On April 7, 1865, they remained encamped around the bridges. It was a welcome change. While most of the men rested, Wagner sent out scouting parties to search the countryside for horses, signs of the enemy or even for Stoneman himself. Two men went looking for horses but did not return. Another squad of twelve men under Sgt. John Anderson reconnoitered the approaches to Lynchburg. They exchanged shots with a few rebels along the way but did not encounter a large enemy force. After riding to a point within eleven miles of Lynchburg, Anderson turned back, carrying news that the road to Lynchburg was open. That welcome information was tempered, however, by a subsequent report that about 1,500 Confederates held Lynchburg itself.
Back at the bridge, Wagner pondered the reports of his patrols. Lacking new orders from Stoneman, Wagner had some decisions to make. First, should he burn the bridges? Second, should he turn south and try to rejoin the Cavalry Division? Or should he threaten Lynchburg and Danville, as his orders suggested? Rather than make these important decisions alone, Wagner called a council of war. Wagner and his subordinates settled on a compromise – to burn the bridges and proceed toward Lynchburg but avoid attacking the town itself. The work of firing the bridges began about 8:00 p.m., and within three hours the framework of both spans was in flames.
At midnight, Wagner’s column resumed the march toward Lynchburg. Wagner’s plan was to approach the town early on April 8 and, if possible, surprise the defenders before turning south. Taking the Forest Road, the Federals spent the rest of the night riding east. Around daybreak they passed Forest Station. One man went missing as they rode.[iii] Lynchburg was only seven miles away.
To read what happened next, see Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
Excerpt from Stoneman's Raid, 1865, (c) Chris J. Hartley