ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Battle of Staunton River Bridge, Virginia
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Battle of Staunton River Bridge, Virginia
Battle of Staunton River Bridge
A desperate battle waged by a hastily assembled
force of Confederate men and boys may well have
saved the life of the Confederacy for nearly a year.
Staunton River Bridge
A modern walkway crosses
the Staunton River Bridge at
the site of a key battle of the
Civil War in Virginia.
Staunton River Battlefield
The historic battlefield is now
a Virginia State Park, featuring
original fortifications and
other sites of the fight.
Battle of Staunton River Bridge - Randolph, Virginia
Staunton River Battlefield
Confederate Fortifications
The original defenses built by
Southern troops to defend the
Staunton River Bridge can still
be seen at the park.
Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
The Battle of Staunton River Bridge was a
remarkable engagement of the Civil War in
Virginia, in which a hastily assembled and
vastly outnumbered force of Confederates
held off a determined raid by 5,000 Union

The scene of the action is now preserved at
Staunton River Battlefield State Park near
Randolph, Virginia. The park includes a
footbridge across the Staunton River at the
historic bridge site, preserved Confederate
fortifications, two visitor centers, interpretive
trails and displays.

The battle was the direct result of the fighting
that took place during the summer of 1864 at
Petersburg, Virginia. Union General Ulysses
S. Grant had laid siege to Confederate
General Robert E. Lee and the Army of
Northern Virginia. For Lee, the key to holding
on at Petersburg was the flow of supplies by
rail up from points south.

Recognizing this, Grant ordered a cavalry raid
that would target the critical rail lines bring
supplies up to Lee's army. The plan was to
strike first at the the Richmond & Danville
and Southside railroads, tearing up tracks
and destroying facilities, before destroying
the vital Staunton River Bridge. While the
destroyed tracks could be repaired quickly,
the loss of the bridge would be devastating to
the Confederacy.

Commanded by Brigadier Generals James
H. Wilson and August V. Kautz, the column of
5,000 Union cavalrymen and sixteen pieces
of artillery left Grant's lines on June 22, 1864.
Pushing west as fast as they could move, the
destroyed track, demolished trains and did
other damage despite frequent skirmishes
with a much smaller force of pursuing
Southern cavalry led by Colonel W.H.F.
"Rooney" Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee.

The key objective of the raid, Staunton River
Bridge, was defended by a mere 296
Confederate reservists under Captain
Benjamin Fairholt. They occupied earthwork
forts on each side of the bridge.

Correctly deducing that the Union raiders
were heading for the bridge, General Robert
E. Lee notified Fairholt of the threat and
urged him to do everything possible to
defend the bridge. An officer of action, the
captain immediately sent out his orderlies
with a written circular that called on the
citizens of Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte
counties to come to his relief.

The patriotic men and boys of the region
responded in mass. By 10 o'clock on the
morning of June 25, 1864, Fairholt had been
reinforced by 642 men, only 150 of whom
were regular Confederate soldiers. Many of
them were civilian volunteers.

Combined with Fairholt's battalion, these
reinforcements gave him a total force of 938
men. He also had six pieces of field artillery.
Staunton River, Virginia
The river, seen here from the
bridge, holds a significant
place in the history of Virginia.
Photos by Heather LaBone
Cleverly ordering empty trains to run back
and forth from nearby Clover Depot to the
bridge, Fairholt fooled not only Union scouts
but many of his own men into thinking they
were being heavily reinforced.

The Battle of Staunton River Bridge opened
at about 3:45 p.m. on June 25, 1864 when
the Union troops approached to within one
mile of the Confederate defenses, which now
included quickly constructed trenches as well
as the two earthwork forts. Fairholt opened
fire with his artillery and Wilson and Kautz
quickly responded in kind.

The dismounted Union cavalry pushed up
along both sides of the railroad tracks,
hoping to seize the bridge long enough to set
it afire. The Confederates, however, resisted
fiercely even though many were young boys
seen crying when the cannon opened fire.

The Federals reached a drainage ditch about
150 yards from the bridge, but could get no
closer, despite four desperate charges into
the fire of the Confederate guns. In the end
they retreated, with General Wilson reporting
that the position was "impregnable." Behind
they left 42 of their men dead on the field. The
Confederates 10 killed and 24 wounded.

The Confederacy likely survived almost
another full year thanks to the courage of the
men and boys who fought at Staunton River
Please click here to learn more.

Staunton River Battlefield Park is located on
Route 855 eighteen miles east of South
Boston, Virginia. The address is 1035 Fort
Hill Trail, Randolph, Virginia.
Please click
here to visit the park's official website.
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