previous next

A remarkable victory. Wilson's defeat at the Staunton river bridge in 1864. [from the Richmond times, September 27, 1891.]

A battle which saved Lee's Army—Two hundred and fifty hastily organized Confederates whip Twenty—five hundred Federals—Valuable contributions.

Wilson's defeat at the Staunton-river bridge, June 24, 1864, was the most remarkable result of the fervent patriotism which pervaded all classes and ages and sexes of Virginians during our long and severe trials that the history of that war gives us.

This most interesting narrative of it was given me ten years or more ago by that able and excellent Virginia gentleman, Colonel Tom Flournoy, then residing in Danville. Several times he told me he would write it for record in the Southern Historical Society. Unfortunately for history, he, in the struggle for maintenance which had then fallen upon us all, died before he could execute his purpose.

Wilson's advance.

His story was that about the 21st or 22d of June, 1864, he was at his home in Halifax county, Va., when about midnight he was aroused by the barking of his dogs and by one of his negro men, who told him a strange man had come to the ‘quarters’ asking for a fresh horse to enable him to carry an important dispatch. The [52] Colonel saw the courier and learned that a heavy column of Federal cavalry under command of General Wilson was moving along the Richmond and Danville railroad, breaking it up; that they would soon reach the Staunton bridge, then guarded by a company of Confederate infantry under command of Captain Farinholt, who was sending out couriers to invoke the aid of all men capable of bearing arms. Colonel Flournoy went at once to the county town and sent out couriers with orders signed by General Lee, for all men and boys and Confederate soldiers on furlough to repair at once to the defence of this important point. Prompt response was made by all whom the summons reached, and by June 24th near five hundred men, armed with shot-guns and ‘pea’ rifles were on the spot.

A Motley array.

Some were aged men, too old for field service, some were boys, too young, and a few were Confederate veterans on furlough because of wounds or sickness.

Of this last class were Colonel Flournoy and Colonel Eaton Coleman.

Colonel Flournoy got together a small party of horsemen and pushed forward to reconnoitre the enemy and report his progress. Colonel Coleman assumed the command of the forces at the bridge and prepared its defences. He was a clever engineer and a veteran of several years' active service.

He moved two hundred and fifty men across to the end of the bridge nearest the enemy. The river bank was steep and high. This he cut down to about four feet, throwing all the earth as removed down the bank, and showing no fresh earth in front. His command were ordered to crouch down carefully concealed until the enemy should arrive at point blank. Then at the word they would rise, take good aim and fire.

The rest of the command was held in reserve, under Colonel Flournoy, on the right bank of the river, where field-works had long ago been constructed upon the bluff some twenty feet above the bridge. This work was armed with four six-pounders, which were worked upon the advancing enemy under command of Captain Marshall.

Two hundred and fifty against two thousand five hundred.

During the morning of the 24th Wilson arrived upon the ridge, about one mile from the bridge. He fixed his headquarters in the [53] lawn of Mr. McPhail's house, whence he could view the field of battle and all its approaches, and convinced that he would encounter stout resistance he made his preparations accordingly.

About 4 P. M. he moved two thousand five hundred dismounted riflemen under a brigade commander to make the attack. The line advanced over this plain, which sweeps from the base of the ridge to the river bank. No shot was fired, except from the cannon, as it approached in fine array, until within about fifty yards of the bridge, and every eye of the assailants was fixed upon the field-works and men beyond the river, when at Coleman's command the force under the bank arose, and as one man poured in their unexpected fire. The centre of the Federal line was torn out—scarce a man of it escaped wounds or death—and the whole force soon fell back to the hills to reorganize its attack, and again advanced to be repulsed as before. By this time night was falling and General Wilson was convinced that he had to encounter greater resistance than he could overcome without great loss of time and men. This conviction was strengthened by Mrs. McPhail, who told him that the force before him had been greatly increased since his approach had become known; that she had heard frequent arrivals of the trains from Danville and the cheers when they reached the bridge with reinforcements from Danville and Charlotte, and that he would probably find ten thousand men to beat in the morning.

A signal victory.

The first light of the 25th showed Wilson's trains and army retiring from the field in retreat upon Grant's lines, but he was intercepted by General Rooney Lee, who captured all of his wagon train and two thousand prisoners, Wilson, with his remaining force, barely escaping into his own lines.

He left upon the field in his fight at the bridge over sixty dead, who were buried where they fell; and his wounded must have been many more than the usual proportion to the dead, for most of them were from buckshot from double-barrelled guns, every discharge of which wounded and disabled many men.

The Confederate loss was two killed and six or seven wounded. The killed were the Rev. Mr. Burke, of the Episcopal Church, and Dr. Sutphin, a prominent physician of Halifax county. Colonel Coleman was severely wounded.


A remarkable victory.

Never in the history of modern war has such a force achieved such a victory—a victory remarkable for the disparity in numbers, armament and personnel as for the magnitude of its result and the skill with which it was guided.

Two hundred and fifty men, too old, and boys too young for war, accomplished it, under the command of a wounded officer, who discarded all precedents of bridge defence in placing his force with the bridge behind it, and in using the bank of the river as his parapet.

The result was undoubtedly the salvation of the Army of Northern Virginia.

General Wilson led six thousand veterans, thoroughly armed and equipped, and was one of the ablest and most daring of the Federal commanders.

His object in this movement was to cut off Lee's supplies and compel him to retreat.

It was Wilson who next year led the last invasion up Alabama and broke up the effective resistance of the field forces in that State.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Wilson (10)
Tom Flournoy (5)
Rooney Lee (4)
Eaton Coleman (4)
John B. McPhail (2)
Virginians (1)
Sutphin (1)
Dabney H. Maury (1)
John Marshall (1)
U. S. Grant (1)
B. L. Farinholt (1)
Rev Mr. Burke (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September 27th, 1891 AD (1)
June 24th, 1864 AD (1)
June 22nd, 1864 AD (1)
June 21st, 1864 AD (1)
1864 AD (1)
June 24th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: