The lull in fighting in the east after the Gettysburg Campaign stretched for nearly 3 months as the Confederate Army Of Northern Virginia and the Army Of The Potomac, both ravaged by the campaign, recuperated. Gen. Robert E. Lee concentrated his Confederates east of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Culpeper, Virginia, while Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Union army deployed across the Rappahannock River.
Both commanders detatched troops for temporary dity elsewhere, contributing to the relative inactivity. In Septenber, Lee sent Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, with 2 divisions, west to join Gen. Braxton Bragg at Chickamauga. When Meade learned of Longstreet's movement, he advanced on Culpeper while Lee withdrew beyond the Rapidian River. But early in October, Meade lost the XI and XII Corps, ordered west to Chattanooga.
Lee seized this opportunity by attempting to turn Meade's right flank and advance on Washington, D.C. On October 9, screened by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry, the Confederate corps of Lt. Gens. Ambrose P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell marched west and north toward Union lines at Culpeper. For the next 2 days, the armies skirmished extensively as Lee advanced and Meade withdrew. On the 11th, the Confederates entered Culpeper.
Lee, following a stategy similar to his Second Manassas/Bull Run Campaign in 1862, sent Hill on a wide cicuitous swing to the west while Ewell followed along the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Throughout the 12th and 13th, Union rear guards fought with the oncoming Confederates. Although outnumbering Lee, Meade continued his retreat, conducting it with great skill.
Early on the 14th, Hill's leading corps approached New Baltimore, 5 miles north of Warrenton, where the corps commander learned that the Federals were marching northward, almost parallel to him; Hill hurriedly angled his division eastward toward Bristoe Station. Approaching the railroad stop, Hill saw the retreating Union column and, without reconnoitering, attacked with his leading division. The resulting battle, which cost the impetuous Hill dearly, was the major action of the campaign.
Hill's repulse at Bristoe Station permitted Meade to solidify his lines around Centreville. For the next 2 days, the armies probed each others positions on the familiar terrain along Bull Run. Lee, unable to attack the entrenched Union troops or remain near Manassas, began his retreat on the 17th.
For the next 3 days, reversing roles, the retreating Confederates protected thier rear against the pursuing Federals. Skirmishing flared at numerous points along the route. On the 19th, at Buckland Mills, Stuart's cavalry routed Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick's Union cavalry division, an engagement marking the last significant action of the campaign. By the following day, most of Lee's army had recrossed the Rappahannock River.
The Btistoe Campaign had been one of manuever, with several opportunities lost on both sides. Confederate casualties amounted to 1,381, of which 1,300 occured at Bristoe Station; Meade placed his losses at 2,292. Lee had failed to intercept the Union retreat; and the campaign had no significant stategic result; but his brilliant manuever succeeded in pushing Meade back 40 miles and denying him the use of the railroad for over a month. The campaign illustrated the principle of the offensive that made the Confederate commander a great general.