The Civil War – Battle of Bristoe Station, VA

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

 

In mid-October 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac met in battle – their first encounter since Gettysburg in July. Encyclopedia Virginia provides the following account.

“After his defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee withdrew the Army of Northern Virginia to a position along the Rapidan River in Culpeper, Virginia…United States president Abraham Lincoln and Union general-in-chief Henry W. Halleck were upset with what they viewed to be Meade’s dawdling, and prodded the commander of the Army of the Potomac to act. Meade remained largely inactive, however, prompting Halleck to send two corps—the Eleventh and Twelfth—to the Western Theater…

Lee had made a similar choice, dispatching the First Corps under James Longstreet west. Lee, always combative even when substantially outnumbered, saw the Army of the Potomac as a ripe target, and attempted to move on the supply base at Centreville. Meade, aware that the Confederates were on the move, fell back from his position at Culpeper Court House to Centreville.

On October 14, Confederate troops under the command of A. P. Hill crashed into the Union rear guard. Hill had been pursuing the withdrawing Army of the Potomac… He also received reports that Union troops remained on his side of Broad Run, moving in a parallel path; if he pressed hard, he might be able to cut them off and destroy them. Hill caught sight of the tail of the Army of the Potomac as it withdrew across Broad Run at a bridge serving the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.

At one thirty in the afternoon, Hill ordered a division of approximately 9,000 men under Henry Heth into action against the rear guard of the retreating Union army. After some delay, Heth marched toward the Union troops along Broad Run. Soon, however, trouble arose; Heth’s men began to take skirmisher and picket fire from their right flank…

As the fire from the flank increased in intensity, Heth requested permission to swing to his right and dislodge the offending Union force. Hill, confident that Heth faced only a rear guard, ordered him forward. Thus, as the Confederate brigades of W. W. Kirkland and John R. Cooke charged forward, Union troops poured fire into their right flank. In a desperate effort to save themselves, the two brigades attempted to change front and charge the Second Corps. This maneuver failed…

The Second Corps withdrew during the night, successfully retreating to the east of Broad Run and rendezvousing with the Army of the Potomac at Centreville…

Hill realized that his rash attack had resulted in hundreds of needless casualties and remarked in his report to Lee that ‘I am convinced I made the attack too hastily.’ Lee, for his part, delivered to Hill a calm but cutting rebuke. As the two generals rode across the field, Lee turned to Hill and stated, ‘Well, well, General. Bury these poor men and let us say no more about it.’”