For the unfamiliar, the Bristoe Campaign was Robert E. Lee's last full-blown strategic offensive during the war. Starting on October 9, 1863, Lee moved to outflank Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac, which was positioned along the Rapidan River. Meade, however, was no John Pope, and a replay of Second Manassas was not in the making. Instead, the Union commander got wind of Lee's plans and ordered his forces back to the defenses at Centreville. On October 14, Gen. A.P. Hill, commander of the Confederate Third Corps, spotted the Union Fifth Corps across Broad Run near Bristoe Station and sent Gen. Henry Heth's division in pursuit. Heth was instead surprised by elements of Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren's Second Corps, who assumed a strong position along the embankment of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad to the south. The Confederates wheeled about and marched to face this unexpected threat. Following a relatively short but bloody engagement in which four Second Corps brigades beat back Hill's men, Warren continued to Centreville. Total casualties amounted to nearly 2,000 (540 Union; 1,380 Confederate).
After the battle, Lee blamed Hill for making an ill-advised attack on the Union forces. When Hill went to apologize, Lee rebuked him, saying "Well, well, general, bury these poor men and let us say no more about it." Bristoe Station effectively stalled Lee's offensive momentum and by the start of November, both armies were back where they began.
|Exhibit sign on lawn of Manassas Museum|
This past Monday -- the 150th anniversary of the battle -- I traveled to Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park to take part in a special bus tour of local sites related to the engagement. I also planned to join a "real-time" tour on the battlefield later that afternoon, but a last minute sickness in the family required me to leave earlier than I would have liked. Nevertheless, I still managed to find a little time to hike the battlefield trail, read the interpretive markers, and study the ground both before and after the bus tour. Lucky for me, I ran into Todd Berkoff, a local expert on the battle, who led an impromptu tour for me and Craig Swain, a friend and fellow blogger.
Back in the early 2000s, the Civil War Trust worked with a real estate developer and Prince William County to save the battlefield land that comprises today's park. The property not only saw action during the 1863 Battle of Bristoe Station, but was also the site of a Confederate encampment in 1861-62 and the Battle of Kettle Run in August 1862. Talking with Todd and Craig, I learned that the county has made tremendous strides in developing the site over the last several years. Additional plans include the construction of a visitor center in an existing 20th century structure on the battlefield and the removal of a non-period silo. Sadly, the surrounding area is still marked by residential housing that detracts from viewsheds and undermines the 19th-century sense of place.
|Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park Historic Site Manager and fellow blogger Jimmy Price explains part of the battle at the location of Capt. Thomas Brown's Battery B, 1st R.I. Light Artillery (stop no. 2 on the bus tour). The battery sat on land to the east of Broad Run where the trees now stand. From this point, Brown's guns fired on the Confederate lines near the railroad at Bristoe. Prince William County owns this property and has plans to install a marker and cannon here.|
|Another view of the area where Kirkland's brigade fought along the railroad.|