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.
LAST BRIDGE BURNED IN
VIRGINIA - D. M.
GRABILL, TOMS BROOK, VA.
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.