The Battlefields of Fauquier County

Bristoe Campaign
(October - November 1863)
 

  Battles of Auburn I & II  
  Battle of Buckland Mills  
2nd Battle of Rappahannock Station  
   
 

Introduction

After the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, Union General George G. Meade was criticized for not destroying Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his army of Northern Virginia; instead, Lee slipped away from Meade, crossing the Potomac River back into the Confederacy. That fall, Meade planned an offensive to attack Lee’s position behind the Rapidan River in Orange County, Virginia.

Emboldened when Lee dispatched part of General James Longstreet’s Corps to the western theatre of war, Meade defeated Lee’s forces in Culpeper, Virginia, at the Battle of Culpeper Courthouse. Meade, however, soon found his role reversed when, on September 24, he too dispatched troops to the west. Lee, learning of Meade’s weakened force, seized the initiative and attempted to turn Meade’s right flank, forcing Meade to withdraw along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.

Although both Meade and Lee achieved victories in this campaign, the overall result was inconclusive. Lee was frustrated that his initiative had not met more success, even though his troops pushed back Meade forty miles and denied Federal troops valuable railroad access. In the end, the Bristoe campaign accomplished little, and both armies survived to fight another campaign.

 

 
 
   

 

 
   

Battles of Auburn I & II

Date: October 13 - 14, 1863
Result: Inconclusive
Troops Engaged: 20,000 US; 32,000 CS
Casualties: 78 US; 85 CS

In the late afternoon on October 13, Confederate cavalry under General Lunsford Lomax encountered the Union Third Corps as it marched north along the Old Carolina Road to Greenwich. Lomax, guarding an important crossroads south of Auburn, skirmished with the Third Corps but withdrew to Warrenton upon discovering he confronted a much larger force.

Lomax’s commander General J.E.B. Stuart and his men spent the day reconnoitering near Catlett Station. Upon their return, they found themselves cut off from their Confederate base and trapped between portions of the Union army. Stuart hid his men in a ravine for the night and sent scouts to Warrenton to procure reinforcements from General Richard Ewell. The Union Third Corps passed by unknowingly.

The next morning, Union Brigadier General John C. Caldwell’s Second Corps Division advanced over the Cedar Run bridge and prepared for action on a hill to the north, where some broke for breakfast. Stuart moved part of his force to a hill located one-half mile east of these Federals. While they ate their repast on this hill, known afterwards as “Coffee Hill,” Stuart unleashed artillery fire. After recovering from this unexpected assault, the Federals responded with their own artillery fire.

Meanwhile, Ewell’s reinforcements drew near Auburn and skirmished with Federal troopers. Once the sound of fighting was heard, Stuart began a full attack. Stuart ordered General John B. Gordon to charge Union General John Caldwell’s men east of Coffee Hill near St. Stephens Road. The Federals eventually beat back Gordon’s charge, but not before Stuart and his men escaped. This inconclusive battle allowed but did not deter the Federals from their rendezvous at Bristoe Station.

Auburn Today

The community of Auburn is a largely rural and agricultural area, much as it was in the nineteenth century. Modern roads follow the paths of their Civil War predecessors, making landmarks such as Coffee Hill—tucked into the curve of Highway 602 (Old Carolina Road) on the north bank of Cedar Run— easy to find. The wooded ravine, which provided cover for Stuart’s men the night of October 13-14, also remains.

 

 

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Battle of Buckland Mills

Date: October 19, 1863
Result: Confederate Victory
Troops Engaged: 4,000 US; 8,000 CS
Casualties: 250 US; 30 CS

On the morning of October 19, General J.E.B. Stuart’s divisions held the Town of Buckland using its buildings as cover against the Federals who occupied the heights east of Broad Run. Leaving George A. Custer’s brigade to guard the town and Buckland bridge, Union Generals Davies and Kilpatrick followed Stuart west on the turnpike. When Kilpatrick’s force attacked from the east, Stuart “retreated designedly toward Warrenton” luring the federals down the turnpike and into a trap. Confederate General Lee concealed 5,200 cavalrymen in the woods on the federal left. Lee sounded cannon signals as the rear of Davies’ brigade passed them. Confederates then “came up perpendicular to the pike and cut their column in two,” driving Custer (at the rear of the Federal column) back over the Buckland bridge.

Meanwhile, the front of General Davies’ column had moved west past New Baltimore, where Stuart’s brigades charged the front of the Federal column at the sound of General Lee’s cannon fire, causing General Davies to reverse direction and take a position on a low range of hills between New Baltimore and Buckland to make a stand. Lee’s men combined forces with Stuart’s, attacking furiously the Federal front, flank and rear, driving the remaining US cavalry over Broad Run and north in full retreat.

The battle is often referred to as the “Buckland Races” for, “Hootin’ and hollerin’ all the way, Stuart’s Rebel horsemen chased the fleeing Yankees back to Buckland in an action that resembled a spirited steeplechase rather than a military operation.” In addition to 250 US casualties, half the Federal ambulances, wagons, and ammunitions were seized, Custer’s personal papers were confiscated, and 200 prisoners were marched to the Warrenton jail. Wrote Stuart: “I am justified in declaring the route of the enemy at Buckland the most single and complete that any cavalry has suffered during the war.” The next day, Stuart crossed to the south side of the Rappahannock River, to join the rest of General Robert E. Lee’s force.

Buckland Mills Today

As you drive along Lee Highway (old Warrenton Turnpike) in Buckland, you’re following the progression of the Battle of Buckland Mills. From Broad Run to New Baltimore, most of the day’s action occurred along this road.

 

 

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2nd Battle of Rappahannock Station

Date: November 7, 1863
Result: Union Victory
Troops Engaged: 2,000 US; 2,000 CS
Casualties: 419 US; 1,674 CS

On November 7, Meade ordered an assault against Lee’s Confederate infantry along the Rappahannock River. Dividing his forces, Meade ordered General John Sedgwick to attack Rappahannock Station while General William H. French moved five miles downstream to Kelly’s Ford. In response, Lee shifted some of his force to Kelly’s Ford, hoping to defeat French soundly, and left only a small number of men under General Jubal Early at Rappahannock Station.

Sedgwick’s sharpshooters drove in the Rebel skirmishers and seized a range of high ground near the river. Sedgwick’s guns and Confederate batteries maintained an active fire until dark. According to Lee’s report: “It was not known whether this demonstration was intended as a serious attack or only to cover the movement of the force that had crossed at Kelly’s Ford, but the lateness of the hour induced the belief that nothing would be attempted until morning.” He was mistaken. Sedgwick’s infantry rushed the works and engaged Early’s men in hand to hand combat. No information of the attack was received on the south side of the river until too late for the artillery stationed there to aid in repelling it, and fear of injury to their own captured men further prevented that action. Many Confederates tried to escape across the river, but Federal fire and freezing water stopped most. In total, more than 1,670 Confederates were killed, wounded, or captured in this engagement. This disastrous Confederate defeat forced Lee to retreat further south for the winter than originally planned.

Rappahannock Station Today

Rappahannock Station (today’s Remington) was the site of two separate battles, both involving the railroad and the Rappahannock River. The second of these engagements involved a rare night-time attack and brutal hand-to-hand combat. A pontoon bridge (which replaced the burned railroad bridge) was defended by a tete-de-pont constructed on the north bank by Lee’s engineers. Portions of the pontoon bridge were recovered by the Union forces. The pontoon bridge was located in the river bend just upstream from the Bus. Route 15/29 Highway bridge.

 

 

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Battle of Unison | Northern Virginia Campaign | Battle of Kelly's Ford | Gettysburg Campaign | Bristoe Campaign