you knew me and my brothers, two of whom are now deceased, you'd notice a strong family resemblance.
Bridge in 1865. Click to massively enlarge.

Where are the chains of Chain Bridge today?  As the Arlington County library web site notes:

There have been eight bridges built on this site. The original one was a covered wooden structure that collapsed in 1804, and the second was destroyed by floods after only 6 months. In 1810, a third bridge was constructed that was truly a “Chain Bridge,” the name by which all subsequent bridges have been known. Two chains were made from four-foot links of wrought iron and suspended from massive stone towers at either shore. The bridge itself was 136 feet long and 15 feet wide. This was a toll bridge which reported $9,000 in collected tolls in 1810.

It was a relatively low bridge, and floods were a continuing problem. The third, fourth, and fifth structures were all swept away by high water.

The present Chain Bridge, a simple continuous steel girder structure, was built in 1939 with a vertical clearance between the bridge and the river of 45 feet. Nevertheless, in times of severe flooding, such as that experienced during Hurricane Agnes in 1972, the water level was so high that it came within a few feet of the bridge’s floor.


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