At this historic site, a small group of
Confederate old men and young boys beat
the odds and held off an assault by 5,000
Union cavalry soldiers on a bridge of strategic
importance to General Lee’s army,
then under siege in Petersburg.
Virginia state parks are among the best
in the nation and the Staunton River Battlefield
State Park is no exception. It features
an excellent selection of attractions which
will make your visit one you will certainly
enjoy and remember for a long time. Attractions
include two visitor centers, walking tours,
and two wildlife observation towers.
The park is located in Southside Virginia
astride the Staunton River in Halifax and
Charlotte counties. The river separates
the park into two segments.
The following are edited excerpts from
an audio-map presentation featured at the
visitor center museum.
THE BATTLE OF STAUNTON
The hot summer day of June 25, 1864, would
forever change the lives of 492 old men
and young boys from Southside Virginia.
When an urgent plea came from Benjamin Farinholt
to come and assist his 296 Confederate reserves
in defense of the Staunton River railroad
bridge against an approaching Union cavalry
force of over 5000 men, they came from every
direction and all walks of life. This is
their story . . .
In June of 1864, Confederate General Robert
E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia
were engaged in a desperate defense of the
city of Petersburg, Virginia. Victory for
Lee depended upon a steady flow of supplies
from the west and south, via the South Side
and Richmond & Danville railroads. Union
General Ulysses S. Grant knew that if these
supply lines could be destroyed, Lee would
have to abandon Petersburg. To accomplish
this, Grant planned a cavalry raid to tear
up the tracks of both lines and destroy
the Richmond & Danville railroad bridge
over the Staunton River.
The raid began on June 22, and was led
by Brigadier General James H. Wilson and
Brigadier General August V. Kautz. They
left Petersburg with over 5,000 cavalry
troops and 16 pieces of artillery. As they
moved west, the Union raiders were closely
pursued by Confederate General W. H. F.
"Rooney" Lee and his cavalry.
Although Lee's troopers occasionally skirmished
with the invaders, they were unable to stop
their advance. During the first three days
of their raid, Wilson's cavalry tore up
60 miles of track and burned two trains
and several railroad stations.
Just south of Roanoke Station (present-day
Randolph) was a long, covered railroad bridge
over the Staunton River, Wilson's final
objective. The bridge was defended by a
battalion of 296 Confederate reserves under
the leadership of Captain Benjamin Farinholt.
On June 23rd, at 10 p.m., Captain Farinholt
received word from General Robert E. Lee
that a large detachment of enemy cavalry
was moving his direction to destroy the
bridge and that he should "make every
possible preparation immediately."
Captain Benjamin Farinholt: "By the
trains at 12 o'clock that night, on the
23rd, I sent off orderlies with circulars,
urging the citizens of Halifax, Charlotte,
and Mecklenburg to assemble for the defense
of the bridge, and ordering all local companies
to report immediately... On Saturday morning,
the 25th, about 10 o'clock I had received,
citizens and soldiers inclusive, 642 re-enforcement.
Of these about 150 were regulars, organized
from different commands, my whole command
numbered 938 men."
Though his numbers had been bolstered by
volunteers, Farinholt was still badly outnumbered.
He had only six pieces of artillery, four
in the earthwork fort on the hill just east
of the bridge, and two in a small fortification
west of the bridge. Between these artillery
positions and the river was a line of trenches,
and across the bridge lay a semicircular
line of hastily constructed but well-concealed
rifle trenches. Captain James A. Hoyt with
his two companies of regulars were on the
east side of the bridge, and Colonel Henry
Eaton Coleman's "Old Men and Young
Boys" were on the west side. Scouts
and pickets were posted north of the bridge
near Roanoke Station.
Captain Farinholt knew that his activities
at the bridge were being watched by Union
scouts who had arrived ahead of the main
body of troops. To make them think that
he was receiving reinforcements, Farinholt
ordered an empty train to run back and forth
between Clover Depot and the bridge, giving
the appearance that fresh troops were arriving
As it turned out, the Union scouts were
not the only ones fooled.
J. B. Faulkner: ". . . I happened
to be one of Farinholt's scouts that day.
We were stationed on the same side of the
river with Wilson's forces on a high hill
that overlooked the entire field. When we
saw the [train] cars roll in and saw the
men apparently disembarking, we felt sure
that our men were being reinforced by every
Mulberry Hill plantation was located on
a commanding hill near the battlefield and
the grounds of the house served as the Union
headquarters and field hospital during the
battle. It is said that Mrs. McPhail, the
lady of the house, told the Federals that
10,000 Confederates lay in wait for them
beyond the breastworks and that every train
was bringing more.
Captain Benjamin Farinholt: "The enemy
[Federals] appeared in my front about 3.45
p.m. . . . I opened up on them with a 3-inch
rifled gun, but the shot, from some inexplicable
defect in the gun, fell short of the mark.
They were then within a mile of my main
redoubt, and, taking possession of a very
commanding hill, immediately opened with
rifled Parrots and 12-pounder Napoleons
. . ."
J.T. Easton, 17th Mississippi Regiment:
". . . they opened up with their field
guns... The shells striking the thin roof
of the bridge made a fearful racket, scaring
some of the small boys into outbursts of
Having arrived north of the bridge, General
Kautz's cavalry troops were dismounted and
formed up to cross the open fields toward
the bridge. They were receiving heavy fire
from the Confederate artillery on the other
side of the river. Colonel Samuel R Spear's
1st D.C. and 11th Pa. approached along the
east side of the railroad and Colonel Robert
M. West's 5th Pa. and 3rd N.Y. along the
Colonel Robert M. West: "I formed
an assaulting party and directed it up the
embankment, in the hope that by a quick
move we might obtain possession of the main
bridge sufficiently long enough to fire
it. The men tried repeatedly to gain a foothold
on the railroad, and to advance along the
sides of the embankment, but could not."
Having finally reached a shallow drainage
ditch some 150 yards north of the bridge,
the Union troops organized for what was
to be the first of four separate charges,
all of them repulsed by the badly outnumbered
Confederate forces. When the Union forces
left the drainage ditch for their first
assault on the bridge, they were met by
intense fire from Col. Coleman's old men
and young boys and the regulars who had
been hidden from view in their shallow trenches
around the bridge.
Captain James A. Hoyt: ". . . the
fatal ditch was an obstruction which they
never passed again. The second charge was
repulsed with equal gallantry, showing a
determined resistance on our side, but it
required longer time and heavier firing
to drive them back. Then followed a longer
interval between the charges... the third
time the effort was made... they were no
nearer the capture of the bridge than when
they first came in sight of it.
"The sun was going behind the hills,
but as yet there was no sign that General
W. H. F. Lee had reached the enemy's rear.
His appearance on the scene would mean relief
for our little band... when the Federals
gathered for the fourth charge there were
misgivings as to the result. On they came,
however, and they were met with a galling
fire of musketry, which grew even more furious
as their lines came nearer It was during
this charge that Lee and his division struck
the rear-guard of the Federals, and they
were given an opportunity of fighting in
General James H. Wilson: ". . . the
place was found to be impregnable. Finding
that the bridge could not be carried without
severe loss, if at all, the enemy being
again close upon our rear, the Staunton
too deep for fording and unprovided with
bridges or ferries, I determined to push
no further south, but to endeavor to reach
the army by returning toward Petersburg...
The march was therefore begun about midnight.
. . ."
Capt. Benjamin Farinholt: "At daylight,
I advanced my line of skirmishers half a
mile, and discovered that the enemy had
left quite a number of their dead on the
field. In this advance 8 prisoners were
captured ... Of the dead left on the field
I buried 42, among them several officers.
My loss, 10 killed and 24 wounded."
For the 492 local citizens that made up
the "Old Men and Young Boys" Brigade,
the fight was over, and an important supply
line had been protected for General Robert
E. Lee and his army in Petersburg. They
had proudly answered the call to arms and,
in the face of overwhelming odds, distinguished
themselves on the field of battle. Over
the years, the stories about their victory
on that hot summer afternoon at the bridge
have been retold countless times and have
become an important part of the proud heritage
of Southside Virginia.
Confederate earthworks remain from the
June 25,1864 battle. Estimated Casualties:
150 June 25, 1864
Principal Commanders: Brigadier General
James Wilson and Brigadier General August
Kautz [US]; Major General William H.F. "Rooney"
Forces Engaged: Divisions (4,000 total)
Some say you can here the sound of gunfire
at times, others say they have smelled the
gunpowder. EVP's happen here and so do many
strange hazy ghost photos.
Staunton River Battlefield State Park
1035 Fort Hill Trail
Battle of Staunton River Bridge Commemoration
Region: Central Virginia
Locality: Charlotte County
Staunton River Battlefield State Park
1021 Fort Hill Drive
Randolph, VA 23962
This daylong event includes a commemorative
ceremony of the Battle of the Staunton River
Bridge, a Confederate encampment, cannon
firing, music, medal presentations, interpretive
programs, wagon rides, guest speakers and
Saturday, June 23, 2007 (9:30 AM-3:00 PM)
Phone: (804) 454-4312