The relative depth of both armed forces at this point of the Civil War, both Confederate and Union, was at a critical juncture. Both armies were at a historically low point, numerically. The recent Gettysburg Campaign had cost both armies in manpower and firepower. (Bristoe Station, 2003)
The Confederate Army had withdrawn into Virginia. The Union Army followed, but cautiously. Before the battle, the armies were settled down in central Virginia to rest and reorganize. Lee's army was spread out between Madison Court House and Culpeper, Virginia. (Bristoe Station, 2003).
Despite his recent loses, General Robert E. Lee decided to take advantage of this apparent abatement of hostilities. He dispatched Lieutenant General James Longstreet's First Corps to reinforce General Braxton Bragg in Tennessee. However, the Army of the Potomac's Eleventh and Twelfth Corps reinforced Bragg's opponent, Major General William S. Rosecrans, in counterpoint.
As a result, Lee decided to resume the offensive in Virginia. On October 9, Lee led his army across the Rapidan River and moved toward Culpeper to impose himself between the Union army and its supply base at Centreville. The Union army retreated. With great skill and initial agility, Lee took up pursuit of Meade's army and finally caught up with it on October 14 at Bristoe Station, a stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. (Bristoe Station, 2003) However unfortunately for the Confederates, the rest of the battle's use of agility in deploying armed forces did not meet with similarly happy results. Ultimately, the CS Lieutenant General Anthony Powell Hill's strategic error in command would result in the major part of the Confederate army becoming engulfed in two competing assaults by Union forces.
Thus, the Union army undoubtedly exhibited greater versatility of forces during the Battle. For instance, "shortly after the battle began, two other Second Corps divisions, command by Brigadier Generals Alexander Hays and John C. Caldwell, arrived and took position behind the railroad" to the Confederacy's left. "Federal artillery batteries posted on the high ground south of the railroad strengthened the center and right of the Union line." (Bristoe Station, 2003) The Union exhibited a 'total' strategy of military deployment.
The Confederate forces led the initiative of the battle, with the Union responding. However, as the battle progressed, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, commanding the Third Corps of Lee's Army, decided to attack immediately with his leading division, commanded by Brigadier General Henry Heth. (Bristoe Station, 2003) Hill's misreading of the situation and his decision to attack too quickly, without proper reinforcement, was blamed for the Confederacy's defeat in the conflict.
It was observed later that the Army of the Potomac, in its initial maneuverings, was extremely well synchronized as a unit, in its deployment against the different Confederate Army flanks, and also in defensive response to Lee's advances. This enabled them to take control of the battle and ultimately emerge into the aggressor, tactically speaking.
II. Battlefield Operating Systems
1. Fire Support
Both armies had been significantly weakened by the previous battles they had fought. However, because of greater maneuverability and agility, Union forces were able to use their power more effectively.
Hill's failure to adequately anticipate the Union's double flanking during the battle resulted in key and crucial losses to the Confederacy.
Logistically, most military historians think that the battle was when lost Union soldiers of the II Corps, posted behind the Orange & Alexandria Railroad embankment, mauled the two Confederate brigades and captured a battery of artillery. (CWBG, 2003)
The Union's divided flanks, lead by Major G.K. Warren and General Ewell, engulfed the forces of Lt. General A.P. Hill in a skillfully executed maneuver that Hill did not but should have anticipated. (CWBG, 2003)
5. Battle Command
Major Gen. G.K. Warren led the Union army. Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill led the Confederates.
6. Mobility and Survivability
Hill's willingness to attack too quickly cost him key mobility and resulted in heavy causalities. After Bristoe Station, "Hill lost standing in the eyes of Lee, who angrily ordered him to bury his dead and say no more about it." (CWBG, 2003)