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Guard engineers have brush with Civil War history in training exercise on the Rappahannock

 Guard engineers prepare floating bridge sections at Little Falls Run boat ramp in Stafford.
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Date published: 12/8/2012


To cross the Rappahannock River for the Battle of Fredericksburg, Union Army engineers used horses, wagons and manpower to carry wooden pontoon boats to the water while Confederate snipers relentlessly picked them off.

Union re-enactors of that Dec. 11, 1862, crossing from Stafford County will have a much easier time today on a floating steel bridge erected by Army National Guard engineers using big trucks, a small fleet of boats and cellphones to communicate.

And no one was taking pot shots at them from the Fredericksburg shore.

"This is definitely a lot different than how they did it during the Civil War," said 1st Lt. Marianne E. Heldmann, commander of the Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company, which spent most of Friday moving the bridge sections to a staging area off Ferry Farm below City Dock. It was a combination training opportunity and history encounter.

The unit has a link to the Civil War. Its headquarters component, the 276th Engineer Battalion, traces its lineage back to the Confederate 1st Virginia Regiment, which saw action in Fredericksburg.

It was a strange scene Friday. Modern soldiers with Confederate ties building a bridge for Union re-enactors to attack a Southern city.

Heldmann said it was a great opportunity for the troops.

"This is an important training event for us; we get to work with so many civilian agencies," she said at the staging area at Little Falls Run Landing on the Stafford County shore.

Erecting the bridge sections on a flowing river, she added, is more complicated than doing the job in a lake at Fort A.P. Hill.

About 120 troops from the Caroline County unit gathered at the Little Falls Run landing with Army-green 5-ton trucks loaded with bridge sections and the boats needed to push them upriver to the City Dock.

The Improved Float Bridge components were unloaded at the landing. Each one unfolded into a 22-foot section of bridge as it hit the water. Four bridge boats, brought in from the Bowling Green Armory, guided the sections to a spot in the river where they were connected for the 45-minute trip upstream.

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