An Artillery Duel Ensued
— Hunter's Raid —
On May 26, 1864, Union Gen. David Hunter marched south from Cedar Creek near Winchester to drive out Confederate forces, lay waste to the Shenandoah Valley, and destroy transportation facilities at Lynchburg. His raid was part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's strategy to attack Confederates simultaneously throughout Virginia. After defeating Gen. William E. "Grumble" Jones at Piedmont on June 5, Hunter marched to Lexington, burned Virginia Military Institute, and headed to Lynchburg. There, on June 17-18, Gen. Jubal A. Early repulsed Hunter and pursued him to West Virginia. Early then turned north in July to threaten Washington.
On June 14, 1864, after occupying Lexington and burning Virginia Military Institute, Union Gen. David Hunter's 18,000-man force marched south toward Lynchburg through Buchanan, a river port located at the western terminus of the James River and Kanawha Canal. Parts of the canal wall are just downstream to the right.
When Union Gen. William W. Averell's cavalrymen attempted to seize the Buchanan Bridge across the James River here, Confederate Gen. John C. McCausland's troopers, who had been harassing them, confronted them again. By the time Averell arrived, the Confederates had packed the wooden covered bridge with coal oil-soaked hay. McCausland ignited the north end of the bridge then escaped in a small boat to this side of the river, crossing beneath the burning structure. An artillery duel ensued, and Federal shells struck Oak Hill, the large house on the hill above and to your right. The wind carried embers from the bridge across the river to dwellings in Pattonsburg. Averell's men helped extinguish the flames, but not before eleven houses burned. The bridge, which survived the fire, was unusable, so Union soldiers, wagons, and artillery forded the river upstream, losing a day's march. The next morning, Hunter's force crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains on present-day Route 43.
The old bridge piers today support the pedestrian swinging bridge.