After the retreat from Gettysburg, the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment moved up the Shenandoah Valley with the rest of the ANV. They spent the later part of July and all of August and September recuperating and were not molested by Federal troops. In early October the men moved with the rest of the army in what became known as the Bristoe Campaign.
On the morning of October 12, 1863, at five o’clock, the men proceeded down a country road for four or five miles where they came to the Pike leading to Warrenton Springs, Virginia. As the Division came to the small town of Jeffersonton they made contact with a large contingent of the enemy’s cavalry.
Rodes’ Division being at the front of the column, Battle’s Brigade and the Division Sharpshooters were moved into line of battle about a mile and a half from the town. The 1st Corps of Sharpshooters were sent to the left of town with the 3rd, 6th, and 12th Alabama Infantry Regiments, while the 2nd Corp of Sharpshooters were deployed at intervals about six paces apart and sent to the right with the 5th and 26th Alabama Infantry Regiment. The fighting began at about two o’clock in the afternoon. As the men got to within a couple of hundred yards from the town, they were met by a shower of bullets from the enemy concealed in the houses. They were shooting from the windows and every other place of concealment. After a sharp skirmish, the men charged the Federals rushing into the town where they captured twelve prisoners and forced the Yankees to retreat. As soon as they dispersed, the men followed closely and they evacuated Jeffersonton, falling back to the river, and crossing a bridge near Warrenton Springs. Still at the front of the column, the 5th Alabama Infantry led the pursuit.
As the men climb a hill on the south side of the Rappahannock River, they found there was a Yankee artillery battery just above Warrenton Springs on the opposite side that began firing at them. The regiment was filed to the right of the road and the next regiment to the left. Everything was brought to a halt. In a few moments, Major Carter with sixteen guns, came up as fast as they could drive, and just behind him came Major Hardaway with sixteen more. All were soon in position and began firing.
After about a one hour fight there, the Federals pulled out. As soon as they left the banks of the Rappahannock, General Rodes had ordered both Battles’ Alabama Brigade and Doles’ Georgia Brigade to push rapidly across and it was promptly done amid a sharp fire of musketry and cannon. Battle’s Brigade was moved down the Warrenton Turnpike by the old burnt hotel. General Stuart’s Cavalry came up and charged the enemy and with the support of Battle’s Brigade routed the enemy and capturing two hundred and fifty prisoners. Skirmishing continued until after dark. The men camped on the battlefield about two miles from the river.
Early on the morning of October 14, 1863, the men arose and by 4:30 A.M. were on the march towards Manassas Junction. They hadn’t gone far before they came in contact with the enemy’s pickets. The men were under fire all morning and most of the afternoon. They spent the day marching and countermarching through fields and woods, and across hills and valleys. Skirmishing was kept up all day by the cavalry and the 1st Corps of Sharpshooters drove the Federals ten or twelve miles that day, but there wasn’t a general engagement. The last fighting of the day occurred at dusk when Major General Robert E. Rodes' Confederate Division attacked Union General Caldwell's Division near the bridge over Kettle Run. At Bristoe Station, with his small unit, Major Blackford continuously drove in the rear guard of the Yankees and took several groups of prisoners. They crossed Cedar Run and marched on towards Manassas. They camped near Bristoe Station, a stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
The next day, the men rested, as General A. P. Hill’s Corps was engaged with the enemy. On October 16, 1863, Battle’s Brigade was moved to the railroad near Bristoe Station and commenced tearing up the tracks, all in the pouring rain. Each company had a certain distance of track to pull up, burn the ties and bend the iron. Although wet to the skin, no man uttered a word of complaint, but all worked and talked in excellent humour. After finishing their share of the work they dried their dripping, wet clothes, erected the Yankee tents they had captured, and slept soundly and comfortably on the bare, cold, wet ground. Lee’s Army had torn the tracks up from Manassas to the Rappahannock River!
At four o’clock in the morning on October 18, 1863, the men resumed their march. They soon passed Bealeton, which the enemy had destroyed by fire. The men bivouacked at Rappahannock Station that night, which was cold and frosty. Bugle call was at three o’clock in the morning the next day, and in a half an hour they started for the river. They were soon overtaken by a very heavy fall of rain, hail and sleet, accompanied by a fierce driving wind, which blew off hats and almost changed one’s course when walking. For protection from the piecing cold wind, the men carried their guns by the strap and hung their blankets on the stock and barrel. In some places you could see two or three miles down the track and every soldier with his blanket hanging over his head. They crossed the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge and marched through mud, slush, and rain towards Kelly’s Ford where they made camp.
By November 1, 1863, the men were stationed near Brandy Station, Virginia, north of Mountain Creek. The men thought they were to go into winter quarters here and so they started to collect all the planks they could find amongst the abandoned houses in the area. There certainly were a large number of such houses in various degrees of destruction as the Federals had occupied that part of Virginia once or twice before. That day, part of the regiment was serving on picket duty at Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River, about five miles from camp. Shortly after three o’clock that afternoon, the remaining men in camp were subjected to a shelling by the Yankees. It had commenced so suddenly that it almost caused a panic. The men hastily picked up all of their cooking utensils, threw them in the wagons and pushed on to where the rest of the regiment was on picket.
The Yankees occupied the rifle pits on the opposite side of the river. As soon as the men were near enough to communicate with the other companies of the 5th Alabama, the order was given to “lie down.” The field was not in cultivation and the weeds were about waist high, so when they lay down they could not be seen. They immediately went to work to make some sort of protection, and as luck would have it, they were on sand, so they could easily dig out a place with their hands and plates. Every man dug a hole to suit himself, some deep enough to stand in, and others would dig them long enough to lie down in. At about ten o’clock that evening, Adjutant Charles Pegues came up and told Captain Williams that Union General Meade had crossed the river and the army was falling back. General Rodes had ordered Colonel Hall to bring in the 5th Alabama except for Company D. They were to stay where they were until the moon rises, and then collect the picket and come on to Pony Mountain, about eighteen miles from there, and to be sure to pick up all the stragglers. Captain Williams left that night as ordered. Colonel Hall had gone on with four companies, and Captain Williams had the remaining six. Apparently, only a few men got to Pony Mountain with Colonel Hall. He had marched so fast that many of the men had to fall out from exhaustion and go to sleep. Captain Williams let the men march and then while they rested, stragglers were collected, so that by the time he got to Pony Mountain the next day, he had most of the regiment with him!
The regiment remained at Pony Mountain just a short time. The entire division was moved down to the Rapidan River just in rear of Racoon Ford. At about this time, Major Eugene Blackford was furloughed home due to severe swelling in his legs from varicose veins, the result of his earlier bout with typhoid fever. On the morning of November 7, 1863, the Yankees shelled the men at Racoon Ford quite heavily. The Division was hurried forward towards the ford expecting the Federals to attempt to cross the river. The 5th Alabama was in line of battle just to the right of the road, and General Early and his Staff were near the side of the road just in their rear. When the shelling stopped, four or five Chaplains passed through the 5th Alabama’s line and went down to the ford. While they were there, the Yankees opened fire on the Confederates again and the Chaplains rapidly scurried up the hill. General Early, who seemed to have an aversion for religion, called out in his usual shrill voice, “Where the hell are you men going?” They replied that they were Chaplains and they were moving to the rear. The General said, “Yes, you have been trying to get to Heaven for thirty years, here is a chance to get there in a minute, and you will not accept it.” General Early thought the army was no place for Chaplains.
The men remained in line of battle until midnight. They were then marched across Mountain Run at Stone’s Mill, passed through Stevensburg and continued on to within two miles of Culpeper Court House. There, they were formed into line of battle once again, O’Neal’s Brigade extending from the top of a high hill near Brandy Station and were joined by General Early’s Division. The men quickly went to work with their tin cup and bayonets, building a breastwork. Orders came to stop work and move to Racoon Ford, which they reached at nine o’clock that night and waded across the river in darkness. Rodes’ Division was then marched to Morton’s Ford where they finally made camp after two sleepless nights.
On November 12, 1863, the 5th Alabama was still stationed at Morton’s Ford, Virginia. Here they would camp for the next five weeks. Over the next several days, fortifications were built by the Confederates. Skirmishes would occur between the pickets almost daily. A severe skirmish occurred on November 15, 1863. Major Eugene Blackford’s Sharpshooters were ordered to go out on picket near Morton’s Ford. Just as they neared the river, they were surprised to see the Yankee Cavalry advancing in heavy column. The rain was falling down almost in torrents and it was very cold. The Union Cavalry came within five or six hundred yards of the river, brought up their Batteries, and commenced shelling the pickets. Soon Confederate Batteries were brought up and put in place and a sharp duel ensued which lasted about an hour and half. In the meantime, Yankee skirmishers advanced on the ford, and after a “warm” engagement, the Yankees fell back and moved off in the direction of Racoon Ford.