150 years ago today, the Federals in Virginia were retreating north, avoiding battle with Lee's Confederates who had moved around their right flank. Both armies were racing towards Centreville. As A. P. Hill's Third Confederate corps moved into Bristoe Station they saw the Union troops retreating in some haste before them. They were men of the III and V Union corps. Hill saw an opportunity, and didn't hesitate to take it. He ordered Harry Heth to throw his division in line against the enemy, so two North Carolina brigades advanced toward the enemy.
As the rebels pushed forward to try to catch Union troops in the act of crossing a stream, they were oblivious to the grave danger into which they were advancing. Men of Warren's II corps had taken refuge in a railroad embankment, where they were hidden from the Confederates' view. As these North Carolinians came within about 100 yards of their position, the bluecoats opened fire. The Confederates began to fall quickly. They tried to charge, but were unable to push through the Union musketry. Some of the men were not even able to retreat, about 600 of the rebels were pinned down and captured by the Union forces.
The day was a fiasco for the Confederates. Almost 1,400 of them had fallen, while the Federals lost only 500. Several Confederate cannon were captured, and three generals wounded. Hill had rashly advanced without scouting ahead to look for hidden Union positions, and he had payed in southern blood. Robert E. Lee gave Hill a characteristically mild mannered rebuke he would not have quickly forgotten. Riding the battlefield, it is said he told his subordinate, “Well, well, General, bury these poor men, and let us say no more about it.”