Battle at New River Bridge
Following the abandonment of Dublin McCausland moved his troops to the south bank of the New River in an effort to secure the important railroad bridge. He named Captain Thomas A. Bryan overall commander of the Confederate artillery and issued orders to have the guns arrayed to defend the approaches to the bridge. Bryan deployed Douthart’s Battery on the right, the Ringgold Battery in the center and his old battery on the left. McCausland supported the guns with the 45th Virginia, 36th Virginia, and the 45th Virginia Battalion. The 60th Virginia was originally stationed to over watch Ingles footbridge but was ordered to burn the structure and return to strengthen the main body. At the bridge sharpshooters occupied a blockhouse at the edge of the river with instructions to stop anyone attempting to burn the bridge. The 5th Kentucky Cavalry supplied a line of skirmishers to support the marksmen at the bridge.
At 1000 the 15th West Virginia and the 11th West Virginia arrived on the high ground overlooking the bridge from the north bank. Crook rode forward to get a look at the defenses and immediately drew the attention of the Confederate gunners. As he viewed the enemy deployments through his binoculars a close miss forced him to dismount. He summoned the Federal guns. Glassie dispatched one piece to the front but they could manage only one round before they were driven off by counter battery fire. Captain McMullin pushed three guns forward and then began deploying the remainder of the Union artillery. The wild ride into the available firing positions proved to be quite a test. Passing through a cone of Confederate fire the Federal artillerymen lost five men and 2 horses. The 12 Union guns faced off with 14 Confederate guns in a two hour gunnery duel for the bridge.
The defenders began with a slight advantage in numbers but that was overcome by the superior position held by the Union gunners. The elevation assisted the accurate observation and adjustment of their fire. The Southern guns were firing uphill and could not see the strike of their rounds. The elevation problems combined with the smoke of the fight rendered the Confederate gunners blind to the effects of their efforts. Captain Bryan, riding a white horse, moved amongst his batteries offering advice and encouragement and highlighting himself as a target. Gunner William Woodruff of Glassie’s Battery thought the Confederate commander “was a little bold” and sought to teach him a lesson. Bryan’s horse was killed and he had to be carried from the field when he was eventually ranged.
Colonel Hayes, while moving his troops into support positions, also came under heavy fire. He insisted his men seek cover. One 5th West Virginia soldier responded that he would seek cover when the colonel did. The next round killed the stubborn soldier who was later found to be a woman. She had donned the Union uniform after her parents were murdered for their Unionist views by their Confederate neighbors.
As the Union gunners gained the upper hand, fire of one gun was shifted to the round house at Central Station where civilian workers were attempting to save the railroad assets inside. Another gun was turned on the home of Dr. Radford, believed to be the Confederate headquarters. The firing continued for two hours until the Confederate gunners began to run low on ammunition.
When the fire decreased Crook saw the opportunity to move on the bridge. Under the protective fire of the 12th Ohio the 3rd Pennsylvania Reserves attempted to gain the bridge. They were driven off by the accurate fire of the sharpshooters and the skirmishers at the waters edge. The 11th and 15th West Virginia sent skirmishers down as the defenders were driven off by the fire of the .72 caliber muskets of the Pennsylvanians.
Captain Michael A. Egan of the 15th West Virginia advanced on to the 700 foot long bridge and set fire to the dried wood. Watching the bridge disappear into the river as flaming embers the Confederates retreated toward Christiansburg. The primary objective of the raid was accomplished although the metal piers remained standing. Little can be said for the accuracy of the gunners on both sides. Approximately 1600 rounds were fired but only about 24 casualties were suffered combined.