November 26, 1863: Mine Run Campaign

Mine_Run_Campaign

The Mine Run Campaign which began on November 26, 1863 illustrates that Major General George Gordon Meade, although he would later prove effective as, in effect, Grant’s chief of staff after Grant came East and took de facto command of the Army of the Potomac, was completely outclassed in generalship by Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg notwithstanding.  Meade with 81,000 men, had a golden opportunity to inflict a severe defeat on Lee, who only had 48,000 men with Longstreet’s Corps stuck besieging Knoxville in Tennessee.

Meade’s plan was to conduct a lightning march through the Wilderness, the tangle of forest and shrub where Hooker had been defeated at Chancellorsville and where the first battle of the Overland Campaign would be fought in 1864.

Delays crossing the Rapidan on November 25,  allowed Lee time to slow the Union advance at Payne’s Farm on November 26.  Withdrawing behind Mine Run creek, Lee fortified his position.  Meade planned an assault on Lee’s position but cooler heads prevailed and Meade withdrew during the night on December 1-2.  This chagrined Lee who had been preparing his own attack for December 2.  This ended the Virginia campaign of 1863, a campaign that was barren of results for the Union after the big victory of Gettysburg.  Here is Lee’s official report on the Mine Run Campaign:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, April 27, 1864.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the report of the operations of this army on the occasion of the advance of the Federal forces, under Major-General Meade, in November, 1863.

After its return from Culpeper, as previously reported, the army occupied the line of the Rapidan without interruption until November 26. The enemy was encamped in the vicinity of Culpeper Court-House and between that place and the Rappahannock. On the day last mentioned, large bodies of troops were observed moving toward the lower fords of the Rapidan, and at a later hour intelligence was received that the enemy had crossed that river in force at Ely’s, Culpeper Mine, Germanna, and Jacobs’ Fords. The country in that vicinity was unfavorable for observation, being almost an unbroken forest, and it could not be discovered whether it was the design of the Federal commander to advance toward Richmond or more up the Rapidan upon our right flank.

The army was withdrawn from its lines during the night of the 26th and put in motion, with the intention of falling upon his flank and rear should he attempt the first-mentioned movement or giving battle should he essay the execution of the second. Lieutenant-General Ewell being absent on account of sickness, his corps was placed under the command of Major-General Early, who was directed to move by the old turnpike and Raccoon Ford roads to Locust Grove. Hill’s corps marched down the plank road. Hampton’s division of cavalry, accompanied by General Stuart, proceeded the advance of the main boyd. The defense of our line on the Rapidan was intrusted to Fitz. Lee’s cavalry division.

During the forenoon of the 27th, the cavalry in front reported the enemy advancing up the turnpike and plank road, but as it was supposed that it might be only a force thrown out to cover the movement of the main body toward Fredericksburg, the march of the troops was continued. About a mile and a half east of Mine Run, General Hill’s leading division, under General Heth, met the cavalry slowly retiring before the enemy. A brigade of infantry was deployed to support the cavalry, and after a brisk skirmish the progress of the enemy was arrested.

In the meantime Early’s division, under General Hays, advanced on the old turnpike to within less than a mile of Locust Grove, and discovered that the enemy’s infantry already occupied that place.

General Rodes, who had marched by Zoar Church into the Raccoon Ford road, came up soon afterward and took position on the left of Hays. Sharp skirmishing ensued; but, as the enemy had an advantageous position, and the density of the woods rendered it impossible to ascertain his strength, it was deemed best to defer the attack until the arrival of General Johnson’s division. General Johnson marched on the Raccoon Ford road by Bartlett’s Mill, and the head of his column had nearly reached General Rodes when, at a point less than 2 miles from the mill, his ambulance train moving in advance of the rear brigade, under General G. H. Stuart, was fired into from the left of the road.

General Steuart immediately formed his command and took measures to protect the train. Upon advancing his skirmishers it was discovered that the attacking party consisted of infantry, apparently in considerable force. General Johnson countermarched the other brigades of his division and formed them on the right of General Steuart. After skirmishing for some time, about 4 p. m. he ordered a general advance, and after a sharp engagement the enemy was driven back through the woods and pursued into an open field beyond. The density of the forest rendered it impossible for the troops to preserve their line unbroken in the advance and prevented the proper concert of action. General Johnson was therefore unable to follow up his success, the numbers of the enemy greatly exceeding his own, and reformed his troops on the edge of the open ground, which position they continued to hold until dark.

The force of the enemy encountered by General Johnson, consisting, as was afterward ascertained, of one army corps and part of another, crossed the Rapidan at Jacobs’ Ford, and marched thence by a road which enters the Raccoon Ford road near Payne’s Farm, where the action took place. The usual precaution had been taken by General Johnson to guard against a flank attack; but, owing to the character of the country, the presence of the enemy was not discovered until his skirmishers fired upon the ambulance train. The ground was unfavorable for the use of artillery, but sections of Carpenter’s and Dement’s batteries participated in the engagement and rendered efficient and valuable service.

Our total loss in killed, wounded, and missing was 545.

Lieutenant-Colonel Walton, commanding Twenty-third Virginia Regiment, was killed, and Colonel Raleigh T. Colston, commanding Second Virginia Regiment, severely wounded, while leading their respective commands with conspicuous gallantry. Colonel Colston has since died. General Johnson mentions, with well-merited praise, the conduct of those brave and lamented officers.

The promptness with which this unexpected attack was met and repulsed reflects great credit upon General Johnson and the officers and men of his division.

While these events were transpiring, information was received from Brigadier-General Rosser, whose brigade of cavalry was guarding the roads leading from Ely’s and Germanna Fords to Fredericksburg, that the whole Federal Army, after crossing the Rapidan, had moved up the river in the direction of Orange Court-House. General Rosser had attacked a train of wagons near Wilderness Tavern and captured a large number, some of which he brought off, and destroyed the remainder. He also secured 280 mules and 150 prisoners.

Preparations were made to meet the attack which this information led us to expect, but as the enemy did not advance, the army was withdrawn during the night to the west side of Mine Run, where it took up a more favorable position and proceeded to strengthen it with intrenchments.

The next day the enemy appeared on the opposite side of the creek immediately in our front, and skirmishing took place along the whole line, but no attack was made.

On the night of the 28th, General Stuart was ordered, with Hampton’s cavalry, to endeavor to gain the rear of the enemy and ascertain his purpose. He penetrated as far as Parker’s Shop, on the plank road, where he attacked and defeated a body of Federal cavalry, but the pursuit was arrested by the intelligence that the movements of the enemy indicated that a general engagement was imminent. He resumed his position on our right flank during the night, having captured more than 100 prisoners and a quantity of military stores.

On the morning of the 29th, a heavy fire of artillery was opened upon our lines, which was supposed to be preparatory to a general assault, a large force having been previously concentrated opposite our right. Our batteries responded occasionally, but the artillery fire ceased in about an hour, and nothing but the usual skirmishing took place during the remainder of the day.

Believing that the enemy would not abandon an enterprise undertaken with so great a display of force without giving battle, I was unwilling to lose the advantage of our position, and awaited the development of his plans until the night of December 1, but, finding that he hesitated to bring on an engagement, determined to move against him on the following morning. The troops were disposed for the purpose before dawn, but a soon as it became light enough to distinguish object, his pickets were found to have disappeared, and on advancing our skirmishers it was discovered that his whole army had retreated under cover of the night. Pursuit was immediately commenced, but on arriving near the river it was found that the Federal army had recrossed at Germanna, Culpeper Mine, and Ely’s Fords. The withdrawal had no doubt begun the previous afternoon, but was concealed by the dense forest through which the roads of retreat lay. The same cause prevented the efficient use of our cavalry and rendered it necessary for the infantry to pursue with caution. About 500 prisoners fell into our hands.

Our casualties were slight with exception of those sustained by Johnson’s division in the action at Payne’s Farm. They are stated in the accompanying returns. Among them were several valuable officers whose names are appropriately mentioned in the reports of their superiors.

The army returned to its former position on the Rapidan.

The conduct of both officers and men throughout these operations deserves the highest commendation. The promptness with which they marched to meet the enemy, their uncomplaining fortitude while lying in line of battle for five days exposed without shelter to a drenching storm, followed by intense cold, and their steadiness and cheerful resolution in anticipation of an attack, could not have been excelled.

As has been already stated, the country was very unfavorable for cavalry. Hampton’s division rendered good service in guarding our right flank. Fitz. Lee’s division repulsed several efforts of the Federal cavalry under General Kilpatrick to gain the south side of the Rapidan at Raccoon and Morton’s Fords, in rear of our left.

I cannot conclude without alluding to the wanton destruction of the property of citizens by the enemy. Houses were torn down or rendered uninhabitable, furniture and farming implements broken or destroyed, and many families, most of them in humble circumstances, stripped of all they possessed and left without shelter and without food. I have never witnessed on any previous occasion such entire disregard of the usages of civilized warfare and the dictates of humanity.

I forward herewith the reports of corps, division, and other commanders, and a map* of the scene of operations.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE,

General.

Published in: on November 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 26, 1863: Mine Run Campaign  
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