October 19, 1863 – A lopsided cavalry engagement near Buckland Mills marked the end of the 11-day Bristoe campaign.
Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry served as the Confederate rear guard as the Army of Northern Virginia withdrew toward the Rapidan River. Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division headed the Federal advance in pursuit of the Confederates. On the morning of the 19th, Kilpatrick approached Major General Wade Hampton’s Confederate division, accompanied by Stuart, on the south bank of Broad Run.
The Confederates proceeded with the plan devised by Stuart and Major General Fitzhugh Lee, in which Hampton (with Stuart) would lead a part of the force in a feigned retreat toward Warrenton, and when Kilpatrick pursued, Fitz Lee’s force would ambush his left flank.
Stuart headed off, purposely leaving the bridge at Buckland Mills open so the Federals could pursue. The Federals fell into the trap, headed by Brigadier General George A. Custer’s Michigan brigade. Stuart rode southwest through the Bull Run Mountains, with Kilpatrick adding his other brigade under Brigadier General Henry Davies to the pursuit. As Stuart drew them to Chestnut Hill, five miles away, Kilpatrick received word that a second Confederate cavalry force was to the southeast, on his left and rear.
Custer’s troopers turned to face Fitz Lee, who attacked with both his cavalry and artillery. When Stuart heard the firing, he turned his troopers around and charged Davies’s men. The Federals fell back but turned several times to fire at their pursuers. Stuart then launched an all-out charge that panicked the Federals and sent them fleeing into Custer’s brigade.
Lee then charged Custer’s line, and the entire Federal force broke. The Confederates reversed the chase and pushed the Federals back seven miles to Broad Run. Colonel Thomas Owen, commanding a brigade in Fitz Lee’s division, reported that the Federals rushed across Broad Run “pell-mell, in great disorder and confusion, to save themselves the best way they could.” The Federals crossed Broad Run, and infantry support from I Corps came up to halt the Confederate pursuit.
The Federals sustained 1,251 casualties while Stuart lost 408. The Confederates took about 600 prisoners and seized eight wagons. They also captured Custer’s tent and Kilpatrick’s horse. The “Buckland Races,” as Stuart called it, lightened Confederate spirits and boosted morale after the sharp defeat at Bristoe Station five days before.
The strength of Stuart’s attack convinced many Federals, including Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, that he had infantry support. This led Meade to believe that General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was poised to attack, as he notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck at 9:30 p.m.:
“The enemy’s infantry follow him (Kilpatrick) up, and are now in front of our infantry pickets. All the intelligence I have been able to obtain indicates the concentration of Lee’s army within the last two days at Warrenton.”
In reality, the “Buckland Races” were just a delaying action on Stuart’s part to allow the rest of the Confederate army to fall back across the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers. This was the last significant engagement of what became known as the Bristoe campaign. On the 20th, Stuart led the last of the Confederates back to their original camps near Orange Court House.
In this 11-day campaign, Lee’s 48,402 Confederates had pushed Meade’s 80,789 Federals back 60 miles, from the Rapidan River to north of Bull Run. The Federals sustained a total of 2,292 casualties (136 killed, 733 wounded, and 1,423 missing or captured), while the Confederates lost 1,381 (205 killed and 1,176 wounded).
The campaign ended in stalemate, as Lee had to return to his original base due to lack of supplies. But the Confederates destroyed railroad tracks and bridges as they went to slow any Federal pursuit.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 335; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 795-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 362-63; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6464; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 424; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 87-88