1863: “This Fight Will Not Make Any Difference In The Issue Of The War”

[spelling and punctuation is original]

HdQrs. Stonewall Brigade

19 Oct 1863

Dear Robby,

Your very interesting letter of the 4th inst. was received yesterday and I wrote an answer to it last night but was prevented from sending it by unavoidable circumstances. I suppose our campaign, from which we have just returned, will entertain you most, so I will give a brief account. October 8th we attempted to flank Meades Army by Madison C.H. and Warrenton. Meade fell back rapidly and in good order. Several cavalry fights took place, in which we always wounded the enemy, taking in all 1500 prisoners, killing probably 60, losing ourselves some 30 men killed and wounded. It seems that Genl Lee wished to avoid a general engagement, for he laid at Warrenton half a day, and at other places he loitered considerably.

About the 13th we left Warrenton and two Divisions of our “Corps” came up with the enemys rear guard (Warren’s Corps) and after some skirmihsing started them again on the run; our “corps” followed leasurely. At Bristoe Station O&A RRoad 4 miles above Manassas Junction Hills Corps on our left came up with the enemy, and there we received a miserable, disgraceful vexatious repulse. Heth’s (the unlucky) Division attacked the enemy strongly posted behind the railroad and on the hills around, with two Brigades in a line with a very weak support. The two front Brigades (Cooks and Kirklands) advanced gallantly within 30 yards of the railroad, when the enemy poured a destructive fire into our men. Cooks brigade, on the right broke, leaving Kirklands exposed to a terrible flank fire which also broke running back in great confusion, passing a battery of five guns, which having its horses killed was unable to get back, the enemy advancing his skirmishe[r]s rapidly actually took the battery pulling of the pieces “by hand.” Summary. Brigadiers Generals Cook, Posey and Kirkland wounded, one hundred and twenty-five killed outright, 540 wounded. This fight will not make any difference in the issue of the war, but neither will Kernstown. It has no effect either way upon the spirits of the army, but is so provoking. It is rumored that Hill is under arrest.

After the fight the enemy retreated; we then tore up the railroad track back to Rappahannock river (20 miles) destroying bridges, culverts etc. Having accomplished (as far as we could discover) the object of our trip, destruction of the road, delaying the advance of the enemy and thus enabling us to reinforce Bragg; all this latter is conjecture you must know. I think we (our Corps) are done campaigning and fighting. Maybe Hills Corps will go West. We go into permanent camp tomorrow…

Your devoted bro[ther]

R.J. Barton

Battle of Bristoe Station

By early October, the Union Army of the Potomac retreated from central Virginia and the half-hearted pursuit of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the autumn after the Gettysburg Campaign. Lee and his Confederates followed Meade and the Union soldiers.

On October 14, 1863, Confederate General A.P. Hill ran into two Union corps at Bristoe Station, not far from Centreville, Virginia. Hill attacked without taking time to properly scout and assess the situation. Part of Union General G.K. Warren’s II Corps in a railroad embankment surprised the unlucky Confederate brigades and captured an artillery battery. Although Hill sent in reinforcements, the Confederates failed to break the Union lines.

An illustration from Harpers Weekly of the Battle of Bristoe Station

After successfully holding the battlefield, the Union soldier continued their retreat toward Centreville and Manssas without attack. The Battle of Bristoe Station ended the Confederate’s offensive movement in the autumn campaigning. Lee and his men retreated to the Rappahannock River, wrecking the railroad tracks as they departed.

George G. Meade

Autumn Campaigning

Following the Battle of Bristoe Station and the Confederate retreat to the Rappahannock, a couple weeks passed with relative quiet. In November, Meade responded to pressure from Washington and prepared for another Virginia campaign.

Between November 26 and December 2, 1863, the Mine Run Campaign unfolded. Due to a subordinate’s errors, Meade failed to break through the Confederate lines in a serious of maneuvers and battles, but Lee did not score any decisive victories either. Following the loss of over two thousand men (both sides combined), the two armies fell back and prepared to settle into winter quarters.

A decisive eastern Union victory to follow-up the Confederate repulse at Gettysburg simply did not happen in 1863.

A.P. Hill

Historical Musings

“It is rumored that Hill is under arrest,” wrote Barton, concluding his well-informed details of Bristoe Station before turning to write about family news and gossip about pretty girls.

Historically, General Lee was not please with General A.P. Hill after Bristoe Station. This lieutenant-general commanded the Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and had been in corps command since the end of May 1863, routinely giving lackluster performances. Bristoe Station cost Lee casualties without a result, and Lee’s dwindling numbers could not sustain useless losses.

Lee did not arrest Hill, but rather curtly ordered the general to bury the dead and “say no more about it.” Though Lee was displeased with the rash and unreconnoitered attack, he kept Hill in command, and that general would fight until the end of the war and his death on April 2, 1865 – the day the Confederate lines collapsed at Petersburg.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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One Response to 1863: “This Fight Will Not Make Any Difference In The Issue Of The War”

  1. Pingback: 1863: “We Are Making History” | Gazette665

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