Civil War Bridge

Civil War Bridge

Information comes from Pieces of the Past, Volume 1, pages 228 by Jim Reis and used here with his permission.


In 1862 the Confederate Army advanced on Northern Kentucky. Cincinnati got scared.  To defend the Queen City, Union generals ordered artillery placed along the Kentucky hills south of Cincinnati.  But even with five ferries operating, they couldn't move the men and supplies quickly enough.  Union officers were faced with a tactical problem.  How to move more than 70,000 soldiers quickly from Cincinnati to create a defensive perimeter along the hilltops of Northern Kentucky.  The solution: build a temporary pontoon bridge.

Union General Horatio G Wright, Commander of the Department of Ohio, ordered General Lew Wallace to vacate Paris, Kentucky, with his entire command to rush to the defense of Cincinnati, Covington and Newport. He arrived September 2, 1862.  Newport, Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati were immediately put under Martial Law.

General Wallace was soon joined by Generals Ormsby Mitchel and H G Wright and Colonel Charles Whittlesey of the Engineering Corps, who directed the installation of the gun emplacements and rifles pits spread about the Kentucky hilltops. Slaves and free blacks in Cincinnati and Newport were rounded up by the hundreds to dig the trenches and pits

Wallace contacted an architect from Cincinnati names Wesley Cameron, who reportedly promised: "You get me the material and manpower and I'll get the job done."  Cameron was as good as his word. In the 24 hours from sunset Sep 2 to sunset Sep 3, 1862, again using slave labor and free blacks, the empty coal barges were lashed side by side and anchored on both sides of the shore, with wood decking laid atop.  The pontoon bridge was wide enough for four wagons abreast. NOTE: The blacks and slaves were rounded up in Newport and Cincinnati and used without their permission.

During the next several days, 70,000 Union troops, with the first contingent led by Wallace on horseback, marched into Kentucky.  Because they were able to set up troops and batteries in Campbell County, Confederate spies were able to convince their Commanders that any battle would not go in their favor.  The Confederate Army turned away.

The span that Union engineers built, however, accomplished more than deploying troops to strategic positions.  It also pointed to the need for a permanent structure.

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