Virginia Tech Civil War historian James “Bud” Robertson, Ph.D., said that he wasn’t the kind of historian who dwelt on battles and tactics. He said he liked to focus instead on the human element of the war.
Robertson and his audience gathered at the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park on Oct 12, 2013, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bristoe Station. “To walk on the Bristoe Battlefield is to make a journey back in time. Bristoe Station may seem to be but an overlooked incident in the long struggle fought in and for our state. However, it marked the deaths of some 2,000 soldiers North and South.”
During the battle, which Robertson called one of the “deadliest traps of the Civil War,” Gen. Robert E. Lee was recovering from a heart attack he had suffered seven months earlier and was so ill that he directed the battle from a carriage rather than sitting astride his horse ,Traveler. Lee’s lieutenant, Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill, who died at 39, was in the early stages of kidney failure. While Robertson said the two generals’ illnesses couldn’t entirely account for the loss of 1,400 Confederate soldiers in 40 minutes of fighting, one had to consider their health when talking about the battle.
Robertson said remembering the Civil War was to remember what it meant to the country then and to life today. “History may be the one thing that holds us all together because it is our common past. We can’t forget the war. The war is too big, too bloody, too all consuming, too influential in the development of the Republic to be just another stepping stone in our history.”
Robertson went on to give his audience tidbits of historical information. He said that mailboxes came into prevalent use during the Civil War so that people wouldn’t have to publicly learn of a loved one’s death. He also said 1.5 million horses died in the Civil War from disease, starvation and battle injuries.
Robertson also said that women first wore pants during the Civil War, a fact that struck Letizia Sirtori, a George Washington University student from Italy. “That was the first time probably that women in America gained their independence because they were at home and had to work. To go to work with the big dresses was not very practical,” Sirtori said. “I like that he gave those references. It made everything concrete. That really hit me.”
George Washington University student Samantha Barney said she hadn’t realized how much the Civil War had influenced modern life. “I think it’s interesting how much history has affected us in today’s world.”
Bristoe Station Battlefield is located at the corner of Iron Brigade Unit Avenue and Tenth Alabama Way. Park grounds and trails are open every day from sunrise to sunset free of charge. The parking lot is located off Iron Brigade Unit Ave. in Bristow.
Guided tours are offered at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on the second and fourth weekend of the month from May through October. Special group tours can be arranged by calling 703-366-3049. No restroom concessions or camping facilities are available on site.