Stony Creek and Virginia History

On an abnormally warm early Spring day, I took a 150 mile motorcycle ride from Portsmouth to Stony Creek, Virginia. It is where my Great Great Grandpa, Randolph Page, was captured by Federal Forces in 1864. He rode with the SC 6th Insurgent Cavalry (Aka: the Dixie Raiders). His unit fought in nearly every major engagement in Virginia from 1862, until the surrender.

Before going to Stony Creek I had no idea of the importance of the place and presumed that it was just an outlier to the defense of Petersburg. I learned in talking to some old timers there that battle of Stony Creek contributed to the ultimate collapse of Gen. Lee’s entrenched defenses at Petersburg and forced Lee’s hasty retreat towards Appomattox.

Stony Creek lies off the West side of I-95 and 301 between Emporia and Petersburg. During the siege of Petersburg, between between June 15th of 1864 and March of 1865 , nearly all the logistics and supplies to the Confederate defenders came up the Petersburg and Weldon (now CSX Railway – the first national interstate rail) into Stony Creek – on its Southern dual rail. Goods were offloaded at the depot and put on wagons that made the circuitous twenty-five mile back road trips by muleskinners on plank roads, up to Petersburg, out of site of the Federal forces.

The Yankees controlled the North and East of the City, and they sent 30,000 men around the Southeast to take Stony Creak and the railway in a wide flanking movement. Several Confederate Cavalry skirmishers engaged the leading edge of the Federals and slowed their efforts, but their overwhelming forces could not be thwarted. Gen. Wade Hampton led a Cavalry force of 2,000 men against the Yankees, but with limited success. As they swung around to the the South the Yankees tore up sixty miles of rail lines and carried out scorched earth tactics all throughout Sussex County and burned the courthouse. Sussex County had once been part of Surry County, and its records went back to the early colonial days of the first English settlers. The citizens and Confederate forces at Stony Creek realized they could not defend their community and were grossly out-manned. They sunk their two unmounted siege cannon into the swamps and retreated. Stony Creek was lost in battle on June 28th, 1864.

Where exactly at Stony Point my Great Great Grandpa Randolph Page was captured, or where he was taken to imprisonment is unknown to me. He may have been held on the Eastern Shore where a number of Confederate Cavalry POW’s were kept. Certainly, he did not fare as well as Lee’s Cavalry officers, who gave up under the terms of surrender. They were permitted to keep their side arms and mounts. He was just a Private, and the Yankees either shot or confiscated his horse. Most Cavalry did not fight from the saddle, but rode to the battle, dismounted and fought on foot. But one thing is known – he walked from Virginia to Landrum, South Carolina, at the edge of the mountains, on foot. Wherever he was released he must have found a Confederate Quartermaster, because it is recorded that he was given $10 in gold for his service at discharge. I am sure if he could have bought a horse for that sum, to ride home on, he would have done so. It is also known that on arriving at his log cabin and farm, he stripped off his lice infested uniform and burned it, shaved off all his hair and scrubbed his body down with lye soap in the creek. Thereafter he returned to the plow and put the War behind him. He allowed both white and black men without land or money,  to sharecrop on his land after the War, as the South would slowly try to rebuild to rise again.

What I learned in going to Stony Creek was that the battle there and its loss was certainly a pivotal engagement in the War. The loss of Stony Creek, the loss of the railroad and the capture of Wilmington, denied Gen. Lee his ability to continue on in defense of Petersburg, which threw the door wide open to the taking of Virginia and the Confederate capital of Richmond by the Yankees. The Southern cause was largely lost by attrition in its ranks and interference in supply lines and logistics. Southern men could not be replaced on the battlefield, while the North continued to bolster its ranks while it carried out a scorched earth policy from Atlanta to the Sea and down Virginia’s Shenandoah valley. A defensive position is rarely a winning strategy. At Petersburg, Gen. Lee saw himself surrounded from the NW, N and E. With the loss of Stony Creek, his supply line to reinforcements and logistics was cut. Stony Creek was the hub of the vital railroad artery feeding Petersburg. Its loss brought down the great Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederacy by forcing the evacuation of Petersburg.

Today a large Confederate Battle Flag can be seen just up the road on I-95 above Stony Creek and below Petersburg. Like many formally prominent Southern towns, Stony Creek today is just a little rural town in sad shape. One lane of Hwy 301 on its Eastern edge was turned into the Southbound lane of I-95’s newer dual lane. Cars and trucks wiz by and pay no mind. The BBQ pit and little antique shop, once easily accessible on old Hwy 301 are difficult to reach, while the billboard next to the BBQ displays the rust of over fifty years as worn sign paper and gauze wisp gently in a breeze like curtains to the past. The town’s history is being forgotten and those that remember it are getting older. But the rail that brought in supplies and ammunition is still there. One of the cannons dug out of the swamp rests on its main street. The large one room Sappony Baptist Church on the edge of town, where Confederate infantrymen took refuge and fought off a company of Yankees, still stands. The church would become a charter member in the Portsmouth Baptist Association. The church bears the scars of war, and still has a cannon ball hole in its walls, patched with tin. The sanctuary has now been vinyl sided over. The church’s Bible once stopped a Yankee Infantry bullet. The winding plank roads past woods and meandering creeks and swamps where Confederate mule muleskinners ported supplies from the rail depot North to Petersburg to support Lee’s last defense are still there to ride and imagine events long ago.

Small communities like Stony Creek contain a wealth of knowledge about the War, but they are dying. I talked to the local inhabitants and encouraged them to put together a flyer with a brief history of Stony Creek and a map of the battlefields and engagements there and the back road routes that channeled the supplies to Lee’s defenses of Petersburg. Indeed, if SCV groups in Virginia would do likewise all of our communities and publish such materials on a statewide Confederate history and tourism website, both Confederate Mechanized Cavalry and history enthusiasts could download and print these maps and history or pull them up on their smart phones. This would be a great project for all SCV chapters in each State. Tourism is Virginia’s biggest business! By telling the story of their role in Virginia’s defense and the Confederate cause, small communities like Stony Creek might be revived. History could be brought to life for a new generation, as folks discover the little places, now forgotten, that played significant roles in history.

Visiting Stony Creek and its meandering roads on a warm sunny day is a great trip on a motorcycle or in an open convertible. You can still smell, feel, and experience Virginia history in these almost unknown little Southern jewels.

About Cliff Page

Cliff Page is a native of Charleston, South Carolina, with roots that run deep, and precede the Revolution, but spread from the red clay of the mountains to the sandy loam and swamps of the low country. As an artist, he was recently the Sculptor in Residence at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH during its 50th Anniversary and the 150th Anniversary of the assassination and death of Abraham Lincoln. He studied at the National Institute for the Fine Arts in Mexico and was a Fulbright Fellow to Italy and was nominated as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar and Indo-American Scholar in the past. He holds degrees from Old Dominion and East Carolina Universities. Recently, he was a candidate for Mayor of Portsmouth, Virginia, where he lives and maintains his studio. More from Cliff Page

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