Far from the scene of any well-known Civil War battles, Radford (or Central Depot as it was then known) still played a surprisingly important role in the Civil War. The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad line that ran through Central Depot served as a major supply line for Confederate forces, supplying Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to the north and east. The covered bridge across the New River at Central Depot was a strategic link, and in 1864 General Ulysses S. Grant ordered it destroyed.
General Grant’s Grand Plan
As early as 1861, Federal commanders in West Virginia considered burning the New River Bridge, but no attempt was made. When General Grant assumed command of all the armies of the United States in March 1864, he aimed to stop Lee in part by denying him supplies from the west and deep south. Grant made the destruction of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad a top priority. The New River Bridge at Central Depot became enemy number one.
In April 1864, Grant sent General George C. Crook’s Army of the Kanawha, from Charleston, WV, through the Allegheny Mountains to burn it down.
Battle for the Bridge
Confederate forces led by General Alfred Jenkins met Crook’s advancing army at Cloyd’s Mountain about 10 miles northwest of Central Depot. After a brief but vicious battle – Crook lost 10% of his 6,000 troops, Jenkins lost nearly a quarter of his 2,400 – Jenkins fell and the Confederates retreated to defend the railroad at Dublin Depot. Crook followed, and after a brief battle, the Confederates, now under the command of Colonel John McCausland, abandoned Dublin and moved east, hoping to make a stand at the New River Bridge. Crook’s forces followed, destroying rail as they advanced.
On May 10, Union and Confederate forces exchanged heavy cannon fire at the New River Bridge for several hours. The Union forces fired numerous times on Arnheim, Dr. John Radford’s stately home that still stands above the New River, thinking it was the Confederate headquarters. Around noon, Confederate ammunition stores ran low, their firing slackened, and Crook ordered the bridge burned.
Flames raced through the dry timbers as a Union regimental band played a stirring tune and the troops, waving flags and cheering triumphantly, lined up along the bluffs to watch the collapsing bridge plunge into the New River. About 1 P.M., as burning pieces of timbers floated away downstream, McCausland broke off the fight. The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad was severed.
But for how long?
Visit Glencoe Museum & Gallery to learn more about this little-known battle. Which future U.S. Presidents fought in the battle? Which army had a woman soldier in disguise? And what ultimately happened to the New River Bridge and Central Depot?