Battle of Mine Run Campaign

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Battle of Mine Run Campaign

Mine Run Campaign (November 26-December 2, 1863)

Battle of Mine Run Campaign, Virginia, Map
Civil War Battlefield of Mine Run.jpg
Civil War Mine Run Campaign Map

After the battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Major General George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac returned to Virginia and fought a series of smaller engagements along the lines of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers. The Mine Run Campaign was the last of these battles before both sides settled into winter camp.

In mid-November, 1863, Meade pondered the best way for his 80,000-man army to attack Lee's 50,000 Southerners, who were well entrenched south of the Rapidan River. When Meade learned that Jacobs, Germanna, and Culpeper Mine Fords on Lee's right were practically unguarded, he formulated a plan to quickly cross the Rapidan at those points and advance to the Orange Plank Road, which led to Lee's rear. Success of the plan, wrote Chief of Staff, Major General Andrew A. Humphreys, depended on "prompt, vigorous action, and intelligent compliance" on the part of Meade's officers. This did not happen.

Meade planned to launch his campaign on November 24th, but heavy rains caused a 48-hour delay. Even worse, an army scout reported the intended movement to Lee, putting the Confederate commander on the alert. Although Lee did not know Meade's exact intent, he knew the Federals were about to move.

The Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan on November 26th. Meade hoped to reach Robertson's Tavern on the Orange Turnpike that day, but muddy roads slowed the advance. At sunset the Union army halted far short of its destination. While Meade's men struggled through the Virginia mud, Lee shifted his army east in an effort to block Meade's flanking maneuver. Bad weather had thwarted Meade's plan for surprise.

Battle of Mine Run Campaign Map
Battle of Mine Run Campaign Map.gif
Civil War Mine Run Campaign Battlefield Map

Daybreak on the 27th found both sides moving toward each other. Skirmishing began about 11 a.m. near Robertson's Tavern between the Confederate divisions of Major Generals Jubal A. Early and Robert E. Rodes, and Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's Union Second Corps. The fighting continued throughout the day, as both sides awaited the arrival of reinforcements. Meanwhile, three miles to the south, Brigadier General David M. Gregg's Federal cavalry clashed with Major General J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate horsemen near New Hope Church on the Plank Road. Both sides fought a holding action until about 2:30 p.m. when Major General Henry Heth's Confederate division occupied the key high ground west of the church. A short time later the men of Major General George Sykes' Union Fifth Corps arrived and pushed Heth's division off the hill, occupying it themselves. Meade ordered Sykes to hold his position until the entire army was ready to attack.

Father to the north, Major General William French's Union Third Corps advanced slowly from Jacob's Ford to the crossroads at the Widow Morris farm in an effort to unite with Warren's corps at Robertson's Tavern. The right fork led directly to the tavern after merging with Raccoon Ford Road, which was partially blocked by Confederate cavalry. It also led to the exposed left flank of Rodes division. The left fork also led to the tavern, but by a much longer route. French lost valuable time pondering which rod to follow.

Civil War Battle of Mine Run
Civil War Battle of Mine Run.jpg
Mine Run Campaign Battlefield

While French deliberated about which road to take, Confederate Major General Edward Johnson led his division down the Raccoon Ford Road to connect with Rodes' left. About 4 p.m. he collided with French's men on the Payne farm. Unaware that he faced an entire Union corps, closely supported by a second (32,000 men total), the aggressive Johnson attacked with his 5,300 veterans. The heaviest fighting of the campaign occurred as troops charged and countercharged one another across the Payne farm fields and through the adjacent woods. Significantly, Johnson's Southerners halted the Federals and thereby protected Rodes' left flank at Robertson's Tavern. After dark the Confederates pulled back to a new position on the high ground west of Mine Run and constructed strong earthworks. Meade now realized that his plan to steal a march and place his army on Lee's flank had failed. During the night he concentrated his army on a line perpendicular to the Turnpike, west of Robertson's Tavern. Heavy rains and muddy roads hampered the next day's advance. While Lee's men strengthened their defenses, Meade plotted his next move.

Mine Run Campaign Map
Civil War Battle of Mine Run Campaign Map.jpg
Civil War Battle of Mine Run Campaign Map

On the morning of November 29th Meade sent Warren's corps on a wide flanking maneuver to the south. It took Warren all day to get his men into position, but by 5 p.m. they stood poised to roll up the lightly defended Confederate right flank. Unfortunately for the Federals, darkness postponed the assault until morning. During the night, General Lee learned of Warren's movement and shifted Lieutenant General A.P. Hill's corps to the south, where it hastily constructed trenches opposite Warren's line. Overnight the temperature dropped below zero, and without tents, shelters or even fires, the soldiers shivered through what, for many, was perhaps the worst night of the war.

Meade planned an all-out assault at 6 a.m. on the 30th, but when Warren informed him that Hill had entrenched across his front and that the movement could not succeed, Meade suspended the attack. Again the Union commander pondered his options. Frustrated by Lee's countermove, low on provisions, and faced with continuing bad weather, he withdrew his army back across the Rapidan on December 1st.

Sources: Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park; Civil War Preservation Trust Map (located online at Civilwar.org.)

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