April 17, 2006
West Point Cadets marched across the Staunton River Bridge battlefield Saturday to see firsthand the site where outnumbered Confederates turned the tide of battle against overwhelming odds.
For the second consecutive year, the United States Military Academy Cavalry and Scout Club walked the rail beds and crossed the bridge, getting a unique perspective of the action otherwise known as the Wilson-Kautz Raid.
The raid occurred in July 1864, during which “old men and young boys” from Halifax County successfully helped defend the bridge against a superior Union force.
This visit may be a fixture for the Cadets in the future, the ride having earlier been designated the Captain Andy Houghton Memorial Staff Ride in honor of 2001 USMA graduate Andy Houghton, who died in Iraq in April 2004.
Staff rides are used to reinforce classroom instruction, providing a unique opportunity for the Cadets to see firsthand the ebb and flow of battles from the past, explained Colonel Peter J. Curry.
Curry, a 1984 graduate of West Point, is Commandant of USMA for all military training and military science instruction to all 4000 plus Cadets.
He said the club is one of several at West Point, their purpose being to encourage those Cadets who are thinking about going into the armored cavalry.
“We also hope to reinforce the military instruction the Cadets receive at the Academy,” said Curry, while explaining how the ride to the Staunton River Battlefield site came about.
“We use staff rides to reinforce our technical training, and the Wilson-Kautz Raid was a perfect example of what we want to instruct. I think that with the right funding, we can turn this into an annual trip.”
Curry explained that trying to teach tactics in the classroom is one thing, but visiting an actual battle site firsthand can be far more valuable in reinforcing what the Cadets learn in the classroom.
“Especially with the support we receive,” added Curry, mentioning the assistance of Chris Calkins of the National Park Service, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Greg Eanes and Halifax County resident and historian Douglas Powell, among others.
Powell, as he did last year, conducted a walking tour of the battlefield on Saturday for the Cadets.
“They give us a lot of insight into what actually happened that you don’t get out of a textbook. Those three people kept the staff ride alive with their research and insights, and it’s something we wouldn’t have gotten if we had done it ourselves.”
The idea for dedicating the ride to Houghton came from the fallen soldier’s parents,” continued Curry.
“He [Houghton] graduated in 2001 and was a member of the club that belonged to the Department of Military Instruction at West Point,” said Curry.
“His parents contacted us and asked if there was any way they could contribute to his memory, and naming this the Andy Houghton Staff Ride is a good way to keep the memory of a fallen comrade alive.”
Naming a trail ride in memory of a fallen comrade is not a new concept, according to Major Paul Hayes, who serves in the Department of Military Instruction at West Point.
“The concept is not new, the Army has been doing it at a higher level with Colonels or Majors for a number of years,” said Hayes.
The Major explained the uniqueness of the Battle of Staunton River Bridge for instructional purposes.
“One of the missions for the club is tactical, and we’ve gone into the field for about six weekends this year,” he began.
“That’s the doctrinal piece of it, the other is how we tie it into history and the traditions of the U.S. Cavalry.
“The good thing about this battle is that you see both success and failure. The raiders were successful coming down [from Petersburg] and when they got here, they weren’t successful [in taking the bridge].
“I think they were a little overconfident and it’s good for the Cadets to see what could happen even with superior numbers and equipment.”
Another Cadet tradition, the Troop Change of Command ceremony, took place Saturday at Staunton River Battlefield Park.
Cadet Lieutenant Keith Angwin of Killen, Texas, passed command of Blackhawk Troop to Cadet First Sergeant Nick Blunt, of Thornton, Colorado, under the direction of Sr. Commander Lieutenant Colonel Ron Bashista and Captain Dave Maxwell, both officers with the Department of Military Instruction at West Point.