Fortifications to the original 1854 High Bridge were built, in part, with the help of area free men of color who were conscripted for Confederate service. The Confederate Congress authorized the draft of free men of color to support military activities. Confederate records indicate there were about 30 "black Confederates" supporting the Confederate Engineer Department at High Bridge in September 1864. The Bureau of Conscription authorized a draft for free African-Americans from Appomattox, Prince Edward, Amelia, Buckingham and Cumberland Counties to support Captain William G. Bender, the engineer in charge of construction of the fortifications. By December 1864, there were at least 50 such engaged in work. These men were provided Confederate uniforms and blankets due to cold weather.
Railroads During the Civil War from The National Historic Register Report
Throughout much of the Civil War, the South Side Railroad and the High Bridge remained an important component in the internal transportation network that moved both soldiers and civilians, as well as goods and supplies, between points within the Confederacy. Because outside commerce was being choked off by the Union blockade of southern ports, the need to move goods internally significantly increased. The railroad was also one of the mechanisms by which exports could be moved to one of the ports that served as a base for ships attempting to run the blockade. The large numbers of fully stocked tobacco warehouses burned during the campaigning around High Bridge in 1865 may have been filled in hopes of shipping the product to European or even Union markets.
From mid-1864 until the collapse of Confederate defenses at Petersburg, the South Side Railroad was the main line of supply for Richmond and Petersburg and the Confederate soldiers entrenched around both cities. During this period, the railroad transported a significant amount of military supplies at the expense of cutting back on its regular passenger and freight service. The Army paid only 25% of the usual fare to move a soldier and 50% of the usual freight rate, virtually leading to the bankruptcy of the railroad in 1864 and 1865. Shifting rail traffic away from carrying foodstuffs exacerbated the shortages in central Virginia that had led to massive bread riots in Richmond and other towns in the summer of 1863.
Given its importance for military transport and supply, in 1864, the bridge was occupied and fortified by one section (two guns) of the Donaldsonville Artillery of Louisiana. Earthworks were built at both ends of the bridge, and a larger complex farther to the east, in which a number of cannons of varying types and calibers were mounted. Reports from the Confederate War Department suggest that these works were built by enslaved African Americans impressed from the surrounding countryside. By September 1864, the rate of work had tapered off to the point that the government approved the conscription of local free blacks to complete the earthworks. Confederate troops manned these guns in cooperation with local home guard units.
Marker: High Bridge Trail State Park