As previously described to my readers, we had been recovering from our battle that was the preview to the great fight at Gettysburg. We had steadily but slowly pursued General Lee into central Virginia, but then in October he had suddenly turned around and marched North again, endeavouring to turn our western flank and get behind us (to cut us off from Washington). Retiring along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad we shadowed Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as both armies moved north.
Suddenly on the 14 October Lee turned and struck at us – at Bristoe Station – and as Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Confederate Third Corps endeavoured to attack the rear guard of our V Corps, who were across the Broad Run, the main part of II Corps was quietly and rapidly deployed by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren (it’s temporary commander) in dead ground behind the Orange & Alexandria Railroad’s embankment. As the Corps moved forward to ambush A. P. Hill’s advancing Corps, my division was sent around the Southern Flank to endeavour to turn Hill’s flank and get behind his Corps just as they became engaged by the main body of II Corps…
I deployed the strongest of my units on my left (the end of our line), these being the 4th maine, 1st Minnesota, 6th New Jersey, and the 54th Massachusetts (Coloured). These were all fine Regiments with reasonable numbers of men and mostly eager for action. They would be supported in my centre by the massed artillery of my division (2nd New Jersey Battery, and Battery L, 1st Ohio Artillery). My more veteran and worn out regiments (who lacked men or were generally reluctant in battle) I then used to cover my right and my tenuous connection to the main body of the Corps north of me.
We were in a fairly wooded area, with some fields of late crops not yet harvested, and criss-crossed by minor streams & creeks (all tributaries of the Broad Run). We advanced rapidly on our left through a wooded area towards the open Southern Flank of the rebel force, and more cautiously on the right simply to maintain our line. My batteries commenced intensive counter-battery fire to silence a visible Confederate battery to prevent it’s interference in our moves. They were successful in this and half the battery was almost immediately silenced. However the Confederates had pre-empted our attack sufficiently that as we cleared the woodland we came upon one of the small creeks only to see them rapidly completing hasty entrenchments of fallen timber, rocks, and other debris piled with soil where possible. This was, my reader, going to be a bushel of corn harder than the perambulation first imagined!
No sooner had we come upon these earthworks (both opposite our main attack on my left, but also in the centre), than the enemy (General Longman as you will have guessed my reader) put in his own counter-attack on his left (that is to say, against my right, a suitably weak and vulnerable deployment). Action was soon fiercely underway there between my regiments (the 69th New York, 4th Vermont, 2nd New Hampshire, and 20th Indiana) against two large fresh confederate units (11th Virginia & 9th South Carolina).
On my left the 4th Maine valiantly battled across the creek and charged the rebel ramparts manned by the 14th North Carolina – a vicious fight ensued before the 4th Maine were thrown back across the stream, and with heavy casualties… My on-going artillery bombardment was working well and the remainder of the confederate battery (the ‘Loudon’) was rapidly silenced – my guns now turned their attention to the second rebel battery that had appeared (the ‘Lynchburg’). However on my right the rebels became even more aggressive, with the 10th Alabama and the dismounted 2nd Virginia Cavalry (the famous Lynchburg Cougars) joining the attack in the centre to support the 11th Virginia. (At this point casualties favoured the Confederates 4 to 2).
The 54th Massachusetts soon joined the 4th Maine along the creek, and jointly the began a furious musketry duel with the rebel defenders, before the later, for no clear reason, abandoned their earthworks and rushed pell-mell into the centre of the creek to continue the musketry duel at near point blank range. The 4th Maine and 54th Massachusetts did not need a second invitation and charged as one against the recklessly exposed 14th North Carolina. Meanwhile on the right the rebel advance continued and our tired regiments manoeuvred to try and contain the aggressive confederates. My artillery did well, silencing still more rebel guns, with just ½ the Lynchburg battery’s guns remaining in action. Back on the left my brave regiments threw back the 14th North Carolina but with surprisingly light losses to the rebs, and it was during this action the heroic Colonel Elijah Walker of the 4th Maine was sadly cut-down (a great loss). In the meantime the 4th Virginia Cavalry had dismounted and advanced to reinforce the earthworks, and prevent us from advancing over them uncontested after defeating the North Carolinas! (Casualties now favoured us, just, at 6 to 7).
However about this time the gods of war ceased to smile upon us, and we were dealt severe blows on both the left and right – the 54th Massachusetts (especially) and 4th Maine were subject to increasingly heavy musketry and canister from the remaining Lynchburg guns, and likewise the Fighting Sixty-Ninth New York in the centre. I pulled the 54th Massachusetts back into the cover of the woodland, but the 4th Maine were pinned down along the creek right in front of the earthworks, and along the centre and right the confederate pressure was starting to increase. (Casualties back to favouring the Confederates 11 to 8).
On my right the confederate pressure became too great, they out gunned us and then charged our weakened and tired regiments, and the 4th Vermont, 2nd New Hampshire, and 20th Indiana all broke and my right effectively collapsed. My division was exhausted and we were forced to abandon the action and retire in the best order we could. (Casualties now in favour of the Confederates 21 to 10).
My Division ended the battle in the following state:
- The “Fighting Sixty-Ninth” 69th New York (Strength 4; Veteran)
- 4th “Magnificent” Maine (Strength 3; Old Reliable’s)
- 6th New Jersey (Strength 3; Veteran)
- 2nd New Hampshire – broken, attempting to reform
- 4th Vermont – broken, attempting to reform
- 20th Indiana – broken, attempting to reform
- 54th “Unstoppable” Massachusetts (Coloured) (Strength 2; Veteran)
- 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment (Strength 7)
- Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery (2 x Rifles)
- Battery 2, New Jersey Light Artillery (2 x Napoleons)
- Victory Points Earned: 4
General Longman’s Confederate force was thus:
- 11th Virginia “Rolls With The Punches” (Strength 6; Veteran; Hero; Sharpshooters)
- 10th Alabama (Strength 4; Veteran)
- 9th South Carolina (Strength 5; Veteran)
- 14th North Carolina (Strength 7; Veteran)
- 14th Louisiana (Strength 3; Veteran)
- 2nd Virginia “Lynchburg Cougars” Cavalry (Strength 3)
- 4th Virginia “Deadly On 2 Legs” Cavalry (Strength 7; Veteran)
- “Loudon” Artillery Battery – ordnance lost, survivors returning home to re-equip
- “Lynchburg” Artillery Battery (1 x Napoleon)
- Victory Points Earned: 6
There followed some more action over the next two days around the Rappahannock followed then by a small lull. In November we headed back South, forced our way back across the Rappahannock at Rappahannock Station taking Lee by surprise and then prepared to go into winter quarters around the vicinity of Brandy Station and Culpeper County.