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Bringing the Battle to life

South Boston News
Re-enactors from Saturday’s commmoration of the Battle of Staunton River Bridge. (Photos by Jay Paul/ / June 23, 2014
The crack of rifle fire and cannon bursts that resounded across the lowlands by the Staunton River left no doubt — the battle was on.

A scripted re-enactment of the real thing, that is.

Under conditions not dissimilar to those experienced by Civil War soldiers 150 years ago, historical re-enactors with the First Army Division of Northern Virginia staged an interpretative program at Staunton River Battlefield State Park this weekend to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Staunton River Bridge, also known locally as the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, on June 25, 1864.

Nearly 150 years ago, young boys and men past fighting age streamed in from the countryside of Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg and Pittsylvania counties to defend the Staunton River bridge from an invading Union cavalry force. The 5,500-man contingent had orders to cut the Danville & Richmond railroad, a key supply line for General Robert E. Lee’s besieged army in Petersburg. The local volunteers joined a small garrison defending the bridge under the command of Confederate Capt. Benjamin Farinholt, holding off four assaults on the afternoon and evening of June 25 by some 2,000 Union fighters.

The re-enactment that took place Saturday was on a much smaller scale — with a few hundred men scattered across the expansive fields of the battlefield park, on the Charlotte side of the river — and the “battle” had little of the intensity of the real thing. But the spectacle was the grandest to yet take place at the state park, which was created in the 1990s with the donation of the historic Fort Hill property to the state parks system by its owner, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, builders of the Clover Power Station.

Jim Zanarini, Staunton River Battlefield State Park manager, said he was hoping for a larger turnout at the event — he pegged Saturday’s attendance at 1,000 people, with hundreds more expected for the second day of re-enactments on Sunday — but he said the weather probably kept some people at home.

“I was pleased with the turnout,” he said, “but I was expecting a little more.”

Just as the re-enactors were preparing to swing into action, a warm rain fell over the park. The clouds soon broke, but the rainfall was replaced by a stifling humidity that recalled the descriptions of oppressive heat and humidity recorded by Union soldiers on the day of the 1864 battle.

“Had the weather cooperated, I think we would have done a little better,” said Zanarini.

The crowd was able to take refuge from the rain under a canopy of trees — although some onlookers no doubt welcomed the cooling effect — but among the historical re-enactors, dressed in layers of silk and wool, there was no respite from the heat.

One re-enactor collapsed from apparent heat exhaustion and was transported to Halifax Regional Hospital for observation, but Zanarini said he understands the man is “doing fine.”

Overall, if “it was a safe event, I’m really happy. That’s what we strive for,” he said.

Zanarini also said he was happy for the attention that the event has brought to Staunton River Battlefield State Park, and the positive feedback that he and park staff received from guests: “We had a lot of exposure, and a lot of people who hadn’t been here before. They’ll be back.”

Perhaps on a cooler day.

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Does anybody know what happened to the sword (may have been a saber) that used to hang in the court house over the painting of this battle? I remember it as a boy going there with my parents to look in the records room. The last time I looked it was gone.

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