Bristoe Station, Virginia, on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad was a busy place during the war, from the maneuvering before the first major battle at Bull Run to the final days of the Confederacy. The summer of 1862 would see the Civil War come to Bristoe in brutal fashion, with fighting that might have made major headlines if not overshadowed by larger events.
During August 1862, Robert E. Lee has emerged as the premier Southern general, with a hard-driving, independent-minded subordinate nicknamed Stonewall. John Pope has enjoyed success in the West for the Union, when the people of the United States needed good news. He is brought east to face Lee after George McClellan failed on the Peninsula and around Richmond. And to the north, in Minnesota, the Sioux have taken advantage of the palefaces in the states fighting with each other to try to nullify their treaties by force. All are directly or indirectly connected with the actions at Bristoe that summer.
The Battle of Bristoe Station in August 1862, occurs during the maneuvering of Lee and Pope along the line of the Orange & Alexandria before Second Manassas. While holding Pope in place at the Rappahannock River with a strong right (James Longstreet), Lee throws a left hook with Jackson that lands in Popes rear at Bristoe Station. Jackson leaves Dick Ewell behind at Bristoe to contend with whatever moves Pope might make in that direction and heads down the railroad to Manassas Junction, where he loots and burns the Union supply base.
John Pope is in the unusual, if not uncomfortable position of commanding his own makeshift army while receiving reinforcements from McClellans forces as they arrive from the Peninsula, with many of the latter strongly loyal to their old commander, whose fate is unclear. When Pope realizes that a strong enemy force is in his rear, he sets his army in motion, in particular for our purposes sending Joe Hookers division to Bristoe Station.
Though not a large battle, it is brutal and bloody, and the results are far-reaching. Popes attention is so focused on Jacksons movements in and around Bristoe and Manassas that he fails to watch the maneuvering of Lee and Longstreets wing of the Confederate army. The major clash at Second Manassas on August 29-30, is another win for the Confederacy, and by September 16, Pope is in St. Paul preparing to fight Indians.
In 1863, after Gettysburg, there is a lull in the action in the Eastern Theater as both sides lick their wounds. In fact, both principal armies send troops to threatened points in the Western Theater. Despite being a period of relative inactivity, there are two volumes of the Official Records devoted to that lull, which has entered the history books as Bristoe, Mine Runquite a tribute to places most folks never heard of.
Reprising the thrust and parry along the Orange & Alexandria that marked the 1862 campaign, forces under Lee, and this time George G. Meade, on October 14, 1863, are passing through Bristoe Station, and Lee again finds himself with an advantage. Theres a bridge over Broad Run just east of Bristoe, and Gouverneur K. Warren, generally associated with the V Corps, but here leading the II Corps (after Winfield S. Hancocks wounding at Gettysburg), finds his corps straddling Broad Run as A. P. Hills Confederate corps opens on the column with artillery.
The shells are actually aimed at the V Corps under George Sykes which is ahead of Warren in the line of march, and it keeps on going to Manassas Junction, even with the column under attack; Warren also has a large wagon train to contend with. (This has something to do with Sykes being relieved in December and reassigned to Kansas, opening the way for Warren to take command of the V Corps.)
The ensuing battle at Bristoe Station on October 14 between Warren and Henry Heths division of Hills corps supported by Richard Andersons division, marks one of the great missed opportunities of the war. By nightfall Warren is facing Hills corps to the north and northwest, and Ewells Corps hard against his left flank to the southwest (but not pressing)roughly two-thirds of the Army of Northern Virginia arrayed against a lone Union corps. Im not going to give away Lees response when he realizes what has happened.
Until recently you could not walk the ground where the foregoing events occurred, but thanks to Prince William County (Va.), a historically-minded developer, Civil War Preservation Trust, author Mike Miller, and other historians and preservationists, the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park has been established. While still in the early stages of development, with this issue in hand you can gain an appreciation for the Bristoe battles by visiting the high ground where Dements Maryland battery greeted Hookers arrival in 1862; the tree-lined stream bed used by the Louisiana Tigers in 1862 and Thomas Smyths Union regiments in 1863; and where the blood of New Jersey and New York soaked the killing field.