After the Battle of Gettysburg in early July 1863, both opposing armies retreated back into Central Virginia to recover from the effects of the savage fighting in southern Pennsylvania. By September 1863, the armies had found themselves encamped along the opposing sides of the Rapidan River ready to resume military operations. Confederate General Robert E. Lee discovered an opportunity to initiate another flanking maneuver to strike and eliminate a portion of the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Major General George Meade encamped around Culpepper, Va. Unlike previous campaigns like Chancellorsville, General Meade recognized Lee’s intentions, and pulled his army back toward Washington, D.C. to protect his flanks. General Lee quickly pursued after the retreating Union army hoping to find an opportunity to mount a strike against the Federal forces.
On October 14, 1863, Confederate Third Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill, came upon elements of the Union Third Army Corps jammed up along the banks of the Broad Run, which was the rear of the Union Army of the Potomac attempting to reach Manassas Junction, Va. Confederate General Hill saw this discovery as an opportunity to strike a blow against the Federal forces, and defeat them with their backs to the creek. He quickly deployed two North Carolina brigades from Major General Henry Heth, and threw them against the mass of Union regiments. It was soon revealed that the Federal crossing was protected by three Union infantry divisions deployed along a railroad cut supported by artillery. The North Carolinians were sent into a trap. The resulting action would cost the two North Carolina brigades some 1380 causalities compared to only 540 Federal losses. The repulse of the North Carolina regiments became one of the darkest episodes of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and Confederate Lieutenant General A. P. Hill. For North Carolina citizens, it was another severe bloodletting for its soldiers serving in Virginia, especially coming so soon after the news of the Gettysburg Campaign.
Within the ranks of Pender’s Division, the battle was witnessed by Brigadier General Alfred Moore Scales, who commanded a brigade of five North Carolina regiments. In his letters dated October 20 and 23, 1863, General Scales described aftermath of the engagement at Bristoe Station and the increasing rumors that General Hill’s Corps’ may be sent to Tennessee to assist Confederate General Braxton Bragg and the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Scales’ letters also address his feelings to his new bride, Kate Bullock Henderson of Granville County, North Carolina. After the war, Scales would serve as Governor of North Carolina from 1885 to 1889.