Mine Run Campaign

The Forgotten Campaign

November 26 –– December 3, 1863

General Meade at Germanna, November, 1863

“The Army of the Potomac, Brook's Brigade of Warren's Corps Crossing Germania Mills Ford” [sketched by A.R. Waud.]  Harper's Weekly, December 19, 1863.  (Germanna Ford was often called Germania).


Table of Contents


Introduction; The Drama of the Mine Run Campaign

The Mine Run Campaign captured my imagination from the time I first read about it in Charles E. Davis, Jr.’s 1894 history of the 13th Massachusetts Regiment, “Three Years in the Army.”

Davis’s eloquent narrative captures the intense drama of the mental strain on the soldiers as they waited hours for the boom of a signal gun to sound the start of what would certainly be a deadly charge.   The stress intensified when the attack was delayed.  The soldiers laid waiting for the signal, shivering from the cold temperatures, while time passed slowly.

Many soldiers in the ranks of the 13th were present to witness the slaughter of  Picket's Charge at Gettysburg and fully expected to be on the receiving end of a similar slaughter at Mine Run.  They pinned their names to their clothing for body identification in the event they should fall in battle.   After a day and a night of waiting, the proposed frontal attack was cancelled, leaving just the freezing cold temperatures to contend with.  To pass the time, someone suggested they play a game of baseball!  Such was the drama of the Mine Run Campaign.

Events began when expectations for a Thanksgiving celebration were dashed by orders to march.  The troops started off early Thanksgiving  morning and trudged along for a tiring 18 miles. The long trek ended with a river crossing at dusk  and a hard tug up a hill at dark.  Picket duty followed for most of the men, so there was little rest from the day’s exertions.  Happy Thanksgiving!  Dashed hopes and ruined plans weren’t unique to life in the army so it was suffered with the usual forbearance.  In fact the previous Thanksgiving of '62 fared about the same.

The proposed frontal assault came a few days later.  In the regimental history Charles Davis, Jr. wrote:

“Sunday, November 29.  Lay all day in line of battle. The forenoon was spent in making preparations for an attack, which would take place as soon as the Second Corps, under Warren, located some distance to our left, should open the ball.  It rained hard all the morning.  Late in the afternoon we were unofficially informed that during the approaching night an advance was to be made across the flooded meadow in our front, on the banks of Mine Run, after which we were to charge the heights beyond, now in possession of the enemy, and upon which was stationed a formidable array of artillery. To carry out this purpose the corps was formed in four lines of battle, the Thirteenth being among those in the front line.  We knew very well what this meant if undertaken.  To climb those heights in face of guns that could sweep every inch  of ground with grape and canister was not the kind of job we hankered after, particularly in the darkness. ...In a few moments orders would be received to advance.  With this unpleasant anticipation, the hours rolled slowly along until daylight, without an order to move.  If there ever was a long night, this was one.”

I wonder if anyone slept that night.  (The letters of James Ross answer that question).

Another chilling aspect of the movement was the bitter cold experienced the night of November 30th and the following day.  Davis wrote,   “When night came we built large fires to ward off the bitter cold, and slept.”

Newspaper correspondent “CLARENCE,” a soldier in the 13th MA, elaborated on that statement.

“The 30th ult. and 1st inst. were very cold, and on the morning of the latter day two pickets of the 5th Corps were brought in, frozen to death.  A picket post, was established on the bank of the river toward the enemy, and the men, to whose lot it fell to occupy this position, were obliged to wade through and remain for two hours in their wet clothes, before the relief reached them, when they were found dead.”

Mine Run

Mine Run where it crossed the old turnpike

Pictured is Mine Run Creek where it crosses modern route 20.  The ruins of an old bridge, which followed the path of the 1863 turnpike, can be seen at left, (look carefully for the circular openings).  Row's Mill was located at this site and the bridge was built over ruins of an older bridge that existed when the mill was in operation.   The modern road can be seen in the top third of the picture.  The modern road turns to the south here and deviates from the path of the old defunct turnpike at this point.  From here to the town of Orange,  the original old turnpike is just a road trace.   The 13th MA spent time on both sides of the turnpike during the campaign.  The view is lookng south.


I divided Davis’s narrative into separate passages throughout this page in order to add other voices to the story, ––but by doing so, it loses some of its impact.

Nonetheless, it is Davis’s narrative of Mine Run that captured my imagination, and sparked my fascination with this forgotten campaign.  I was living in California then, and had seen nary a Civil War battlefield at the time.  Today I live in Orange County, VA where these events took place.

The events Davis described are never far from my thoughts when I drive along modern route 20, the main highway east out of Orange.  The road crosses Mine Run Creek and leads to Locust Grove, the site of Robinson’s Tavern, (which is referred to as Robertson's Tavern in Union Reports).   Further down the road is the Wilderness Battlefield.  One wet winter day in 2017, my friend Brett and I noticed a house for rent on the very ridge east of Mine Run where the 1st Corps was posted during the campaign.  We headed up the muddy gravel driveway in Brett’s  forest green Ranger pickup to take a look around.  Luckily I had my camera and was able to capture the misty ground and the bare trees of the grey woods fading into the grey overcast sky.  I imagined a game of baseball played on another ridge somewhere nearby.  The boys did this to blow off steam after the intense pressure of waiting through the cold night & listening in the still morning air for the boom of a signal gun that would send them charging toward death.

 Last year this property fell to the development of a solar farm.  Solar farms continue to threaten un-preserved historic sites in Virginia.

Another time Brett took me to Jacob’s Ford on the Rapidan River where General French and General Prince doomed the campaign at its onset.   General Meade's plan called for a quick march and river crossing.  This chance was lost at Jacob’s Ford as General French's 3d Corps blundered into a comedy of errors that foiled the plan before it fairly got underway.

At the ford, the river was high from recent rains, and the army engineers didn’t bring enough pontoons to span the stream.  A trestle needed to be built.  “It is the worst place I have seen for a pontoon bridge,” said Charles Turnball, one of French’s engineers.  The banks of the ford were too steep.  “Artillery can only get up by doubling teams, and it is difficult then,” Turnball continued.  The 3d Corps artillery was directed to cross at Germanna.#1

At Germanna Ford, where General Meade crossed with the 2nd Corps, the engineers bridged the gap quickly and the army passed over.   Meade had a ferocious temper. He was watching the work, so it was done quickly.   Not so much at Jacob’s Ford.

Legendary Orange County historian, Frank Walker, Jr., emphasized a few points about the Mine Run Campaign in his book “Echoes of Orange.”#2   Third Corps commander General William French, age 48, and his 2nd Division Commander General Henry Prince, age 52, weren’t getting along at this time.  The trouble started when General French, was raised to corps command after the battle of Gettysburg.  General Prince believed he was more deserving of promotion between the two.  Both were graduates of the Military Academy and career military men.  Both had military experience before the war.  Prince was twice wounded in action and received two field promotions in previous American wars.  He received another field promotion for his actions at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in August, 1862.  By contrast General French had not been  wounded, and he drank heavily.  French earned the soubriquet, “Ol’ Gin Barrel” and “Ol’ Blinky.”   The poor relationship between the two important commanders compounded the problems encountered at Jacob’s Ford.  I’ll quote liberally from Frank Walker, Jr.’s book:

“French had defeated a portion Lee’s army at Kelly’s Ford on 7 November, but a day or so later when Prince failed to attack an apparently vulnerable Lee, the two men got into a public squabble about who failed to do what duty and who made the decision not to attack, etc.  Now, the most critical phase of the new campaign was gong to involve a crossing at an unfamiliar ford and the use of a vaguely understood road network, done in close proximity to the enemy and under intense time pressure.  It was critical that French and Prince cooperate closely and quickly to resolve problems, and the time they squandered in bickering and indecisive inaction cost Meade dearly."

“Lastly, we come to the Old Snapping Turtle side of Meade.  There’s  no question that his temper could be his worst enemy.  In this case, however, it might have been a friend.  How so?  Consider what happened at the Germanna Ford crossing, where Meade and the II Corps crossed.  As at Jacobs’ Ford just upstream, the Germanna pontoon bridge was short, so a trestle bridge to span the additional distance had to be assembled.  And what did Meade have to do?  Nothing.  Everybody knew he was watching, no one wanted him exploding, and the job was done quickly and expertly.

“In addition to the bridging problem, the III and VI Corps had the unfamiliar ford to deal with.  It had never been used by large bodies of troops, and was never used again. It turned out to be a bad ford, primarily because the roads to and from it were inadequate and because it was discovered that the bluff on the Orange County side of the river was too steep for wheeled vehicles to ascend.  Compounding the situation was the fact that the maps that had been issued to unit commanders were misleading.  In sum, the initial phases of the campaign for the Union army’s right wing reflected a badly bungled engineering exercise.  Why?  Ask Meade.  He was a military engineer and reported to be a good one.”

The northern approach to Jacobs Ford

The North Bank of  Jacob's Ford is also steep.

“In any event if the Old Snapping Turtle had just given 24 hours’ notice that he would be marching with the III and VI Corps, you could have bet that there would have been few, if any, problems at Jacobs’ Ford, and many precious hours would have been saved.  By deciding to absent himself from the most important venue of the entire campaign, Meade had to accept personal responsibility for many of the problems that occurred there.”#3

I was lucky to get to Jacob’s Ford with my friend Brett in 2016.  Its on private property and our access to the site ended when the property changed hands a couple years later.  The river banks are indeed steep.  Once across the ford the 3rd Corps blundered into a deadly confrontation at Payne's Farm with Major General Edward Johnson’s Division of General Richard Ewell’s command.  This was the deadliest confrontation between the two armies during the campaign and today, that battlefield is preserved with walking trails.  Unfortunately many visitors think this is all there is to know about the campaign.  I gained more knowledge of the contested ground in January of ‘21 when I met John Kanaster.

John operates Fredericksburg Tours and offered to show us the Mine Run Campaign after I showed him Cedar Mountain Battlefield.  In April last year he gave Brett and I a comprehensive overview of Mine Run, with several location stops along an 8 mile loop that explored the Union and Confederate lines.  Its a difficult task, because all the sites are on private property, but traces of Rebel earthworks and other landmarks remain, like the unfinished railroad cut near General Warren’s final position.  John had permissions to go there.  We in turn, were able to show John some “hard to get to”  historic sites the following month, including getting him up atop Clark's Mountain.

Clarks Mountain

Brett, Walker and the author, atop Clark's Mountain, May, 2021.  Photo by John Kanaster.

Clarks' Mountain was a Confederate lookout station on the South side of the Rapidan River.  It stands at 1,076 feet elevation and overlooks the entire Culpeper Valley below.  Morning fog obscured the view from the summit of Clarks' Mountain on the morning of November 26 but when it cleared off Confedearate lookouts discovered the enemy on the move.  General Robert E. Lee reported to Richmond:

“General Meade’s whole army was discovered to-day in motion toward the lower fords of the Rapidan.  This army will move toward Spotsylvania Court-House to oppose it.”

General Meade had intended to get between the two widely separated wings of General Lee's Army before it could unite.  But the delays at Jacob's Ford gave General Lee the time needed to form a solid front.  These steps were repeated in the Spring of 1864, when General Ulysses S. Grant, now in command, crossed the Rapidan with the Army of the Potomac and marched into the Wilderness. The November campaign proved to be a dress rehearsal for what occurred the following May.

FOOTNOTES:
#1. Chris Mackowski, The Great Battle Nevery Fought, Savas-Beatie, El Dorado Hills, CA, 2018;  p. 26-  27.
#2.  Frank Walker, Echoes of Orange, Orange County Historical Society, Orange, VA 22960, 2013.
#3.   Walker, Echoes of Orange, p. 87-89.


WHAT'S ON THIS PAGE

This page focuses on the 1st Corps’ experiences in the campaign, specifically those related to the 13th MA and others in their brigade, commanded by their own Colonel Samuel Haven Leonard.   General John C. Robinson commanded the  division.  The failures of the 3rd Corps at Jacob’s Ford and Payne’s Farm are touched upon and can be understood in the overall scheme of things, but no great detail is given here.  Nor is there much detail for the other Corps.  But hopefully what is presented will communicate the stresses of the campaign suffered by the old soldiers of the 13th MA, (along with the dwindling band of criminal recruits who joined the regiment in July).*  Texts from the histories of the 39th MA Vols, and the 16th ME Vols, two regiments in the same brigade, are quoted when they provide details left out of Davis' 13th MA account.  In addition to Calvin Conant & Sam Webster's diary entries, Austin Stearns memoirs, and Warren H. Freeman's letters, there is a detailed description of the campaign from 13th MA Correspondent CLARENCE, as found in the Boston Evening Transcript, January 4, 1864.  Charles Wainwright, (Chief of 1st Corps Artillery) adds some good detail to the story, as do the minutely descriptive letters of James Ross, a drafted member of the 83rd NY Vols, or as they preferred to be called, “The 9th New York Militia.”  The “9th NY” was in Baxter's Brigade, but Ross's letters are so good they illustrate the universal conditions experienced by the soldiers at Mine Run.

My essay, “Some Notes on the Route of March,” provides a little bit of historical background on East Orange County, and the region called the Wilderness.  I wanted to explore this topic in more depth, but decided not to because of time constraints.  Its a little bit choppy, but interesting just the same.

Some things not defined on this page are the specific movements of Major Moffett's 94th NY skirmishers, and the other 1st Corps regiments in the campaign.  I wanted to add a map of General Warren's flank march November 29th.  I set aside these tasks in order to finish the narrative.  I consider this page an introduction.  Its a narrative overview of the forgotten  campaign that deserves further study.

Any readers who plan to visit Virginia and want to know more, can schedule a tour through John Kanaster's Fredericksburg Tours.


*I count 14 from the roster who deserted between Nov 25th - Dec. 3rd.  Col Leonard reported 13 missing during the campaign which is one less because the campaign began on Nov. 26th.


PICTURE CREDITS:  All  images are from the Library of Congress Digital Collections with the following exceptions:  The Harpers Weekly engravings of General Warren's 2nd Corps Marching to Robinson's Tavern,  Thanksgiving, & the panoramic view of the battlefield, are from sonofthesouth.net;  Portrait Samuel H. Leonard  from Army Heritage Education Center, Digital Image database, Mass. MOLLUS Collection;   The Portrait of Lt. Col. N. Walter Batchelder, 13th MA Vols is from the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston;  Portrait of John Ross is from the pdf manuscript of his letters titled, "Willing to Run the Risks," compiled and transcribed by Nancy Saunders Brantley and Lucille Barnett Campbell, 2012.  I found the document at  http://web.plattsburgh.edu/files/3/files/WillingtoRuntheRisks.pdf ;  The portrait of Lt. William H. Broughton, 16th Maine Vols, is found on-line at Maine Memory Network;  Union Picket by Louis K. Harlow is from Bits of Camp Life, sent to me by Mr. Tim Sewell;  The Charles Reed sketches are found in the Library of Congress under Charles Wellington Reed papers;  Vaucluse Gold Mine is from Virginia Museum of History & Culture;  The Melville Mine was found at  https://energy.virginia.gov/commercedocs/PUB_19.pdf (this was linked to Piedmont Environmental Council's Website, "Wilderness Crossing" post: (https://www.pecva.org/region/orange/wilderness-crossing-new-residential-development-or-potential-superfund-site/) ;   The following illustrations were scanned from "Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, The Century Company, New York: Portrait of Colonel John Mosby, Camp Scene at Night (Rollin's narrative), Women (Ross letter, Nov. 27), Rain in Camp at Night, Artillery in Mud, & Soldiers Marching in Winter (Retreat);   The following are from "Frank Leslies' Civil War,' accessed at the digital Archive:  Attack on a Wagon Train, Campfire scene; Fresh Beef, Line of Artilery, &  Foraging Hay;  Portrait of General Meade on his horse, by Edwin Forbes, from his work "Thirty Years After, An Artist's Memoir of the Civil War," LSU Press, 1993;   Two illustrations from "Recollections of a Private. A Story of the Army of the Potomac" (circa 1890) by Warren Lee Goss were accessed on-line at the digital archive, they include the picture of a shell falling, & soldiers waiting for orders to attack.;   The photograph of a soldier at his campfire was taken by Buddy Secor, used with permission,  his website:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/ninja_pix/albums/;  Maps, panoramic views and other photographs of contemporary Culeper, Madison & Orange Counties, Virginia were taken by the author/webmaster; [Bradley M. Forbush].    ALL IMAGES have been EDITED in PHOTOSHOP

Return to Top of Page

General Meade's Report of the Maneuver

For readers unfamiliar with the Mine Run Campaign I've placed General Meade's full report at the head of the page to provide context to the catalogue of events that follow.  When he wrote this report to the authorities in Washington, D. C., General Meade fully realized he would probably be relieved of command due to the campaign's failure.  His account is full of explanations, military reasoning, and appeals for understanding, in consideration of events beyond his control.  He is justifying his actions.  General Meade's failure came under the shadow of General Grant's success  at Chattanooga.  In short, General Meade could have ordered a deadly attack at Mine Run, which would have racked up huge numbers of casualties, to satisfy the Lincoln administration's desire for action.   Instead, when he weighed the lives of his men in the balance, General Meade decided to admit defeat and abort the campaign.

Mine Run Campaign sketch of Warren's Corps at Robinsons Tavern

From Harper's Weekly, January 4, 1864, this engraving shows 33 year old General Gouvenour K.  Warren's 2nd Corps at Robinson's Tavern, Locust Grove, Virginia, engaging with part of Confederate General Richard Ewell's Corps,  (under temporary command of Jubal Early), on November 27, 1863.  They are marching on the Orange Turnpike, which today is modern Route 20.  General William French's 3rd Corps was bogged down in a pointless skirmish a couple of miles away to the right.  French's series of blunders prevented two full army corps,  the 3rd and the 6th Corps,  from coming to Warren's aid.

General Meade's Report

For those that want to follow along, the unembellished campaign map referred to in this report is posted below.

Headquarters Army of the Potomac,
December 7, 1863.

General :  My last report of the operations of this army included the 20th ultimo.  I have now to submit, in continuance of that communication, the following report of subsequent operations to the present date:

The railroad and the depot at Brandy Station being completed, and all the necessary wants of the army supplied, arrangements were at once made for an advance. The position of the enemy was known to be behind his strong intrenchments on the Rapidan.  These were known to extend from the junction of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers to a point as high up as Liberty Mills, west of Orange Court-House.

An attack in front had long been impracticable, and the instructions of the General-in-Chief confined my operations to such tactical maneuvers as my judgment dictated. A movement, therefore, to immediately turn either flank of the enemy was the question to be decided.  I ascertained from reliable sources that the enemy had abandoned the design of guarding the lower fords, but relied for the protection of his right flank on an intrenched line he had constructed perpendicular to the Rapidan, leaving it at Morton’s Ford and extending as far as Bartlett’s Mill on the road from Robertson’s Tavern to Raccoon Ford.

I could hear of no works or defenses on the Orange and Fredericksburg turnpike or plank road.  Ewell’s corps, estimated between 25,000 and 30,000 men, held the line from Bartlett’s Mill to near Rapidan Station, and Hill’s corps, over 25,000 strong, held the left from Rapidan Station to Liberty Mills.

The plan I decided on was to cross the Rapidan at the lower fords, in three columns, and by a prompt movement seize the plank road and turnpike, advancing rapidly toward Orange Court-house, thus turning the enemy’s works, and compelling him to give battle on ground not previously selected or prepared, and I indulged the hope that in the execution of this plan I should be enabled to fall on part of the enemy’s forces before he could effect a concentration, and thus so cripple him as to render more certain the success of the final struggle.

In accordance with this plan, orders were issued on the 23d for the movement.  A storm occurring during the night of the 23d, the orders were postponed till the morning of the 26th, at 6 a.m. of which day the several columns were directed to move.

General Williiam H. French, 3rd Corps

Major-General French, [pictured] commanding the Third Corps, was directed to proceed with his corps to Jacobs’ Mill, cross the Rapidan at that point, and continue his march by a road known to exist from Jacobs’ Mill to Robertson’s Tavern, where he would effect a junction with the Second Corps.  Major-General Warren was ordered to cross at Germanna Ford and take the turnpike to Robertson’s Tavern.

The Fifth Corps, Major-General Sykes, was directed to cross at Culpeper Ford, and entering the plank road, to continue his march as far as Parker’s Store, and, if practicable, to the crossing of the road from Robertson’s Tavern

A division of cavalry, under Brigadier-General Gregg, was ordered to cross at Ely’s Ford and proceed on the Catharpin road as far as Corbin’s Bridge, to cover the left flank of the army.  A division of cavalry, under General Custer held the upper fords of the  Rapidan, and the Third Division, under General Merritt, was ordered to guard the trains assembled at Richardsville.

Anticipating an attempt on the part of the enemy to check the heads of columns until he could get into position, and looking for this attack first on my right flank, the nearest to his known position, I ordered the Sixth Corps, Major-General Sedgwick, to follow the Third Corps, thus placing considerably more than half my infantry on the right flank, and directed Major-General Newton, commanding two division of the First Corps (the Third Division being left on the railroad), to follow the Fifth Corps, thus re-enforcing the left flank and leaving the center to be supported from either of the other two columns, as circumstances might render the most convenient.

In accordance with the above order, the troops were put in motion at 6 a.m. of the 26th, the heads of columns of the Fifth and Second Corps reaching the river between 9 and 10 a.m., but the Third Corps, from causes not yet explained, not getting to Jacobs’ Mill till after 12 m., and thus delaying the other two corps, the advance being directed to be simultaneous.

This delay of the Third Corps, together with physical obstacles arising from the steep banks of the Rapidan at all the crossings, proved fatal to the design of having the heads of columns reach Robertson’s Tavern and its vicinity by the night of the 26th, as was expected, the corps all crossing, but the heads of columns only proceeding a mile or two before bivouacking.  Orders were issued for the columns to move at early daylight on the 27th, and renew the march as previously indicated.

General Gouvenour K. Warren, 2nd Corps

The Second Corps arrived at Robertson’s Tavern about 10 a.m., driving the enemy’s skirmishers for some distance before reaching it, and the tavern coming into the presence of a considerable force of the enemy, said by prisoners to be parts of two divisions of Ewell’s corps. At this point I directed General Warren [pictured] to halt and maintain his ground until connection was made with the Third Corps, momentarily expected.

About 11 a.m. a communication was received from General French to the effect that the head of his column was near the plank road, and that he was waiting for General Warren.  A reply was immediately sent to him to push on promptly, and he would find General Warren at Robertson’s Tavern, then engaged with the enemy and requiring his support.  Several officers were sent to communicate with General French and to urge him forward.

About 1 p.m. a dispatch was received from General French saying the enemy were throwing a force to his right flank on the Raccoon Ford road.  On the receipt of this a peremptory order was sent to General French to move forward at once, and, if the enemy interposed, to attack with his whole force at all hazards, throwing forward his left toward General Warren.  This order, as  I am informed by Captain Cadwalader, aide-de-camp––who accompanied the officer carrying it––was received at 2.30 p.m. by General French, who protested against it as hazardous to his command, and desired Captain Cadwalader to assume the responsibility of suspending it.

General French, in his report herewith submitted, states that after sending, at 9.20 a.m., to General Prince (commanding his leading division), to ascertain his position, he (General French) became satisfied that the head of his column had struck the Raccoon Ford road near the enemy’s intrenched position on Mine Run, and that he then determined to throw his line forward, deploying to his left to connect with Warren; and that he communicated this fact to the commanding general.  No such information was received by me, and it would appear, by the reports of the division commanders of the Third Corps, that no such movement was made by that corps till about 2.30 p.m., or the time my order was delivered, as stated, by Captain Cadwalader, aide-de-camp.

Brigadier-General Prince commanding the leading division, reports that, after advancing a short distance (about a mile), he came to a fork in the road, where he halted to obtain information; that he ascertained that the right-hand fork was the most direct route to Robertson’s Tavern, but that it led into the Raccoon Ford road occupied by the enemy; that the left-hand road led to Robertson’s Tavern and also in the direction of Warren’s firing, which he plainly heard.

General Henry Prince, 3rd Corps

For these reasons General Prince [pictured] was satisfied he should take the left-hand road, and so reported to General French, and awaited orders.  After a delay of two hours, he was finally ordered to take the other road, which he did, his skirmishers soon encountering the enemy.  He then reports he was ordered to cease operations as he was on the wrong road, and, after another delay, he was again ordered forward, with the information that he was on the right road.

Soon after advancing the second time, Carr’s division being deployed on his left, the enemy opened a warm fire, and General Prince reports his line fell back a short distance, till they uncovered a battery he had posted in the only open ground that was in the rear.  The line rallied, and reformed behind the battery, the fire from which checked the advancing enemy, when the line advanced to its former position and halted, the action ceasing, as it was then dark.

General Carr, on the left of General Prince, had one of his brigades driven back, and his other brigades relieved by Birney’s division after exhausting their ammunition. Birney’s division, formed in rear of Carr’s, soon relieved the latter, repulsing all the attacks of the enemy, and finally, toward dark, advancing its line of skirmishers over the battle-field.

I have been thus minute in the details of the movements of the Third Corps, because, in my opinion, the unnecessary delay in the progress of this corps, and the failure to attack the enemy as soon as he was encountered, deploying to the left, and allowing the Sixth Corps to pass and continue the line to Warren, was the cause that a junction of the center and right columns was not made early on the morning of the 27th, and was one of the primary causes of the failure of the whole movement.

In consequence of this delay, Warren remained on the defensive all day, and toward evening, being pressed by the enemy, and I being anxious to hold Robertson’s Tavern, the center and key-point of my position, sent orders for the First Corps to move over from the plank road to the support of Warren, the corps arriving at Robertson’s Tavern about dark on the 27th.  The Fifth Corps moved early in the morning, after a slight delay, to permit Gregg’s division of cavalry to precede it on the plank road.

General David McMurtrie Gregg

Gregg [pictured] advanced as far as [New] Hope Church, where he had a severe engagement with the enemy’s cavalry, in which he was successful in driving them until they were strongly re-enforced by infantry, when Gregg fell back and was relieved by Major-General Sykes, commanding the Fifth Corps, who by this time had been advised of the failure of the Third Corps to connect with the Second, and who was accordingly instructed not to advance beyond the crossing of the road from Robertson’s Tavern, near which is [New] Hope Church.

From reports of the force in front of Major-Generals French and Warren, there was reason to believe the enemy were concentrating on the turnpike and Raccoon Ford roads, and orders were sent to the Sixth and Fifth Corps to move over toward Robertson’t Tavern, which order was executed by daylight the next morning, the 28th ultimo.

On this day, the 28th, disposition was made to attack the enemy, but on driving in his pickets, it was found he had retired during the night.  Pursuit was immediately made, the Second Corps in advance, when, after a march of about 2 miles, the enemy was found in position on the west bank of Mine Run.

A severe storm of rain had set in, delaying the march of the troops, particularly the artillery, and preventing a position being taken up till after dark, at which time the Second, Sixth, First, and part of the Third Corps were in line fronting the enemy.

A reconnaissance of the enemy’s position showed it to be extremely formidable.  The western bank of Mine Run, within an elevation of over 100 feet, had a gentle and smooth slope to the creek, averaging over 1,000 yards of cleared ground.  The summit, on which was the enemy’s line of battle, was already crowned with infantry parapets, abatis, and epaulements for batteries.  The creek itself was a considerable obstacle, in many places swampy and impassable.

A careful examination, made personally and by engineer officers, convinced me there was no probability of success in an attack in our immediate front, in the vicinity of the turnpike.  It was therefore determined, on the evening of the 28th, to send Major-General Warren, with the Second Corps and a division of the Sixth Corps, to move to our left, to feel for the enemy’s right flank, and turn him, if practicable.  At the same time orders were given to each corps commander to critically examine his front and ascertain the practicability of an assault.  The 29th was spent in these reconnaissances and the movement of General Warren.

General Horatio G. Wright, 6th Corps

About 6 p.m. Brigadier-General Wright, [pictured] commanding a division in the Sixth Corps, reported to me he had discovered a point on our extreme right, where the obstacles to be overcome were much less than in our immediate front, and where an assault, he thought, was practicable with inconsiderable loss.  At the same time Captain Michler, Engineers, reported that an assault in front of the  Third Corps, though hazardous, was not impracticable.  I also learned from Major Ludlow, aide-de-camp, just returned from General Warren’s column, that General Warren had moved up the plank road, driving in the enemy’s skirmishers till he developed their line of battle, and had taken a position which outflanked the enemy, and from which there was no difficulty of assaulting and turning the enemy’s flank.

These favorable reports caused me to decide on making three assaults, one on the enemy’s left flank, with the Sixth and Fifth Corps; one on the center, with the Third and First Corps, and one on the enemy’s right, by the force under General Warren, consisting of the Second Corps and one division of the Sixth.

At 8 p.m. General Warren reported in person, confirming all Major Ludlow had reported, and expressing such confidence in his ability to carry everything before him as to induce him to give the opinion that he did not believe the enemy would remain over night so completely did he command him.  The earnest confidence that General Warren expressed of his ability to carry everything before him, and the reliance I placed on that officer’s judgment, together with the fact that Major-General French had given an adverse opinion to assaulting in his front, induced me to modify my plan so far as to abandon the center attacks and re-enforce Warren’s column with two divisions of the Third Corps, which would give him six divisions, nearly half the infantry force under my command.  Orders were accordingly issued to that effect.

The batteries of the center and right were to open at 8 o’clock, at which time Warren was to make the main attack, and at 9 o’clock Sedgwick was to assault with his column, and, when these attacks proved successful, the three divisions of the Third and First Corps left to hold the center would assault, in conjunction with the others, after making demonstration in their fronts at 8 o’clock.

The division of cavalry commanded by Brigadier-General Gregg held the plank road in rear of the infantry, and repulsed several attempts of the enemy’s cavalry to break through his line for the purpose of reaching  our communications.  The division of cavalry commanded by Brigadier-General Custer, charged with the duty of holding the upper fords of the Rapidan, was very active, and crossed the river and followed up the enemy wherever he fell back from his works.

On the 30th, the batteries opened at 8 a.m.  The skirmishers of the First and Third Corps advanced across Mine Run and drove in the enemy’s skirmishers, and every preparation was made by Sedgwick for his attack (he having moved his columns during the night and massed them out of view of the enemy), when, about ten minutes of 9, I received a dispatch from General Warren to the effect that “the position and strength of the enemy seem so formidable in my present front that I advise against making the attack here––the full light of the sun shows me that I cannot succeed.”  The staff officer who brought this dispatch further reported that General Warren had suspended his attack, and would not make it without further orders.

General John Sedgwick, 6th Corps

As Sedgwick’s attack was subsidiary to Warren’s and as, owing to Warren’s confidence of the night before, I had given him so large a part of the army that I had not the means of supporting Sedgwick [pictured] in case of a repulse, or re-enforcing him in the event of success, I was obliged to suspend the attack of Sedgwick on the enemy’s left, which I did just in time; and immediately proceeded to General Warren’s column, some 4 miles distant, in the hope of arranging some plan by which the two attacks might yet take place in the afternoon.  I reached General Warren between 10 and 11 a.m., and found his views were unchangeable, and that it was his decided opinion it was hopeless to make any attack.

It was too late to move the troops back and make an attack on the center that day, and General Warren was already so far separated from the right that his movement to turn the enemy’s right could not be be continued without moving up the rest of the army in support, and abandoning the turnpike road, our main line of communications.  Nothing further could be done this day, and at night the two divisions of the Third Corps returned to the center, and the Fifth and Sixth Corps returned to their former positions.

It was then reported to me that the opening of our batteries in the morning had exposed to the enemy our threatened attack on his left, and that he could be seen strengthening the position, by earthworks, abatis, putting guns in position, &c., so that by nightfall the chances of success had been materially diminished, and, knowing he would work all night, I felt satisfied that by morning the proposed point of attack, which had been weak, would be as strong as any other part of his line.

Under these circumstances I could see no other course to pursue than either to hazard an assault, which I knew to be hopeless, and which I believed would be attended with certain disaster, or, acknowledging the whole movement a failure, withdraw the army to the south bank of the Rapidan.

To have attempted any further flank movement would have required abandoning the turnpike and plank roads, and involved the necessity of bringing across the river and up to my lines the supply trains of the army, which till now had remained at Richardsville.  I was precluded from attempting this by the knowledge that a day’s storm would prevent this train and the artillery from returning, and that, in the event of disaster, I should have to abandon both.  Besides, an inspection of the map will show that all the roads in that part of the country run nearly east and west, connecting Gordonsville and Orange Court-House with Fredericksburg, whereas, in moving around the enemy, I should have to take a southerly direction, and would be obliged to make roads across the country, not only the work of time, but, from the character of the soil, impracticable at this period of frosts.  In full view of the consequences, after mature deliberation, I determined to withdraw the army.

But for the restrictions imposed upon me by the instructions of the General-in-Chief, I should, in retiring, have taken up a position in front of Fredericksburg, and I cannot but think that substantial advantages would have resulted from such a disposition of the army.

I am free to admit that the movement across the Rapidan was a failure, but I respectfully submit that the causes of this failure, a careful perusal of the foregoing report will show, were beyond my control.  I maintain my plan was a feasible one.  Had the columns made the progress I anticipated, and effected a junction on the night of the 26th, at and near Robertson’s Tavern, the advance the next day would either have passed the formidable position of Mine Run without opposition or, had Ewell attempted to check the movement, he would have been overwhelmed before re-enforced by Hill.

Prisoners reported that Hill did not come up till the afternoon of the 27th, so that if the movements of the Third Corps had been prompt and vigorous on the 27th, assisted by the Sixth and Second, there was every reason to believe Ewell could have been overcome before the arrival of Hill.  And after the enemy, through these culpable delays, had been permitted to concentrate on Mine Run, I have reason to believe, but for the unfortunate error of judgment of Major-General Warren, my original plan of attack in three columns would have been successful, or, at least, under the view I took of it, would certainly have been tried.

It may be said I should not depend on the judgment of others, but it is impossible a commanding general can reconnoiter in person a line of over 7 miles in extent, and act on his own judgment as to the expediency of attacking or not.  Again, it may be said that the effort should have been made to test the value of my judgment, or, in other words, that I should encounter what I believed to be certain defeat, so as to prove conclusively that victory was impossible.

Considering how sacred is the trust of the lives of the brave men under my command, but willing as I am to shed their blood and my own where duty requires, and my judgment dictates that the sacrifice will not be in vain, I cannot be a party to a wanton slaughter of my troops for any mere personal end.

The reports of the corps commanders, with those of such of the division commanders as accompany them, together with lists of the casualties, are all herewith submitted, except those for the cavalry, not yet received.

I also send a sketch, prepared by the engineers, showing the routes taken by each column.  The point marked “Widow Morris” is where the roads fork, the left-hand fork being the one the Third Corps should have taken.  The point marked “Tom Morris’ is the scene of the action of the 27th ultimo.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                            GEO. G. MEADE,
                                                        Major-General, Commanding.

Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas,
        Adjutant-General, U. S. Army.


General Meade's Campaign Map

Click here to view larger.

General Meade's Map

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Preparing for Thanksgiving, November 18- 25

The spread out regiments of Brigadier-General John C. Robinson's 2nd Division of the 1st Corps began to consolidate near Rappahannock Station on November 23rd.  They had been split into workgroups to repair the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, the army's supply line, which the Confederates broke up during their retreat from Northern Virginia at the end of the Bristoe Campaign.  General Meade  planned for his new aggressive advance across the Rapidan River, to begin on November 24th, but a heavy rain that day delayed his army's march until the 26th of November, which was Thanksgiving Day.

The 13th MA was camped at Licking Run along the O & A Railroad near Warrenton Junction since November 9, before the move to Rappahannock Station.   Calvin Conant of Company G, 13th MA, makes short terse diary entries regarding his personal comfort or discomfort as the case may be.  Sam Webster, age 17, is building another hut, which he seems to do each time the regiment moves to a new location...

Diary of Calvin Conant, (Company G), 13th MA:

baked beans

Wednesday, 18.   pleasant day I am on Guard received  letter from home had a good pot of bake beans to day.

Thursday, 19.  Pleasant day  On guard to day  Battalion drill this afternoon

Diary of Sam Webster, (drum corps):

Thursday, November 19th, 1863
Finished chimney.  Fireplace is drawn gradually in, and chimney built up, and topped out with a whole hard bread box — with the ends knocked out — set on end and plastered with mud, inside.  Works admirably and all my own design and construction.  Bed of poles, as usual, covers with pine and cedar “feathers.”

Sam would only have the comfort of his cabin for a few days.  The regiment moved to consolidate with the rest of the 2nd Division on November 23rd.

From “Three Years in the Army, The Story of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers” by Charles E. Davis, Jr. (Boston, Estes & Lauriat, 1894.):

        Monday, Nov. 23.  At daylight we pulled up stakes and marched six miles, and went into camp on the east side of the railroad, at the forty-ninth mile-post from Alexandria, and two miles from Rappahannock Station.  We had been near this spot so many times we had lost the count.  Whichever direction we took in a campaign we generally brought up at Rappahannock Station.


A REBEL RAID

On November 21st, the “Gray Ghost” of the Confederacy, Colonel John Singleton Mosby got in a dust up with General Gregg's Cavalry over a Union wagon train.  Lt.-Col. N. Walter Batchelder of the 13th MA Vols, Division officer of the day, rushed the 16th Maine Regiment to the scene to help out.  Charles Davis Jr., who chronicled the history of the 13th MA Volunteers, commented in his entry for November 10th,  “If it hadn’t been for guerrillas that infested the neighborhood, we might have had a peaceful time, as the enemy in front of the picket line were less demonstrative than usual.”

From, “The Sixteenth Maine Regiment in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865”, by Abner Ralph Small;  B. Thurston & Company, Portland, Maine:  1886.

Lt.-Col. N. Walter Batchelder, 13th Mass. Vols

Nov. 20.   Battalion drill in the afternoon.  Aggregate strength of command, six hundred and fifty men.

Nov. 21.  Today, about noon, a dragoon, with pistols in hand, and bareheaded, came dashing into camp, shouting,  “The guerrillas are coming!  The guerrillas are coming!”  Colonel Batchelder, Thirteenth Massachusetts, [pictured] division officer of the day, shouted, “Turn out!  Turn out the regiment!”  In five minutes the men were under arms, in line, and on their way double-quick.  Major Leavitt was in command of Companies C and H, which were deployed as skirmishers.   Moving half a mile, we reached a wagon-train which Mosby had swooped down upon.  He captured the escort, fetched the mules, set fire to the train, and rode away just as the Sixteenth came upon the ground and gave them a parting yell.  Just as we were retiring, the Third New York Cavalry, mistaking us for rebels, charged upon Companies B and D, wounding two men before they discovered their error.

Nov. 23.  The regiment broke camp at daylight, and marched at seven, and halted at Bealeton Station until the division was massed, when it rejoined the brigade and marched to Rappahannock Station, and camped southeast of bridge at eleven a.m., when ammunition and rations were issued to the brigade.

Nov. 24.  Drizzling rain-storm.  Major Leavitt examined applicants for promotion, under an order of Colonel Farnham that every man recommended must be qualified for the position sought.

Letter of William Broughton, 16th Maine Volunteers

Lieutnant Broughton gives a little more detail on the dust-up with Colonel Mosby's Raiders

Camp near Bealton Station,
                                     Nov. 24, 1863.

Dear Father:

    I sent by Express yesterday $120. I did not get extra pay for the last two months, owing to leaving  and old “Fogie” for a Pay Master.  When I was paid in Sept.   I got $15 extra. I am now commanding Co. “I,” but hope to get relieved when the new batch of commissions get along.

    We left our camp near Liberty yesterday morning and reached this place about noon. We were to move this morning, but just as we were striking tents the order was countermanded on account of rain I suppose.

    It is no use trying to get furlough at present.  About January or February will be the time.  I shall write to Eddie today.  I wish you would send me some more stamps when you write again.

    We had quite a scare last Saturday (I was on camp guard at the time).  About 10 A. M. there was a cavalry man rode up to our Col.’s tent at full speed, with his hat gone and sung out, “The Guerillas are upon you.”  You better believe there was some scampering for muskets, etc.  It did not take three minutes for the line to be formed. I at the time was some distance from the camp but when I saw the regiment moving off at double quick, I turned my guard out in quick time and had them ready to deploy as skirmishers if the occasion required. The regiment went about two miles and then came back without encountering the enemy.

    Love to all.
                        W. H. Broughton

A RAINY DAY IN CAMP

Letter of James Ross, “9th New York Militia”

James Ross, 9th NY Militia

James Ross, of Plattsburgh, New York was drafted into the Northern Army in July 1863. Just prior to this he was preparing to enter Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, located in the Berkshire Mountains in the western part of the state.   He was earning money as a school teacher at the time, to raise the funds for college.  A good friend and contemporary of his wrote about him, “the son of a cooper and himself a cooper, who despite adversity, his industry and his rare gift of mind and character had furnished himself with the sum of two hundred dollars in money and a preparation for Williams College, where we were going together in July 1863, when he was drafted, and without a murmur went forth in the ranks to serve his country….”

He told his friends that he considered it an “indication of Providence that he should go, and he was going.”

The Plattsburgh Republican wrote, “We remember the evening last summer when he left home for the army.  He walked down to the boat, accompanied by his father, bidding "good bye" to his friends who he met in the street;  cheerful and happy like one who goes to perform some pleasant duty.”

His descriptive letters home were full of enthusiasm and comprehensive descriptions of army life which were more comparable to a recruit of 1861, rather than a drafted man, ––when every experience was new and exciting.  Ross was assigned to the famous 83rd NY Volunteers, or the “9th NY Militia” as they liked to be called.  They were in the same 2nd Division of the 1st Corps as the 13th MA, but a different brigade, that of Brigadier General Henry Baxter.

The "9th NY" was a regiment very much like the 13th MA in character and service, as is represented occasionally on this website.  The historian of the 13th MA Vols, Charles E. Davis, Jr. wrote, “Our long association with this gallant regiment makes the account of their service a matter of great interest to us.”    [––Thirteenth Regiment Association Circular #2, Dec. 4, 1889.]

When James joined his unit in the field, near Rappahannock Station in late August he found, like the other old regiments of the First Corps, that only about 83 members of the regiment were left, of the original 1100 recruits.  The 400 new conscripts, of which he was one, filled out the ranks.  In time he found the veteran officers and non-coms of the 9th, to be friendly and helpful. 

These incredible letters were preserved for many years by the Ross family descendants at their home in Grand Isle, Vermont.  They were transcribed and published in 2012 by Nancy Saunders Brantley and Lucille Barnett Campbell.

They are a welcome addition to this website, as they provide an up-close look at what life was like in the field at this period of the war, when letters of this calibre from the 13th MA soldiers were pretty scarce.

Tuesday Nov. 24th 1863

Dear Father,

union picket in overcoat sitting by a tree

It is raining outside and I am sitting in my tent crowded into the least possible compass trying to write you a letter    I mailed a letter yesterday written at different times at Liberty and containing sixteen dollars I hope that it may go safely   I also wrote and mailed a letter a week ago Sunday   more than a week passed  between that one & the one which I sent yesterday   I am sorry that I could not mail a letter sooner for I know that you all will feel anxious on my account and mother will be imagining that all kinds of evils have befallen me but the circumstances were such that I could not do otherwise  I was on guard I believe Tuesday and had no chance to write.  at least I think it was Tuesday and when I came off  I had to wash and mend and hardly had time to cook and eat   Friday I was on picket and commenced to write  meaning to finish and mail the letter Saturday     but Saturday we did not get into camp till twelve and what with the rain all the afternoon and the alarm and the finishing of my letter it was dark before I was ready to mail it, but I intended to do it on Sunday.   Sunday however I was on picket again and had no chance to mail letters and Monday morning when we came into the camp the brigade was in motion     just as soon as we halted and the mail bag was hung out I put the letter in it, and hope that it will arrive in due time    I will endeavor here after never to let a week pass without sending home at least one letter, but if you do not hear from me for one week or two don’t imagine on that account that I am hurt or sick, but believe rather that I am well but prevented from writing for I have two tent mates and if anything should happen to either one the other would hasten to let those at home know of it immediately

We expected to be on the move this morning but are not   it would seem as if the authorities did not know just what to do with this corps for the most contradictory orders are constantly given us and they march us hither and thither in different directions.  Pending no rest for the soles of our feet nor the calves of our legs.  Last night it was fully understood that reveille would sound at five and that we were to be ready to fall in at a moments notice    reveille sounded according to programme and we packed up shortly after the orders came to strike tents     it was raining as is usual when we start on a tramp but we packed up and fell in.   When the order came to break ranks and pitch tents again.  Packing and unpacking has made our things wet but we are very glad to remain here on any terms however the orders may come to strike tents and march and fall in at any minute and I shall have to finish this letter a good many miles off two or three days after this   but I hope that this will not be the case

Charles Reed sketch, Inspection in the rain

We are sitting in our overcoats which we always wear on the march and our packs lie by our side ready to buckle on at a minutes notice.  We may remain here an hour or a week.  I am glad that we have moved on one account    guard duty is over with for a little while at least and while I am as well as I am now, I can stand marching.  On ordinary occasions when in camp with the rest of the army but one or at the most two men are detailed for guard each day but when on detached guard duty about sixteen men are detailed each day and as there are not many more than forty men reported for duty in the company this brings each mans name around pretty often    being on guard at this season is quite different from standing guard in the summer,  then the weather is nearly always fair and at night when you come in you drop down under a tree and are asleep in a minute    but now the weather is often rainy or cold during the day and at best the days are short and the night long     if the night is rainy no one can lie on the ground so when off post you must sit by the fire or stand as you choose and spend the time as you can   Then when the night is clear it is always cold so that one man has not clothes enough to keep him warm    and even if two bunk together the ground is so damp and chilly that you can not be comfortable.    So nearly always when on guard the men sit up around the fires and chat and cook and read or write passing the night as they best may   Friday night I slept two hours and Sunday night I lay down a little more than one but was so chilly that I could not sleep.

The guard house is generally in the woods and good fires are kept going so that we sit around them when it is as comfortable as you are at home almost.    often we come in off picket or guard to find the army in motion and off we go with the others  So you see that we are apt to be broken of our rest here as you are at home   Though as long as I can keep my belly full I have not felt any bad effects from it yet.   I am going to make just two sheets of this letter as I have a good many to write today if we stay here.   I mailed six yesterday all in answer to ones received a month or more since.  I made a lucky hit on Sunday.  I met a man who had a small portfolio full of paper pens and envelopes,   he was peddling out the paper two or three sheets at a  time to the soldiers but I made a magnificent bid and carried off the whole    it cost me ten shillings but I would have rather paid double than have gone without it.  The paper and envelopes are going down with astonishing rapidity but the portfolio will remain and paper I can procure some how.   I hope that you will get yesterdays letter by Thanksgiving.  I have thought a good deal about you at home for week back, for the idea of Thanksgiving keeps coming into my head.   I should like to be at dinner with you  For I never been away at Thanksgiving before.  However this time I must be so   I will remember you and I know that [you] will not forget me.

Your affectionate son   James Ross

From the 13th Mass. Vols.

When writing the regimental history for this time period, Charles Davis took for his source the journal of 17 year old Sam Webster.  Here is Sam's entry for November 25, followed by Davis' entry in the history.  Again, the poor class of criminal draftees that came to the 13th MA in July, 1863, is the topic of conversation.

Diary of Sam Webster, Company D:

Wednesday, November 25th 1863
        Sutler arrived.  No one being here with anything to sell, of course there was a great demand.  Some of the 16th [Maine] unfortunate as ever lost their watches and pocketbooks in the crowd, and of course, also, blamed the 13th.  Well, maybe, some of our “substitutes” did take them ––they have “that name.”

From “Three Years in the Army, The Story of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers” by Charles E. Davis, Jr. (Boston, Estes & Lauriat, 1894).

Wednesday, Nov. 25.  This was a great day.  The sutler arrived with a large amount of goods, which we purchased for the morrow.  As he was the only sutler about, there was a great rush from other regiments to take advantage of his presence.

Among others were members of the Sixteenth Maine; and as some of them added to their already overflowing cup of misfortunes, by losing their watches and pocket-books, they promptly accused us of stealing them.  Well, we must allow there was reason for this accusation, for it couldn’t be rubbed out that we had as fine a band of thievish recruits as could be found anywhere, and they just doted on the Sixteenth’s men, whose good old honest State of Maine ways held no chance against their deft skill as pickpockets.

photo of man cracking a safe

Now, we had a very simple way of dealing with these Hessians that our much-beloved State sent out to mingle in companionship with us and teach us how to overcome honesty, and that was to put all our diamonds, watches, pocket-books, and silverware in the safe, while all moveables, such as dippers, hardtack, etc., we chained.  Whenever we laid a knife down we put a guard  over it with a loaded musket.

With these precautions we managed to hang on to most of our things until these dear comrades of ours stole away to re-enlist in some other regiment, or to crack a bank.

From Austin Stearns' memoir, “Three Years in Company K” edited by Arthur Kent, Associated University Presses, 1976.

The trouble with the substitutes is again demonstrated by the following experience of John Parra, himself a substitute, as told in this brief paragraph of Sergeant Austin Stearns memoirs.  For more information on John Parra's fascinating story, see the "Conscripts" [1863] page of this website.

John Parra, who was a Cuban, and a sub was in his tent one night, when he heard some one stepping and soon a hand came in and began to feel his person over.   He was frightened and crawling out ran calling for the Sergeant.  We told him to take his bayonet and if he was troubled again to stick it into them.  He wanted to know if he should stick their faces and we told him to mark them no matter where he hit.

soldiers standing at a sutler's tent

We soon moved down to within a mile of Rappahannock Station.  The Purveyor came up with quite a quantity of provisions and as we were liable to move at any time he was anxious to sell.

The next day was Thanksgiving at home, [and] we thought to have something extra, so a few of us chipped in and bought some flour.  I bought a lb. of sausage and sweet potatoes to make out the dinner.  Just at night the order came to move at six A.M.   We then started in on the cooking and what I couldn’t eat of my sausage and potatoes I packed in my knapsack.  The flour we ate or gave away.

The photo at left shows 4 soldiers gathered around a sutler's tent at Bealeton,  August, 1863.  The two men in the center are brandishing their cigars.

Mine Run Campaign Overview

The history of the Thirty-Ninth Massacusetts Regiment provides a concise, accurate summary and descriptive commentary on the Mine Run Campaign from the perspective of the common soldier.   I'll quote from it liberally on this page.

The following is from the History of the 39th MA titled, “The Thirty-Ninth Massachusetts Regiment; 1862 - 1865”;  by Alfred S. Row, Worcester, Mass., 1914.

family at holiday dinner

Thanksgiving day in the North, November 26th, should be remembered as the beginning of the famous Mine Run affair, one of the greatest of the battles that were never fought.  Judging from the results in former years, when campaigning was undertaken at this season of the year, it would seem that winter quarters would be better proposition for the army than another forward movement, but General Meade, feeling that the Northern public demanded some aggressive movement on his part, determined to avail himself of the withdrawal of Longstreets’ Corps and the remoteness of Lee’s remaining Corps, Ewell’s and Hill’s, from each other and to take the offensive. 

Ewell’s men, under the command of General Jubal A. Early, Ewell being ill, held the Confederate right, the same resting on the Rapidan at Morton’s Ford, while Hill’s forces in their dispersion extended fully twenty miles to the southwest.  Meade could lead 70,000 men into the assault, while Lee’s troops were rated at 50,000;  the lower fords of the Rapidan were quite uncovered, Lee depending for defense on a line of fortifications extending along the left bank of Mine Run, an insignificant stream, tributary to the Rapidan and entering the same near Morton’s Ford. The words of Robert Burns concerning the plans of mice and men never had better application than in the events of the following days.  Had army corps crossed and attacked as projected, considering the detached, not to say scattered, condition of the enemy, it seems as though he would have been beaten in detail.

West Point Atlas Map of the Mine Run Campaign

Map of Mine Run Campaign

Click to View Larger.

39th MA, Continued:
        Had General French and his Third Corps started at the early hour named in the orders;  had not the engineer miscalculated the width of the stream and so provided too few pontoons for the bridge which had to be pieced out with a trestle;  had not the banks of the river proved too precipitous for the artillery which had to go down to Germanna Ford and even then, if the Corps had not taken a wrong road and so fallen foul of Confederate General Edward Johnson and his forces, the entire story of the war might have been very different from what is written.

In brief, the expedition was scheduled to begin early in the morning of the 23rd, [24th is correct] but was delayed by the severe rain of that and subsequent days.  The orders under which the start of the 27th [26th is correct] was made were that the Third Corps, General French, followed by the Sixth, General Sedgwick, should cross the Rapidan at Jacob’s Mills; the Fifth, General Sykes, followed by the First, General Newton, was to cross at Culpeper Mine, while the Second, General Warren, was to cross by the Germanna Ford, between the other fords named.  With ten day’s rations carried by the men, General Meade was justifiable “in cutting loose from his base of supplies, and undertaking the feat in three columns of seizing the plank road and turnpike and, by advancing rapidly towards Orange Court House, of turning the enemy’s works and compelling him to give battle on ground not previously selected or prepared.”

Jacob's Ford

Jacobs Ford, December 12, 2016

Pictured is the Rapdan River crossing at Jacob's Ford, where General French could not get his artillery up the steep muddy banks on the South side of the ford, shown here.  The  ford is on private property and access to it is very difficult to gain.  I visited the location with intrepid researcher Brett Johnson of Rapidan, Virginia, December 12, 2016.   Brett's panoramic video of the ford  can be viewed on youtube.

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Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1863;  The Campaign Begins

National Thanksgiving Proclamation

The New-England  boys were looking forward to, and preparing for, the first National Thanksgiing, which was proclaimed by President Lincoln, October 3d, and announced in The Boston Transcript newspaper, on October 5th.   Their plans were disrupted, as they had been several times in the past.  It was a kind of disapointment they became accustomed to while in the service of Uncle Sam.

A NATIONAL THANKSGIVING

–––––––––––––––––

By the President of the United States.

A PROCLAMATION

Washington,  Oct. 3.  The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful Providence of Almighty God.  In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to invite and provoke the aggression of foreign States, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theatre of military conflict, while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

The needful diversion of wealth and strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the National defence have not arrested the plough the shuttle or the ship.  The axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.  Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made by the camp, the siege and the battle-field, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and  vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human council hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins hath nevertheless remembered mercy.  It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverentially and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and voice, by the whole American people.

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart the last Thursday of November next, as a day of thanksgiving and prayer to our beneficent Father, who dwelleth in the Heavens, and I recommend too that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty  to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.  Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

(Signed)   Abraham Lincoln.

                 By the President:  W. H. Seward,
Secretary of State.

Major-General John Newton's Report

Major-General Newton, commanding the First Corps, gave his report of the Mine Run Campaign in diary format.  This is convenient for parting it out during the four relevant days of action.  For clarity regarding each days movements I will lead off with Newton's report for the corresponding days, November 26 - 29.

“On Thursday November 26 in accordance with orders from headquarters Army of the Potomac I advanced my First and Second Divisions, leaving the Third Division guarding the railroad from Rappahannock Station to Manassas.  My orders were to follow General Sykes’ corps, crossing the Rapidan at Culpeper Ford.  On arriving there found General Sykes halted under orders from headquarters Army of the Potomac to await the advance of other columns over the bridges at Germanna Ford and Jacob’s Mills.  When General Sykes received orders to advance, the day being far spent, I was only enabled to get one of my divisions across by 7 p.m.  I conceived it proper to halt here,  knowing I could overtake General Sykes by an early march.”  ––Maj. Gen. John Newton, Dec. 3, 1863.

plum pudding advertisement

From “Three Years in the Army,”  by Charles E. Davis, Jr.:

Thursday, November 26.
         Thanksgiving Day!  We had laid out for a good time and a good dinner; such a kind of a dinner as our skill and ingenuity, aided by the sutler’s store, could prepare;  but the exigences of the service required us to move, so at daylight we marched, crossing the Rappahannock River as the sun rose; thence to Mountain Run, which we crossed on a pontoon bridge about 9 A.M. at Paoli Mills;  thence to the Rapidan River, which we crossed at 10 P.M.* at the Culpeper Mine Ford;  then climbed the heights and halted for the night about four miles from Chancellorsville, having marched seventeen miles.  A large part of the regiment was then sent out on picket.  This was our roast turkey and plum-pudding.  [*Most accounts say just after dark or near 7 p.m.––B.F.]

Essay:  Some Notes On The Route of March

Starting at the river crossing at Rappahannock Station the march of the 13th MA for the most part this day, was over roads familiar to them.  They had crossed Mountain Run at Paoli Mills in October, and would cross it again, on their return march to Kelly’s Ford at campaign’s end.

This day their destination was toward Richardsville.  From there they followed the 5th Corps, commanded by Major-General Sykes to Culpeper Mine Ford and crossed the Rapidan River.

Richardsville, VA

View of Richardsville, just a crossroads today, looking north.  General Wesley Meritt's 3rd Cavalry Division remained at Richardsville to guard the wagon train while the infantry marched on.  The troops marched towards the viewer and beyond, to the turn-off that led to Culpeper Mine Ford Road.

The Culpeper Mine Ford was surveyed in 1863 by 1st Lt. Walter Izard of the Confederate Engineers.  He noted it was very bad.  “Most of the farms along the road were deserted or managed by wives and daughters, very young sons and slaves who had not fled.  Few fields were planted in the Spring of 1863.” #1

Gold was discovered in the region in 1832, and several mining operations existed nearby.

Culpeper Mine is located along the road to the ford on the north side of the river.  In 1850 it employed 31 workers and 7 miners.

The region on the south side of the ford began to transition from farms to gold mining operations beginning in the 1850’s.  There were several mines in the general area but the two directly across from the ford were the Melville Mine, and the Vaucluse Mine, complete with steam engines mills and pumps.

Vaucluse Gold Mine 1850

Vaucluse Gold Mine 1850

The Vaucluse Mine was owned by Sally and Hannah Grymes, wealthy granddaughters of Benjamin Grymes (1725-1774) one of the first justices in Virginia.  Their father Benjamin Jr. (1745-1805) was a Revolutionary War veteran.  Other Revolutionary war heroes had established homes in the area, which were still standing during the Mine Run Campaign.

The families in the area dated back to Colonial times times.  The charismatic and enterprising Lieutenant-Governor of Colonial Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, established the Germanna settlement, with 40 German immigrants, in 1714, on high ground overlooking the Rapidan River. ––The area was rich in iron ore and the German immigrants that populated it were metal workers.  The little community thrived.  A road was built to connect the settlement to the colonial trading post of Fredericksburg.  Gold was discovered in the region in the 1830’s and attracted more industry until it peaked in 1850 with the California Gold Rush.

Map showing Wyckoff and Spotswood

This cropped close-up of  a map, made by engineer Walter Izard, circa 1862, shows a few of the residents in the area between the Rapidan River and the Germanna Plank Road.  The Wykoff home, where the 13th MA bivouacked November 27th, is upper right, and Spotswood, is lower center.  The road south from Spotswood's led to the Orange Turnpike.  Also at right, center, Vaucluse can be seen penciled in.  The road north of Wykoff on the map, goes to Culepepr Mine Ford.

The region was later home to a few wealthy veterans of the War for Independence. I’ve already mentioned Benjamin Grymes, Jr.  Mr. Churchill Jones was a Major in the Continental Dragoons.  He came to the region with his brother in 1777.  They established their homes Woodville and Ellwood, in 1773.    Ellwood still stands.  And Captain John M. Spotswood, Jr. (1748-1801) the grandson of the extravagant lieutenant-governor, established his home  called "Orange Grove," in 1773.  The captain served with the 10th VA Continental Regiment during the American Revolution.  He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, Sept 11, 1777, and again at Germantown, Oct 4,  1777.  A canon ball fractured his right thigh.  He was taken prisoner and later paroled.  He named one of his sons after the British surgeon who helped him recover; Robert Goode Welford Spotswood.  His grandson John R. Spotswood (1799-1888) was living at Orange Grove during the Civil War.  And, his son, John R. Spotwood, Jr. (1834-1863) was a Captain in the Confederate 10th VA cavalry.  John Jr.,  died of disease contracted while a prisoner of war shortly after the Chancellorsville campaign.

The Spotswood home, “Orange Grove,” stood at an intersection of the Germanna Plank Road on a path that led to the Orange Turnpike.  Artist Alfred Waud sketched it in May 1864, during the Wilderness campaign.  It was inhabited by the family during the Mine Run and Wilderness Campaigns, and served as a field hospital for the 6th Corps during the latter battle.

Alfred Waud sketch of the Spotswood Road in front of Orange Grove

Sixth Corps troops marching down the Spotswood Road turn-off in front of Orange Grove, the home of John R.  Spotswood, May, 1864.  The house was occupied by the familly during both the Mine Run and the Wilderness Campaigns.  The 13th Mass took this road on their way to Germanna Ford during the retreat from Mine Run the night of December 1st.  Click here to view larger.

Of the two divisions of General Newton’s 1st Corps, only General Robinson’s 2nd Division managed to cross the river on the 26th.   And, after a short tug up a hill, they bivouacked near the home of John N. Wyckoff.

Wyckoff was a northerner, reported to be from Brooklyn, New York, loyal to the Union.  Many of the area miners were Northerners, and when the war broke out, most left the region.  Wyckoff, who was too old to be drafted into the Confederate army, staid behind and managed Melville Mine.  He was apparently a friend of General Meade.  The 5th Corps crossed the ford before Robinson’s Division and General Sykes sent a message to General Meade at 7 p.m. on the 26th:

“Some citizens said to one of my officers that Hood’s division was in Fredericksburg.  Mr. Wikoff, whom the general remembers, judges from what the rebel pickets told him that their cavalry is on a line from Hamilton’s Crossing to Hanover Junction, and from the latter to Orange Court-House.” #2

Pictured below is the Melville Mine, in operation, 1934.

Photograph of the Melville Mine in operation, 1834

In May, 1864, as General Grant’s campaign got bogged down in the Wilderness, Mr. Wyckoff played an important role helping news correspondent Henry Wing deliver a message to President Lincoln from General Grant.   Henry Wing asked Wyckoff to accompany him to Washington, but, “Mr. Wykoff dismissed my proposal without the slightest hesitation.  He was known through all that neighborhood as an uncompromising Union man, and no course could be devised that would more surely defeat my purpose than to be found in his company.”

Wyckoff devised the method that allowed Henry Wing to safely penetrate through the Confederate cavalry to deliver in person to the president, General Grant’s message, “Well if you see the President, tell him from me that, whatever happens, there will be no turning back.” #3

For most of the soldiers in the Army of the Potomac, except for some cavalry, this part of Virginia was unfamiliar territory.

“We have been today in a region never before traversed by union troops.  The country looks different from that on the other side of the river   the people have housed their crops and the fences were good but not one rail remains along any road that we have come     every time we halt piles of them are burnt.”  ––James Ross.

Dr. Peter Rainey, whose book “Finding Culpeper Mine Road”  wrote:

“The impact of the Army of the Potomac, with their hundreds of pioneers and tens of thousands of infantry moving through what had been for decades paths lightly traveled by a few dozen residents and their livestock, must have had a significant impact on the landscape.” #4

This comment leads in to the following article found at the website, Civil War Richmond.

Richmond Times Dispatch

RICHMOND DAILY DISPATCH, December 11, 1863

RAVAGES OF THE ENEMY WHEN LAST THIS SIDE OF THE RAPIDAN.

After Meade’s army had crossed at Germanna and Ely’s fords they subjected the unfortunate farmers within their lines to the most inhuman treatment.  They burned the house of Mr. Reuben Gordon, son of Gen. Wm. F. Gordon, because, as they said, he was an original Secessionist, and did not leave a thing of any value whatever on the place. ––  The farms of Miss Sally Grymes, Mr. Skinker, Mrs. Willis, Captain Beale, Capt. Strother Green, Mr. John Spotswood, Major J. H. Lacy, and others, were desolated to that extent that not a meal’s victuals was left on any of them.  They broke up the furniture of the houses and took off all the clothing and bed linen from every house.  The feather beds were emptied out in the yard, and the venerable Capt. Green and his children were reduced to sleeping between two mattresses.  Mr. John Spottswood and Capt. Beale were taken off by the Yankees, leaving their helpless families without provisions or servants.  Most of the negroes within the Yankee lines went off with them.  Major Lacy’s were saved by his overseer’s activity in moving them off before the Yankees reached the Wilderness.

The destruction of property by Union troops during the campaign is mentioned and condemned in the reports of Robert E. Lee and Jubal Early.

Nothing is left of any of these places, save Ellwood Manor, the one-time home of William Jones, referred to as Major J. H. Lacy's in the above news clipping.  It would serve as General G. K. Warren's head-quarters during the May 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. The war destroyed the last remnants of the Germanna community and Orange Grove, home to multiple generations of the Spotswood family, succumbed to fire in the 1870's.  All that remain are a pile of bricks and the family cemetery, enveloped by the Lake of the Woods housing development.  Mining in the area was abandoned altogether in the 1940's.

I wanted for this webpage to have photographs of Culpeper Mine Ford and some of the paths the 2nd Division followed on the march, but the area between Modern Route 3 (The Germanna Plank Road) and the Culpeper Mine Ford is inaccessible, ––on both sides of the river.  The entire road network that existed then is gone, and the private road traces are closed to the public.  A large housing development has been proposed for the area, but the old mining sites have never been reclaimed, so some question the soundness of that idea.


FOOTNOTES & SOURCES:
            #1.  Dr. Peter G. Rainey, Finding Culpeper Mine Ford Road, p. 56;  2012, Locust Grove, VA.
            #2.  O. R. Volume 29, Chapter 40, Part 1;  General Sykes Report, p. 504.  Sykes dated his report 7 p.m. Nov 27 but it had to be written the 26th.
            #3.  Rainey, p. 64.
            #4.  Rainey, p. 56

OTHER SOURCES:   www.geni.com for the Spotswood family, Antebellum Orange by Ann Miller, Orange County Historical Society, 1988, Dictionar of National Biography at Wikisource; The Grymes Family, grymes.org; & Piedmont Environmental Council, www.pecva.org


Narrative Continued

The following is from, “The Thirty-Ninth Massachusetts Regiment; 1862 - 1865”; by Alfred S. Row, Worcester, Mass., 1914; continued:

Returning to the 26th of November and confining ourselves to the work the Thirty-ninth we find the same awakened at an early hour and starting out before four o’clock.  Colonel Samuel H. LeonardThe Rappahannock was again crossed at the station of the same name as the river. During a brief halt on the south side of the stream, Colonel Leonard, commanding the brigade, read a telegram from headquarters, announcing the great victory of General Grant at Chattanooga and at least one soldier remarked, “That’s good news to march on.”  With hourly halts, the extended march was not so tiresome as certain shorter though more rapid ones had proved.  About 6 p.m. the Rapidan was crossed at Culpeper Mine, and ascending an elevation south of the river, a mile further along, camp was pitched for the night.  Not a few commented on the change from Thanksgiving Day the year before, and still more remarked on the difference between the day at home and that passed in active campaigning;  no cases of insomnia were heard of during the night, for all were tired and sleepy and “taps,” if sounded, found very few waiting to obey.  Eighteen miles were put down as the distance marched.

History of the 16th Maine, cont'd:

Nov. 26.  Colonel Leonard  commanding the brigade, [pictured] read a congratulatory order on the success of General Grant on the Mississippi.  Took up line of march, and crossed the Rapidan at Gold Mine Ford, and bivouacked.  Length of march, eighteen miles.

Diary of Sam Webster, cont'd:

Thursday, November 26th, 1863.
        Thanksgiving Day. ––March at daylight, cross the Rappahannock at sunrise;  Mountain Run at Viola Mills [Paoli] about 9 o'clock, and the Rapidan at Culpeper Mines Ford, after dark. Tug up a big hill and camp.


Boston Evening Transcript; January 4, 1864

On January 4th 1864, the Boston Evening Transcript published a detailed report of the Mine Run Campaign written by 13th MA correspondent, CLARENCE, the newspaper's regular correspondent from the regiment.  It is a long article, and I've parsed it out in sections, to keep harmony with the rest of the narratives on this page.


Paoli’s Mills, Jan 1, 1864.           
1st Brigade, 2d Div., 1st Corps.        

The 13th Regiment on the March.   At daybreak, on the morning of the 26th November, we broke camp, and marched a mile to the pontoon bridge, just above the railroad bridge, where we crossed.  We then travelled on, toward the southwest, crossing the railroad,  and passing through Paoli’s Mills and Richardsville, to Culpeper Ford.

At this place, passing over the Rapidan, we bivouacked at Wickoff, one mile from the river and sixteen miles from our starting point at Rappahannock Station.

At Wickoff  there is a gold mine, worked by a stock company;  and, before the war, five hundred men were employed in digging for the precious metal; but at present time no work is performed, as Conscription Acts and Emancipation Proclamations have exhausted manual mining material.  (to be continued).


Sergeant Austin Stearns, “Three Years in Company K” cont'd:

Sergeant Austin Stearns, Company K,  provides quite a lot more detail regarding this march:

Charles Reed Illustration, soldier with fence rails

[November 26]  We were up and away before light.  It was a clear, cool, frosty morning and when the sun came up how it made things sparkle.  We crossed the [Rappahannock] river and bore away towards the Rapidan, which we reached and crossed just at dark going but a short distance when we went into bivouac.

As soon as I could lay off my traps and gun, I started for a rail fence that was close by.  There were so many of my way of thinking that the rails disappeared faster than I walk.

I started on the run and soon had three good rails on my back, troops were still marching in, and soldiers with rails were going and fires were being built in all directions.  I could not tell in what direction my reg’t was, but after one or two enquiries I came out all right.  I cooked and ate the remainder of my Thanksgiving supper, thinking I had well earned it.

Diary of Calvin Conant, Company G, 13th MA:
        Thursday, 26.  Marched at 7 this Morning crossed the Rappahannock & the –– Rapidan rivers and went in to camp late at night    I am very tired  set up & boiled potatoes & made Coffee had a rough Thanksgiving this year  we are ordered to march at 4 in the Morning   I am on guard

Marching Orders, November 27th

The Following Itinerary was issued to Meade's Army.

Headquarters Army of the Potomac      
November 27, 1863, 12.15 a. m.

[Circular.]

The following movements of troops are ordered for to-day, November 27:

    1.     The Second Corps, Major-General Warren, will move at 7 a. m. along the turnpike to Old Verdierville.

    2.    Third Corps, Major-General French, will move at 7 a. m. on the Robertson’s Tavern road, and close on the Second Corps.

    3.    Fifth Corps, Major-General Sykes, will move at 7 a. m. to New Verdierville.

    4.    First Corps, Major-General Newton, will move not later than 7 a. m. on the route of the Fifth Corps, and close up on the Fifth Corps.

    5.    Sixth Corps, Major-General Sedgwick, will move as soon as the Third Corps has cleared the road, and, as his artillery, &c., has joined him, close up on the Third Corps.  One division of the Sixth Corps will remain near the river until the trains have crossed at Germanna and the bridges are taken up.

    6.    The ammunition trains ambulances, &c., directed to remain on the north bank of the river will cross and join their corps, those of the Second, Third and Sixth Corps, at Germanna; those of the Fifth and First at Culpeper Ford.

    7.    Reserve Artillery will cross at Germanna, follow the route of the Second Corps, and halt before reaching Robertson’s Tavern, so as not to interfere with the march of the Third Corps.

    8.    The chief of cavalry will direct a force of that arm to move in advance on the roads in front of the army.

    9.    The trains, under the direction of the chief quartermaster of the army, will cross at Culpeper and Ely’s Fords, and be parked in rear of the army.  They will be guarded by Merritt’s cavalry division.

    9 ½. Commanders of leading corps will keep up communication with each other and with the corps in their rear;  those of the rear corps with the corps in front.  The flank next the enemy will be carefully watched, and the usual precautions against approach will be taken.  The commanding general will be kept advised of every-thing that occurs.

    10.  Headquarters will be at Robertson’s Tavern.

By command of Major-General Meade:                                     
S. WILLIAMS,            
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Return to Table of Contents

November 27, 1863; Plans are Fouled-Up

Major-General John Newton's Report

Friday, November 27. ––Started at 3.30 a.m., came up with General Sykes still in camp at the point where the old turnpike crosses the Germanna plank road.  Nothing of note occurred except an attack of the enemy’s cavalry on General Sykes’ train, which, however, was quickly driven off by the advance of my troops.  Before the head of my column had arrived at Parkers’ Store, I received orders from headquarters Amy of the Potomac, through General Sykes, to hold my command in readiness to advance to the support of General Warren, at Robertsons’ Tavern, and to seek for cross-roads connecting with that point.  I sent several staff officers on this duty, who, reporting to headquarters Army of the Potomac, received orders to move at once.  I arrived in rear of Robertson’s Tavern a little after 7 p.m. ––Maj. Gen. John Newton, Dec. 3, 1863.

Confederate Attack on the 5th Corps Wagon Train

General Sykes' 5th Corps preceded the 1st Corps on the march this day;  both corps marching upon the  Orange Plank Road.  Confederate Cavalry led by Brigadier-General Thomas L. Rosser, attacked the 5th Corps wagon train near Parkers' Store as it rolled along between the two columns.  The lead brigade of the First Corps rushed forward to help.  Excerpts from Rosser's report tell the story.

“On the 25th ultimo, I learned that the Federal General Gregg was threatening my line at or near Ely’s Ford with a division of cavalry, and I caused three days’ rations to be prepared, my wagons held in readiness to move, horses hitched, &C.

“Late in the afternoon my pickets at Ely’s Ford were driven in and about a regiment of cavalry crossed.   As soon as this was reported to me I sent a regiment to the relief of the picket, but before its arrival the enemy recrossed the river, leaving a strong picket at the ford.

Ely's Ford

Ely's Ford was named for Revolutionary War veteran, Rev. Edward G. Elley who made his home near here, and pastored at the Wilderness Church.  The name of the crossing was shortened to "Ely's" by the locals.  View from the south side looking to the north side of the Rapidan River.  The modern bridge over the river is just out of frame to the left.

“Early on the morning of the the 26th, I doubled my line and moved my command up in direction of Chancellorsville; but about 8 a.m. my pickets at Ely’s and the Gold Mine Fords reported the enemy crossing in force and advancing toward Chancellorsville.  But before I could reach Chancellorsville I was able to learn from scouts that the enemy was moving up the river.  I therefore moved to Todd’s Tavern, in order that I might guard the roads leading toward the Central Railroad and the flank of General Lee’s army.  I encamped at this point during the night, within a mile and a half of Gregg.

“From scouts I learned that a large wagon train was encamped near Ely’s Ford, and thinking that I would probably have an opportunity of attacking it the next morning, I concluded that inasmuch as Gregg had so much the larger force I having no artillery, I would let him pass, seeing that he was only moving upon the flank of Meade’s army and had no idea of a raid.  As soon, therefore, as he passed I moved, by way of the old Brock road across to the plank road, where I attacked the wagon train loaded with the ordnance stores of the First and Fifth Army Corps.

“This train was strongly guarded by a corps front and rear, but the flanks were exposed, and while the Twelfth and Seventh Regiments kept up a brisk skirmish with the First Corps, which was marching in rear, I succeeded in destroying 35 or 40 wagons, brought off  8 loaded with ordnance stores, 7 ambulances, 230 mules and horses, and 95 prisoners, with the loss of 2 men killed and 3 wounded.

“The infantry then coming up in superior force compelled me to retire.  I moved back to Todd’s Tavern, where I received your order to rejoin the divisions.”  ––Brigadier-General Thomas L. Rosser's Report, December 7, 1863.

Brigadier-Geneal Lysander Cutler, leading the 1st Corps march, sent forward 2 Wisconsin regiments to save the wagon train.

“Just before reaching the plank road, the train of the Fifth Army Corps, which was unguarded, was attacked by rebel cavalry at a cross-roads in the dense forest of the neighborhood.  Hearing the firing, I ordered Colonel Robinson, commanding the First Brigade, to push two regiments through the woods to the front and repel them.  He promptly sent the Sixth and Second Wisconsin, one on the right and the other on the left of the road.  The Sixth soon came upon the enemy and drove them from the road, killing 2 and wounding others.  They had, however killed 2 teamsters, a number of mules, and run off about 20 wagons, and might have taken off the whole train but for the men I sent forward to rescue it.  In the skirmish, the Sixth Wisconsin had 1 man severely and 1 slightly wounded.  After clearing the road of the wrecks of the train, I moved forward to Parker’s Store, where I halted until 4 p.m.”  ––Brigadier-General Lysander Cutler's Report, December 3, 1863.

The narrative of CLARENCE from the Boston Transcript continues:

At five A. M., on the 27th, we were again aroused, and were soon upon the road.  We here turned to the south, and marched two miles upon a mud road, to the celebrated plank road leading from Fredericksburg to Culpepper.

Once more we turned to the Southwest,  and marched six miles to Guiness’s Station, near the battlefield of Chancellorsville.  At the left of the road, about four hundred dark red mounds marked the spot where the Eleventh Corps was overpowered and defeated in that memorable engagement.  We now began to hear occasional discharges of cannon and firearms, so skirmishers were deployed on both sides of the road, to guard against surprise by straggling bands of rebel cavalry.  This was a wise precaution, for we soon found that the ammunition train of the Fifth Corps had been attacked and fifteen wagons captured.  One mile from Guinness’s Station we turned to the right, [Brock Road––B.F.] and marched two miles upon a mud road to the plank road from Fredericksburg to Gordonsville.

Confederate Attack on a Union Wagon Train

At this place the enemy had made the attack upon the trains, and a short distance beyond the junction of the roads stood a dismantled wagon, with the dead mules lying near.

In the woods at the side of the road was a new made grave, which proved to be of the officer commanding the party of rebel cavalry which made the attack, and who had been killed by our own forces guarding the train.

We were now in the portion of Virginia known as the Wilderness, it being almost impenetrable, and extending for miles, in front, rear, and on both flanks.

At four P.M., we reached Perkin’s store, [Parker’s Store] turned to the North, marching upon a narrow road through the dense forest.  We were delayed considerably by the artillery and ammunition trains becoming stalled in the deep mud, and we were several hours marching a few miles.*

At twelve o’clock we reached the position occupied by the Third Corps near the Orange turnpike.  We here bivouacked for the night, having marched eighteen miles since morning.  To be continued.

*See the letter of Jame Ross for more detail on the road jam. ––B. F.

Diary of Calvin Conant:

Friday, 27.  Marched this morning at 6  was guard on the train got along slow went about 13 miles then stoped in the woods for the rest of the night

Sergeant Austin Stearns, “Three Years in Company K” cont'd:

Wilderness Tavern

[November 27]  The night was cold and with some wind before morning, the cold had routed us up, and all the extra rails were on the fire.  The reveille sounded at five a.m. and at six we had again taken [to] the roads or fields.  The teams blocked the roads so our progress was slow.  We moved towards Fredericksburg until we passed the Wilderness tavern and turned on a dirt road [Brock Road–– B.F.]  and came to the plank road that led to Orange C.H.  While waiting for the teams to get over the dirt road, we heard the sharp crack of a rifle near the crossing of the roads. We stood to arms while the staff hurried to find the cause.  How the stragglers and bums came out through the woods towards us.  The scare was caused by a squad of rebs watching their opportunity, dashing out at the junctions of road and shooting a few mules and trying to run off some of the wagons.

The road was out of repair, yet we moved at a faster rate.  After going several miles and hearing the booming guns, we turned off and went through the woods.  It commenced to rain and we were halted at dark and lay there through the night;  no fires were allowed.  [Wilderness Tavern, Pictured ––National Park Service]

Charles E. Davis, cont'd:

Friday, November 27.   In obedience to the foregoing order we turned out at 4 A.M., and by 5 o’clock were on our way over the plank-road leading to Fredericksburg, and a crooked hilly road it turned out to be.  After following this road for a few miles we turned from it taking a cart-path through the woods to Robertson’s Tavern, and thence to the Orange Court House pike, which we reached about 10.30 P.M. and halted for the night.

Col. John S. Mosby Confederate Raider

The regiment was shortly after sent out on picket, having first received instruction from General Robinson to be cautious about firing, as the Fifth Corps was somewhere in front, and the Second Corps on our left.  There was excellent reason for this precaution, as the country was full of guerillas.  In the order of march to-day the Fifth Corps had the lead, and between it and our corps was a small wagon-train, a part of which was led off from the road into the woods by a band of guerrillas in Federal uniform.  The drivers were murdered, the mules led away, and the wagons burned before we had time to realize what was being done.  A daring thing like this could not have succeeded except through the protections afforded by the uniforms.  It caused some delay in our march, and was likely to make the men on picket feel somewhat nervous;  hence the caution about fireing.

The natural repugnance we had to being hanged made us dread being caught by Mosby.  [It was Thomas Rosser's Cavalry not Col. Mosby's Guerillas that attacked the wagons––B.F.]

The distance marched was twenty miles.

When the announcement was made that we were going to Robertson’s Tavern,  it filled our minds with visions of “flowing bowls, which landlords fill until they run over, according to the song.  We thought what we might do on arriving there if we were major-generals, but we were not.  However, we couldn’t resist picturing what this tavern might be, and so we amused ourselves by discussing the probabilities of broad open fireplaces and hot flip until some one called out “Shut up!  There’s Robertson’s Tavern!”  and it turned out to be the most ordinary-looking tenement-house, without the remotest suggestion of comfort or hospitality associated with the time-honored name of tavern.

Robinson's Tavern Today

Robinson's Tavern, December 2021

Pictured is the Robinson's Tavern building today; photograph taken December, 2021, complete with Christmas Decorations in the front yard.  The building was moved a few hundred yards from its original location at the corner of the Orange Turnpike, to accomodate a service station.  The capped well still exists in its orginal location in front of the gas station.  Why it was so important to move the building to put a gas station on the corner I will never know, but fortunately the building is still in tact and in good condition.

Diary of Sam Webster, cont'd:

Friday, November 27th, 1863
        March out on the plank road (Germania) in the direction of Chancellorsville, to a short cut (Brock road, I think it is called) to another plank road leading to Old Verdierseville.  Here about 15 ammunition wagons of the 5th Corps, which are ahead of us, were led off into the woods by a rebel, surrounded and burnt.  We turned South West and marched through the Wilderness until we came to a house or store in a clearing;  halted back of the house on the cut and grade of an intended Railroad.  Moved again, just at dark, turning to the right in the woods in a short time, and halting about 10 ½ p.m. about half a mile or mile to east or south of Robinson’s store (on Orange turnpike).  None of the Corps officers to be found.  Lt. Rollins, with a detail of 20 men, detached and sent down the road to left to see if they could find the corps commander, and to deliver orders to General Sykes.

Lieutenant Rollin's Detail

Unfortunately for me, an identified photograph of Lt. Edward Fay Rollins has failled to turn up over the many years I have researched the regiment.  The following narrative in the regimental history describes Rollin's orders the night of November 27th, and his subsequent adventure the next day, November 28, to deliver special instructions to 5th Corps Commander Major-General George Sykes.

Charles E. Davis, cont'd:

The following occurrence taken from a letter written by comrade Rollins shows so clearly the vicissitudes of a soldiers’s life that we gladly give it place in our narrative, particularly as the detail was composed of men from the Thirteenth, and was made soon after our halt to-night :


We were tired, of course, but soldiers are never so tired but they must build fires and cook their coffee.  Fuel was plentiful and the fires burned up brightly and lighted the recesses of the deep woods, and called out the chirps of the katydids and all kinds of insects in the foliage and tree-tops;  a feeling of comfort crept over us as we sipped our coffee and looked forward to a good night’s rest snugly in our blankets.  I was counting on this myself, when the adjutant of the regiment approached me and delivered his message:  “Lieutenant Rolllins, you are detailed to take command of a detail of twenty-five men of this regiment, and you will report to General Robinson at 4 o’clock to-morrow morning for instructions.”

illustration of a night camp

My pleasant frame of mind suddenly vanished as I suddenly inquired, “Where shall I find General Robinson?” while at the same time surmises of the nature of the duty required were floating through my mind, and I barely recollected the adjutant pointing to a fire a little way distant where I could see some men putting up a small tent for the general’s use.

The most probable duty I could think of to be required was to be that of advanced skirmishers;  but then it was too small a detail for such duty.  Then came the thought of guarding wagons, or something of that sort, but there were no wagons with us, and I was forced to give up my fruitless conjectures.  Still my mind would constantly revert to it and the suspense I knew would prevent my full enjoyment of sleep.  I could hear the adjutant as he visited the bivouac fires of each company going through with his stereotyped order to the first sergeant as follows:  “You will make a detail of two men,”  or  “three,” as the case might be, “to report to Lieutenant Rollins ready to march at 4 o’clock to-morrow morning.”

I also heard responses from the men, sometimes half a dozen together which pleased me more.  They were like this:  “Put my name down;” –– “I’ll go,” etc.  I had not been commissioned many months but I had acquired a reputation –– whether deservedly or not it does not become me to say –– that led the men whenever I was to take charge of a picket or skirmish line to volunteer to go with me.  Of this I candidly say I was proud, and am to this day.

Major General George Sykes, commanding 5th Corps

I slept fitfully during the night, and at the hour ordered marched my men to the general’s tent, when his adjutant-general appeared, and, taking me a little aside, gave me a large sealed envelope, saying it was directed to General Sykes, and that I was to deliver it to him.  While he was telling me this, General Robinson, probably overhearing him through the thin cloth of the tent, put his head out of the opening and called me to him.   Then he went on to give me minute directions as follows:   That I should retrace the cart-path by which we had come into these woods until I came to the plank-road; then turn to the right and follow the plank-road toward Orange Court House until I met General Sykes with his division, and to personally deliver this package to him.  Then he explained his reasons for sending the despatch in this manner.  He said he had only two or three mounted orderlies with him, whom he could not spare, and that the woods were infested with guerillas, who might attack a mounted messenger, but would hardly dare attack my detail.  That I must look out for a surprise, and not allow any party to approach me, even if clad in our uniform, as almost all the guerrillas were so clothed.  That after I had delivered the document I should fall in with General Sykes’ troops, and rejoin my regiment when I could find it.  He again cautioned me about delivering the message only to General Sykes, and bade me good-morning.

Major-General George Sykes, commanding 5th Corps, pictured.

Soon after getting on the march as directed, a light rain commenced to fall, and by the time the plank-road was reached it was daylight.  The road was only a plank-road in name; it probably was once a plank-road.  We marched on and on, with no signs of any troops approaching.  I began to think my orders, if carried out to the letter, would take us into the heart of the Confederacy, and that General Robinson might have been misinformed as to General Sykes’ route.  I looked at my watch, and it was half-past seven.  Still I kept on.  At last, away down a straight stretch of the road, I could see something coming.  I did not know whether it was friend or foe, but immediately marched my men into a clump of bushes and small trees by the roadside, and halted.  The men threw themselves on the ground to rest, while I kept a look-out for what was approaching.  I could only make out a small body of mounted men, ten or fifteen in number; but as they came nearer I could discern that a body of infantry was some distance behind them, and came at once to the conclusion, which afterwards I found correct, that it was General Sykes and his staff some distance in front of the head of the column of Infantry.  When they had approached within thirty or forty rods, I called my men to attention, and formed a line on the side of the road awaiting them.  Much to our amusement, when they discovered us, General Sykes and his staff reined up their horses very suddenly, and acted as though they were in doubt whether to remain where they were or return to the head of the column of troops coming.  They probably feared that we were rebel guerillas. They did not go back, however, but waited until the column came up, and then came along with the troops.

H. A. Ogden sketch of officers consulting

Knowing General Sykes, I gave the order to “present arms!” and stepped out into the road with the papers in my left hand, and, saluting with my sword, said, “General Sykes, I have dispatches for you.”  He returned the salute, and I brought my men to “shoulder arms!” and handed him the envelope.  Meantime, the column behind was halted.  He read the papers very carefully; and then, turning to me, said:  “You must have had quite a tramp with your men.  You had better fall into any opening in the line between regiments and keep along with us.  You may not see your regiment for several days.”  I let several regiments pass, and finally fell into an opening in the line.  We were tired, wet, and muddy from marching, and were objects of much curiosity to the “Regulars” comprising Sykes’ division:  the officers would come alongside of me to inquire where we were from.

I had now to begin to favor my men, as they were becoming tired out.  So I would drop out of an opening and let five or six regiments pass, and then file into another gap. This kept on till we got to the last regiment in the line.  About this time we came up to a wagon park on a hill, when I filed out off the road and halted near fires built by teamsters, and we rested and cooked our coffee. It was past noon, and we learned from the wagoners that a line of battle was in front about mile in a piece of woods skirting a stream called Mine Run.  We had got back to a point about three miles west of the one we had left in the morning.  After a good rest we left the wagon park and marched forward to the line of battle, striking troops of the Sixth Corps.  After a deal of searching and marching we found where our regiment had been;  but they were then on the skirmish line.  We awaited their return, which occurred the next morning at daylight.

From “Three Years in the Army,”  by Charles E. Davis, Jr., cont'd:

The following extract from Swinton’s “Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac” will be of interest in showing the purposes of the campaign:

Judging from the experience of such military operations as had been attempted during the previous years at the season now reached, it might have been inferred that the army could do nothing better than go into winter quarters and await the coming spring before entering upon a new campaign.  But General Meade felt that the condition of the public mind would hardly brook delay;  and being himself very eager for action, he anxiously watched a favorable opportunity to deliver battle.  Such an opportunity he thought he saw towards the end of November; and he then planned an operation known as the “Mine Run move” ––an operation which deserved better success than it met.

It was learned that Lee, while resting the right of his army on the Rapidan near Morton’s Ford, had left the lower fords of the river at Ely’s, Culpeper Mine,  Germanna, and Jacob’s Mills uncovered, and depended upon the defense of that flank upon a line  of entrenchments which he had constructed perpendicular to the river and extending along the left bank of a small tributary of the Rapidan named Mine Run, which flows almost at right angles with the former stream, and empties into it at Morton’s Ford.  Relying for the security of his right upon that line, Lee had placed his force in cantonments covering a wide extent of country; so that while Ewell’s corps held position from Morton’s Ford to Orange Court House,  Hill’s corps was distributed from that point along the railroad to near Charlottesville, with an interval of several miles between the two corps.

This wide separation of his opponents’s forces gave Meade the hope that by crossing the Rapidan at the lower fords, turning the Confederate right, and advancing quickly towards Orange Court House by the plank and turnpike roads that connect that place with Fredericksburg, he might be able to interpose between the two hostile bodies under Ewell and Hill, and destroy them in detail.

This plan, different from the kind of operation ordinarily attempted in Virginia, was well suited to the circumstances.  It was based upon a precise mathematical calculation of the elements of time and space, of the kind for which Napoleon was so  famous, and depended absolutely for its success on a vigorous execution of all the foreordained movements in the foreordained time and way.  Thus planning, Meade attempted the bold coup d’essaye of cutting entirely loose from his base of supplies, and providing his troops with ten days’ rations, he left his trains on the north side of the Rapidan, relying on the meditated success to open up new lines of communication.

Map:  General Meade's Routes of March

Map of marches November 26 & 27 1863

I created this map of the march of the armies with an 1887 Topographic base map.  It shows the Union Corps marches in different shades of blue.  The route of Newton's 2 Divisions of the 1st Corps (on this map) starts at Richardsville, although they marched considerably more than that on the 26th, coming from Rappahannock Station before bivouacking for the night at "Wyckoff."  John Wyckoff was the manager of Melville Mine and lived on the premises. The routes are based on General Meade's map which accompanied his report in the Official Records, (with some embellishments).    Click here to view larger.

Continued:
        The movement was begun at dawn of the 26th of November, and the order of march was as follows:  The Fifth Corps, followed by the First corps, was to cross the Rapidan at Culpeper Mine Ford and proceed to Parker’s Store, on the plank-road to Orange Court House.  The Second Corps was to cross at Germanna Ford and proceed out on the turnpike (which runs parallel with the plank road) to Robertson’s Tavern.  [Locust Grove on the map –– B. F.]  To this point also the Third Corps, crossing at Jacob’s Mill Ford, and followed by the Sixth Corps, was to march by other routes, and then make a junction with the Second Corps.  With the left thus at Parkers’ Store and the right  at Robertson’s Tavern, the army would be in close communication on parallel roads, and by advancing westward towards Orange Court House would turn the line of the Mine Run defences, which it was known did not extend as far south as to cross the turnpike and plank-roads.

Parker's Store Intersection Today

Parker's Store Crossroads

Parker's Store used to be in the vicinity of the house in the left background.  The unfinished railroad bed indicated on the map is still present in the woods behind the house. It was near this cross-roads that Rosser's cavalry attacked the ammunition wagons.  The 13th regiment rested near here in the afternoon before receiving orders to find a path north to connect with General Warren's troops at Robinson's Tavern.

Continued:
        As the distance of the several corps from their encampments to the assigned points of concentration was under twenty miles, General Meade reasonably assumed that marching early on the 26th, each corps commander would be able to make the march inside of thirty-four hours, or, at most, by noon of the 27th.  It remains to relate how this well-devised and meritorious plan was balked by circumstances that, though seemingly trivial to those uninstructed in war, are yet the very elements that in a large degree assure success or entail failure.

The first of the delays was occasioned by the tardiness of movement of the Third Corps, under General French, which, having a less distance to march than the other corps, yet did not reach its assigned point for the crossing of the Rapidan until three hours after the other corps had arrived.  This caused a delay to the whole army, for, not knowing what he should encounter on the other side, General Meade was unwilling to allow the other corps to cross until the Third was up.

A second obstacle was the result of an unpardonable blunder on the part of the engineers in estimating the width of the Rapidan, so that the pontoon bridges it was designed to throw across that stream were too short, and trestle-work and temporary means had to be provided to increase their length.

In addition, another cause of delay resulted from the very precipitous banks of the Rapidan, which rendered the passage of the artillery and trains tedious and difficult.  The effect of these several circumstances was that the army, instead of making the passage of the river early in the day, was not across until the following morning.  Twenty-five hours had passed, and only half the distance was made.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The Third Corps, under General French, fell into a series of luckless mishaps, by which it happened that soon after crossing the Rapidan at Jacob’s Mills he took the wrong road to reach Robertson’s Tavern, falling upon a route too much to the right, which brought it against Johnson’s division of Ewell’s corps.  With this force it had a brisk brush, and by the time it could extricate itself, get on the right road, and open communications with Robertson’s Tavern, it was night.

Crossroads at Widow Morris' House

site of Widow Morris' house

After ridiculous delays crossing Jacob's Ford, General French's 3d Corps continued south until they came to this crossroads on November 27th.  When General Prince's division, leading the 3rd Corps, reached this intersection, he should have taken the road to the left, which he suggested doing after pausing to send scouts down both roads.  Those were the orders given in General Meade's detailed campaign briefing prior to the march.    General French offered little help and if Prince's report is true, French directed him to continue strait instead of turning.   This led him into a fight with Major-General Edward "Allegheny" Johnson's Division, of Ewell's corp, which was marching to join the rest of their command near Robinson's Tavern.  The Battle of Payne's Farm followed  and lasted into the evening.  The delays allowed General Lee to unite the two wings of his army to oppose Meade's advance.  General Meade's original plans were now completely ruined.

Letter of James Ross

James Ross of the "9th NY" kept a diary of his activities during the Mine Run Campaign in the form of a long continuous letter to his Father.  He did this as he says, as a pleasant way to pass the time. Thanks to James, we have an incredibly detailed account of what it was like to be there.  He wrote this letter during the pause in the march at Parker's Store, before being ordered to move through the woods to connect with the 2nd Corp at Robinson's Tavern.

Wilderness Va
Friday Nov. 27th 1863

Dear Father:

We have been on the tramp since yesterday morning   we left camp at daylight, crossed the Rapidan at Ely’s Ford [Culpeper Mine Ford] last night and camped on the other side.  This morning we left camp at five o’clock and have been traveling ever since.  The artillery has been with us which has made our progress very slow.  No one in the regiment knows our destination, nor certainly our present location, but the prevalent idea is that we are bound for Gordonsville and that we have been traveling through the wilderness all the morning  it is now five o’clock and we expect to start in a few minutes to be on the move perhaps all night.

The artillery is pounding away as is usual on an advance while I write, and has been all day   the fifth corps has the advance   ours is second in line     the second Corps is on our right and the others I suppose behind.  We have been today in a region never before traversed by union troops.  The country looks different from that on the other side of the river   the people have housed their crops and the fences were good but not one rail remains along any road that we have come      every time we halt piles of them are burnt.  It seems dreadful to destroy property so

at one place on our route this morning the guerrillas made a dash down upon the fifth Corps ordinance train just before us and captured some wagons and ambulances   some they burned others they carried off.   We passed one which they had been compelled to leave.  The mules were shot beside the wagon and [everything?] in it gone, and the wagon itself smashed generally.  group of women and children from battles and leadersOne rebel was killed who had not been buried ten minutes,  his grave was beside the road as we came along    The people along here do not seem to like us.

The women stand in the doors and abuse us as well   pass one said this morning at a house where we halted that if she had her way she would make beef of every Yankee in the south.  what she meant I could not say but she shook her fist and looked fierce while she said it.   She had a baby in her arms and as the soldiers and niggers were burning up her fences not ten rods from the door I don’t blame her for feeling a little excited.

We had the news from Chattanooga yesterday morning the general rec'd a telegram and read it to the brigade at Rappahannock station.  And then the men did some cheering.

The weather yesterday was most splendid, but very cold last night and threatening snow or rain today.  Whether we are to have a fight or not I cannot say.  But I guess that we did not come across the Rapidan for nothing   If the rebels stand we will attack them, and if we advance they must attack us sometime or other   we did not come over here to winter.

    To be continued...

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November 28, 1863;  The Army Advances; Meade Seeks Options

Major-General John Newton's Report

On November 28th,  the army advanced west, 1 1/2 miles from Robinson's Tavern to a ridge on the east side of Mine Run, then formed battle lines.

Saturday, November 28. ––The corps was aroused at 3 a.m. and put in position on the left of General Warren and Robertson’s Tavern. Subsequently in the morning (about 7 o’clock), received orders to advance, still keeping to the left of General Warren.  My troops marched in two lines through the woods to near Mine Run, where the enemy were discovered in line of battle ready to receive us.  I established a picket line, with a little firing of the enemy, and remained in position there for the balance of the day. ––Report of Maj. Gen. John Newton, Dec. 3, 1863.

History of the 39 Mass., cont'd:

The 28th of November, Saturday, brought a part of the Regiment under fire.  Before daylight an advance of a mile or so was made, followed by breakfast and the use of pick and shovel in entrenching and then a still further, though brief, advance.  The sound of the skirmishing comes from front and battle line is formed;  Companies C and E being detailed as skirmishers, they went forward some 300 yards, the regiment remaining behind the crest of the hill.  As a Company C participant wrote, “It commenced to rain very soon and we lay on our bellies and watched the Rebs.;  their sharpshooters watched us closely and some were wounded.  Benj. Dow of our company was shot through the leg,* but the boys were cool and stood their first fire like veterans;  after lying thus all day,  cold and wet through to the skin, we were relieved about eight o’clock and rejoined the Regiment, tired and hungry;  the Rebs. are in good position and I doubt whether Meade will attack first.”

*Footnote on p. 130 of the regimental history:  The wounding of Private Dow was the first bloodshed in the Regiment, and in token thereof he was promoted to be a corporal.  As this was the only casualty in the Regiment, during the Mine Run campaign, the death which Col. T. W. Higginson gives in his story of Massachusetts in the Army and Navy 1861-1865 must be an error.


Alfred Waud's Sketch of the 2nd Corps Line

A.R. Waud Sketch of the front lines near the turnpike

Artist Correspondent Alfred R. Waud sketched a very long and thin panoramic view of the terrain in front of General Warren's 2nd Corps lines probably on November 28.   Row's Farm is identified in the center.  This farm house was along the south side of the turnpike, and Row's Mill was located where the run crossed the road.  The 1st Corps was near this position on the left.  Union artillery runs along a ridge in the middle-ground.  What cannot be seen, is between that ridge and the distant farm there was a deep ravine of 1/2 mile length at least, through which ran Mine Run.   Correspondent CLARENCE wrote “The weakest point of the enemy's works was on the right of the turnpike, a dense pine wood extended nearly to the river, but beyond the hill rose quite steep for two thousand yards, while at the summit the rebel line of intrenchments bristled with artillery.”  The ground on the right  was describe as more open than that which was more wooded on the left.  It was on the right where General Horatio Wright (6th Corps) found a weakness in the Confederate line on the 29th.   Artist Waud, also identified between No. 9 & 10,  Clark's Mountain, (to the right but too light to see), and Arnold's Battery F & G, 1st Pennsylvania Artillery in the foreground.  The November 29 entry for Col. Charles Wainwright, below, shows the left half (cropped) of the engraved image as it appeared in Harper's Weekly, January 2, 1864.  Click here to view the entire sketch.

The narrative of CLARENCE from the Boston Transcript continues:

Edwin Forbes sketched the Front at Mine Run, below.

At four o’clock on the 28th ult., we assumed position behind the intrenchments near our camping place, and formerly occupied by the Third Corps.  Subsequently, we changed position, and advanced to the line of battle, upon the ridge, fronting the enemy’s works, and nearly encircling them.  The first and second divisions of the First Corps (the third division having remained at Rappahannock Station) took position on the left of the Fifth Corps, and between it and the Second Corps.

Edward Forbes sketch of the Mine Run Front

Considerable skirmishing here took place, and one man of the 39th Mass. was slightly wounded.  The line of battle from our position could be nearly  traced, as the country was quite open, though broken into ridges of a semi-circular form, the outer one being occupied by the Union Army and the inner by the rebel forces, separated and admirably defined by Mine Run.

This river had been dammed by the enemy, so that the water was nearly four feet deep, and in an attack would have to be forded by our attacking party.

On the right side of the line, the enemy had still further added to the strength of their position by placing pine logs in the bank of the stream, which were inclined outwards and sharpened to repel attack of both infantry and cavalry.

Although a brisk shelling would have swept away this obstacle, still it would have made the bank a mass of mud, and have increased greatly the disadvantages to the attacking forces.

The weakest point, apparently, of the enemy’s works was on the right of the turnpike; at this place, a dense pine wood extended nearly to the river, but beyond the hill rose quite steep for two thousand yards, while at the summit the rebel line of intrenchments bristled with artillery.   ––This narrative continues on November 30.


Mine Run, North of the Orange Turnpike Road

Mine Run and the ridge beyond 

A country road crosses Mine Run north of the Orange Turnpike.  The high ground beyond was part of General Early's skirmish line.

Back to Charles Davis' Narrative:

Headquarters First Corps,      
November 28, 1863.

Major-General Humphreys,  Chief of Staff, Army of the Potomac:

The pickets I ordered advanced on my left report they cannot cross on account of the depth of mud and water.  They also report a constant movement of the enemy toward our left.

Very respectfully,                  
JOHN NEWTON,      
Major-General.  

Saturday, November 28.  Moved at 5 A.M. through the woods to a clearing, where the rebel infantry was found in force. The corps was then formed in line of battle, with skirmishers thrown out in advance.

Mine Run was just at the foot of the other side of the hill from where we were now stationed. Our skirmishers having driven the enemy across the creek, they opened on us with artillery at long range, to which ours replied, when we were hastily put in a position of safety before any of our brigade was hurt.  We were afterwards thrown out as skirmishers. The concentration of our army at this point continued all day, each corps taking position as it arrived.

Sergeant Austin Stearns, “Three Years in Company K” cont'd:

edwin forbes painting of gen. meade

[November 28]  In the morning the 13th were thrown forward as skirmishers, K company on the left, and my place being on the left I was the last man.  We found the rebs in our front posted behind the run called Mine.  While out there Gen’l Meade and staff rode up and he asked of me if we had seen any rebs in that direction, pointing to the left.  I told him we had not.  Just then an aide of Gen’l French rode up and reported the arrival of his corps. Meade asked where French was;  the aide replied that the Gen’l had gone to Robinson tavern to report to him. Meade, with a look that expressed supreme displeasure, said with an oath that he had not been there since morning and that he had ordered him to report to him here.

The corps arriving, they were sent to the left and Meade rode away.  The corps forming on our left relieved most of the men of K company and we got behind a little hill, made a small fire and were making coffee.

Dorkham was there and, his coffee commencing to boil, he made a spring and dropped his mitten at the edge of the fire.  I saw it and said, “Dorkham, your mitten is in the fire.”  He snatched it away and straightening himself up turned to me and said, “What’s that to you, you have been feeling inferior to me for several days.”  It was not a smothered laugh that went up from around that fire and for a long time it was a querie how anyone would feel if he was inferior to Dorkham.  We were soon relieved and we drew back into the woods where we slept till morn.

Diary of Calvin Conant:

Saturday, 28.  We are now out on picket in front of the enemy   the pickets keep up a continual firing    we are reserve   rained this morning and it is cold    expect to get in a muss tomorrow & [am] all wet through   come in went back in the woods to camp cool night.

Diary of Sam Webster, continued :

Sam Webster gives a colorful account of this day.

W. T. Shelton sketch of a shell exploding in a campfire

Saturday, November 28th, 1863.
        Move at 5 o’clock through the woods to a clearing;  followed road to left, and then to front, about a mile, and formed in line of battle.  Moved on again and formed behind a hill, just over and beyond which was Mine Run.  Considerable rain, during which I managed to finish reading the “Guerilla Chief” –– moved a little to the left, but still behind the hill.

Rifles had been cracking sharply as we moved and they were banging away, now, just over the hill, though we could not see them.  As the Regiment was “dressing” line I went up over top of hill far enough to see the rebels forming on top of a ridge about a mile distant, and also their battery which was throwing shells into a battery a few yards to our right, but close enough to cause apprehension.

Our battery opened and the Johnnies were “looking lively” when Ned Blonde came with orders for me to report to Dr. Hixon, who marched the drum corps to the rear, exactly, of the battery engaged.  (I was first, however, put in charge of the Dr’s horse, old grey; and I rode as far to the left as I dared –– seeing too many rebel cavalry there –– coming back to rear of regiment again where the Dr. resumed care of old grey.)  Brother Ike was in a stew.  The Dr. couldn’t hear a shot, asked, as the boys dodged when shells passed over, if they were “firing now,” etc.  Ike finally left for the Division hospital.

Letter of James Ross, “9th NY”

James Ross's letter to his father continues from that dated November 27th above.

            Saturday Evening Nov. 28th 1863

Dear Father;

Last evening after writing the above we had orders to fall in.  I am sitting now by our camp fire in front of the rebel lines    if they do not commence to shell us we will stay here all night     I am in no hurry to go to bed and if I was things are not favorable for a sleep  So I will take up some time in writing to you and mother.

Theodore Davis artillery sketch

Last night we started after an halt at dark and traveled after the artillery some miles     the roads were very bad and the rebels had fallen timbers across it in some places    the pioneer corps cleared the way as we proceeded but at best we could go only at a snails pace     we had to halt continually and remain standing under our loads.  In the sumer season in such a case the men lie down and rest for it is much harder to stand under our loads than it is to travel under them.    But now the ground is so cold and dank that as soon as we lie down we are chilled through and it is much more toilsome traveling in such a way than it is to travel rapidly though that is bad enough.

We did not get a chance to camp till eleven oclock when we halted and got orders to lie down for the night      the woods were full of dry leaves which made us a nice bed under our blankets.  We put under our rubber one piece of tent & above us our two woolens and two pieces of tent    when we turned in we took off our overcoats and put them under us too.  The night was mild    a sure promise of rain on the morrow and we slept warm    O what a rest we had   I woke once and felt so nice that I did hate to go to sleep but could not keep awake more than a minute.   At half past five the voice of the colonel woke me crying “fall in, turn out and fall in quickly” and without noise.”

We turned out accordingly and packed up in a trice and as there seemed to be a few minutes to spare and we did not know how far we were to march or when we would halt   of course the next idea was of coffee.   We got up a cup in five minutes and were just raising it to our lips when the order came “fall in”  We put the coffee in our canteens, took a hard tack and piece of raw pork in one hand and after starting ate and drank as we were going along    after traveling an hour we formed line in a field of woods behind some rail breast works with skirmishers thrown out,   here we lay for a couple of hours.

The skirmishers fired a shot or two but nothing appeared in our front.  I may as well say here that we knew that the advance of our army had been stopped by our enemy and that the firing of which I spoke in the beginning of my letter was caused by skirmishing going on between them and the fifth corps.  Well after lying as I said awhile orders came to move to the right.  We started off through the woods, over bogs, and through underbrush, sometimes half way to our knees in water then on the double quick over a rail fence then leaping a ditch.  Officers shouting, men crushing, crowding, true [illeg] and shoving everyone shouting and such swearing.   In the open places we passed regiment after regiment drawn up in line

The country like all the rest of Virginia that I have seen is a succession of gentle rolls part forest, part cultivated land.  We came out at one time on the brow of a gentle hill which commanded a view of the country for several miles and here a sight truly grand meet our eyes    the grand army of the Potomac was moving to battle Brigade after brigade –– division, after division, battery after battery was defiling across the country.  It was a sight worth suffering a good deal to look at ––When our brigade finally took location it was under the brow of a gentle slope on the left of a battery of Parrott guns.

We could see up the slope as far as its summit perhaps a dozen of yards but no further     just after falling into line the rain which had been threatening all the morning began to fall   In a few minutes bang went a gun from our battery and whirr went a shell over in the direction in which we supposed the rebel lines lay    It was the first shell that I have ever heard ––A shell sounds at least a rifled shell  just like a sky rocket and it leaves after it a train of smoke & no sooner had the gun went off than the order came “Lie down”

James Fuller Queen illustration of soldiers in line during a heavy rain

now the ground was wet and the rain was coming down in a stream   while we stood up we could keep a little dry but if we lay down it would be different.   never the less the orders must obeyed so down we went   we lay on our sides with all our loads on and for an hour and a half the rain poured down, while the battery fired as rapidly as you could strike on  a table.  It was bang, bang, bang, with the whining of the shells between, and then between the shots sometimes we would hear a distant report caused by the explosion of the shell.  The rebels replied occasionally but none of the shots came in our direction   We did not bother ourselves but lay in the mud without moving.  when the firing ceased we got up and stretched ourselves then we took off our loads and some adventurous gents went up to the top of the hill to look for the rebels  they brought back word that their line was in plain view and as I was anxious to see rebel troops I concluded to take a peep myself.

there was a range of hills a mile away facing our line and on those hills was the rebel line  I  could just make it out in the mist   a brook runs between and the country is partly covered with woods.  I did not stay long  there for I was breaking orders as it was   but toward evening  I went up into the battery and looked at the position as long as I pleased.

The skirmishers of both armies were out a couple of hundred yards from their respective fronts, popping away at each other pretty briskly   the brook and some woods divided them.   The skirmishers on both sides are sharpshooters   they lie concealed as much as possible and fire only when a good chance occurs   several have been killed and wounded today   eleven I believe of ours have been brought into camp   one of our men got into a position behind a tree from which he could not retreat as he was partly flanked by the rebel fire and when he stuck out his head one way or the other pop went a rife.  It was the first time that I have ever seen men shooting at each other.

The battery where we stood was in easy range of the rebel skirmishers but their business was not with us so we were not bothered.  While I was there the men were building nice little works in front of their guns to protect themselves from the shells and we could just distinguish a line of works along the rebel line and the men walking about among them.

Picture of the 1st Corps Position Near the Orange Turnpike

photo of ground occupied by 1st corps at mine run

October 1, 2018:  A rainy day photograph of the ground occupied by the 1st Corps at Mine Run; (probably the 1st Division).  View looking south-southwest.  The picture was taken from a rental property on the south side of modern Route 20 which generally follows the old Turnpike up to this point.  This is the view just up over a hill the driveway ascends to the property.  This land was recently turned into a solar panel farm and is now lost forever.  Somewhere around here, the 13th MA played a game of baseball.  Behind the treeline on the right, the ground slopes down sharply to Mine Run. Click here to view larger.

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November 29, 1863;  Waiting to Attack

Major-General John Newton's Report

Sunday, November 29.––An attack on the enemy being contemplated on the left and right, I was left in charge of the center with my own troops and a few who had been left of the Fifth and Sixth Corps.  At 8 a. m., according to orders cannonading was commenced along my front on the enemy.  It was continued for a short time only.  Subsequently, I advanced a light picket across Mine Run to feel the enemy and to reconnoiter the ground more thoroughly.  The skirmishers very gallantly effected a lodgment on the other side, under a sharp fire of the enemy, losing in killed and wounded about 40 men.  Under cover of this lodgment, I directed four bridges to be constructed, not knowing but what they might be of some ulterior use.

After night, feeling that my picket line must be maintained very strongly or be withdrawn, I directed the latter to be done at 3 o’clock the next morning, first submitting my proposal to head-quarters Army of the Potomac, which was approved, and the pickets were withdrawn at that hour to their former position on the north side of the run, the bridges being destroyed.  The position of the enemy in my proper front was very strong, the approach to it being visible to the enemy for 2,500 yards, according to my estimate, and flanked on both sides by heavy belts of timber.  There was, besides Mine Run, a ravine, difficult of passage (not visible from our side), raked by their artillery.  The only possible chance of success in attacking it seemed to me to be to mass the troops under cover of the night and have their flanks strongly supported by the adjacent corps.  Success at the best was only probable, and must have been attended with heavy sacrifice of life.

This concludes the active operations of the First Corps.  During the advance  of the army, my column was never impeded  The column to which I belonged was always up in reasonable time.  ––Maj. Gen. John Newton, Dec. 3, 1863.

Narration

Major-General G. K. Warren proposed a flank move to General Meade in which Warren would pull his 2nd Corps out of line on the morning of November 29 and march down past New Hope Church, formerly General Sykes' position of the 27th.  The idea was to get around the end of Confederate defenses beyond the termination of Mine Run.  The 5th Corps moved into Warren's old position north of the turnpike, and the army waited for the results of the flank march.

Warren's march was delayed by enemy cavalry encounters, enemy pickets, and being on unfamiliar ground but by daylight's end his troops were in position to attack.  He thought it too late to advance however.  He did notice in the fading light the enemy's defenses in his new front were weak.  He sent a message to General Meade the attack would take place in the morning and he believed it had every chance of success.  Meade had planned an attack north of the turnpike to be co-ordinated with Warren's attack.  And so, as these events transpired,  the army waited, expecting to attack in the afternoon.   And later, they were told the attack would take place the followng morning.


Charles Wainwright Journal

General Charles Wainwright gives a good recap of the campaign up until this point.

Colonel Charles Wainwright

He returned from furlough at his New York Estate, and reached Washington D. C. the morning of November 28.  Here he was told at the Provost-Marshal's office that the railroad was open to Rappahannock Station, and that First Corps troops were holding it,  but there was no use going because the army had “cut entirely loose from this road.”  Determined to see for himself, Wainwright crowded onto the one passenger car headed south.  He was privately disgusted that the cars were full of officers and men democratically mixed together. [The horror.]

At Rappahannock Station several officers repeated that it was hopeless to get through to the front by this way and several who had come down on the train were convinced to return to Washington.  Wainwright persisted however, knowing the 3rd Division of his own corps was in charge at this place he sought out Commander John Kenly.  Kenly welcomed Wainwright to dinner and told him heavy cannonading was heard at the front yesterday afternoon, but repeated there was little chance of getting through.  Thinking that any wounded would be removed to Rappahannock Station, Wainwright remained, hoping to catch some way to the front.  At 8 p.m. an escort arrived from the army, which planned to return to the front the next morning, and in this way, cranky Colonel Wainwright made his way to the army, astonishing everyone at head-quarters with his presence.

Journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright, Chief of 1st Corps Artillery:

November 29, 1863, Sunday.  From the captain of my escort, and conversation since my arrival, I learn that the army broke camp on Thursday morning, the object being to surprise Lee and get between the two halves of his army which had been ascertained to be rather widely separated.  Things did not go as Meade expected, however; none of the corps reaching the positions expected the first night, and the Third not even crossing the river.  On Friday morning they all pushed forward again, but the Third Corps lost their road, and ran into Ewell’s corps and had to fight.  This was the firing heard by Kenly.  Our men claim to have had the best of the fight, but it so delayed matters that the point was not reached until yesterday afternoon, when Lee was found to have got all his force together on the other side of the Run, where he was busy entrenching.  The blame for the failure is pretty generally laid upon General French.

The 5th Corps had some skirmishing at Robertson’s tavern about 3 miles back.

So soon as I had reported to Gen’l Newton, I went out along our line to see how matters looked there.  I found the Corps formed on the left of the old turnpike road from Fredericksburg to Orange C. H.:  the infantry being within cover of the woods while the Batteries were outside in the open.

The Mine Run Battlefield, Roe Farm

Artist Alfred Waud's sketch of the 2nd Corps battle lines;  Row's farm depicted on the right.  The 1st Corps was positioned to the left of this line on the 28th.  When the 2nd Corps changed position on the 29th, the 5th Corps replaced them here.   (This image extended to the right but was cropped).  It appeared in Harper's Weekly, January 2, 1864.  Click here to view the entire image.

Col. Wainwright Continued:
          Mine Run, so far as I could see, is a small stream not much over 20 feet wide;  the bottom land on either side varies from 50 to 100 feet;  beyond which the ground rises, gradually to the woods.  The top of the rise is highest on this side, & the distance to the wood quite double along half the front of our Corps as also in front of the 5th which lies on our right.  The distance from the woods on our side to the stream I should think to be about 800 yards;  except on our left, where it is half as much more.  Opposite our left too the ground rises much higher & the woods recede very much from the bank leaving  a large opening of several hundred acres.  Our own position is impregnable in front;  Lee’s almost as good.  We have light earthworks thrown up along the edge of the woods.  Capt. Cooper has posted his Batteries very well;  placing all in position except the 5th & 6th Maine; which are lying in reserve back on the road.  The 5th Corps is on our right the 6th beyond that; the 3d on our left; & the 2nd beyond.

Major-General Henry J. Hunt

To day has been passed in reconnoitering & moving troops preparatory to a grand attack tomorrow.  Warren with the 2nd Corps is to make the main attack on Lee’s right at 8 0’clock preceded by a thundering cannonade all along the line.

After dark I went over to Army Head Quarters, which were just across the road from us & reported to Gen’l Hunt.  He was as much surprised to see me as every one else.  I do not know but what I have got more credit for being away at the commencement of the move, & then coming up than if I had been along all the time;  for I am the only officer who has got through.  It was however a mere piece of good luck, backed by a little perseverance.

Gen’l Hunt gave me my directions for tomorrow, which were simply to be ready to open so soon as the signal was given & not before.  I afterward went to Crawford’s quarters while my tents were being got up, for the night is down right cold, freezing hard, & Gen’l Newton has not taken as good care of himself as usual.  There I found Louis L. glad to see me, & every precaution possible taken to make themselves comfortable. ––My horses & all my traps I find safe & in good order;  my man glad to see me back.

[Major-General Henry J. Hunt, pictured right, is General Meade's Chief of all artillery.  He was Col. Wainwright's superior officer.]

History of the 39 Mass., cont'd: 

The night that followed, though quiet, brought very little comfort to the men, thoroughly chilled by the rain of yesterday and, at 3 a.m. of the 29th, some of them were stirring to prepare the soldiers’ solace, a cup of hot coffee.  Everybody expected to storm the enemy’s works at some time on this day;  knapsacks were piled up that full use of all the muscles might be had.  Old campaigners were writing their names and regiments on bits of paper and pining them on their garments for identification since it seemed sure that the works could not be assailed without a terrible loss of life.

A brigade of the Fifth Corps formed the first line of battle and our brigade came next;  skirmishing between the rival lines prevailed all day.  Shells even came over from the Confederates, but they drew no reply from our lines. The rebels having withdrawn across the Run, the same wider than usual through having been dammed, formed the line of separation between the blue and the gray.  At nightfall, to shield themselves from the cold wind, trees were cut down for a shelter, and to the mercies of the night the soldiers again commended themselves.

From, “The Sixteenth Maine Regiment in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865”, by Abner Ralph Small;  B. Thurston & Company, Portland, Maine:  1886.

Nov. 29.
        Rested all day in the woods.  Ammunition and three days’ rations issued.  Having cut loose from our base, we are cautioned to husband our food, as no more will be issued before December 5th.  Orders received that an attack will be made on the rebel works at 3 p.m.  

The run had been dammed by the rebels (and damned by us) and widened in our front to two hundred yards, presenting a most disagreeable prospect for a scrimmage.  The enemy from their secure position hoped it would prove a Red Sea to us, and not without good reason.  To say that we rejoiced to have the order for a charge countermanded, was putting it mild.  Later an order was issued for a general attack at eight a.m.  to-morrow, on the discharge of a signal gun from the right.

Mine Run in Winter

Mine Run, Winter, near the turnpike

Pictured is Mine Run where it crosses the turnpike of 1863; the sight of Row's Mill

Diary of Calvin Conant:  Sunday, 29.  cool morning  We are in the woods now pretty smart  Picket firing   this place is called the Wilderness  no cannon firing to day.

Sergeant Austin Stearns, “Three Years in Company K” cont'd:

Before light [November 29] [we] were aroused and ordered to leave every thing that would make a noise, and marched off to the right where a strong column of troops were being formed.  It had cleared off in the night, and a strong wind was blowing fresh from the northwest.  How we shivered and shook as we stood waiting for something to turn up, we did not know what.

At length it was announced that we were part of a column being formed to make a charge.  We were formed five lines deep; we were in the second line.  A gun on the right, another in the centre, and still another on the left, would announce that all was ready, after which an hours cannonading and then the charge by the infantry.  The signal at right, in the centre, but no response from the left, an Aide rode away to ascertain the cause and we were ordered to rest on our arms.

Charles E. Davis, cont'd:

illustration of soldiers waiting in line of battle

Sunday, November 29.  Lay all day in line of battle. The forenoon was spent in making preparations for an attack, which would take place as soon as the Second Corps, under Warren, located some distance to our left, should open the ball.  It rained hard all the morning.  Late in the afternoon we were unofficially informed that during the approaching night an advance was to be made across the flooded meadow in our front, on the banks of Mine Run, after which we were to charge the heights beyond, now in possession of the enemy, and upon which was stationed a formidable array of artillery.

To carry out this purpose the corps was formed in four lines of battle, the Thirteenth being among those in the front line.  We knew very well what this meant if undertaken.  To climb those heights in face of guns that could sweep every inch of ground with grape and canister was not the kind of job we hankered after, particularly in the darkness. Some of the boys left their valuables, such as watches and money, with the surgeon, to be sent home in case of disaster.  Names were then written on slips of paper and pinned on the coat or cap for identification of bodies.  All these preparations gave such an emphasis to the affair, that when night came, there was little sleep. We had been out on the skirmish line, and knew too well what the strength of the enemy was to doubt the result of such a charge.

Orders were given that no word should be spoken above a whisper, and  we were particularly cautioned against the rattling of canteens.  In a few moments orders would be received to advance.  With this unpleasant anticipation, the hours rolled slowly along until daylight, without an order to move.  If there ever was a long night, this was one.  We learned afterwards that it was not the intention to make a charge then, though one was intended to have been made in the morning.

Letter of James Ross, "9th NY" November 29

Nov. 29  Lay in the woods all day ––

Sunday Morning

Dear Father

We were not disturbed last night    we had a moist bed on the ground after the rain but we have learned how to keep our bedding moderately dry even in a rain storm and we slept well    they called us up long before day light and we had breakfast    some coffee and meat and one hard tack each.  The men are out of rations    some have been hard up but I have had just as much as I wanted till this morning.  And we are going to have rations this morning.

Bivouack at night in the rain from Battles & Leaders

This morning before it was known that rations were to be issued one dollar was asked and given freely for one hard tack   I know of instances where ten dollars was paid for ten and a piece of pork as big as an egg would fetch a dollar.  It is now daylight   the skirmishers are firing away as briskly as ever.

We moved into the woods in the rear of the battery  to encamp last night but if the battery opens we will move    but very quick for the rebel shells would fly over the battery right among us.  Our line of battle so the men say, extends in the shape of a crescent.  I don’t know how far as we can see but a little of it from our position though most of the rebel line is visible.  It is warm and cloudy overhead and promises rain again today.

Anytime may see us engaged or we may not fight today  We can tell nothing about it    one thing seems certain    a fight is inevitable    the men take it quietly.   This morning they are busy giving the directions of their friends at home to their comrades

Carlisle is behind as usual  he will never be in any fight that he has to march to    half an hours marching lays him out beside the road.  He is all right as long as he keeps among our troops on the other side of the Rapidan but if he crosses there is not much chance for him.   I have given Rogers your directions and if anything happens to me he will send to mother my bible and memorandum book  also this letter and any others that are in my portfolio    and I am doing the same for him  you won’t get this I suppose till after the battle.

The men say that unless the rebel position is flanked that the heights will have to be carried.   There is a long slope for a quarter of a mile or more in front of the works quite bare and if they are carried we will have to advance down the slope on one side and through the woods there on the double quick I suppose up the opposite slope    the artillery will cover us as we move.  It seems a hard job to look at

 I suppose that you will be praying for the Union in church today and perhaps we will be fighting for it here    I daresay that all the north is rejoicing on our victories in the west   if we beat them here the rebellion is ended.  I pray God that we may.   General Robinson has just ridden along the line with his staff     he passed between my fire and seat a space of not three feet.  Generals are as plenty as blackberries here now     Meade rode past several times yesterday.  General French of the third corps passed also  beside all the generals belonging to our own corps.

Sunday Evening

We have lain quiet all day    nothing doing but kept in a constant fever by the orders to sling our knapsacks and be ready to fall in.  It is now ten oclock in the evening

we have made our bed by the fire and Rogers has lain down.  If we are not called out before an hour I will be in bed too.  We have had orders to spread our blankets and make ourselves comfortable for the night but to hold ourselves in readiness to fall in at a minutes notice.  Our troops fired a single gun this morning and the rebs fired a few at us this afternoon    the skirmishers have kept popping away more or less.   We have been placing artillery in position all day and the rebels have been shoveling up dirt.  It has seemed a queer Sunday to me

I have cooked and eaten and lay around the fire and chatted as have the rest of the men.   At this time at home some of you are just coming in from church and off go your things and something out of the cellar or the pantry comes on the table.  It is cold weather with you.  But it is warm enough here to make it pleasant for us to sleep on the ground.  

I have just had my supper.  I made it of boiled beef and coffee but I had no bread for we are on half rations and bread must be saved    two lack at a meal is my stint, but meat I have plenty of and I will tell you how I came by it

this morning I was hungry after my light breakfast.   The company commissaries went after rations but came back empty handed for the trains had not come up and no one knew when they would.  Some beef had been killed near our regiment and many of the men came in with small pieces cut off the heads and other parts of the animals which the butchers leave.  These they put on the coals to broil    They looked so good and I was so hungry that I resolved to try and see if I could not get some so I sharpened a knife and started off.    at this time many of the men were really starving, a scrap of meat or a piece of tack would fetch a fabulous price.

Illustration of beef being butchered for the army

I traveled off toward the right of our line in looking for the slaughter ground and at last found a place near the skirmish lines where beef had been killed    the place was so far from camp that but few had visited it and in a few minutes I was lucky enough to secure as much meat of one kind or another as would weigh several pounds,  by the time I had got it a crowd of hungry ones had begun to gather and a guard came down with orders to drive us away as they feared that if a crowd gathered the rebels would open fire upon the position.  As I left I saw a new line of artillery posts thrown up out further toward the enemy line which had not yet been occupied and I concluded to go out and have a look at them.

In the first one that I entered a glad sight met my eyes    some soldiers had been foraging and had left part of their plunder behind      there lay a squash   about a bushel of corn on the ear and a good part of a young porker    I filled my blouse with the corn slung the pork over my shoulder and hugging the squash started for camp.

When I got into the regiment I could have sold ten dollars worth of stuff in ten minutes and those who bought would have been grateful to me  but I hate to sell rations so I gave away what I could spare and kept the rest     Some of the men looked woefully at my pile of meat and begged hard to buy a fey or an ear of corn    one dutchman began to pickup and eat some pieces of refuse which we had thrown away.  I asked him if he had nothing to eat and he said not a morsel then pointed to a piece of meat containing about a pound and said “how much of that would you sell me for a dollar”  I gave him a slice of it and he took it and defected.  In times like these men who save and accumulate rations in camp made huge sums by selling them but it is a speculation that I never will go into.  When my comrades are out, if I have any surplus I divide   if I am short I keep.  If you sell rations for their actual value it is very little  If you put a large price for them it is too much like trading on other peoples necessities.  In times like these when rations are short money is of no value beside them.  You get up on a cold or wet morning chilled to the bone on just a cup of coffee it is such as none of you warm and comfortable at home would care to drink but it will warm us and make us feel like new men.  Perhaps it is the last cup which you possess and one dollar could not buy it nor five.

We expect to go into battle at any minute and unless a man is very fond of money indeed it seems of small value.

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 November 30, 1863;  The Attack Countermanded

Several acounts describe the drama and intensity of waiting through the night for the planned attack.

Map of the positions of the opposing armies December 1

There were two maps available from the Library of Congress digital maps collections showing the position of Union Troops on November 30 after General Warren's flank march.

Unfortunately the larger more detailed map did not also depict the extended Confederate lines on the morning of November 30, after A.P. Hill brought up re-enforcements on the Confederate right.

The map at left shows the works of both sides at the time General Warren decided to suspend his planned attack.  You can see the Confederate line extends to Antioch Church at the bottom of the map, and that the Confederates out-flanked  the Federals.

The road running above Locust Grove is the Old Orange Turnpike.  Robinson's Tavern was at Locust Grove.  You can see the works of the 5th & 6th Corps north of the pike.

This map detail is taken from a much large map of Orange County.  It was difficult to read all the markings so I tried to de-saturate some of the bright colors, while keeping the line of opposing earthworks dark.  Click here to view larger.


Once again, Colonel Wainwright gives a thorough summary of day's events; November 30th.

Journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright, continued:
         November 30, Monday.   The day opened and continued clear and cold.  All hands are stirring early, full of anticipation of a great, perhaps decisive battle.  General Warren, with his corps, the Second, had passed around to the Orange Plank road, where, he reported, he had found the right of Lee’s line.  There he had been strengthened by two divisions of the Third Corps, giving him about 30,000 men.  Warren was to make the main attack, and when he was fully engaged Sedgwick was to push in on the other flank with the 5th and 6th.  Our 2nd Division [Robinson's Division & 13th MA ––B.F.] was massed behind an advanced clump of woods on the right of the turnpike;  the 1st Division & one of the 3d Corps holding the line connecting the two wings;  a line some two miles long; but the rebel line receded from the stream at right angles, around the large opening in front  of the left of this Corps;  keeping in the edge of the wood where we could see they had strong earthworks.

illustration of artillery firing

Everything was quiet until the signal gun was fired, when all the batteries on our right and centre opened.  The Fifth Corps batteries were now covered by our corps, so General Newton desired me to take charge of them also.  To this Captain Martin demurred, and as he had not received regular orders to that effect, I said nothing until General Hunt came along when I asked him to give the necessary directions.  Including Martins Batteries, my line was now composed of (from right to left) “D” 5th U.S. –– 5th Mass. ––Taft’s 20 pounders –– “C” 1st N.Y. –– 1st Ml’d. –– “B” 1st Pa., “L” 1st N.Y. & “H” 1st N.Y. & “B” 4th U.S.  The last however was not engaged:  the other 40 guns were all rifled pieces.  The firing was steady for over half an hour:  Phillip’s Batteries firing too fast & wasting ammunition.  On our right major Fitzhugh had our Batteries from the reserve; the 6th Corps Batteries being beyond him.  The enemy replied very feebly to my fire:  on Tompkins & Fitzhugh they were more severe.

During all this time we were waiting intently for signs that Warren was going in.  Hearing no symptom of it General Hunt ordered us to slacken our fire, but keep ready for a renewal at any moment.  Warren, however, did not make any attack;  I hear that he found this morning that Lee had extended his right during the night and strengthened it so that there was no chance of an attack being successful.  In this General Meade agreed with him on going over to our left.  Consequently the whole thing fell through, and we hold the same position tonight we did in the morning, with small loss beyond the expenditure of a good deal of ammunition.

A. R. Waud sketch of the Rebel Line opposite Warren's position.

“Rebel Line on the left.  The rairoad cutting.  Mine Run––Opposite Warren's Last Position.  A. R. Waud.” Click here to view larger.

Waud skectched the ground on the far left of the Union line beyond Mine Run Creek, where General Warren  proposed to make his flank attack on the morning of  November 30th.  But during the night, Confederate General A. P. Hill extended and fortified the Rebel lines on the ridge opposite Warren's position, (the tree line in this image) thus making any attack by Warren's massed troops much more difficult.

In his report regarding this movement General A. P. Hill wrote:

“On the 29th it was found the enemy were concentrating, and extending on our right.

“Before day on the morning of the 30th, Wilcox had been extended two brigades to the right and the interval replaced in the center by two of Heth’s brigades.  The night of the 30th, Wilcox extended still farther to the right, resting on Antioch Church, and Heth’s whole division was put in the front line.”

Railroad Cutting looking east

The railroad cutting in A. R. Waud's sketch still exists.  Above is a close-up view of the deep cutting seen in the center of Waud's drawing above.  This view is taken looking in the opposite direction of the sketch, looking toward the east.  (The sketch looks toward the west).

Photo of the railroad cutting today

The railroad cutting closer to the Rebel position.  This picture is oriented more toward the north, whereas Waud's sketch looks directly West.  General A. P. Hill's line extended some distance, perhaps a mile, from the railroad cut toward the left on the ridge where the barn stands.  Click to view larger.


Diary of Charles Wainwright, continued:
        Birney’s division did cross the run, & advanced across the opening, opposite our left;  his line of battle being at right-angles to the Run along our front.  He drove back the rebel skirmishers, & his division looked very handsome advancing;  but he did not strike their works, being recalled.

During the afternoon there was good deal of shooting between the skirmishers on both sides:  finding that a lot of rebels in a barn on the big open field worried our men a good deal I moved Mink’s Battery out to the front where he could get a good shot at it, & gave him a chance to show his skill.  He soon drove them out, his men displaying great accuracy of fire considering the small amount of practice they have had.  Occasional shots were fired through the day by the artillery on both sides; a rebel shell struck the epaulment in front of one of Reynold’s guns, smashed one of the wheels, & exploded in the rear, doing no other damage; save that a piece of frozen dirt knocked off the top the epaulment hit Lt. Wiggins, signal officer, in the head, knocking him senseless for a few minutes. This was the only approach to a casualty in my command.

Charles Reed sketch of a picket in bad weather

Diary of Calvin Conant:    Monday, 30.  Went out to the front up to our right farther to support a Battery  cold the wind blows bleak

Sergeant Austin Stearns, “Three Years in Company K” cont'd:

Soon it was known that Warren of the 5th Corps [2nd Corps] was not strong enough to take the position assigned him;  the troops were then ordered to their former position.  The 13th went on the skirmish line for the next twenty four hours,  where we could look over the ground and the works of the rebs.  After leaving the wood the ground sloped to the run, then up a slope to where the rebs had their works; their batteries showed their teeth at every favorable place.

Meade was wise not to risk a battle at that time and place, for it would have been a regular death trap, without any gain.  The reason that from the time we left the woods we should have been under their fire, and the run lined with briars and bushes with steep banks and water three feet deep and freezing cold was a barrier not easily surmounted.  “Descretion is the better part of valor,” and so it proved here.

NOTE:   (Sergeant Stearns mistakes the 2nd Corps with the 5th Corps in his memoir, because General Warren was in command of the 5th Corps in 1864, and the 13th MA was placed in the 5th Corps at that time).


The narrative of CLARENCE from the Boston Transcript continues:

 In the pine woods, above mentioned, five divisions of the army were concentrated for a direct assault upon the enemy’s works, on the 30th of November.  Eight o’clock came and went;  all the troops were prepared, knapsacks haversacks and other impediments to rapid movements were laid aside, and details made for guard.  The ridge occupied by the Union army frowned with artillery, while large reserves were held to the rear.

At nine A. M. a signal gun was fired on the right of the line, and soon after, along the entire front, the artillery “Growled defiance at the foe.”  This lasted but a few moments, the rebels firing but two shots, seeming unwilling to expose the number or position of their guns.  At the second discharge from the Union artillery, a large house, just outside the line of the rebel intrenchments, caught fire and burned for several hours.  At half-past nine a. m. Gen. Meade, with a few aids, rode down the turnpike, and then on, to the front, where he viewed the position for a while, and then over leisurely to the left.*

At the same time a portion of the skirmish line advanced to the creek on the right of the turnpike, waded across, and drove the enemy from the rifle pits, but immediately falling back, the enemy occupied his former position. In the meanwhile, the first division of the corps advanced the skirmish line on the left of the pike, crossed the creek, (which here formed in two forks), drove the enemy from the advanced rifle pits, and entered a low pine wood, where the works were hidden. After a few moments these fell back leisurely to the creek, crossed, and resumed their old position while the rebels occupied the rifle pits here.

Confederate Earthworks North of the Road

photo, confederate earthworks north of turnpike

Although they are difficult to see, this photograph shows Confederate earthworks a bit north of the Orange Turnpike, (modern route 20) and on the west side of Mine Run.  Look closely at the contours of the ground to see the works.  These forward works were probably used by Confederate pickets before they fell back to the main line. These may be some of the works occupied by forward Union troops on the 30th.


CLARENCE, continued:

As these movements were in progress the second division of this corps had advanced through the pine woods, and held a position in the rear of the skirmishers on the verge of the woods.

It was evident to all, that the works could not be carried, without great slaughter on the Union side, which would have given the rebels a great advantage, while the circular ridge on which the enemy were posted, was a preventative against a flank movement, and which would have operated badly for the army, as it thereby must have exposed the immense wagon trains at Ely’s Ford to certain destruction.  As the day passed off, and no attack was made, it became evident that Gen. Meade was not intending to attack the works.

illustration of soldiers collecting hay from a barn

About dark, the enemy threw a few shells among a party engaged in collecting forage from a barn, inside the skirmish line, but a shell from our thirty-pounders soon silenced the artillery, and the collection of forage proceeded without interruption.

NOTE:  *General Meade's Headquarters was on the north side of the Orange Turnpike about 1/2 mile east from the front line.


Abner Small, 16th Maine, cont'd:

Major Small captures the intense nervousness amongst the soldiers awaiting the signal to attack on the morning of November 30.

To-morrow came, [morning, November 30] and from daylight every man thought he heard the signal gun.  The snapping of a twig would make men jump. At five a.m.  the regiment moved to the right of the First Division. Knapsacks were unslung, and we took position in second line and waited for the signal that would ring out the knell of many thousand soldiers.

First LIeutenant George Meade Junior

At thirty-five minutes past seven a young officer came dashing madly up the line.  Just in the rear of our regiment was a slough-hole which the horse failed to clear, and with a plunge went in to his shoulders, crushing the officer beneath him as he fell.  Some of the men released him from his perilous position.  Fearfully pale and hardly able to breathe, he managed to say, “I am General Meade’s son.  Send an officer quickly to the right and say the order to attack is counter-manded.  Quick!  Quick!”  Lieutenant Davis, I think it was, was immediately mounted and dispatched to General ——- .  Young Meade was true grit and insisted upon going forward with the dispatch.  Being assisted to mount he put spurs to his horse and reeling in his saddle fled along the front and reached General ——- in season to confirm the advance courier and stop the mouth of the black monster that in ten seconds would have pronounced the doom of ten thousand men and perhaps that of the Army of the Potomac.  Since the countermand, the prospect in our front could be studied with feelings less disagreeable.  The skirmishers of the two armies were about two hundred and fifty yards apart on either side of the run, partially protected by redoubts of rails and earth, to which our boys had added feather-beds and cane-seat chairs, and wasted ammunition trying to shoot each other.

A flock of fine sheep had been let loose from a barn just at our left, and were running backward and forward between the lines, marks for the bullets of either party. The rebels couldn’t reach them across the run, and vigorously opposed their capture by the Yanks.  Our boys, although hungry and hankering for mutton, dared not risk it until two o’clock, when a squad of Sixteenth and Twentieth Maine men made a dash and an effort to drive the lambs into our fold, but the fire from the rebels was so incessant that they retreated amid the yells of the gray-backs and the cheers of the Union troops.  One of the Twentieth Maine rose from his position on the skirmish line, cooly took aim and brought down a fine lamb.  He laid down his rifle, went out and brought in the animal, took off his pelt and hung it up on a pole for a target for the Johnnies, amid the cheers of the brigade and the crack of the rebel guns.

“What pleases the men, major?”  asked the adjutant, who noticed the collective grin of the regiment about sunset.  “Why, they saw an aide give a billet to Colonel Farnham.”  “What of it?  They don’t know its purport.”  “O, they caught the word ‘picket,’ and that’s enough, for somehow they know that when he is in charge of the picket line in the night, we always move.”

A.R. Waud Sketch of Gen. Sedgwicks front at Mine Run

A.R. Waud sketched a lone horseman with the caption "Rebel line in front of Sedgwick –– Mine Run"  Perhaps this is General Meade's son frantically riding to call off the 6th Corps Attack.  According to Wainwright, and others,  General Robinson's 2d Division of the 1st Corps was massed in line of battle on the north side of the turnpike, in support of Sykes' & Sedgwick's assault.

Diary of Sam Webster, continued:

Monday, November 30th, 1863
        Moved to the right of the Orange turnpike this morning before day-light.  In the hollow near Mine run, to the north of the pike, concealed by some woods, were massed 20,000 men.  To the south of the pike was an open field; somewhat broken in surface, further on Mine run flowed across the road.  Beyond the run was a slope, covered, south of the pike with woods, but bare on the north, and crowned by a line of earthworks and batteries, against which it is supposed the mass is to be thrown.  The 13th is selected as skirmishers and lay in a depression to the left of the road –– opposite the mass –– and covered from the rebel skirmish line down along the run by a hill.

graphic of a baseball game, 1800's

Time dragged, and they had a game of baseball.  Sometimes  the ball would go over the crest of the hill, and within range of the skirmish line of rebels, but some one was always ready to cut after it.  Some of the 5th corps, we understood, had gone to the right, to get on the rebel flank.  The hour for firing the signal gun came –– another was fixed, and still no orders;  and still the game of ball.

Henry Eppel –– I think it was, shot and wounded a sheep, which ran and fell between the two opposing lines.  He ran out for it, but a Johnnie covered him and said “Divide.”  Eppel said all right; the sheep was split.  Each took his portion and got within his own lines.

For some reason the charge was not ordered. 

Saw Russell’s Company [1st Maryland Cavalry] at Army Headquarters, back over the hill in the woods –– are doing Provost duty.  Several Corps’ Headquarters are along the road joining Army Headquarters.

In the p.m. the 2nd Corps skirmishers drove the rebels back, on our left, a considerable distance.  Built a roaring fire on the hill, as it was bitter cold.  Had considerable fun with some bummers and a “snubsnisnute” (substitute) who ate all of Charlie Dyers’ butter.  Turned in late.

From “Three Years in the Army,”  by Charles E. Davis, Jr., cont'd:

Monday, November 30.
        At 4 A.M. we were turned out, and shortly after a movement was made, but not as anticipated all night long.  A line of battle was formed in the woods, and an advance begun.  After proceeding a short distance an order was received to “Right flank, march!” and the regiment soon emerged into an open field and massed with the Fifth Corps for an attack.  It was now daylight.  The rebel batteries began firing, the shot flying over our heads and making havoc with the trees to our right, the Union batteries replying.  A halt was made behind a hill, where we were protected from artillery fire.  Hope began to gain upon us that the foolhardy attempt of charging the enemy was to be abandoned, which was indeed the fact.Boston Baseball Player

We subsequently learned that in the hollow to the north of the Orange pike were massed twenty thousand men about daylight for some purpose, as if anticipating a movement such as we were expecting to make.

Time dragged along, and no movement was made.  We were all tired of the inaction and the heavy strain on the mind from hours of expectation, and so we had a game of ball to pass away the time.  Occasionally the ball would be batted over the crest of the hill in front, in range of the rebel skirmishers, necessitating some one going after it.  It was a risky piece of business and required quick work, but it was got every time.

During the day a sheep was seen running along outside of the skirmish line, when it was fired upon and wounded.  An adventurous member of Company E ran out for it, but a Johnnie on the rebel skirmish line covered him with his gun, shouting, “Divide, Yank!” which was agreed to.   The sheep was then split in halves, each taking his portion, returning to their places amid shouts of laughter from both lines.

When night came we built large fires to ward off the bitter cold, and slept.

Letter of James Ross, "9th NY," December 1st

Although James' letter is dated December 1st, he describes in detail the events of the previous day, November 30.  It is more suitable to place here in the narrative.

Tuesday morning Dec. 1st

Dear Father

We have no battle yet I will tell you what we did yesterday.  I have nothing to do at present    I have built up a good fire and am sitting before it.  The regiment is in line waiting for orders.  We may remain here all today or not ten minutes.  An hour may find us advancing in line of battle or double quicking it up the heights on a charge or it may find us on our way back to the Rapidan. I daresay that you will laugh at such a long letter and so would any one   It must be very tiresome to read it but I have nothing to do nor anything to read and I don’t care about holding converse with the other men about the fire so I write instead   It is a very pleasant way of passing the time and when you get the letter if you like the trouble of reading it you can read       If you don’t it has helped to pass the time while writing it.

 In the first place I want to tell you something about the position of the two armies,    a small creek runs between them   it’s course is nearly north and south but it bends in some places so that though the rebel line faces east and ours west    as a general thing they bend with the course of the brook in some places.   The brook runs through it     a wide and deep hollow, something between a valley and a ravine   on the hills on either side are the lines of the opposing armies       the sides of the valley are rough timbered in some places but generally bare.  They are traversed by hills and ridges.  it is about a mile to look across at the enemy thus making it a good deal further to travel down one slope and up the other and the ground from its nature is very difficult to get over.  The rebels have built works all along their lines, but as we do not anticipate an attack none have been thrown up by us except the usual embankments about the guns

The country beyond the rebel line is very handsome  The view is closed by the mountains which run along the Rapidan.  I do not know the name of the brook between us but it runs into the Rapidan at Raccoon ford and we are four miles from its mouth.  You can consult a map of Virginia to see for yourself.  So much for the position.  Now for what we did yesterday.

Sunday night turned out cold but the weather cleared off and that was one comfort.  We were called up at four, and got our breakfasts and at five got into line and marched off a mile to our right.  Just as we started half a dozen of shots were fired by the skirmish line and one came over the hill and hit a man on the right of the company.  I was on the left and did not know about it till afternoon    As we were marching out we had  no chance to see how or where he was hurt but we have seen nothing of him since.

We got to our new position at sunrise formed line, and stacked arms.  We lay in the edge a piece of woods behind a battery in the front line as we have done all the time.  The generals were flying about    ambulances and orderlies hurrying.  Meade passed once or twice.  Everything looked like work     We had orders to rest and in a minute fires were going and food cooking.  You see that we are getting to be pretty good soldiers or we could not lie down to cook and eat while expecting to be led every minute against the enemy.  We eat terribly out here but we live in the open and work hard, get up early and go to bed late     it takes a much larger amount of food to keep the heat in our systems than it does in you at home for we have to warm ourselves from the inside.

buddy secor photo soldier sittng at night by a fireWell I made a splendid cup of coffee    ate one cracker and broiled an immense piece of meat beside another piece which I cooked and put in my haversack to eat in case we had chance during the day.    All this time we were waiting for the signal gun which was to open the battle          soon came a single crack from a parrot gun on our front.  This was followed by a couple more.  “Attention Ninth” called the Colonel and we fell into our places just as two or three batteries opened.  “Lie down” was the next order, and down we dropped.

Then it began crack crack, from the parrots, bang from the smooth bores.  And boom from the 32 pounders.  The shells whirred as they flew and the big balls plunged along        The 32 pound shots going whish, whish, as it left the gun      all this continued for an hour or so from the guns on our front       once in a while a shot came from some other part but not often     we waited for the rebels to return the compliment and soon came a shell or two over heads and we knew that we were under fire.  Then there was a whiz-bang near our regiment    a shell had passed above our line and burst above the one behind us, some twenty yards in our rear.  Once  we could hear a rebel shell coming over a distant part of our line but they did not fire one shot to our ten and when we quit they did

as soon as the firing was done the adjutant came along the line and ordered the officers to the right     this meant that they were going to receive orders    soon they came back and we were ordered to unslung our knapsacks     we did it and piled them under a tree and a guard was put over them.  We were then informed that when we advanced we would do it with guns at a right shoulder shift on the double quick without firing a shot.  This meant that we were to charge the batteries     while waiting or the order to move the men gave each other their directions in case of accident.  They all looked grave and I guess felt so      as for myself I did not think of anything much but I wanted the thing to be over and I wished they would let us get at it at once that it might be done with.

While the cannonading had been going on two regiments from the first division of our corps had been sent across the brook to engage the rebel sharpshooters  while our pioneers bridged the creek       the bridge was laid but at some cost of life    I don’t know how much.  All I know is that after waiting a while we were ordered to sling knapsacks and they marched us back half a mile to a new position where we lay expecting that soon the battle would commence  The old soldiers were of the opinion that the afternoon would bring it on but the day passed hour after hour and no signs of a fight during the day    our left opened on them and occasionally shots were fired at intervals all day but the rebels kept very quiet and could not be tempted into replying

Toward evening I went out to take a look at the position   there was not much to see but it was sort of tempting fate to be out inside of the range of their rifles.  All day it was clear and bright but very cold     it froze all day and the night promised to be the most severe that we had seen yet.

men gathered around a large fire

We built roaring old oak fires and made our suppers and then talked about the fight which all expected to be fought today.  I read all the letters that I had and then put them on the fire that the rebels might not get them if they should chance to get me.    At nine o’clock we went to bed and slept three together that we might have more clothes.  One blanket will cover three men,  in warm weather one man can sleep alone since his blanket is sufficient but when it is cold two or more sleep together that they may have more covering      we laid down on the frozen ground and were warm as toast all night    at four this morning we were called up and started at five     we moved back to the position held by us Sunday night and have lain here all [day] so far  The opinion seems to be now that we will not attack the enemy and that if he does not attack us that we we will fall back.

Diary of Charles Wainwright, continued:

Union pickets going out at night

The day has been awfully cold:  to night is a nipper;  which will be very hard on the pickets as they are obliged to remain stationary.  Robinson is to build a couple of bridges to night in our own front, as something may be attempted here tomorrow.  I spent the evening in Gen’l Hunt’s tent; where I found several English officers, who are down on a visit to the army;  –– Lt. Col. Earl; Capt Peel, a son of the late Sir Robert, & two others one of them an Irish “milord,” little more than a boy.  We had a pleasant chat for an hour or two:  the colonel appearing to be a clever & well informed officer.  I find that French grumbles a good deal at Warren’s not doing any thing while he took away two of his divisions & that Warren, the youngest of the Corps Commanders should have been entrusted with the main attack naturally excites a good deal of jealousy ––

Among the officers of the 5th Mass. I found Nathan Appleton;  he is junior 2d Lt in the Battery.  Matt deserves a good deal of credit for coming to the war as he has just left college, & being of age has come into the enjoyment of a very large fortune.


Orders At Night

With General Warren's plan defunct, General Meade was desperate to save the campaign in any way possible, and sent orders to his commanders to assess the enemy positions fronting them, in hopes of finding a weakness in the enemy's lines.

Headquarters Army of the Potomac,        
November 30, 1863, ––8.40 p.m.

General:   The major-general commanding desires to have your opinion upon the practicability of carrying the enemy’s intrenchments, so far as they are known to you within the limits of the front of your command.  Please reply immediately.

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                    S. WILLIAMS,
                                                                        Assistant Adjutant-General

(To commanders of First, Third, Fifth, and Sixth Army Corps.)

First Corps General Newton's Response

Headquarters First Army Corps,         
November 30, 1863, ––9.05 p.m.  

Brig. Gen. S. Williams,   Assistant Adjutant-General:

In reply to your 8.45 this P.M. I have the honor to report that since dark I have not been able to obtain the information that I desire concerning the topography of the other side of the stream.  I will be enabled to answer your note more satisfactorily on receiving from division commanders the information already sent for.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,                  
JOHN NEWTON,      
Major-General.

General Lysander Cutler's Response, 1st Corps, 1st Division;

Headquarters First Army Corps,         
November 30, 1863, ––11 p.m.  

Brig. Gen. S.Williams,
                  Assistant Adjutant-General:

General:    The papers enclosed are the answers of my division commanders* to an inquiry as to the nature of the ground in their respective fronts.  I regard any attempt to storm as hopeless, unless the troops can be massed near the point of attack without the knowledge of the enemy, and unless strongly supported on both right and left.  The works of the enemy in my immediate front appear to be heavy and their attention seems to have been drawn to the possibility of an attack here.

Very respectfully, etc.,                    
JOHN NEWTON,         
Major-General.  

[Enclosure.]

Headquarters First Division, First Army Corps,         
November 30, 1863.

[Lieut. Col. C. Kingsbury, Jr.,
              Assistant Adjutant-General, First Army Corps:]

Colonel:    I think that the works can be carried at or near the first angle of the pike to the left, provided that the enemy is first dislodged from the pines in front of the works by an attack from the left.  This is the only practicable way I see, and that at a great sacrifice.  If I were to make the assault, I would like to see the officer that is to lead on my left, and have daylight to execute it in.

Very respectfully,

          L. CUTLER,         
Brigadier-General Commanding Division.


*Only Cutler's Report Found.

Third Corps, General French's Response

Headquarters Third Army Corps,        
November 30, 1863, ––10.11 p.m.

Major-General Humphreys,   Chief of Staff:

As to carrying the line in my front, the two divisions being now at my disposal, I say there is no obstacle to success except those incidental to military enterprises.

Very respectfully,

WM. H. FRENCH,      
Major-General

Fifth Corps General Sykes, Response

Headquarters Fifth Army Corps,        
November 30, 1863, ––9 p.m.

[Brig. Gen. S. Williams:]

General:   In answer to your question of this evening, I do not think it is practicable to successfully carry the the intrenchments of the enemy within the front of my command.  I mean the front on either side of the old turnpike road, of which I spoke to you yesterday.

I am, sir, respectfully,

GEO. SYKES,         
Major-General, Commanding.

This was followed by a second despatch at 11 P.M.:

Headquarters Fifth Army Corps,        
November 30, 1863, ––11 p.m.  

[Brig. Gen. S. Williams:]

General:   In answer to your question, I desire to say that, so far as could be seen, I do not consider it impracticably to carry the front threatened by us to-day, although I regard the chances of success as very much lessened, both because the enemy has prepared to-day to meet the threat there offered, and because I am almost assured that he now knows the nature of the attack it was our design to offer, and has prepared to resist it.

GEO. SYKES,         
Major-General.

From “Three Years in the Army,”  by Charles E. Davis, Jr., cont'd:

Although I have already placed General Meade's Report in its entirety at the beginning of this page, Charles Davis included the following portions of it here, in his narrative.  I think its okay to repeat given its context at this point in the campaign.


The following paragraphs are taken from General Meade’s report of the Mine Run campaign:

On the 30th the batteries opened at 8 A.M.  The skirmishers of the First and Third Corps advanced across Mine Run and drove the enemy’s skirmishers, and every preparation was made by Sedgwick for his attack (he having moved his columns during the night and massed them out of view of the enemy), when about ten minutes of 9  I received a despatch from General Warren to the effect that “the position and strength of the enemy seem so formidable in my present front that I advise against making the attack here –– the full light of the sun shows me that I cannot succeed.”  The staff-officer who brought this despatch further reported that General Warren had suspended his attack, and would not make it without further orders.

As Sedwick’s attack was subsidiary to Warren’s, and as, owing to Warren’s confidence of the night before, I had given him so large a part of the army that I had not the means of supporting Sedgwick in case of repulse, or reėnforcing him in the event of success, I was obliged to suspend the attack of Sedgwick on the enemy’s left, which I did just in time; and immediately proceeded to General Warren’s column, some four miles distant, in the hope of arranging some plan by which the two attacks might yet take place in the afternoon.  I reached General Warren between 10 and 11 A.M. and found his views were unchangeable, and that it was his decided opinion it was hopeless to make any attack.

The Ground Gen. Warren would have had to cross to attack

General A. P. Hill extended his lines during the night of the 29th, and the early morning hours of November 30.  General Warren's infantry would have had to cross this open ground from the ridge in the distance, to attack the Confederate works on a parallel ridge just behind where this picture was taken. (View to the East).  The Confederate troops of General A. P. Hill continued a half mile to the right from this observation point.  The line terminated at Antioch Church.

Antioch Church

Antioch Church is about 1/2 mile south of the intersection pictured above.  A. P. Hill extended his fortified line south on the continuous ridge, which ended in front of the church.  View to the West.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

(Gen Meade Continued:)   I am free to admit that the movement across the Rapidan was a failure, but I respectfully submit that the causes of this failure, a careful perusal of the foregoing report will show, were beyond my control.  I maintain my plan was a feasible one.  Had the columns made the progress I anticipated and effected a junction on the night of the 26th, at or near Robertson’s Tavern, the advance the next day would either have passed the formidable position of Mine Run without opposition;  or, had Ewell attempted to check the movement, he would have been overwhelmed before reėnforced by Hill.

Prisoners reported that Hill did not come up till the afternoon of the 27th, so that if the movements of the Third Corps had been prompt and vigorous on the 27th, assisted by the Sixth and Second, there was every reason to believe Ewell could have been overcome before the arrival of Hill.  And after the enemy, through these culpable delays, had been permitted to concentrate on Mine Run, I have reason to believe but for the unfortunate error of judgment of Major-General Warren, my original plan of attack on three columns would have been successful, or at least, under the view I took of it, would certainly have been tried.

It may be said I should not depend on the judgment of others, but it is impossible a commanding general can reconnoitre in person a line of over seven miles in extent, and act on his own judgment as to the expediency of attacking or not.  Again, it may be said that the effort should have been made to test the value of my judgment, or in other words, that I should encounter what I believed to be certain defeat, so as to prove conclusively that victory was impossible.

Considering how sacred is the trust of the lives of the brave men under my command, but willing as I am to shed their blood and my own when duty requires, and my judgment dictates that the sacrifice will not be in vain, I cannot be a party to a wanton slaughter of my troops for any mere personal end.


General John C. Robinson's Report, 2nd Division, 1st Army Corps

The following is the report of our division commander, Brigadier-General John C. Robinson:

Headquarters Second Division First Army Corps,   
December 3, 1863.

Colonel:   On the 22d of November, this division was posted at Bealeton, Liberty and Licking Run, and on the 23d it was concentrated near Rappahannock Station.  At daylight on the 26th it started on the march, crossed the Rapidan at Culpeper Ford after dark, and bivouacked until 3 o’clock next morning, when the march was resumed.  About midnight I took up a position about a mile and a half to the left of Robertson’s Tavern, and picketed one of the roads leading to the front.

Brigadier General John C. Robinson

At daylight I moved the division about 1 mile to the right, and formed on the left of the First Division in two lines, with a reserve of four regiments and a double line of skirmishers.  In this order the division advanced to the line afterward occupied by the army in front of the enemy’s works on Mine Run.  At this time there were no troops on my left, but the Third Corps, coming into position toward night, relieved my pickets on that flank.  The enemy’s works in my front appeared to be strong, and between us was a mile open space with ravines, through which ran two streams, Mine Run and one of its branches.

On the 30th, I was directed by the major-general commanding First Corps to advance my pickets across the stream in front, and build two bridges suitable for the passage of artillery and troops in column.  The enemy’s pickets occupied the crest of the hill immediately in front, and it became necessary to dislodge them.  This was handsomely done by the Ninety-fourth Regiment of New York volunteers under Major Moffett, which advanced to the stream, exposed to severe musketry fire, crossed it, and charging up the hill, drove away the rebel pickets, and took possession of the crest.  Working parties were immediately set at work, who by night had completed two bridges, and were proceeding to build others, when I received orders to suspend the work, and, during the night, to withdraw my pickets to the position they occupied in the morning.  The only casualties in the division are a few men wounded.

At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 1st of December, the division was relieved by a brigade of the Third Division, Fifth Corps, and marched to Germanna Ford, where I took position and covered the crossing of the Fifth and Sixth Corps, and the picket details of the Third, Fifth, and Sixth Corps.  The division was then withdrawn, with the exception of 100 men, who remained until the bridges were taken up, and then came over in boats.  About noon on the 2d of December, I left the river, and bivouacked near Stevensburg.  The division left Stevensburg this morning, and is now encamped, one brigade at Paoli Mills and one at Kelly’s Ford.

            Very respectfully, your obedient servant,            
                                                                        JNO. C. ROBINSON,
                                                        Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.

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December 1-2, 1863;  Stealth Retreat

Diary of Calvin Conant:
        Tuesday, 1.  went back to the left next to the 3d Corps   layed all day and night  We commenced [to fall back] toward the Rapidan   got 2 days rations to last 5 days.

Charles E. Davis, cont'd:
        Tuesday, December 1. The following instructions for the retirement of our corps are taken from the circular issued by General Meade, under date of Dec. 1, 1863:

    1.     The First Corps, Major-General Newton commanding, will withdraw from its position on Mine Run (part of the Fifth Corps relieving it), concealing the movement from the enemy, and march at 4 P.M. to Germanna Ford, where it will take position and hold the crossing of the river until the Fifth and Sixth Corps cross, when it will follow those two corps as soon as the road on the opposite side is clear.  It will then form the rear guard, and use every precaution to insure the safety of the rear.  It will take post at the termination of the plank-road, covering the trains on the Stevensburg road, and watching the Mitchell’s Ford road.

Shortly before daylight we moved back to the position occupied by us on the night of November 27.

At dusk our division began its march back to the Rapidan, arriving at the Germanna Ford about daylight, when we took position as directed in the order of General Meade.


Journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright, Chief of 1st Corps Artillery:

The day after the long cold march back across the Rapidan river, Colonel Wainwright recorded the details in his journal.

Stevensburg, December 2, Wednesday.  Yesterday we lay quiet all day;  several plans were talked of I believe, but found to be impracticable when examined into.  The day and following night were bitter cold, with a gale of wind blowing;  everybody suffered terribly.  There were rumors among the men of several of our pickets being frozen to death the previous night, but Dr. Heard* [John Theodore Heard, formerly Assistant Surgeon, 13th MA] tells me they are not true, a few severe cases of frozen feet and hands being the worst.

Illustration from battles & leaders; picket relief in winter

Illustration from Battles & Leaders of the Civil War; "On the Union Picket Line;  Relieving Pickets."

Wainwright continued:
        Before dark it was determined to clear out, giving the whole thing up as a bad job.  The Fifth Corps was to bring up the rear, and I was ordered to report to General Sykes with those of my batteries in position.  The other corps having got well started, the Fifth hauled out about ten last night, Crawford’s division leading with a battery placed between each of his first regiments for protection.

Sykes was not careful as on his march up a lot of rebel cavalry had cut into the tail of his column, & carried off nearly all his Artillery ammunition wagons as well as the officer in charge of them.  We met with no trouble however:  all of my command crossing safely to this side of the river before day light.

      The country between Mine Run & Germania ford rejoices in the name of the “new wilderness;”  the term “new” being added to distinguish it from the “old wilderness” around Chancellorsville.  A wilderness it certainly is:   one vast stretch of small pines & scrub oaks.  The only openings we came across were a small one at Robertson’s tavern, & another of more size where we turned off by a cross road from the x-plank road leading to the ford.  Part of the way we had good traveling;  but places were execrable:  the worst being half a mile long; about double that distance from the ford.  Here the Batteries had an ugly job of it;  while my own Head Quarters wagon, which should have been on ahead, was upset.  General George G. Meade, commanding Army of the PotomacGen’l Meade coming along just at that time was of course very angry, swore at every one, for “stopping the whole army” &c.  I was not present myself, but one of my officers telling me the Gen’l had demanded whose wagon it was, I feared I might catch it.  When the Gen’l came along soon after however, he spoke very pleasantly to me on the subject & said he had ordered another wagon to bring on may traps.

Meade does not mean to be ugly;  but he cannot control his infernal temper.  Some of my things got wet, but I have not missed anything of moment as yet.

On reaching the north side of the river General Newton informed me that he was ordered to cover the taking up of the pontoon bridges, so I had another hour’s work putting batteries into position on the north bank.  It was broad daylight when I got through.  After ascertaining that I had made no mistakes in the dark, I turned in to one of the headquarters tents, which were all up, for a few hours’ sleep.

I was routed out by the guard taking the tents down this morning.  The army was all across;  the bridges up, except one boat which was ferrying over the stragglers.  This one was soon taken out of the water, and then the cavalry, too, began to withdraw from the other side.

It was amusing to see the stragglers who came down after the boat was out;  how they tried one way and another to avoid getting more wet than necessary.  Many of them got a thorough sousing, probably the first bath they had had in a long time.  Never have I seen so many stragglers from the army.  Whether the awful cold weather, the changes of position in a dense wilderness, and the fear of a hard fight made more than usual, or whether the move to the rear was unexpected by them, I do not know.  But when about halfway to the ford, in a place where the wood was somewhat more open, I saw thousands, literally acres, of them, cooking their coffee or sleeping around their fires.  These rascals get very sharp about finding their way home.  But I should think that there was rich pickings for the rebel cavalry all through the wood this morning of prisoners as well as blankets and overcoats.  Many a poor reb will sleep more comfortably all this winter for what he picks up today, and will have cause to bless the Mine Run campaign.

Major General John Newton

About ten o’clock we marched for this place. [Stevensburg.]  The day has been much milder and fine;  the road comparatively fair;  but the troops marched like a mob;  everybody was tired out, and feeling miserable.  On the way we passed the Sixth Corps, lying in the woods, where they bivouacked last night.

I stopped a few minutes at Gen’l Neil’s Head Quarters, also at Col. Tompkins.  T. runs his brigade in much more style than I do:  He had a wide spread of canvass, a sentinel mounted in front of his quarters, & a brigade flag flying:  this last being one of his own devising, gorgeous in red, white & blue.  There has not any flag been prescribed in orders for the artillery brigades as yet.  Tompkins I do not like:  red is the artillery color, & something with that as the ground ought to be got up.

When we arrived here, a couple of hours before dark, there was no one to give us orders where to camp, General Newton having stayed behind to gossip with his old Sixth Corps cronies.  This way he has of indulging himself and not considering the comfort of his men is outrageous.  I waited for him until near dark and then put my batteries in camp for the night, not knowing whether there were other troops to the right and left of us or not.  The Sixth Corps came up soon after, General Newton with them;  he has not made me change my dispositions tonight.  General John Newton, pictured.

*John Theodore Heard, began his military career as Assistant Surgeon in the 13th MA, when the regiment left Boston for the front in August, 1862.  He had traveled to the states from Europe when war broke out, so that he could enlist.  He was high-born and talented, and he quickly earned promotion, to Brigade Surgeon (of Abram Duryea's Brigade), on May 1, 1862; then on October 28, 1862 to 2nd Division Surgeon of the 1st Corps, and a few days later, November 10, 1862 he was appointed Medical Director of the 1st Corps, under Major-General John F. Reynolds.  Heard would continue in this office until the 1st Corps was dissolved in May 1864.  He continued to serve at the Corps level into 1865.  His aristocratic standing suited Col. Wainwright and they were friends.

Sergeant Austin Stearns, “Three Years in Company K” continued:

Charles Reed sketch, Winter Marching

 After twenty four hours we were relieved and sent back into the woods, where the privilege was given of building as many and as big fires as we had a mind to.

 We were cold and the wood dry and the boys soon had fires big enough to roast an ox.  The rebs were as cold as we, judging by their rousing fires which we could plainly see. This was a grand old woods.  Primeval I think, oaks centuries old and dry as tinder.  All day we enjoyed the warmth, and at night the order came to “Fall in.” and get away as silently as and quickly as possible.

 We were soon off, going up by Robinson tavern, turning to  the left into the woods, and making for the Rapidan.  I remember of how we had to wait for the teams to get out of the way and the other things necessary to a large army on the retreat through a country of poor roads with swamps and woods, how we at last reached the vicinity of the river with the darkness so thick that it could almost be cut, how I vainly searched for water and wood and had to lay down without my refreshing cup of coffee.

The narrative of 13th MA correspondent CLARENCE in the Boston Transcript concludes here:

On the morning of Dec. 1, the second division resumed the position it had held on the 29th ult., but at three in the afternoon, orders to move were received, and we arrived at Germania Ford, at eleven, having marched eight miles.

We here took position on the heights on the south bank of the Rapidan, to protect the crossing of the remainder of the army.  During the night all went over in safety, and at daybreak we left the position and marched to Stevensburg, twelve miles.  We remained here till eight on the morning of the 3d inst., when we once more started on our tramp, going five miles to Paoli’s Mills, where the First brigade encamped, while the Second continued on to Kelly’s Ford, one mile and a half distant.  Here rations were issued, which were sorely needed by the troops, as many had been without food for two and three days.  Many became so hungry that acorns and corn did not serve to assuage the gnawings of starvation.

The animals of the army were in as bad a condition as the men, and had it not been for the great quantities of corn forage found south of the Rapidan, the short campaign would have materially diminished the animals.

A.R. Waud's sketch of Confederate Earthworks at Germanna

Artist A. R. Waud's sketch of the Confederate earthworks at Germanna Ford, occupied by Union troops during the Mine Run Campaign.  There is a wonderful sense of depth in the sketch.  Waud was a brilliant war correspondent artist.

The 30th ult. and 1st inst. were very cold, and on the morning of the latter day two pickets of the 5th Corps were brought in, frozen to death.  A picket post, as established on the bank of the river toward the enemy, and the men, to whose lot it fell to occupy this position, were obliged to wade through and remain for two hours in their wet clothes, before the relief reached them, when they were found dead.

Thus ends the fall campaign of the Army of the Potomac, and we are now comfortably established in good quarters  From the commanding position which your correspondent occupied, it being the highest points in the Union line, he was  spectator of all that he relates.  ––CLARENCE.


Artillery Struggling Through a Mud Hole

The illustration below from Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, seems appropriate here.  All the infantry men complained about the slow going they experienced marching behind the artillery, on bad roads through the swampy regions of the Wilderness.

illustration of artillery struggling in mud

Letter of James Ross, "9th New York" December 2nd

Dec. 2nd  Marched in the rear guard to one mile beyond Stevensburgh leaving the Ford at noon and camping at eight––

        Wednesday morning
                At Germanna Ford
                            on the skirmish line

Dear Father;

All day yesterday we lay quietly around our fires but at sunset the army began to move back to the Rapidan  I think that our corps had the advance but am not sure.  We marched to twelve last night and had a hard time of it     the artillery and trains retarded our progress so that we could not move a half a mile an hour.    The wind blew with great fierceness and kept us chilled to the bone when we halted.  At one time we were stopped for the artillery to cross a mud hole more than an hour       on the top of a bare hill the boys set fire to the long dry grass with which the country was covered and soon a sea of fire was sweeping over the whole place       this kept us warm till we moved.    When we halted four companies of our regiment was sent on picket      our company was one but we were lucky enough  to be put on the reserve and had nothing to do but sleep till five o’clock   when the Colonel awoke us and took us out into the woods where he placed us with the reserve on post by a good fire where we cooked breakfast.    at sunrise this morning a lieutenant posted us as skirmishers along the south side of the ford   The rear of the army is crossing as I write.  Immense masses of infantry artillery and cavalry are moving moving toward the ford and we expect to see the advance guard of the greybacks every minute       we will be on the vanguard today to protect the crossing of the army and if the rebels push us will see work.

The Army Re-Crossing the Rapidan at Germanna Ford

A. R. Waud sketch of Meade's Army re-crossing at Germanna Ford

Artist A.R. Waud, who had a close call with a shell during the 3rd Corps Battle at Payne's Farm, sketched General Meade's Army re-crossing the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford on December 2nd.  Thus ended the Mine Run Campaign.

Diary of Calvin Conant, Company G, 13th MA:

Wednesday, 2.  we are lying on the south side of the Rapidan  crossed at day light and marched to Stevensburg passed the 6th & 5th Corps on our road   went in to camp late in the afternoon   our rations are very short.

Sergeant Austin Stearns, “Three Years in Company K” cont'd:

In the morning we found both [water & coffee] and after strengthening the inner man were again on the move, crossing the river and moving towards the Rappahannock.

[I remember] of how hungry the boys were, eating acorns and picking up the grain and eating it where the mules had been fed.  Taking all these things together, my remembrance of Mine Run is not of the most pleasing character.

That night when we bivouacked, Fay came and wanted to know if I didn’t want to have him cook my supper and let him eat with me.  This was a practice much resorted to;  some of the boys were great eaters and when we had from three to eight days rations with us, could eat all in half the time, and if there was no chance to forage would go very hungry, unless they could eat in some such way. Austin Stearns sketch from his memoirs, titled evening smokeIn camps we had enough and to spare, but on the march in an active campaign where we were up nights, some of the boys would eat all in half the time; besides we had no convenient place to carry so much bread and many times [it would] get wet and spoil.  I had already filled my canteen at a nice brook, so I told Fay to get the fire ready and we would  see what could be done in the supper line. My haversack was searched and a dirty piece of salt pork was found worth its weight in gold now, and broken hardtack worth a dollar apiece, enough for a good square meal.  Coffee was soon making and Fay was frying the pork, while I was pounding the hardtack in the corner of my tent with a stone.  This mixed with water and a little sugar stirred in and fried in pork fat made a dish much relished by us.

Each with a pint of coffee, and as much fried bread as we (I gave Fay the meat, which he greatly enjoyed in eating) could eat made us feel good, and how well we sat and talked over the events of the last few days and enjoyed our evening smoke.  The privations were for the time forgotten, and then rolling up in our blankets the gloomy surroundings were also forgotten in “tired natures sweet restorer, balmy sleep.”

Charles E. Davis, cont'd:

pick-pocket

Wednesday, December 2.  The whole army crossed the river.  We marched to Stevensburg, ten miles, arriving about 4 P.M., and halted for the night.

The rest of the army, like ourselves, was very much dissatisfied with the result of the campaign.  Grumbling was heard on all sides.  As usual we knew little about the position of troops, but that didn’t interfere with our having some lively discussion as to how the battle ought to have been fought.  Arguments were illustrated by diagrams drawn in the ashes of smoldering fires. 

While this was going on, our attention was attracted to a group of substitutes who were demonstrating how easy a pocket could be picked.  These fellows made no bones of their occupation, and they were always willing to teach us the mysteries of their profession, that we might have an agreeable and genteel occupation when we reached home.



Letter of Lieutenant William H. Broughton, 16th Maine

Lt. Broughton, pictured, barely mentions the arduous campaign when he wrote home to his father when it was all over. He was more concerned with receiving his commission.

                                Camp near Kelly Ford, Va.,
                                    December 4, 1863.

Dear Father:

William H. Broughton, 16 Maine

    I have just come off from Picket where I have been for the last forty-eight hours, and consequently feel a little tired, but as it has been some little time since I wrote, I have concluded to drop a few times.

    I received my commission as 1st Lieut. this evening, shall try and get mustered tomorrow.

    We came very near having a big battle at Mine Run on the morning of Nov. 30. I was sure we were going into it.   At 4 A. M. we went to the right some ½ a mile and by that time the big guns opened.  Our Div. was broken up and two regiments (39 Mass. and 16 Me) were sent to support a Brigade of the 5th Corps that were going to charge the enemy’s works.  We unslung knapsacks and prepared for hot work, but for some reason that I do not know we did not have any fighting.

    Some think that we are going into winter quarters where we are, but I think we shall withdraw to the north of the Rappahannock.

    I wish you would send me a box of eatibles, cakes, pies, preserves, etc. I think a small box would come through in a short time.  If there is a chance for furloughs this winter I shall come home sure.

    I wrote Eddie when I wrote to you last.

    My old commission as 2nd Lt. is in Capt. Lowell’s Valise, which was sent to Washington, after the Battle of Gettysburg.

    I am getting sleepy and will close. Love to Mother.

                                From Your Son,
                                William H. Broughton

Letter of Warren H. Freeman, 13th MA, Company A

Warren describes the Mine Run Campaign in the following letter to his father.  The New York Herald reporter's account puts a very favorable spin on the Federal advance to the Confederate troops' outer line of earthworks, but the outer line was never intended to be held.  The reporter also seems to imply there was some blame to be assigned when no attack was made.   General Sedgwick, whom he mentions, had the best position in the Union lines, for potential success.  He could have advanced toward a bend in the Mine Run creek which would have placed him on General Jubal Early's left flank.  When the attack was called off, Early re-adjusted his line to correct the situation.  General Meade's hopes for a successful attack were with General Warren's 2nd Corps on the left of his line.  When that plan failed, and after Gen. Early adjusted his lines, General Sedgwick's advantages were gone, and so an attack on General Meade's right, although considered, had less chance for success and was aborted.

In Camp near Kelly’s Ford, Va.,  December  7, 1863.

Sergeant Warren H. Freeman

Dear Father,––   In my last letter I mentioned that our generals supposed it would be necessary, in order to satisfy the press and public, for the “Army of the Potomac,” before going into winter-quarters, to offer battle to the rebel army on our front, whether we gained anything by it or not.  So we broke camp November 24th, at Warrenton Junction, and marched to near Rappahannock Station, where we lay till the morning of the 26th, when we crossed the Rappahannock River and marched all day, going into camp for the night about a mile south of the Rapidan.  We crossed this river at Culpepper Ford, I believe.  The weather was pleasant during the day.  This is the first time our regiment ever crossed the Rapidan, although you will recollect, we have been very near it several times.

The next day, November 28th, we marched about twelve miles, part of the way on the Gordonsville plank-road.  Halted just before dark and cooked our suppers supposing we were to remain here all night;  but were disappointed, as we were soon ordered to fall in.  We marched through a kind of cart path that struck off to a pike road some three miles from the plank-road.  We moved very slowly till midnight, when we lay down for the rest of the night.  Started bright and early in the morning and marched about two miles, when we came in view of the rebel fortifications, at a place called Mine Run.

The rebels were plainly to be seen occupying a position that rivaled the famous heights of Fredericksburg.  The army was now drawn up in line of battle, and we were sent out on picket.  It rained about all day;  we are called in soon after dark, and lay a little back of the skirmish line that night.  The next morning, Saturday, November 30th, the battle with artillery begun. The “New York Herald” gives a good account of the fight.  I will make a brief extract from it, remarking that our regiment is in the First Corps under General Newton:––

“At eight o’clock the attack opened on the right.  The booming of cannon in that direction was answered at other points along the line until every gun down to the left of General French’s position was engaged.  When the attack begun the enemy was plainly visible on the opposite elevations, working like beavers, prospecting and extending their position;  but the missiles thrown from about one hundred cannon, bursting in their midst, ploughing up the ground about them, tearing down the breastworks they were throwing up, killing or wounding their comrades, worked a general demoralization in their ranks. Many of them could be seen flying to the woods in the rear of their position, while others crouched close to the ground behind their works.  While watching the effect of this terrible cannonading, I was suddenly and greatly aroused by the stampeding of the rebel skirmish lines, which had occupied a position immediately opposite ours, on the west bank of the stream.  The cause was soon apparent, as our skirmishers, in double line, emerged from the thicket in the bottom, and steadily moved up the opposite slope in pursuit of the flying rebels. The skirmishers boldly pressed forward and were soon in undisputed possession of the enemy’s first line of rifle pits.

“General Newton also advanced the skirmishers of the First Corps, and occupied some of the enemy’s works in the vicinity of the turnpike.  Here a ghastly sight met his brave troops.  A score of rebels were found in their works, stiff in death, having perished with cold during the preceding night.

“Whenever we advanced the rebels gave way.  But, unfortunately, our advances were only on the centre of the front, and, with the enemy securely lodged on either flank, the positions we gained were untenable.  And the attacks were not made on the flanks.

“The right and centre of the line had been engaged for more than an hour with most gratifying results, demonstrating our ability to dislodge the enemy in those positions, when an order was received from  head-quarters announcing that the attack on the left would not be made.  Why, did not appear. Everywhere that the attack had been made it had been eminently successful.  Sedgwick had not advanced, but was preparing to do so.  Birney and Newton were in possession of the rebel outworks.  But with the information now received it became necessary to withdraw, which  was safely accomplished, and so ended the grand assault.”

We now buckled on our knapsacks again, and moved about a quarter of a mile to the left, where we lay the remainder of the day and night.  There were only a few wounded in our brigade; no loss in our regiment.  I do not know the whole loss in the different corps, but think it was about 600 men killed, wounded, and prisoners.

Tuesday morning we moved back to the position we occupied the day before; halted there till near night, when we marched back to within half a mile of Germania Ford;  crossed at the Ford the next morning and marched to within a few miles of this place.  The next day came to our present camp ground.  We are now quartered in the huts that the rebels were recently driven from.

I have not received my box yet.  The late movement deranged all our plans for Thanksgiving.  As soon as we become fixed to one spot for a week or so I shall endeavor to hunt up the box.

But I must close.

WARREN.      

Union Artillery Crossing the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford, May 1864

Union Artillery crossing the Rapidan at Germanna Ford

Closing Comment

The Mine Run Campaign has been called a precursor, or “dress rehearsal” for General Grant's  Battle of the Wilderness” in May 1864.   The competing armies traversed the same pathways and fought in many of the locations traversed at Mine Run during General Meade's  failed maneuver of November 1863.

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Page Updated April  12, 2022.

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“Names were then written on slips of paper and pinned on the coat or cap for identification of bodies. "