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American Civil War: Battle of Mine Run

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American Civil War: Battle of Mine Run

Major General George G. Meade, USA

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of Mine Run - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Mine Run was fought November 26 to December 2, 1863, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders

Union

Confederates

48,000 men

Battle of Mine Run - Background:

In the wake of the Battle of Gettysburg, Major General George G. Meade and the Army of the Potomac moved south in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's defeated Army of Northern Virginia. Moving slowly, Meade failed to trap and destroy the Confederates. As a result, both armies returned to Virginia and Lee established a defensive position behind the Rapidan River. In early September, Lee dispatched part of Lieutenant General James Longstreet's corps west to aid General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Arriving late in the month, Longstreet helped Bragg defeat Major General William Rosecrans at the Battle of Chickamauga. Aware of Longstreet's departure and reacting to criticism regarding his performance after Gettysburg, Meade began planning a fall campaign. Moving against Lee in mid-October, the resulting Bristoe Campaign proved inconclusive.

Battle of Mine Run - Meade's Plan:

Under pressure to achieve a result before winter, Meade began designing a new operation with the goal of turning the Confederate right. Having received intelligence that Lee's army was stretched over a thirty-mile front with Clark's Mountain separating its two corps, Meade planned to move quickly across Jacobs, Germanna, and Culpeper Mine Fords. Once over the Rapidan, Union troops would advance to the Orange Plank Road and then crush Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell's Second Corps before driving west to eliminate Lieutenant General A.P. Hill's Third Corps. As the plan was predicated on speed and surprise, Meade issued his men with eight days worth of rations to eliminate the need for a large baggage train. Writing about the plan, Meade's chief of staff, Major General Andrew A. Humphreys, stated that it depended on "prompt, vigorous action, and intelligent compliance" by the Union corps commanders.

Battle of Mine Run - Meade on the March:

Though Meade intended to launch his attack on November 24, heavy rains descended on the region forcing him to push the operation back by two days. In addition to turning the roads to mud, the delay allowed Confederate scouts to alert Lee that Union forces were preparing to move. Though Lee was unsure of Meade's intentions, his forces began preparing for action. Departing early on November 26, the Union leader hoped to cross the river and reach Robertson's Tavern on the Orange Turnpike by nightfall. Plagued by the thick Virginia mud, the Union advance moved slowly and was further hampered by a traffic jam caused by Major General William H. French's III Corps at Jacobs Ford. In command since July, French had replaced the flamboyant Major General Daniel Sickles as the corps commander.

Battle of Mine Run - Lee Responds:

Livid at French for costing the army valuable time, Meade worked to push his men forward. As the Union troops struggled in the mud, Lee directed Ewell's corps, temporarily led by Major General Jubal A. Early, to move out the Orange Turnpike and block the Union advance while Hill was ordered to move east. At sunset on November 26, Meade's campaign was running nearly a day behind and the element of surprise had been lost. Early the next morning, Union and Confederate forces continued closing and Lee hoped for a repeat of Chancellorsville. Around 11:00 AM, skirmishing began near Robertson's Tavern between the divisions Brigadier General Harry T. Hayes and Robert E. Rodes and Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's II Corps. The fighting continued to grow through the day as both sides awaited reinforcements (Map).

Three miles to the south, Union cavalry, under Brigadier General David Gregg, clashed with their Confederate counterparts, led by Major General J.E.B. Stuart, near New Hope Church. Holding the ground, Stuart's men were relieved around 2:30 PM when Major General Henry Heth's division occupied a hill to the west. This success proved short-lived as elements of Major General George Sykes' V Corps arrived and swiftly drove the Confederates from the heights. Though he had the initiative, Sykes received orders from Meade to hold his position until the entire army was ready to attack. To the north, III Corps continued move slowly. Advancing from Jacobs Ford to the intersection at the Widow Morris farm, French attempted to unite with Warren's men near Robertson's Tavern. Pausing at the intersection, he lost more time determining which road to follow.

Battle of Mine Run - Fight at Payne's Farm:

While French debated which road to take, Confederate Major General Edward "Allegheny" Johnson moved his division south on the Raccoon Ford Road with the aim of reinforcing Rodes' left to the south. Finally moving forward, III Corps neared Raccoon Ford Road around 4:00 PM. Advancing down the Jacobs Ford Road, Brigadier General Henry Prince's division swiftly attacked Johnson's rear-most brigade led by Brigadier General George H. Steuart. Wheeling his men to meet the threat, Steuart promptly charged the Federal troops. With the outbreak of fighting, Johnson turned the remainder of his division and, and unaware that he was facing an entire Union corps, attacked across the Payne Farm (Map).

Johnson's attack threatened to turn Prince's left flank but was halted by the arrival of Brigadier General Joseph B. Carr's division. Assuming a position along a slight rise, Union forces succeeded in turning back Johnson's assaults in what became an intense battle. Fighting continued until nightfall. Though Johnson had been bloodied, his division succeeded in protecting Rodes' flank at Robertson's Tavern. Assessing the situation that night, Lee ordered his men to retreat west and assume a position in a new line of fortifications along Mine Run. The next day, with rain again falling, Meade worked to regain the initiative. On November 29, he ordered Warren and Major General John Sedgwick's VI Corps to swing south with the goal of getting around the Confederate right. Though it took all day, Warren was in position to roll up the Confederate right at 5:00 PM but could not advance due to darkness. Recognizing the threat, Lee had Hill's corps entrench across Warren's front.

Battle of Mine Run - Aftermath:

Unaware of Lee's actions, Meade issued orders for a massive assault all along the line for 6:00 AM on November 30. Awaking to the sight of Hill's troops, Warren informed Meade that attacking would not be practical. Frustrated and short on supplies, Meade elected to withdraw north of the Rapidan on December 1. The Union retreat angered Lee as the Confederate commander had shifted troops for an assault on Meade's left flank on December 2. Union casualties for the Mine Run Campaign numbered 1,282 while Confederate losses totaled 680. With the weather turning, Meade moved the Army of the Potomac into winter quarters at Brandy Station. The Mine Run Campaign was Meade's last independent strategic initiative as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant came east in March 1864 and exercised control over the army's operations.

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