This is a season of wrangling and fighting back and forth, with each side entrenched in their political positions, maneuvering over the same old terrain that has been fought over before. There is nothing very new about the tactics. Nobody is really willing to pick a place of meeting and simply fight it out to a conclusion. Rather, it is a series of skirmishes – with each side constantly attempting to ascertain the strength of the other, while hoping to get the best of their opponents. Public criticism is high. The President doesn’t seem very sure what to do other than send daily notes to his main commander on the front lines of the conflict asking, “How is it now?” And in the end, nothing is really going to be accomplished or settled.
OH! Did you think I was talking about the current congressional debates and the ongoing shutdown of the government and national parks? Haha! LOL! You thought I was talking about this season now, and President Obama? Sorry, no. This is, after all, a Civil War blog; and so I was talking about the maneuverings of Robert E. Lee and George Meade during this week in the fall season of October 1863 – 150 years ago!
This is a campaign called the Bristoe Campaign – dated as beginning on October 9, 1863, but variously dated as ending either 12 days later or by others as extending to the 9th of November. In any event, it was a series of movements and skirmishes with some of the most interesting names in Civil War history – places like Fry Pan Church, Pohick Church, Jeffersonton, Fox’s Ford, Accotink, Buckland Mills, Rixeyville, and Muddy Creek.
Lee had sent Longstreet’s Command to the West in early September. In consequence of this and the outcome of the Battle of Chickamauga, Lincoln, Stanton and Union command in Washington decided on September 23rd to send troops to Rosecrans in Chattanooga. The 11th and 12th Corps of the Army of the Potomac were dispatched under Hooker’s command. It was a brilliantly executed movement that was completed by October 2nd.
It was in the mind of Lee to maneuver against this Federal reduction in force, though, as always, he was still outnumbered. The course of action was to follow a previously common pathway to march to the west and north out of his position upon the Rappahannock, essentially the same route taken to 2nd Manassas. But there was to be no 3rd Manassas or 3rd Bull Run. Meade sufficiently anticipated and understood the flanking action and was successful in maintaining a posture between Lee and Washington, yet his defensively strong positions were not advantageous for aggressive attacking opportunities. Daily engagements occurred in a wide variety of places, such as those mentioned above.
Bristoe Station – October 14 – Confederate forces under A.P. Hill attacked rear guard Union troops, and 2nd Corps federals put a nasty hurt on Henry Heth’s division. Meade was found to be well-entrenched near Centreville, and Lee had outrun his supplies. Retreating south again, the Confederates tore up the tracks of the Orange and Alexandria – rendering Meade incapable of fulfilling the Washington-goaded desires to successfully catch and destroy Lee.
Buckland Mills – October 19th – JEB Stuart’s cavalry served as a shield for the withdrawal of Lee’s army from the familiar Manassas Junction region. Union troopers under Gen. Judson Kilpatrick were in pursuit and lured into an ambush. The resultant Union flight and Rebel pursuit was over a distance of five miles, causing the affair to be more commonly known as “The Buckland Races.”
As Lee re-crossed the Rappahannock on the 21st, Confederate losses were about 200 killed and 1400 total casualties, while the Union numbers respectively were approximately 140/3000.
Second Battle of Rappahannock Station – November 7th – Lee’s fortified protection north of the river at the approach to Kelly’s Ford at Rappahannock Station was overrun with a surprise attack by Sedgwick’s 6th Corp, wherein 1600 men of two of Jubal Early’s division were captured. Meade crossed, and Lee retreated to the previous line along the Rapidan. Once again the armies were back to their respective places of a month earlier.
The more things changed, the more they stayed the same; and on the 9th, to get a break from the pressures of it all, Lincoln went to the theatre to see John Wilkes Booth perform in “The Marble Heart.”