Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 17, 1863 (Monday): Lee Checks In With Davis

Attack at Bristoe Station

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, Bristoe Station, October 17, 1863.
    MR. PRESIDENT: I have the honor to inform you that, with the view of bringing on an engagement with the army of General Meade, which lay around Culpeper Court-House, extending thence to the Rapidan, this army marched on the 9th instant by way of Madison Court-House, and arrived near Culpeper on the 11th. The enemy retired toward the Rappahannock at the railroad bridge, declining battle, and removing all his stores. I determined to make another effort to reach him, and moved through Warrenton toward the railroad north of the Rappahannock. The enemy had several direct roads by which he retired, while we were compelled to march by a more circuitous route. We only succeeded in coming up with a portion of his rear guard at this place on the 14th instant, with which a severe skirmish ensued, but without any decisive or satisfactory result.
    During the night of the 14th the enemy continued his retreat, and is now reported to be fortifying at Centreville. I do not deem it advisable to attack him in his intrenchments, or to force him farther back by turning his present position, as he could quickly reach the fortifications around Washington and Alexandria, which we are not prepared to invest. Should I advance farther, I should be compelled to go to Loudon for subsistence for the army, this region being entirely destitute, and the enemy having made the railroad useless to us by the complete destruction of the Rappahannock bridge. Such a movement would take us too far from other points where the army might be needed, and the want of clothing, shoes, blankets, and overcoats would entail great suffering upon our men. I can see not benefit to be derived from remaining where we are, and shall consequently return to the line of the Rappahannock.
    The railroad bridges over Cub Run, Broad Run, and Cedar Run have been destroyed, and the track torn up from the first-mentioned point back toward the Rappahannock, the ties burnt, and the rails bent. The destruction will be continued as far as the river, and may prevent another advance of the enemy in this direction this season.
     We have captured about 1,600 prisoners, and inflicted some additional loss upon the enemy in the various skirmishes that have occurred since the movement began. Our own loss was slight, except in the action at this place, where it was quite severe, and I regret to add that five pieces of artillery belonging to Hill's corps were captured. The particulars have not yet been officially reported to me, but shall communicated as soon as received.
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

     R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 29, Part 1, Pages 407-408.

This ended Lee's attempt to bring Meade to battle.  He had, however, succeeded by a series of flanking movements to push the Union Army of the Potomac back by 40 miles.  It was a remarkable achievement, given his limited resources.  Although Lee states not to have known the particulars of Hill's debacle at Bristoe Station, he had spoken with Hill and made his famous "Let us bury these men and say no more of it" rebuke.  He had, however, not received a formal, written report from Hill. 

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