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Another account of the fight.

The following letter gives another account of this remarkable battle:

My Dear General: * * * My brother, then under eighteen years of age was engaged in the battle. He assures me that there were in the fort not more than between four and five hundred men and boys—men over forty-five from the surrounding counties, and a few army men and officers on furlough; that of this number not more than two hundred and and fifty, under command of Coleman, were engaged in the fight in repelling the Federal assault upon the bridge; that only two Confederates were killed, viz.: The Rev. Mr. Burke, an Episcopal minister in the neighborhood, and Dr. Sutphin, a prominent [55] physician of Halifax county—and only several severely wounded. I have not heard their dead estimated at less than sixty. Many, if not all of their dead, were buried where they fell upon the river flats. Subsequent freshets have exhumed and scattered their bones over the land.

An incident.

I will close my letter with an incident just related to me by my brother, which may throw some light upon the matter. In the spring or summer of 1865, while General Benham with his engineer corps was engaged in rebuilding Staunton-river bridge, he had a visit from a Colonel Fitzhugh, who commanded the assaulting force, the object of his visit being an inspection of the scene of battle. My brother being on courteous relations with the General was sent for to be questioned by Colonel Fitzhugh in regard to the strength of the Confederate garrison. When he replied that the force engaged in repelling the attack amounted to not more than two hundred and fifty men, Colonel Fitzhugh sprang up and vehemently exclaimed, ‘It is false.’ As my brother moved to leave the tent, the General exacted of Colonel Fitzhugh an apology for the affront offered to his invited guest—which was accorded. My brother then assured Colonel Fitzhugh that a personal inspection of the works on the Charlotte side of the river would satisfy him that they were insufficient to accommodate many more than two hundred and fifty men. Upon reaching the works and inspecting them for a minute Colonel Fitzhugh exclaimed, ‘By God,’ and turned back in unconcealed disgust. He had stated to General Benham in my brother's presence that the attacking force, commanded by himself, numbered two thousand five hundred men. I believe it is conceded that General Wilson's whole force amounted to six thousand men. The battle was fought on my father's plantation, General Wilson and his staff occupying the front yard of his house, a mile distant from the bridge. My father and brother had enlisted for military service. My mother, alone, remained in charge of the house, and is credited with having exerted more important influence on the fortunes of the battle than any other single individual. She sincerely believed the garrison at the fort was ten thousand strong and being rapidly increased by reinforcements. She was closely plied with questions, and her answers severely tested by General Wilson.

By the intelligence and evident sincerity of her statements she succeeded in imparting her convictions to the General, which [56] found ample confirmation in the repulse he had met and the frequent rattling of an empty train of cars which she had referred to as bringing in reinforcements.

Regretting my inability, &c., &c., I am, yours very truly,


John B. Mcphail, Late a Major Confederate Army.
Major Robert L. Ragland, East Boston; Captain John Lewis, Milton, N. C.; Captain William B. Bruce, Staunton, Va.; and Captain John H. Powell, commanded a company of boys in the battle.

Account of Captain J. W. Lewis. [times, October 11, 1891]

My attention has been called to the account of that glorious battle of 24th June, 1864, at Staunton bridge. I am glad that General D. H. Maury and Major John B. McPhail have given so interesting an account of it. But you will see that both accounts only refer to the fight on the lower or eastern side of the bridge. We had six pieces of artillery, four on the lower side of the bridge, commanded by Captain Marshall and Lieutenant Bob Ragland. The two on the upper or western side of the bridge Major Farinholt, who commanded the guard stationed there, gave to me, I being captain of artillery. The two guns were stationed one hundred yards above the bridge. When I took command of these guns and examined the amunition I found that we had only solid shot and canister.

The upper side of the bridge.

We at once covered the works with green bushes. General Wilson threw his troops on both sides of the railroad. The description of the fight given by both General Maury and Major McPhail was that on the lower side of the bridge. The troops on the upper side were permitted to march within one hundred and fifty yards of the bridge. When we opened on them with canister they were thrown into great confusion at once, and in twenty minutes we had them all in the ditch about ore hundred yards from the bridge. We never permitted them to form again. Every time they attempted it we gave them a canister. In that ditch we kept them until darkness enabled them to retreat. They left their dead on the field, which [57] were buried on the bank of the river in a long trench. Their wounded they carried off. Some died in the depot and were burned in that building the next morning when they left in a hurry, as General W. H. F. Lee was only six hours behind them. Not one shot was fired by infantry at these troops on the western or upper side of Staunton-river bridge. Alexander Bruce and the other boys who were with me on that glorious day will bear me out as to the truth of what I have written.

A pretty fight.

It was the prettiest fight I ever saw. We did not have one man hurt, though several of us had holes through our clothing. At the bridge, beside Mr. Burke and Dr. Sutphin, Jack Carter, who was a farmer and lived near Mount Carmel, was killed by a shell. I have written my account of this fight as I saw it. All that has been said about that gallant old friend, Colonel T. S. Flournoy, I heartily indorse, as well as the gallantry of Colonel Henry E. Coleman and those with him on the lower side of the bridge.

The Halifax boys.

But I do think that the Halifax boys are entitled to the credit of whipping a regiment of General Wilson's best troops with two guns. I may at some future time give my recollections of this battle if it is thought it will help some future historian to give a true account of this splendid fight which saved General Lee's army from immediate retreat, as the burning of this bridge would have cut off his supplies.

Captain J. W. Lewis, Late Captain Artillery, C. S. A.

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