Battle of Staunton River Bridge
Backstory and Context
Throughout June of 1864, General Robert E. Lee and his Northern Virginia army were being assaulted by the Union army at Petersburg, VA. Lee was dependent upon supplies and reinforcements from the southern and western sides.1 Union General Ulysses Grant devised a plan to cut off these supplies and reinforcements in order to isolate Lee’s army and force the Confederates to abandon Petersburg. The Union assault began on June 22nd and was led by Brigadier General James Wilson and Brigadier General August Kautz.2 During the initial days of the raid, the Union army tore up 60 miles of track, burned two tracks, and destroyed several railroad stations.3 South of present-day Randolph, Wilson planned to attack a covered, railroad bridge which spanned the Staunton River. General Lee sent word to destroy the bridge at all costs.
Confederate Captain Benjamin Farinholt assessed the situation of the Confederate army at the bridge and realized that his army was outnumbered. Fairinholt had soldiers build trenches and fortifications along the western side of the bridge.4 The Union army was aware of the Confederate actions around the bridge and he devised a plan to fool the Union army. Farinholt ordered an empty train to run between the Clover Depot and the bridge, which gave the appearance that reinforcements were arriving each day.5 The Union army was convinced that reinforcements were arriving daily for the Confederate army.
On the morning of the 25th, Kautz’s cavalry troops arrived north of the bridge and quickly got into formation.6 Kautz’s troops received heavy fire from the Confederate artillery on the opposite side of the river, despite the fact that the Union army greatly outnumbered the Confederate army, General Lee was able to help Farinholt box in the Union army from the rear and prevent the bridge from being destroyed.7 The Union army retreated back toward Petersburg and the vital supply line was protected by Farinholt’s and Lee’s forces. Nearly 42 Union soldiers were killed in the fight and around 10 Confederate soldiers were killed.8
The Staunton River Bridge still remains and visitors can enjoy a picnic near the river and a walk along the bridge. The bridge is located near present-day Randolph, VA.9 The historical marker is located near the bridge and visitors can access the bridge by heading south of Lynchburg or west of Petersburg.