Advanced Search

Local historians co-author new book about the Bristoe Station Campaign

Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park is where locals and visitors go to learn about its history and enjoy over 2.7 miles of walking and equestrian trails, fringed by woodlands and dotted with ponds. Traces of people who occupied this place include rustic roadbeds, structures and forgotten cemeteries. Now, it’s the subject of a new book authored by two local historians.

Bill Backus and Rob Orrison, two county employees with the Historic Preservation Division, are co-authors of a new book, “A Want of Vigilance: The Bristoe Station Campaign, October 9-19, 1863.” It is loaded with details about events leading up to the Oct. 14, 1863 Battle of Bristoe Station and afterwards.

The battle, which is considered a Union victory, took place at Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park (BSBHP) in Bristow, a 133-acre, county-owned park property that opened in 2007.

Backus is the historic site manager at BSBHP and Brentsville Courthouse Historic Center; he has been with the county’s Historic Preservation Division since 2010.

Orrison once managed both sites and other county properties; however, in 2013, he was promoted to historic site operations supervisor for Prince William County’s Historic Preservation Division, overseeing operations, programs, marketing and interpretation of all historic sites in the county. Orrison has been employed with the Historic Preservation Division since 2006; the division was created in 2005.

Recognizing the gap in the amount of resources written about the Bristoe Station Campaign, the publishing company, Savas Beatie, LLC, contacted Orrison in 2012 about writing the book as part of its Emerging Civil War Series.

Orrison wrote about events leading up to the battle, and Backus wrote about the battle itself and the remainder of the campaign that ended at Buckland.

“It was fun to ‘do history’ in the evening and research,” Orrison said and clarified he and Backus wrote the book on their own time.

The Manassas Museum hosted a book signing on November 22 where Backus spoke.

The book includes a nine-stop driving tour with GPS coordinates, retracing the steps of the 10-day campaign from the armies’ camps around Orange and Culpeper, through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the railroad to Centreville and back, in a game of chase between the Union and Confederate armies.

The tour follows back roads where the armies marched with US 29 as one of the main roads. It goes from Orange to Culpeper to Buckland, and several stops in between, basically, from the south to the north.

During the campaign, the Union army was led by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade; the Confederates, by General Robert E. Lee who had failed to bring a decisive victory against Meade.

Lee’s army, which was severely bloodied at Gettysburg just three months prior to Bristoe Station, lost its former offensive capability. However, Lee’s aggressive fortitude could not be subdued; he looked for the chance to strike out at Meade.

In mid-October 1863, both Meade and Lee shifted their armies into motion and surprised each other.

Quickly, Meade found himself racing northward for safety along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad with Lee charging up the rail line behind him. “It’s a race,” Orrison said, referring to the campaign.

“When the Confederates catch the tail of the Union army that’s marching north to Centreville, that’s what becomes the October 14th battle. Lee’s army is within 25 miles of D.C., and they were still trying to win the war; this battle at Bristoe Station shows that.”
Opportunities for a successful ending to the war for the Confederates were fading, and Lee would never again hold the initiative.

Although the Battle of Bristoe Station is seen as a Union victory, the Confederates held the field since the Union army left and pulled back to Centreville.
The book’s title was Orrison’s idea. This “want of vigilance” was spoken of by Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, as he reflected on Conf. Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s conduct at Bristoe Station. The book states that after the battle, Lee told an embarrassed Hill, “Well, well, General, bury these poor men and let us say no more about it.”

During the campaign’s 10-day period, the Union lost 136 men killed, 733 wounded and 1,423 captured or missing, totaling 2,292 casualties. The Confederates had 1,539 men killed or wounded and 2,854 captured or missing, totaling 4,393.

Basically, three Civil War events took place where the park is located: a large encampment called Camp Jones just days after First Manassas (July 21, 1861); the Battle of Kettle Run (Aug. 27, 1862), which was part of Second Manassas Campaign and ended as a Confederate victory; and the Battle of Bristoe Station (Oct. 14, 1863), a win for the north.

It’s important to remember that the Battle of Bristoe Station occurred over a 600-acre area. “We only have 130 acres of that here at the park, about 20 percent,” Orrison said. “The other 80 percent is east toward the railroad tracks on both sides of Bristow Road [VA 619].”

Backus added, “The 600-acre area also includes the Harris Teeter shopping center. When you’re there, you’re actually standing on the battlefield. It also goes down to where the current Bristow Post Office is on Valley View Drive.”

Backus spoke about an increase in people going to the park. “We’re getting a broader audience. We’re also getting people whose ancestors fought or camped here. If some think that the war boils down to only a few key places-Manassas, Gettysburg and Appomattox-Bristoe Station shows how long and bloody the war really was.”

“A Want of Vigilance: The Bristoe Station Campaign, October 9-19, 1863” can be purchased at the Manassas Museum or at Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park located at 10708 Bristow Road in Bristow; public parking is at Iron Brigade Unit Avenue and 10 Alabama Way.

More information is available at or 703-366-3049.




Link to This Article

Copy and paste the code below on your site to link to the article.

<a href="">Local historians co-author new book about the Bristoe Station Campaign</a>

Follow Us on Twitter!/bullrunnow
Welcome Guest! | Login