On Saturday, 11-22-62, a massive explosion awakened me while I was asleep in the Montgomery Hotel. My first thought was for Lydia Robertson’s safety. Had anything happened to her? But then I looked out my window and saw the red glare in the eastern sky, and heard the Yankee soldiers in the street shouting that a troop train had derailed on the new Red River Bridge.
After dressing I met Elias Montgomery out behind the hotel and we rode to the Red River Bridge where we found a locomotive lying on its side, gasping like a prehistoric monster. In the gorge below Doc Webber waited as soldiers worked to free a young private whose legs were pinned beneath the coaches. When the soldiers failed to free him quickly enough, Doc began a leg amputation without chloroform.
During the surgery I had a traumatic flashback to the ambulance ride that took me from the Sharpsburg Battlefield to Armory Square Hospital in Washington City. My right leg had been amputated, and I was in tremendous pain. At some point I slipped into a trance whereupon I had a vision of what my new assignment, the destruction of the Clarksville Railroad Bridge, meant: the bodies of soldiers, women, and children flung screaming into the cold, dark water. The dream terrified me and I awoke covered in a heavy sweat.
Yet I knew I had no choice in the matter. Either I destroy the bridge or, as General Hood informed me, I’d spend the rest of the war in a military prison. Some reward for a war hero who was given a battlefield promotion!