Staunton River Tour
Halifax County, Virginia

 Pannill's Bridge Burned

The following is a copy of the letter written by D. M. Grabill a resident of Toms Brook, Shenandoah County, Virginia. Grabill was a former Confederate trooper with the 18th Virginia Cavalry. The original letter was published in Vol. 32 of the Confederate Veteran Magazine. This unedited transcript was taken from that source.


A few days before the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Gen. John D. Imboden's Brigade of Virginia Cavalry left Staunton, Va., with orders to form a junction with Lee near Richmond. Those were perilous days for the Confederacy, and the march was made hurriedly. Arriving at Lynchburg, camp was made on the Fair Grounds, and here the news reached us that General Lee had surrendered. The following morning we broke camp and marched about two miles south of Lynchburg and halted for the rest of the day. While waiting there, many of General Lee's soldiers passed, going home, from whom we learned for a certainty of the surrender. We also met there General Rosser's Brigade of Cavalry, which had not surrendered, but had cut its way out through the lines of the enemy. We marched some distance and went into camp with them for the night, and the next day we went as far south as Pittsylvania Courthouse, with Colonel Smith, of the 62nd, as our commander. There he made a speech to the boys, asking them to follow him and form a junction with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston somewhere in the South, or else keep on and go into Mexico. The men readily agreed, and preparations were made to carry this plan into effect.

At Pittsylvania Courthouse a detail was made from the 18th Virginia Cavalry - Milston Hotel and myself from Company D and a man from Company F - and we were sent back to burn the Staunton River bridge. We set out to obey these orders, which we did not understand, as General Lee had surrendered and we thought it unnecessary to further destroy property. But it is not a soldier's part to question his superiors; so we started, rather reluctantly, to carry out the last orders received from a Confederate officer. About one o'clock the next day we reached the bridge we were supposed to burn and set about preparing to do so. We met a lot of soldiers on the way, and squad after squad inquired what we were going to do, and upon learning our orders, they would ask that we delay a little longer, as there was another squad just a little way back. This occurred time after time, and we delayed till it was about sunset, when a captain from Rosser's Brigade rode up and asked why we had not burned the bridge. We explained to him, but he said, "Burn it at once," and just as the sun was sinking in the west we applied the torch. It made a great fire, and many were the soldiers who came that way and found their progress blocked by the river.

When we got back to Pittsylvania about sundown the next day, we learned that our brigade had left, and neither direction nor destination was known. We then decided to go to our homes, and the next morning found us on our way to the Shenandoah Valley, already so famous as the great battlefield of Stonewall Jackson. Going by the way of Staunton, we followed the Valley pike as far north as Harrisonburg and there turned off and followed a back road so as to flank the paroling officer at New Market, Va. We were thus able to get by without ever surrendering, and are still "Rebel soldiers." Just waiting orders to join our brigade.

While in Lynchburg in 1905, I learned from a son of George Miley, a native of the Staunton River section, that the bridge was not the public road bridge, but the private property of one Sam Pannell; That the other bridge was still standing and doing service. Any one knowing about this burning will please communicate with me. So far as I know, that was the last bridge burned in Virginia during war days.


Last updated on January 13, 2009
Direct your comments & inquiries to Don Barnes.
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