Battle of Bristoe Station led many to question the Confederacy's grasp of tactics as it was a strategic blunder. In many respects, it confirmed assumptions made after the battle of Gettysburg that the leadership of the Army of Northern Virginia's officer corps was not infallible. It is the principle battle of the Bristoe campaign, one in which General Lee attempted to separate the Army of the Potomac from its supply lines and prevent the North from sending more troops to Georgia to make inroads into the Confederate interior. On October 14, A.P. Hill's corps stumbled on two Corps of the retreating Union army at Bristoe Station and attacked without proper reconnaissance. In fact, his opponents were Union soldiers of the II Corps, that lay to his right. Believing re-enforcement troops to be close at hand, Hill ordered Henry Heth's division to attempt to breach General Warren's well-fortified line behind the Orange & Alexandria Railroad embankment.
Two brigades from North Carolina suffered many casualties. Warren's troops counterattacked and captured several hundred men and a battery of artillery that had been brought to the front as Heth's men were retreating. Hill reinforced his line but could make little headway against the determined defenders, who had better positions and superior numbers. Subsequent reinforcements were unable to contribute effectively, and the end of the day saw 1300 CSA casualties to 546 federal casualties.
The day after the Battle of Bristoe Station, as Robert E. Lee and General A.P. Hill of the Army of Northern Virginia rode together over a field littered with the corpses of their fallen comrades, Hill attempted to explain the mistakes he had made the proceeding day. Lee patiently listened with a look of disappointment on his face. Lee simply replied, "Well, well, General, bury these poor men and let us say no more about it." The Battle of Briscoe Run was a defeat for the Confederacy that followed a long summer that featured too few victories for Lee's ill-fated Army of Northern Virginia. Although Lee had taken the field, his army had suffered 1,300 casualties. By comparison, General Meade's Army of the Potomac had lost only 546 men. (1) Whereas the Fault was to be found with General A.P. Hill, who had engaged Federal troops without first engaging in reconnaissance.
Some historians argue that many southerners didn't view the battle of Gettysburg, traditionally considered the turning point of the Civil War, to be a catastrophic defeat. Lee's soldiers typically saw it as a temporary setback with few long-term consequences for their army. Despite heavy casualties, these soldiers considered neither their withdrawal from the battlefield nor the retreat from Pennsylvania as evidence that the Federals had won a decisive victory. Whereas Vicksburg came to represent a harrowing disaster in which the Confederacy lost an entire army, massive quantities of arms, and access to states west of the Mississippi, Gettysburg's outcome was more ambiguous and few believed it represented a massive failure in the eastern theater. However, Lee's July defeat forced him to re-cross the Potomac and re-coup.
After the Army of Northern Virginia retreated through Maryland, Lee concentrated behind Rapidan River in Orange County. Federal infantry under General George Meade advanced to Rappahannock River in August, and in mid- September they pushed heavy columns forward to confront Lee's troops along the Rapidan.
Lee's attempt to shore up the Confederacy's defenses weren't limited to the valleys of Virginia; earlier in September he had dispatched two divisions of Longstreet's Corps to re-enforce Confederate forces in Georgia; the Federals followed suit later that month, re-enforcing the troops in Tennessee that would eventually win a decisive victory in Chattanooga. This prompted Lee to re-initiate his offensive in Virginia, as he did not want more Federals to be dispatched from the primary theater of the war, northern Virginia, to the interior of the Confederacy where they could continue to wreck havoc on the southern economy and attack Lee's ability to wage war. What would eventually become known as the Bristoe Campaign began in early October with Lee's attempt to outflank Meade and drive him back to Alexandria along the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
The attitude that prevailed in the days before the Battle of Bristoe was a conservative one. The day before the battle saw a skirmish between Fitzhugh Lee and Lomax's brigades and the rearguard of the Union III Corps. This occurred near Auburn, a community that is close enough to Washington, DC to now be considered a suburb or exurb. Stuart sequestered his troops in a wooded ravine to evade the retreating Federals.
As the Federal army withdrew towards Manassas Junction, Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's Second Corps fought a second skirmish near Auburn against Stuart's cavalry and infantry of Harry Hays's division. (2) Stuart's cavalry was able to bluff Warren's infantry, which pushed on to Catlett Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
The principal actors in the battle were General A.P. Hill on the Confederate side and the Union's Major General Gouverneur K. Warren. Hill instigated the attack and is considered chiefly responsible for the nature of the battle. Hill was a fellow West Point graduate of Lee and Jackson and each considered him among their dearest friends. Hill was born in Culpeper, Virginia, only thirty miles from the site of the battle.
Hill was re-known for his fighting abilities and his bravery due to his strong performance during the Seven Days Battles. Hill further distinguished himself at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia and during the Antietam Campaign. However, he was often ill due to a sickness that he had contracted while still at West Point. Although the death of Jackson lead to Hill's promotion in 1863 following the battle of Chancellorsville, Hill's ability to command fell into question following Gettysburg. Hill was less comfortable with his new command than with his old division. During the battle, Hill ordered General Henry Heth's division to march on Gettysburg but remained in Cashtown near an ambulance. Hill was considered one of the most sympathetic of all of Lee's generals. Lee commented that Hill was one of the best officers to reach the rank of major general.
Brigadier General Henry Heth also graduated from West Point in 1847, at the very bottom of his class. Graduating at the very bottom of his 1847 class at West Point, and served 14 years on frontier duty before resigning his infantry captaincy in 1861, to serve Virginia. This service was originally far from the front lines, in the Kanawha Valley and the Lewisburg area of western Virginia. After several months of serving under Kirby Smith in East Tennessee in the summer of 1862, Lee specifically requested his transfer to the Army of Northern Virginia. (3) Lee, who called the brigadier by his first name, gave Heth command of a brigade.
He distinguished himself at Chancellorsville and was serving under Hill when his troops were the first to spot federal soldiers while they were looking for shoes in Gettysburg. During this battle, Heth received a severe concussion when a bullet went through his hat and hit him in the forehead. However, he had placed several layers of newspaper in his "newly requisitioned" hat to make it fit properly which saved his life.
Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's seizure of Little Round Top brought Federal troops to an undefended position and was one of the key moves that brought success to federal troops at Gettysburg. Warren, a West Point graduate, topographical engineer, and explorer, had been a teacher at West Point when war broke. Although he started as a lieutenant colonel of a New York regiment, he came to lead the Second Corps through his bravery at Gettysburg. However, Warren's odd temperament earned him the mistrust and suspicion of both Meade and Grant.
Basic economic factors contributing to the nature of the battle included Federal superiority in terms of its industrial economy, its compatible railroad links, it's larger population, and its access to the sea. The large fleet and successful blockade of Confederate forts facilitated this. This meant that the federal government also had ample new recruits as immigrants continued to enter the country and demand citizenship. Although draft riots had plagued northern cities, the Emancipation Proclamation made the United States' cause palatable in the eyes of European trading partners; England had manumated black slaves in its colonies over 25 years earlier. However, the Confederacy's troops were thought to be more familiar with the terrain. Before and after the failed putsch to Pennsylvania, the war for Virginia's Potomac watershed had been one of attrition.
The theater of the battle, Northern Virginia, was considered the domain of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Most of the early battles of the war were fought in this area, and most of these were victories for Lee. The Bristoe Campaign was a measure of retrenchment; fearing desertion if his troops pushed further north, Lee returned to the geographic area where he had enjoyed the most success in order to…