Rivers can act as both islands of mesic refugia for terrestrial organisms during times of aridification and barriers to gene flow, though evidence for long-term isolation by rivers is mixed. Understanding the extent to which riverine barrier effects can be heightened for populations trapped in mesic refugia can help explain maintenance and generation of diversity in the face of Pleistocene climate change. Herein, we implement phylogenetic and population genetic approaches to investigate the phylogeographic structure and history of the ground skink, Scincella lateralis, using mtDNA and eight nuclear loci. We then test several predictions of a river-refugia model of diversification. We recover 14 well-resolved mtDNA lineages distributed east-west along the Gulf Coast with a subset of lineages extending northward. In contrast, ncDNA exhibits limited phylogenetic structure or congruence among loci. However, multilocus population structure is broadly congruent with mtDNA patterns and suggests that deep coalescence rather than differential gene flow is responsible for mtDNA-ncDNA discordance. The observed patterns suggest that most lineages originated from population vicariance due to riverine barriers strengthened during the Plio-Pleistocene by a climate-induced coastal distribution. Diversification due to rivers is likely a special case, contingent upon other environmental or biological factors that reinforce riverine barrier effects.