Lt. Col. Charles Betts thought that the plan of the campaign changed dramatically on Sunday, April 2. According to the Pennsylvanian, a minister shared information straight from Richmond suggesting that Robert E. Lee was planning to give up Richmond and march to Pennsylvania. This, Betts recalled, prompted Stoneman to strike at the rail lines in southwest Virginia instead of marching east to join Sherman. This story, however, has no basis in fact. As Ohioan Frank Mason recalled, not even Stoneman’s brigade commanders understood their leader’s plans. The only change that occurred on April 2 was that the Yadkin River finally became fordable. At last, Stoneman could carry out George H. Thomas’s March 18 orders directing him to capture Christiansburg. From that point, Stoneman could destroy railroad track and drop bridges on the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, and even threaten Lynchburg.
The division therefore went to work. Per Gillem’s instructions, Palmer dispatched men to Rockford early on April 2. Extant records do not say how much of his brigade went, but there is no doubt that the town felt the presence of Union troopers that day. Septimus Knight of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry was probably among the group. According to his field diary, he left Elkin at 8:00 a.m. The march began like any other; as the column wound its way toward Rockford, the men kept their eyes open for anything that could help their cause, including replacement horses.
A ride of about eleven miles brought the Federals to Rockford. Formerly the proud seat of Surry County, the once-prosperous town had played host to the likes of James K. Polk, Aaron Burr and Andrew Jackson. But Rockford was now in decline; fifteen years before, the county seat had moved to Dobson. Only Rockford’s location along the Yadkin River made it important to Stoneman. While the division turned northward, a strong presence in Rockford would provide a strategic bulwark against any threats to the Federal rear and flank. A rumor suggested that the Rockford home guard tried to defend the town, but this was false. The only action the locals took – and this was true throughout much of Surry – was to hide animals and bury valuables.
Federal outriders also made their way to Siloam, another Surry County community, where violence erupted. Lt. Col. William Luffman, commander of the 11th Georgia Infantry Regiment, was recuperating from a wound at the home of Maj. R. E. Reeves, another Confederate veteran. Early on April 2, the Spring Place, Georgia, native was taking a bath when he and his host heard a ruckus in the yard. Luffman looked outside and saw a knot of Federal troopers. “Great heavens, Major, the Yankees are upon us!” Luffman yelled. Grabbing his carbine, the colonel ran outside and saw a Federal sitting on his own horse.
To read what happened next, see Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
Excerpt from Stoneman's Raid, 1865, (c) Chris J. Hartley