Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Staunton River Battlefield State Park (Blog Hike #338)

Trails: Edgewood and Battlefield Trails
Hike Location: Staunton River Battlefield State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of South Boston, VA (36.88343, -78.70592)
Length: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2011
Overview: A flat hike, mostly on gravel trail, through a Civil War battlefield.

Directions to the trailhead: From South Boston, take US 360 east 12.4 miles to SR 92 and turn left on SR 92.  Take SR 92 2 miles to Black Walnut Rd. (CR 600) and turn left on Black Walnut Rd.  Take Black Walnut Rd. 2.9 miles to CR 855 and turn right on CR 855.  The Clover Visitor Center where this hike begins is 0.3 miles ahead on the left.

The hike: Many early Civil War battles such as Bull Run, New Market, and Harper’s Ferry were fought in northern Virginia, but it would take until the waning days of the Confederacy before significant action would finally reach southern Virginia.  The date was June 1864, and General Lee’s main army was under siege near Richmond in Petersburg, Virginia.  Lee had only one route to supply his army: a railroad linking Richmond to Danville.
            In an effort to sever this last supply line, Union General Grant sent Brigadier Generals James H. Wilson and August V. Kautz to destroy, among others, the covered wooden Richmond and Danville Railroad bridge over the Staunton River.  Confederate soldiers led by Captain Benjamin L. Farinholt held both sides of the bridge and intended to keep General Lee’s final supply line open and operational.
            On the extremely hot summer day of June 25, the forces clashed.  Union forces made several advances, but open fields along the river and Confederate cannon and rifle fire from fortified earthworks prevented them from getting close enough to burn the bridge.  The Union took significant casualties from the heat as well.  Thinking they were outnumbered by reinforcements the Confederates had received the previous night (such reinforcements had never come), the Union chose to withdraw at the end of the day.
            The bridge and railroad survived June 25, 1864, but it would eventually be burned, ironically by the Confederates when they retreated to Danville the following year.  The Staunton River bridge of Richmond and Danville Railroad would be one of the last bridges to burn before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  Less than 40 years later, the railroad would be rebuilt, as would the bridge over the Staunton River.
            Nearly 100 years later in 1955, efforts to preserve the site would finally begin.  In that year, the United Daughters of the Confederacy successfully requested that the state of Virginia take custody of the 6.5 acres containing the Confederate earthworks.  In the early 1990’s, the Old Dominion Electric Coop chose a nearby site for its new power generating plant (the Clover plant you drove past on your way in), and local citizens became interested in developing the land around the earthworks as a park.  The Norfolk Southern Railroad Company generously donated the bridge and 0.8 miles of adjacent abandoned railroad bed, and federal matching funds make construction of the park possible.
In 1997, the park opened to the public.  Since its conversion as part of the Virginia Rails-to-Trails project, the 1902 iron railroad bridge now serves hikers and bikers.  The route described here gives you a tour of the battlefield, including the railroad bridge, but also adds a short nature trail for the hiking purist.
Clover Visitor Center
            Start to the right of the Visitor Center where a blacktop trail leads to an information board.  The battlefield lies down the blacktop trail to the right, while the Edgewood Nature Trail starts to the left.  This description will hike the nature trail first and then head to the battlefield.  Despite its brevity, there is much to see on this nature trail.
Almost immediately, the nature trail forks.  For now, angle right and head down some wooden steps to arrive at a wooden wildlife tower located high above a marshland.  The tower is covered and shielded like a bird blind, and quite effectively at that.  On the chilly late winter morning that I stood in this tower, ice still covered part of the marshland, and many common birds such as sparrows, finches, chickadees, and larks were rooting among the grasses in the marsh looking for a meal.  They either did not notice or did not mind my presence up in the tower.
Marshland on Edgewood Trail
After you have observed the marshland, retrace your path up the wooden steps to the trail fork, where a right turn will lead you down the main nature trail.  Wooden posts bearing red signs that say “Edgewood Tr” mark the nature trail.  Numbered posts indicate the presence of an interpretive guide, but the Visitor Center was not open to allow me to inquire about one.  After topping a small rise, ignore a spur trail that exits left and leads to the Visitor Center picnic area.
Hiking the Edgewood Trail
            Quickly you come to the trail fork that marks the beginning of the loop portion of the nature trail.  For no reason, this description angles left and uses the trail leading right as a return route.  The trail heads northwest through young forest, which is a mixture of pines and hardwoods.  At 0.4 miles, the trail joins what appears to be an old road where some barbed wire indicates the presence of an old boundary line.
500 feet later, you reach the second and final wooden wildlife tower.  Some metal numbers attached to the tower’s supporting beams give away the beams’ previous lives as utility poles.  Like the first one, this bird-blind-style tower also overlooks a marsh, but this marsh is drier than the one you saw before.  I stood in the tower for a few minutes, but I was able to detect no activity in this marsh.
The marsh, as seen from the 2nd tower
            Past the tower, the trail heads into a wet area near the marsh.  A wooden boardwalk carries you over the worst of the wetness, but a few more wet spots must be navigated once the boardwalk ends.  At 0.6 miles, you close the nature trail loop.  Turn left and retrace your steps back to the paved trail and information board beside the Visitor Center.
At the information board, continue straight (passing your car in the parking lot to the right) on the paved Battlefield Trail.  Some interpretive signs give information about the battle and the people who led the two sides.  Right now you are walking where the Confederates were deployed.  After passing a dirt Confederate artillery emplacement on the left, the paved trail ends at a secondary parking area and the start of the gravel rail-trail.
Before starting the rail-trail, angle uphill and to the right to tour the major Confederate fortification.  The earthworks themselves form an historic site, and therefore you cannot walk on them.  However, a trail with numerous interpretive signs leads around the fort, letting you see it from all angles.
Main Confederate Fortifications
After touring the fort, head down to the packed-gravel rail-trail and turn right to walk east on the rail-trail.  You first walk across the 1902 railroad bridge, then through some smaller Confederate fortifications on the east side of the bridge, and finally through the area held by the Union troops.  A couple of former railroad trestles take the trail across a pair of small creeks.  The flat packed-gravel of the rail-trail makes the going very easy.
1902 Railroad bridge across Staunton River
At 1.95 miles, you reach the east end of the rail-trail at an intersection with CR 607 in the small town of Randolph.  The Roanoke Station Visitor Center is located here, but there is little else to see.  The trail does not form a loop, so you will have to retrace your steps first along the rail-trail and then along the paved trail to return to the Clover Visitor Center and complete the hike.


  1. Nice post and all the pictures are also good. Thanks for such a nice article. Please check mine article also River SP.

    1. Thanks for the comment. This is a nice park, and it often gets overlooked in favor of the larger parks in the area.

  2. Disclaimer: the link provided in the comment above seems to lead to a crossword puzzle solver. I have no opinion or expertise on crossword puzzles.