The following is a Battle Survior's Account of the Fight
THE BATTLE OF STAUNTON RIVER BRIDGE
Editor Gazette: I read with much interest the account of the fight at Stanton River Bridge, one given by Gen. Dabney H. Maury, from statements made by Col. T. S. Flournoy, and re-published by the Gazette. As I was one of the sixteen year-old boys who participated in this engagement, I enclose you my recollections of the battle, the forces engaged, and a few incidents respecting it.
In the fall of 1863, the men between the ages of 45 and 50 and the boys between the ages of 16 and 18 years, were conscripted and formed into a reserve force, as a Home Guard and especially to protect the bridge. Notice of the attempt to destroy the bridge having been received, there were assembled at the Staunton River Bridge six companies, as follows:
One Company from Charlotte county.
One company from Mecklenburg county.
Two companies from Halifax county.
One company from Pittsylvania county.
One company from Franklin county.
These companies were under the command of Col. B. L. Farinholt, and it was known as the First Regt. of Va. Reserves. The force numbered between 500 and 600 men. On the day of the battle, this force had been augmented by various home organizations from the adjacent counties and Danville, as well as soldiers at home on furlough, so that there must have been at least 1000 men at the bridge on the morning of the fight. This force was disposed of as follows:
The Charlotte company. Capt. Jno. R. Bailey, was known as the Artillery Co. of the command, and was stationed in the fort just below the bridge, on the Halifax side. They had charge of two smooth-bore 12 pounders, and one 6 rifle piece, and on the bluff above the bridge, they had charge of three six pounders smooth bore, in pits hastily dug for them.
Between the fort, below the bridge, and the river, in a ditch facing down the river, were some three or four companies from Pittsylvania and Danville. Between the fort and the railroad, was a ditch running parallel with the railroad, full of men from Halifax Co. the ends of this ditch were protected by four-cornered rail pens filled with dirt. While peeping around the corner of the pen nearest the bridge, Dr. Sutphin had his head taken off by a solid shot. Across the river, on the Charlotte mouth of the bridge, which was barricaded with heavy timbers, were stationed between 200 and 300 men, all from Halifax, under the command of Col. Coleman.
Just above the bridge, on the Halifax side, in a ditch near the river’s bank were stationed the Drakes Branch Home Guard, Capt. Henry E. Vaughan.
Col. B. L. Farinholt was commander-in-chief. Capt. Frazier, an experienced veteran, was commander of the Artillery. Col. Coleman was commander of the forces on the Charlotte side.
The writer handled the sponge and staff and rammed the charges home at one of the 12 pounders in the fort; the detachment of eight men working this piece were under the command of Lieut. Ragland. From the fort, across the river to the hills on the other side, was just about one mile. The enemy’s pieces were on top of the hills, in plain view, but the foot of the hill was the utmost limit to which we could throw a ball.
I give here extracts from some northern accounts of this fight. “Wilson’s raid, 8,000 men, with 16 pieces of artillery, left Grant’s lines June 22nd, 1864, via Prince George C.H. and Reames’ Station: on the 23rd they struck Blacks and Whites, and 24th Nottoway C.H.”
From History of the 11th Penn. Cav.: “Wilson and Kautz Raid. –Nearly 10,000 strong, on the 25th of June, Kautz Div. Made a strong demonstration against the enemy posted on the right side of the river. Owing to the natural strength of the position, no general strength of the position, no general attack was made, and the commander counseled return march that night. Capt. Reynolds was killed and Maj. Ackerly was severely wounded, both of the 11th Penn. Cav.”
Two lines were formed for the attack on the bridge. One marched down, in columns of four, the deep ravine, which makes from the direction of Mr. McPhail’s down to the river road, and filed into line on the edge of the low grounds. A line of skirmishers were thrown out about 50 yards in advance of the main line and the charge commanded. Our three six-pounders, in the pits about the bridge, opened upon this line with shell and canister.
At the same time another line formed right at the depot on the south side of the railroad. We first noticed the cut just above the depot to be full of Yankees. Lieut. Ragland gave the order to load, and we dropped a shell right plumb into this cut densely packed with the Yanks. The cut was quickly emptied. This was the farthest, with one exception, that any of our pieces placed a ball. One six-pound rifle piece put a shell upon a hill near a barn and killed a man, who was buried near the barn.
The fort opened on the line on the south side of the railroad, first with shell, and as they got into range, with canister. We pounded it into them for all we were worth, but on they came, as pretty and straight a line as was ever seen on dress parade. As they moved they struck into a double quick, with loud hurrah’s, until, within about won hundred yards of the bridge, Col. Coleman gave the order to his men to fire, and the advancing column was met by a storm of buckshot and shell. But on they came, nearer, closer, until they were shot off the railroad embankment within ten steps of the mouth of the bridge. So close did they get before breaking, that some of them ran clear into our lines and were captured. Hear what the 1st D.C. Cav. has to say about the charge:
“As the bridge across the Staunton River was of great importance to the enemy it was fortified and strongly guarded. On this side of the river, at the distance of three-fourths of a mile, running parallel with it was a range of hills; between the hills and the river the ground was open and level. On the left of the railroad was a broad field of wheat, while on the right a luxuriant growth of grass and weeds rising nearly to the height of a man’s shoulders, covered the ground. The bluff on the opposite side and below the bridge, while a strong line of the enemy’s skirmishers had been thrown across the river and deployed along the shore. Wilson’s object was to burn the bridge, and the 1st D.C. Calvary was detailed to do it. The undertaking was a perilous one. Its wisdom the reader will be likely to question, and yet when the final order was given to charge across the level ground in face of the Rebel batteries the gallant 1st D.C. Cav. moved forward in splendid style dismounted. The advance squadron had not advanced far, when, from the line of the enemy’s works in front, a murderous storm of grape and canister was hurled into their ranks with terrible effect. Officers and men went down in large numbers. Still, without the least protection, in the face of that withering fire, these brave men pressed on till near the bridge. Efforts were made to burn it, but they were unsuccessful, when at length it was discovered that the object could not be accomplished but at too great a sacrifice of life, the advance was ordered back, and as nothing else was to be done in this direction, the return march was commenced.
“After a march of 32 miles due east, the command halted for the right, near Oak Grove. A march of 88 miles brought them to the Iron bridge, across Stony creek, here they had a severe engagement with the rebels, losing heavily, and at Reams’ Station, which Wilson supposed was in the possession of the Yank’s, he found Mahone across his line of retreat, when abandoning his artillery, ambulances, wagons, &c, by a wide detour avoided the rebels and regained their own lines.” (From History 1st D.C. Cavalry)
As soon as this charge had been repulsed all of the troops in the ditches on the Halifax side of the river were hurried across to the Charlotte side, and stationed along the riverbank. This movement of troops from one side to the other gave strength to Mrs. McPhail’s statement of the arrival of re-enforcements.
Incidents of the Battle – the artillerists on the enemy’s side were regulars, and said to be the best marksmen in the Northern army. They threw a perfect shower of shot and shell right down on us in the fort, and about ten steps back from the earth-works, the ground was fairly swept with deadly missiles. Right here, Mr. Paul McPhail, who was a sort of a staff officer or courier for Col. Farinholt, met the Colonel with a verbal message of some sort. They were not more than fifteen steps from the writer, Paul had hardly commenced the delivery of his message when over came a shower of shells, and one bursting right in front of the completely hid them from view in the dust and smoke. Immediately, above the din and --of battle, was heard a voice: “Darnow, Old Farinholt done killed.” So I thought, but when the smoke cleared away, Colonel Farinholt was standing as if nothing unusual had happened. Paul was somewhat excited, if one might judge from his wild gesticulations.
Just as the enemy’s shot and shell began to fall thick and fast around us, and before they were in range of any of our pieces, in a ditch just above the bridge – Halifax side – and down to the river bank, were heard these words: “Let us pray.” Here were stationed the Drakes Branch Home Guards, composed entirely of greybeards and commanded by Capt. Henry E. Vaughan, and the above words were uttered by Rev. W. T. Gilliam, and was followed be an earnest appeal to the God of battles to be a shield and protection to them all and let none falter or fail to go where duty might call. This company marched bravely across the bridge to the Charlotte side at the word of command, held another season of prayer before laying down on their arms for the night, arose the next morning and again invoked the Divine protection and aid. They laid claim to more than one dead Yankee found on the field of battle, and Mr. Wm.G. Friend captured a life and unhurt Yankee on the field of battle, Rev. W.T. Gilliam, Rev. Dr. H.A. Brown, Rev. Jno. D. Southall, with their respective Deacons Elders and Class leaders made up the rank and file of this Company. Was there ever another such Ministers and Deacons meeting held in old Virginia?
The killed on our side and Dr. Stuphin, whose head was shot off at the railroad, Rev. Mr. Burke, whose head was shot off by solid shot directly under the abutment of the bridge on the Charlotte side. A young man fell between the fort and bridge, shot through the thigh and bled to death. Of these there were about sixty left dead on the field.