November 26, 1863: 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: (more…)

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July 14, 1863: Letter to Meade

On July 4, 1863 General Meade sent out this order to the victorious Army of the Potomac:

The Commanding General, in behalf of the country, thanks the Army of the Potomac for the glorious result of the recent operations.

An enemy superior in numbers and flushed with the pride of a successful invasion, attempted to overcome and destroy tin’s Army. Utterly baffled and defeated, he has now withdrawn from the contest. The privations and fatigue the Army has endured, and the heroic courage and gallantry it has displayed will be matters of history to be remembered.

Our task is not yet accomplished, and the Commanding General looks to the Army for greater efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader.

It is right and proper that we should, on all suitable occasions, return our grateful thanks to the Almighty Disposer of events, that in the goodness of His Providence He has thought fit to give victory to the cause of the just.

The order set Lincoln’s teeth on edge when he read it.  Making, among other comments:

” Drive the invaders from our soil! Great God! Is that all?” 

“Will our Generals never get that idea out of their heads? The whole country is our soil.”

Meade’s lackluster and desultory pursuit of Lee tossed away a golden opportunity to achieve a truly decisive victory over Lee.  In partial defense of Meade, the Army of the Potomac wasn’t in that much better shape than the Army of Northern Virginia after the three terrible days of Gettysburg, but the strategic position of the Confederates north of the Potomac was much worse, with Meade having access to substantial reinforcements, supplies and ordinance, all of which Lee lacked.  That Lee was able to get his army, laden with a wagon train of wounded that stretch seventeen miles across the Potomac on July 13, 1863 with Meade and the Army of the Potomac standing by on the defensive  nearby, says much that is bad about Meade’s generalship.  Lincoln summed up the situation well:  , “We had them within our grasp. We had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the Army move.”

Meade, hearing of Lincoln’s frustration during the slow motion pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia, had offered to General in Chief Halleck to resign.  I believe that Lincoln should have immediately accepted and brought Grant to the East to replace Meade.  Instead Lincoln wrote the letter below.  He never sent it, but it spelled out his frustrations with Meade.  I suspect that Lincoln would have replaced Meade, but for his fear of the impact on Northern morale of such a replacement of yet another commander of the Army of the Potomac, especially in the wake of what was being hailed in the North as a great Union victory.  Here is the text of the letter: (more…)

Published in: on July 14, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 14, 1863: Letter to Meade  
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November 7, 1863: Second Battle of Rappahannock Station



In the fall of 1863 the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia engaged in fruitless maneuvers of no ultimate strategic significance.  Lee, with Longstreet in the West, was too weak to want to fight a general engagement and Meade lacked the capacity to force Lee to fight a major battle if he did not wish to.  Several small battles were fought during this time, however, including the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station which resulted in a convincing victory for the Army of the Potomac and an embarrassing defeat for the Confederates.

By the end of October Lee had withdrawn south of the Rappahannock River, hoping that his Army could hold the river line during the coming winter.  He kept a fortified position north of the river at Rappahannock Station, wanting to use this as a handy point at which he could cross the river, threatening the flank of any movement by Meade south of the Rappahannock, or along the Rappahannock.  This made sense, but it also exposed the Confederate defenders of the bridgehead to a sudden Union attack.

Such an attack occurred on November 7.  Jubal Early’s division held the bridgehead defenses that day.  Meade ordered Major General William French and his III Corps to cross the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford five miles downstream, while Major General John Sedgwick would take the Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station with his VI Corps and cross the river.  The plan went like clockwork.  French crossed at noon while Sedgwick, after an artillery bombardment of the Confederate bridgehead attacked at dusk.  The Confederate defenses collapsed.  Union losses were 419 while Confederate casualties were 1607, most of them prisoners of war.  Although nothing came of the battle as Lee immediately marched south to avoid allowing Meade to force him into a general engagement, the battle was a shot in the arm for Union morale, and a bad day for the Army of Northern Virginia.  Here is General Lee’s report of the engagement: (more…)

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Lincoln Accepts Hooker’s Resignation

It is truly remarkable when one thinks about it.  In the face of a huge enemy offensive, the President of the United States accepts the resignation of the general tasked to oppose an invasion.  Yet that is precisely what President Lincoln did on June 28th, accepting General Hooker’s offer to resign that Hooker had made in a fit of pique resulting from a dispute with General in Chief Halleck as to whether Harper’s Ferry should be defended.  Hooker had not done terribly in his marshalling of his forces as the Army of Northern Virginia pursued the Army of Northern Virginia its march into Maryland and Pennsylvania, but it was clear that he could not get along with Halleck and that he no longer enjoyed the confidence of Lincoln.  The fact that he had gone on a few drunken binges after duty did not help matters.  After he was relieved Hooker pressed journalist Noah Brooks to tell him what Lincoln thought of him.   Brooks responded that he had heard that Lincoln viewed Hooker like a beloved son, but who due to some physical defermity would never grow into a successful man.  Hooker was reduced to tears when he heard this. (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln Accepts Hooker’s Resignation  
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