Historic America

Kettle Run Battlefield in Prince William County, Virginia

This often-overlooked prelude to the Second Battle of Bull Run saw combat between New York’s ‘Excelsior Brigade’ and the ‘Louisiana Tigers’.

The Battle of Kettle Run (aka First Bristoe Station) was fought on August 27, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell in Prince William County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 450 to 550 total casualties and was a tactical Union victory, though Confederate forces were able to destroy two trains and miles of railroad before withdrawing.

Bristoe Station was a stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, an important rail line running north-south from Alexandria, Virginia to Gordonsville. It formed the northern half of the only rail link between the Union and Confederate capitals at Washington, D.C. and Richmond. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate armies sought to control this railroad for themselves or deny its use to the enemy.

In August 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s wing on a flanking march around Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia to strike at Pope’s supply base at Manassas Junction. On August 26, Jackson’s men raided the Orange & Alexandria Railroad at Bristoe Station and moved north.

The next morning, Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s division ran into Jackson’s rearguard, consisting of Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s division, along Kettle Run, which was southwest of Bristoe Station. The Confederates fell back as Union forces advanced, burning the bridge over the creek and forcing Union troops to slog through the water. It was a bittersweet relief from the scorching heat.

As the battle moved closer to Bristoe Station, one Confederate regiment, the 60th Georgia, used the railroad bed for shelter as they pinned down nearly an entire Union brigade. Brig. Gen. Nelson Taylor ordered the 5th New Jersey Infantry Regiment to flank the Georgians, which they did to great effect, forcing them to fall back or face destruction.

Hooker’s division pressed their opponents hard, but Ewell fought stubbornly as his men slowly fell back across Broad Run, just west of the station. They burned the bridge and slipped away, leaving 176 dead or wounded behind. Hooker’s division suffered approximately 400 casualties. The costly victory led Maj. Gen. Pope to promise “We shall bag the whole crowd,” but it was Pope’s army that would be soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run a few days later.

Fought between Northern and Southern states from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War erupted over questions of slavery, the legality of secession, and the primacy of the Federal government. It ended with Northern victory and restoration of the Union. Nearly 850,000 people died in the conflict, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Most of the war’s battles were fought in the South, devastating its economy and leaving generational scars.

Bristoe Battlefield was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Battlefield Heritage Park is the result of a compromise between development and historical preservation. As part of Centex Homes’ application to rezone agricultural land and develop New Bristow Village near the historic site, it promised to dedicate 127 acres as a Heritage Park to the Civil War Preservation Trust and identify and preserve mass graves of Confederate and Union soldiers. The Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved their application in 2002.

Today, you can walk 2.7 miles of trails through woods, wetlands, and wind-swept hills where armies marched, camped, and fought over 150 years ago. There are no monuments here, only interpretive signs telling the story of the battle. Battlefield Heritage Park, off Bristow Road near 11639 Iron Brigade Unit Avenue in Bristow, Virginia, is open from dawn to dusk.


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