The Battle of Staunton River Bridge
—Wilson-Kautz Raid —
In late June 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern
Virginia were engaged in a desperate defense of the city of Petersburg. Victory for Lee depended on a steady flow of supplies from the west, brought in by rail. To force Lee from Petersburg, Union Geneneral U. S. Grant planned to cut Southern supply lines. He ordered a cavalry raid west to tear up track and destroy railroad stations and bridges. On June 22, 1864, Union Generals James H. Wilson and August V. Kautz, commanding more than 5,000 cavalry troops and 16 pieces of artillery, left Petersburg to destroy track on the Richmond & Danville Railroad and to burn the Staunton River Bridge.
A battalion of 296 Confederate reserves under the command of Capt. Benjamin Farinholt was stationed at the bridge. Receiving word that a large enemy force was headed toward the bridge, Farinholt sent out an urgent plea for volunteers. Within days, his command was bolstered by 642 reinforcements. Of these, about 150 were Confederate regulars who were home on leave or in transit, among them Col. Henry E. Coleman, on wounded furlough in Halifax. The remainder were local citizens, either too old or too young to serve in the military.
On the oppressively hot afternoon of June 25, 1864, the Union cavalry arrived at Roanoke Station. Though badly outnumbered
and outgunned, Farinholt's determined forces, following Col. Coleman's defense strategy, successfully repulsed four separate Union assaults and saved the bridge. The "battle at the bridge" has been retold countless times and has become an important part of the heritage of Southside Virginia.