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BRINGING THE BATTLE TO LIFE

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / June 06, 2013

Johnnie Reb and Billy Yank will have another opportunity to mix it up on the battlefield next year as Halifax County joins the Civil War Sesquicentennial celebration in a big way — with a large-scale re-enactment of the locally famous Battle of Staunton River Bridge.

Also known as the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, in honor of the volunteer ranks that streamed in from the countryside to repel Union cavalry forces, the Staunton River skirmish will be played out by hundreds of re-enactors with the modern-day 1st Division of the Army of Northern Virginia, a non-profit group of Confederate reenactment organizations.

The celebration is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of July 21-22, almost 150 years to the day after the battle took place. It will be held at the Staunton River Battlefield State Park near Clover.

“We’re hoping to get 10,000 spectators — that’s our goal,” said Janet Johnson, president of the Historic Staunton River Foundation, which is joining with Virginia State Parks to sponsor the 150th anniversary event.

Johnson said the foundation was approached with the idea by the 1st Division of the Army of Northern Virginia, which recreates Civil War battles up and down the East Coast. With the sesquicentennial of the June 25, 1864 Battle of Staunton River Bridge fast approaching, the foundation readily accepted the offer.

Each year, the Historic Staunton River Foundation holds events to commemorate the anniversary of the local conflict, but this will be the first time anyone has sought to bring the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys to life. Johnson said the Army of Northern Virginia group is expecting some 500-600 re-enactors to participate. “They’re going to represent the battle as accurately as they can,” she said.

The Battle of Staunton River Bridge marked the westernmost point of a Union cavalry invasion to interrupt communications and supply lines that sustained Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, then locked in combat with Federal forces in Petersburg. Cavalry divisions led by Brig. Generals James Wilson and August Kautz broke off from the main Union force on June 22, 1864 and spent the next three days wreaking havoc in the Virginia countryside, but their advance came to a halt at the Staunton River where Halifax and Charlotte counties join.

With young able-bodied men off fighting in the war, the task of defending the Staunton River bridge fell largely upon volunteers from the area who were either too young or too old to serve in the regular Confederate Army. Summoned from Halifax, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties, the Home Guard fighters joined a small encampment of reservists to defend the Richmond and Danville rail line at Staunton River bridge. With less than 1,000 men, they repelled the much-larger invading force of Wilson-Kautz raiders.

The battle claimed 52 lives, mostly Federals, but the planned re-enactment next July will (of course) be bloodless. Nevertheless, re-enactments require careful planning and execution — black powder is employed liberally — and for that reason the rifle-wielding role-play will not be available to just any Johnnie Reb-come-lately. “If people do want to volunteer, we have many things they can do,” said Johnson. “They just won’t be part of the actual battle.”

However, locals will be needed for other war-related exhibitions over the anniversary weekend. The Foundation and Staunton River Battlefield State Park are working on a living history encampment to recreate the hardships of war. There also will be a nod to the minor pleasures of wartime: musicians will be needed to play campfire tunes. Also planned are a Civil War-era medical tent, nighttime demonstrations of cannon and artillery fire, and tutorials on battle tactics.

The Historic Staunton River Foundation also will host a series of speakers leading up to the big anniversary weekend, although Johnson said the planning is in the early stages, and much remains to be done.

“We’ll need a lot of volunteers,” she said.

Pat Eastwood, Virginia State Parks marketing specialist, called the 2014 celebration “a very big undertaking” that “is going to be a boon for tourism in the area.” Virginia State Parks will seek to form partnerships with business and government entities in the region to promote the 150th battle commemoration, one of the few to take place on State Parks grounds.

“Staunton River Battlefield State Park is one of the few battlefield parks that we have in the State Parks system,” she noted (another is Sailor’s Creek, which will hold its sesquicentennial battle celebration in 2015).

Eastwood added the annual commemoration at SRBSP is “always a very educational and special event, but this is going to be really special because it is the 150th anniversary.”

To take part, members of the public can contact Staunton River Battlefield State Park volunteer coordinator Jennifer Duffey at 454-4312. Information is also available at the Historic Staunton Foundation website, http://www.stauntonriverbattlefield.org, and Virginia State Parks website, http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks





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