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X. A campaign of manoeuvres. July, 18-march, 1864

I. The march to the Rapidan.

The safe retreat of Lee from Maryland into Virginia imposed upon General Meade the necessity of an immediate pursuit. This he undertook with a promptitude that was very creditable, considering the trying campaign that had just closed.

On recrossing the Potomac, Lee fell back into the Shenandoah Valley, placing his force on the line of Opequan Creek— the same position he had held during the autumn after his retreat from Antietam.

Meade's plan of advance into Virginia was confessedly modelled on that of McClellan in November, 1862; and it was probably the best that could have been adopted. As a problem in that branch of the art of war which is named logistics, or the supplying of armies, it was not considered practicable to subsist a force of the magnitude of the Army of the Potomac by the means available in a direct advance up the Shenandoah Valley. It remained, therefore, to march by the route of the London Valley; and by hugging the Blue Ridge closely, Meade hoped, by vigorous action, to bring the Confederate [374] force to battle under advantageous conditions before it should break through the mountains.1

The army crossed the Potomac on ponton-bridges at Harper's Ferry and Berlin on the 17th and 18th July, and followed southward, skirting the Blue Ridge; while Lee, conforming to this manoeuvre, fell back up the Shenandoah Valley. The movement of Meade was made with much vigor—indeed with so much vigor that, on reaching Union, on the 20th of June, he was compelled to halt a day, lest by further advance he should dangerously uncover his right; but even with this delay, the army, on reaching Manassas Gap on the 22d, was so well up with the enemy, that it gained that point while the long Confederate column was still passing on the other side of the mountains. This, therefore, seemed an excellent opening for a flank attack, and it was fully appreciated by Meade, who directed five corps on Manassas Gap—the Third Corps, now under command of General French, being in advance. The selection of the leader for an enterprise demanding the most energetic qualities of mind—seeing that it was necessary to force Lee to battle under circumstances in which he would naturally wish to avoid it—was very unfortunate; and by his mismanagement General French succeeded in depriving the army of one of the few really advantageous opportunities it ever had to strike a decisive blow. A slight observing force had been left at the Gap, but this was expelled, and the corps passed through on the evening of the 22d, prepared to advance on Front Royal in the morning. But, on moving forward to strike the enemy's line of retreat, the corps-commander acted with such feebleness,2 as to allow the rear-guard to delay him [375] the whole day, so that it was evening before he penetrated to the Confederate line of battle at Front Royal. Next morning, when Meade hoped to give battle, Lee had made good his retreat.3 Upon this, as nothing was now to be hoped from the movement on hand, the march was conducted leisurely towards the Rappahannock, and Lee retired to the vicinity of Culpepper.

In this position a considerable period of repose followed; and this inaction was imposed not more by the necessity of resting and recruiting the army, than because both sides found it necessary to draw detachments from the armies in Virginia for other needs. From the army of Meade a considerable body was taken to send to South Carolina, and a large force withdrawn to dispatch to New York for the purpose of enforcing the draft, the attempted execution of which, some time before, had given rise to extensive riots in that city. On the other hand, the severe pressure that Rosecrans was bringing to bear upon the central army of the Confederacy under General Bragg, in Tennessee, prompted the detachment from Lee's army of the corps of Longstreet, for the purpose of throwing it into the scale as a make-weight against the Union force. This withdrawal took place early in September, and necessarily reduced the Confederates to a purely defensive attitude in Virginia. Soon afterwards, General Meade became aware of Longstreet's departure, and he then sent his cavalry across the Rappahannock, drove the enemy over the Rapidan, and subsequently followed with his whole force, occupying Culpepper and the regions between the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, the latter river now becoming the [376] dividing line between the opposing armies. As the position held by Lee on the south bank of the Rapidan was a very advantageous one, Meade's projects of advance turned towards a flanking movement; but just at the time he had matured a plan of operations, he was informed from Washington that it was found necessary to still further weaken the Army of the Potomac by the withdrawal of two corps to forward to Tennessee, in which section of the theatre of war the military situation had been seriously compromised by Rosecrans' defeat at Chickamauga—a defeat to which the force sent from Virginia under Longstreet had in no small degree contributed. The corps taken were the Eleventh and Twelfth, and they were put under the command of General Hooker. This, in turn, reduced Meade to a strict defensive; for though he received some accessions to his numbers from the draft, yet these added little to his real strength, the conscripts being raw and unreliable, and large numbers deserted at the first opportunity. It was evident, therefore, that he could undertake no considerable operation until the return of the troops sent to New York. But when, towards the middle of October, these finally came back, and General Meade was about to initiate an offensive movement, he found himself suddenly thrown once more on the defensive by the bold initiative of Lee, in an operation the events of which I shall now relate.

Ii. The flank march on Centreville.

Made aware of the heavy deduction of force from the Army of the Potomac, but exaggerating probably its extent, Lee early in October determined on an offensive movement that should have the effect of driving Meade back from the line of the Rapidan. With this object he resolved to move around his opponent's right flank, and endeavor to interpose [377] between him and Washington.4 He counted that if he should be able in this situation to seriously cripple Meade, it would exhaust the season of active operations and detain the Army of the Potomac on the frontier for the winter, during which time it would be possible for Lee to still further reen-force from his own command the heavily pressed Confederate Army of the West.

In execution of this plan, Lee crossed the Rapidan on Friday, October 9th, and taking ‘circuitous and concealed roads,’5 passed by way of Madison Courthouse quite to Meade's right. Stuart, with Hampton's cavalry division, moved on the right of the column, while Fitz Hugh Lee's cavalry division, with a detachment of infantry, was left to hold the lines south of the Rapidan and mask the turning movement.

The first positive intimation which General Meade had of Lee's intention was an attack made upon his advance posts on the right at James City, held by a portion of Kilpatrick's cavalry division and some infantry of the Third Corps. This force was driven in by Stuart on the 10th, and fell back on Culpepper; and it being then clear to Meade that his right was already turned, he that night sent back his trains, and at two o'clock on the morning of the 11th, began a retrograde movement across the Rappahannock. The march was accomplished during that night, and the bridge at Rappahannock Station blown up.

Lee with his main body reached Culpepper on the 11th to find that the whole army had moved behind the Rappahannock some hours before. He then halted during the rest of the 11th at Culpepper, while Stuart pressed the rear of [378] Meade's column, which was covered by the cavalry under Pleasonton.

Buford's division of troopers had crossed the Rapidan at Germanna Ford on the night of the 10th, after the Confederates had begun their movement, but was met on the morning of the 11th by Fitz Hugh Lee's horsemen; whereupon Buford, falling back over the Rapidan, united at Brandy Station with Pleasonton's main body of cavalry, and then followed the army across the Rappahannock.

On the following morning, Monday, October 12th, Lee advanced from Culpepper; but finding that Meade had been too quick for him, and that his first turning movement had failed, owing to the rapid retreat of his opponent, he determined, instead of following up Meade by the direct line of his retreat, to make a new flank movement by routes to the west, ‘with the design,’ as he says in his report, ‘of reaching the Orange and Alexandria railroad north of the Rappahannock, and interrupting the retreat of the enemy.’ This operation had very near been successful, owing to the uncertainty of General Meade as to his antagonist's real purpose, and the false movements resulting therefrom.

Having put the Rappahannock between himself and Lee, Meade conceived that his retreat might have been premature, especially as he became aware on the morning of the 12th that Lee had halted at Culpepper, and it was uncertain whether he intended to do more. Accordingly, that afternoon the main body of the army, consisting of the Second, Fifth, and Sixth corps, with Buford's cavalry division, was countermarched to the south bank of the Rappahannock to proceed back towards Culpepper. General Meade designed to give battle if Lee was really there. But, as has been seen, the latter had that morning left Culpepper to plant himself by a circuitous turning movement on Meade's line of retreat towards Washington. Thus was presented the curious contretemps, that while on the 12th the main body of the army was marching southward to meet Lee at Culpepper, Lee was moving rapidly northward on parallel roads to lay hold of Meade's communications [379] But of this mistake, which if prolonged much longer might have proved fatal to Meade, he had that afternoon convincing proof in an event which fell out in this wise.

While the three corps named had been sent on the countermarch towards Culpepper, the Third Corps under General French had been left to guard the line of the Rappahannock, and took position at Freeman's Ford, while the cavalry division of General Gregg watched the passage of the Upper Rappahannock at Sulphur or Warrenton Springs. Now Lee, continuing his northward march, on the afternoon of the 12th struck Sulphur Springs, and there crossed his columns to the north bank of the Rappahannock; so that Gregg found himself assailed by the van of the enemy advancing towards Warrenton, and was driven off after having been somewhat severely handled. Of course, on receiving this intelligence from Gregg, the real nature of Lee's movement was instantly disclosed to Meade, who sent an immediate order recalling the three corps from their untimely move on Culpepper. This order found these corps in bivouac on the road to Culpepper, and reached them towards midnight of Monday, when they at once began a rapid retrograde movement to the north of the Rappahannock.

It is easy to see that from this misunderstanding not only was the general retrograde movement to meet the Confederate advance seriously compromised, but the Third Corps, remaining alone on the north bank of the Rappahannock, was thrown quite out of position and exposed to destruction by an overwhelming force. But Lee, unaware of the true state of affairs, did not turn aside to molest that isolated force, but continued his northward movement, and by a night march of the three corps, the different corps of the Army of the Potomac were, on the morning of Tuesday the 13th, again concentrated on the north bank of the Rappahannock.

As on the morning of the 13th the opposing forces were both on the north side of the Rappahannock, there ensued between the two armies a close race—Lee aiming, by a flank march, to strike in on Meade's line of retreat by the Orange [380] and Alexandria Railroad, and Meade determined to checkmate him by a rapid retrograde movement. The latter, during that day, fell back along the line of the railroad, and Lee, continuing his advance from Sulphur Springs by parallel routes to the west, struck Warrenton in the afternoon. Here he halted during the rest of that day to supply the troops with provisions.6

Lee's plan now was to advance from Warrenton in two columns—the left column (the corps of Hill) to move northward by the Warrenton turnpike to New Baltimore, and then strike due eastward to lay hold of the railroad at Bristoe Station; the right column (the corps of Ewell) to advance by roads to the east of the route of Hill, passing by Auburn and Greenwich, and uniting with Hill at Bristoe Station.

This project was put in execution on the morning of the 14th; but whether Lee would be able to make good his intent of reaching Bristoe before his antagonist, would, of course, depend on the activity of the latter. Meade, with the uncertainty of what Lee was about, had the interior line; Lee, with a definite purpose and clear line of conduct, had the exterior and longer route to pursue. Anticipating the sequel so far as to say that Meade beat Lee in the race, passing Bristoe with nearly his whole force before Hill and Ewell were able to strike his line of retreat at that point, it remains to describe some interesting complications that arose out of the proximity in which the two armies were manoeuvring.

In the retrograde movement of the Union army, on the 13th, it was appointed that the Second Corps under General Warren should, after halting at Fayetteville until the Third Corps under General French was withdrawn, cover the rear of the army; and its route was directed to be by way of Auburn to Catlett's Station, and thence northward along the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. In this duty, Kilpatrick's division of cavalry was to co-operate.

Now, on the evening of the 13th, when Lee reached Warrenton, [381] Warren reached Auburn, distant only five miles to the east, and there he bivouacked with his corps on the south side of Cedar Run. To cover his rear from attack from the direction of Warrenton, where Lee was that night (unknown to, but not unsuspected by Warren), Caldwell's division with three batteries7 was placed on the heights of Cedar Run. Before dawn of the 14th, while the head of Warren's column was under way crossing Cedar Run, Caldwell's troops lit camp fires on the hill-top to cook breakfast; and in this duty they were engaged when most unexpectedly a battery opened upon them from their rear and directly on the road prescribed for the movement of Warren's column towards Catlett's Station.8 This attack, sufficiently bewildering to those upon whom it fell, will readily be understood in the light of the following rather amusing incident.

Stuart with the Confederate cavalry had the day previous met the head of French's column, and, being forced back, retired towards Catlett's Station. But on Sykes' corps moving up the railroad, Stuart found himself corralled between the two main Union columns, and bivouacked within two miles of General Meade's headquarters and not more than four hundred yards from where Caldwell's division was encamped, sending messengers through the Union lines to notify his friends of his situation. When Caldwell's men lit their fires, Stuart opened on them. Unseen himself in the valley, veiled by mist and the gray morning light, he had yet a plain view of the Union force on the illuminated hill-tops, and for a few minutes, till the troops could be moved to the opposite side of the hill under cover, the fire from the Confederate battery told with fatal effect.9 Having thus paid his compliments, the rollicsome sabreur escaped by moving to the rear around the Union rear-guard.

But no sooner had Caldwell moved to cover on the opposite [382] side of the hill than his command was opened on from that side also, the fire coming from the direction of the Warrenton road. The source of this new attack will be readily understood from the already mentioned intentions of Lee; for it has been seen that from Warrenton Ewell's column was to proceed by way of Auburn on Greenwich, and having moved very early in the morning, it was his advance that struck Warren's force.10 The moment was now a critical one for Warren, for his advance division under General Hays, which had crossed to the north side of Cedar Run, found itself opposed by a hostile force at the same time that Caldwell's division, on the south side, was fired upon, and the corps appeared to be surrounded and its retreat cut off.11 But the actual condition of things was not as bad as appeared. Little more than the mere van of Ewell's column, and that mainly cavalry, had yet come up: the crossing of Cedar Run was not interrupted; Hays, who was on the north side, having thrown out a couple of regiments, repulsed the enemy, and cleared the route over which the corps was to advance;12 and finally, when the head of Ewell's main column came up, it was held in check by skilful deployments of cavalry and infantry and the practice of the batteries, till the rest of Warren's [383] force had crossed Cedar Run, when he continued his prescribed march—Caldwell's division covering the retreat, and closely skirmishing with the enemy.13 Ewell did not follow up directly on the rear of Warren's column, for his prescribed course took him to the left to move by Greenwich and join Hill.14

Meantime, the whole army was pressing on along the railroad towards Centreville, the point of concentration, where General Meade had resolved to halt and give battle. Warren, as has been seen, brought up the rear.

As Lee's purpose was to strike Bristoe Station before Meade should have passed that point, he pressed the advance of Hill and Ewell. When Hill, however, after moving eastward from New Baltimore, in the afternoon approached Bristoe, the whole army, with the exception of Warren's corps, had got beyond that point, and as the head of his column came up, the Fifth Corps, under General Sykes, had just crossed Broad Run. On seeing this, Hill threw out a line of battle to attack the rear of that corps, when suddenly he found his attention called off by the apparition at that movement of Warren, who, after engaging Ewell at Auburn in the manner indicated, had advanced rapidly along the railroad, and reached Bristoe Station only to encounter Hill.

Warren's position was again a critical one; for, instead of finding Bristoe Station held by the Fifth Corps, as had been [384] indicated to him in General Meade's orders, he discovered that he was there alone, in the immediate vicinity of the whole army of Lee, and found himself suddenly assailed while marching by the flank. But Warren was equal to the occasion, and by a remarkable vigor of action not only extricated his command from a perilous situation, but inflicted a severe blow to the Confederates. This action, known as the battle of Bristoe, I shall briefly detail.

As the head of the column of the Second Corps approached, Hill threw forward a line of battle towards the railroad; but Warren knew the locality with the critical knowledge of an engineer, and forming Webb's division on the right along the embankment near Broad Run, he ordered Hays' division to run for the railroad cut, invisible from the position of both opposing generals. This it quickly did, and the point was reached just in time to meet Hill's advancing line of battle, which, receiving a severe fire from the troops covered by the cut and embankment, and raked by the fire of Ricketts' battery, fell back with heavy loss. Warren immediately advanced a thin line in pursuit, and secured four hundred and fifty prisoners, two standards, and five pieces of artillery. The attack fell mainly on the First and Third brigades of General Webb's division—the former commanded by Colonel Heath, and the latter by General Mallon, an accomplished and patriotic officer who was killed in the action—and on the Third Brigade of General Hays' divis on, commanded by General Owen. The division of General Caldwell, which had formed the rear-guard, came up for a mile or two on the run, and took position on the left of Hays; but the action had already been decided. Warren's loss was comparatively slight.

Effectual as was the check which Warren had given Hill, the position of the former was not one in which he could remain, while, at the same time, it was difficult to withdraw. And now his situation became more dangerous; for just as towards sunset the combat closed, Ewell's corps, which had [385] pursued by-roads between the columns of Warren and Hill, came up, and this brought the entire force of Lee in front of the Second Corps. Nevertheless, before Lee could make dispositions for attack, night came on, and, under its friendly cover, Warren retired, and next morning joined the main body of the army massed at Centreville.15

Meade was now strongly posted on the heights of Centreville, and if compelled to fall back from there, would do so into the fortifications of Washington. As no additional turning movement could be of any avail, Lee pushed his advance no further. His intention had been to gain Meade's rear, and as this was now completely foiled, he was not minded to essay assault on the army in position. Resolving, however, not to have made an utterly useless campaign, he threw forward a thin line as far as Bull Run, and thus masking his design, he proceeded to destroy the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from that point southward to the Rappahannock. Having effectually accomplished that object,16 he, on the 18th, began a retrograde movement.

Meade commenced pursuit on the following day,17 but without overtaking Lee; and in this movement there occurred no rencounter of a more serious character than the wonted indecisive cavalry combats. Stuart, with his two divisions of horse, covered the retrograde movement, and during the entire march was constantly engaged in skirmishes with the Union cavalry. One of these affairs was of some importance. While on the advance towards Warrenton, on the 19th, Kilpatrick's division skirmished warmly with Hampton's [386] division up to Buckland Mills, at the crossing of Broad Run, on the south bank of which Hampton took post, under the personal direction of Stuart, who here planned a skilful manoeuvre to defeat his opponent. Kilpatrick having forced the crossing by turning the flank of Hampton, Stuart fell back slowly towards Warrenton with the view of permitting Fitz Lee's cavalry division to come up from Auburn and attack the Union cavalry in flank and rear. This plan was carried out with some success. Fitz Lee arriving just below Buckland surprised Kilpatrick's force on the flank, and Stuart, hearing Fitz Lee's guns, pressed vigorously in front with Hampton's division. A stubborn resistance was offered, but a charge au fond finally forced Kilpatrick's command to give way, and he retreated in some confusion.18 Lee retired behind the Rappahannock.

The Army of the Potomac being pushed forward as far as Warrenton, General Meade was compelled to halt there to await the repairing of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. This work, undertaken with much energy, was accomplished early in November; and on the 7th, the whole army continued the advance towards the Rappahannock in two columns. General French had command of the left wing, composed of the First, Second, and Third corps, and General Sedgwick had command of the right wing, composed of the Fifth and Sixth corps. The left column was directed to cross the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford, and the right column at Rappahannock Station. Lee held position south of the Rappahannock, in the vicinity of Culpepper, with outposts at Kelly's Ford on the south bank, and at Rappahannock Station on the north bank. The Third Corps under Birney had the advance on Kelly's Ford, and on reaching that point, Birney crossed over a division by wading, without waiting for the laying of the pontonbridges, and advancing an attacking party, composed of Berdan's [387] Sharp-shooters, the Fortieth New York, the First and Twentieth Indiana, the Third and Fifth Michigan, and the One Hundred and Tenth Pennsylvania regiments, carried the rifle-pits and captured five hundred prisoners. The enemy was prevented from strengthening the force in the works by the fire of batteries on the heights on the north side, which swept the plain on the southern bank. Birney's loss was trivial.

While the left column was thus passing at Kelly's Ford, the right wing was forcing a crossing against more formidable obstacles. The Confederates occupied a series of works on the north bank of the river at Rappahannock Station, which had been built some time before by the Union troops, and consisted of a fort, two redoubts, and several lines of rifle-trenches. These works were held by two thousand men belonging to Early's division of Ewell's corps. Commanding positions to the rear of the fort having been gained, heavy batteries were planted thereon, and a fierce cannonade opened between the opposing forces. Just before dark, a storming party was formed of Russell's and Upton's brigades of the Sixth Corps, and the works were carried by a very brilliant coup de main. Over fifteen hundred prisoners, four guns, and eight standards were here taken. Sedgwick's loss was about three hundred in killed and wounded.

This brilliant opening of the campaign should have insured a decisive operation; and it is probable that, if a rapid advance had been made either towards Culpepper or to the south of it by Stevensburg, the Confederate army, which lay in winter-quarters in echelon from Kelly's Ford to the west of Culpepper, might have been cut in two. But the army having crossed on the night of the 7th and morning of the 8th, the whole of that day was wasted in useless and uncertain movements,19 and Lee, not courting battle, availed himself of the opportunity that night to withdraw again across the [388] Rapidan. Meade then advanced and took up position between the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, which was nearly the same ground he held before his retreat.

This campaign may be regarded from two points of view, and from each is susceptible of a different critique. Considered as a movement to meet Lee's advance, it was perfectly successful, and its conduct highly creditable. Lee's line of manoeuvre was, it is true, exterior to that of Meade, and as it was necessary for him to pursue circuitous routes in order to effect his turning movements, this imposed on the former considerably greater marching. Yet he had a clear object in view, whereas his antagonist was necessarily delayed by ignorance of his opponent's real design. The very success of Lee's plan depended on being pushed impetuously. Nevertheless, he delayed at Madison Courthouse, which thwarted the success of his first flank movement; and he delayed again at Warrenton, which baulked that of his second. But even in view of these halts, which General Lee partly explains on the ground that they were necessary in order to supply the troops, the operations of the 14th were not conducted with much vigor. Ewell allowed himself to be detained by the rear-guard, at Auburn, from early in the morning till noon; and from Greenwich he took a blind track across the fields, which he found very difficult, and which gave him much delay, thus preventing his junction with Hill at Bristoe until too late. Nor was Hill's march made with much more expedition; for notwithstanding that his route to Bristoe was but four miles longer than that of Warren, and that the latter was delayed for several hours by his rencounter with Ewell at Auburn, he reached the decisive point as soon as Hill. Warren's conduct throughout these operations was excellent, and a model of the execution of the duties of a rear-guard.

But if, on the other hand, we look upon General Meade's line of duty as calling essentially for offensive action, his course in this retrograde movement is open to another order of criticism. [389]

It is due to observe that General Meade not only did not wish to avoid battle, but he was really anxious to precipitate decisive action, provided, always, he could fight on advantageous terms. Yet he appears to have overpassed several excellent openings for a bold initiative. It would have been interesting to see the result of a determination that, overleaping a too pedantic view of the nature and uses of lines of communication, would have tried the experiment of holding the army in a favorable position and allowed Lee to continue his turning movements. There is little doubt that if Meade had held fast either at Culpepper or at Warrenton, Lee would not have ventured beyond those points, for his opponent would then have been on his communications, to whose endangered safety he would have presently been recalled. Lee's conduct throughout shows how diffident he was in regard to this point—feeling his way, and afraid to move until he had first started Meade, which was the very way of defeating the object he had in view, if he really wished to interpose between the Army of the Potomac and Washington—a purpose which, under the circumstances, was only to be accomplished by the utmost audacity of movement.

There is another opportunity of which General Meade might have availed himself, and which I shall point out. When, on the 12th, the Second, Fifth, and Sixth corps had been sent back across the Rappahannock under a false lead, these corps were in position, by a move to the right, to fall upon the rear of Lee's column in crossing at Sulphur Springs. This would have been a bold move, and would have been as effective as a retrograde movement in relieving French on the north bank of the Rappahannock. But it would have been somewhat hazardous; for Lee might have disputed, with a part of his force, the passage of the Aestham fork of the Rappahannock, and moved with the rest to overwhelm the Third Corps at Freeman's Ford. It is quite likely that General Meade, who was exceedingly anxious to bring on a battle, would have made some of the moves indicated, had he received prompter intelligence of his opponent's movements. [390] But he was excessively ill-informed by his cavalry, and in each case learned the enemy's position only when it had already become too late to act upon it.

The line of manoeuvre adopted by General Lee in this campaign was the same as that used by him in the previous summer against Pope's army. But the result was very different: and this arose from two causes. Lee had now neither a lieutenant capable of making such a flank march as that of Jackson on Manassas, nor such an opponent as Pope; for, if Meade's action was not brilliant, he at least did not lose his head. As a whole, the campaign added no laurels to either army; yet it was none the less attended with much toil and suffering—sleepless nights and severe marches and manifold trying exposures. But this is a part of the history of the army, of which those who did not bear the heat and burden of the day can never know much.

Iii. Mine Run.

Judging from the experience of such military operations as had been attempted during 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 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 ascertained that Lee, while resting the right of his [391] army on the Rapidan near Morton's Ford, had left the lower fords of the river at Ely's, Culpepper Mine, Germanna and Jacobs' mills uncovered, and depended for the defence of that flank upon a line of intrenchments 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 Courthouse, Hill's corps was distributed from south of that point along the railroad to near Charlottesville, with an interval of several miles between the two corps.

This wide separation of his opponent's forces gave Meade the hope that, by crossing the Rapidan at the lower fords, turning the Confederate right, and advancing quickly towards Orange Courthouse 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 operations 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 rigorous 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.

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 Culpepper Mine Ford and proceed to Parker's Store, on the [392] plankroad to Orange Courthouse. The Second Corps was to cross at Germanna Ford, and proceed out on the turnpike (which runs parallel with the plankroad) to Robertson's Tavern. To this point also the Third Corps, crossing at Jacobs' Mill Ford, and followed by the Sixth Corps, was to march by other routes, and there make a junction with the Second Corps. With the left thus at Parker's Store and the right at Robertson's Tavern, the army would be in close communication on parallel roads, and by advancing westward towards Orange Courthouse 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 plankroads. 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 baulked 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 these delays was occasioned by the tardiness of movement of the Third Corps under General French, which having a greater 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 of the time named; 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 underestimating the width of the Rapidan, so that the ponton-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 [393] 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-four hours had passed, and only half the distance was made.

Early on the morning of the 27th, the corps were again in motion, and, under imperative orders from General Meade,

Sketch of Mine Run.

they pushed forward with greater rapidity. The Second Corps, under General Warren, reached its designated point at Robertson's Tavern, about one o'clock, and meeting a force of the enemy, immediately began to develop its strength and position by a brisk skirmish fire. It will be remembered that, according to the plan, this corps was here to have been joined by the Third Corps, and it was not allowed to make a serious attack [394] until General French should arrive. But that officer had fallen into a series of luckless mishaps, by which it happened that soon after crossing the Rapidan at Jacobs' Mill, 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.

Meanwhile, the intention was fully disclosed, and Lee, as may be supposed, was not inactive. Hill's corps, which had been scattered far south of Orange Courthouse, was called up; Ewell was withdrawn from his advanced position on which he had checked French and confronted Warren, and the whole Confederate force concentrated on the line of Mine Run, to bar progress beyond that point.

Had the original intention of march been carried out, this line would not have opposed a barrier to Meade's advance; for though Mine Run crosses the two roads on which the army was to advance towards Orange Courthouse, yet its defences did not stretch as far southward as these two roads —the right being, in fact, at Bartlett's Mills, on Mine Run, and thence up to the Rapidan. But, by the disclosure of Meade's purpose, Lee was able to extend his line so as to cover these roads, and the nature of the ground and the improvised works that might be thrown up in the course of four-and-twenty hours, would render the position a very powerful one.

The Confederate line was drawn along a prominent ridge or series of heights, extending north and south for six or eight miles. This series of hills formed all the angles of a complete fortification, and comprised the essential elements of a fortress. The centre of the line presented four or five welldefined facings of unequal length, occupying a space of more than three thousand yards, with such angles of defence that the fire of the enemy was able to enfilade every avenue of approach, while his right and left flanks were not less strongly [395] protected. Stretching immediately in the rear and on the flanks of this position was a dense forest of heavy timber, while some twelve hundred yards in front was Mine Run— a stream of no great width, but difficult for infantry to cross from the marshy ground and dense undergrowth of stunted timber with which it was frequently flanked on either side, as well as from the abrupt nature of its banks. In addition to these natural defences, the enemy quickly felled in front of a large extent of his position a thick growth of pine as an abatis, and hastily constructed trenches and breastworks for infantry. The position was, in fact, exceedingly formidable.

This is what the army presently found out, when, being at length concentrated, it pushed forward on the following morning, the 28th—the enemy having during the night abandoned his advanced position—and after a short march of two or three miles found itself brought up against the line of Mine Run. Upon reaching this point the troops were immediately put into position, and reconnoissances were made with the view of ascertaining a point of attack.20 At the same time that these reconnoissances were made, General Warren, with the Second Corps, strengthened by a division of the Sixth Corps, was sent to move upon the enemy's right; find out how far south his line extended, and, if possible, outflank and turn him. In these tentative efforts passed the 28th of November.

Next day, Warren, having moved southward to the Catharpin Road, completed his observation of the Confederate right, and announced the conditions as favorable for an attack from that point. At the same time, Sedgwick, having carefully examined the Confederate left, reported that there was a point there which he thought weak and assailable. General [396] Meade accordingly resolved to make attack on both wings, and for the purpose of strengthening the force with which Warren was to operate on the left, he detached from the corps of French two divisions which were sent to the former, which made Warren's force some twenty-six thousand men. Sedgwick, with his Sixth Corps, supported by the Fifth, would operate on the right. French, with the remaining division of his command and two divisions of the First Corps, under Newton, would hold an interval of four miles between the right and left; and as this centre would be weak, it was assigned a role of simple observation. Dispositions in accordance with this plan were not completed until late on Sunday, the 29th; so it was resolved to make the attack next morning, and it was appointed that after a heavy artillery fire, Warren, on the left, should open the attack at eight o'clock, and that an hour after he was engaged, Sedgwick should assault on the right.21

Early on Monday morning the army was under arms, impatiently awaiting the signal-gun. At last, the sound of Sedgwick's cannon came rolling along the line, when the entire artillery of the right and centre opened upon the works of the enemy. But not an echo from Warren on the left! The explanation of this silence soon came in intelligence brought by an aid-de-camp. A close observation of the enemy's position by dawn revealed a very different state of facts than was presented the previous evening.22 The presence of Warren's troops had attracted Lee's attention to his right, and during the night he had powerfully strengthened that flank by artillery in position and by infantry behind breastworks and abatis. Looking at the position with the critical eye of an engineer, but not without those lofty inspirations of courage [397] that o'erleap the cold dictates of mathematical calculation, Warren saw that the task was hopeless; and so seeing, he resolved to sacrifice himself rather than his command. He assumed the responsibility of suspending the attack.

His verdict was that of his soldiers—a verdict pronounced not in spoken words, but in a circumstance more potent than words, and full of a touching pathos.

The time has not been seen when the Army of the Potomac shrank from any call of duty; but an unparalleled experience in war, joined to a great intelligence in the rank and file, had taught these men what, by heroic courage, might be done, and what was beyond the bounds of human possibility. Recognizing that the task now before them was of the character of a forlorn hope, knowing well that no man could here count on escaping death, the soldiers, without sign of shrinking from the sacrifice, were seen quietly pinning on the breast of their blouses of blue, slips of paper on which each had written his name

That this judgment of General Warren and of his troops was correct, General Meade became himself convinced on riding over to the left and viewing the position. It was, in fact, even more formidable than the line of the Rapidan, which it had been considered impracticable to assail by a front attack. The only possible opportunity of now continuing the enterprise was by moving still further to the left, and by manoeuvring on Lee's right, endeavor to force him out of his intrenched line. But, under the circumstances, with the uncertainties of a Virginia December, this was hardly to be seriously considered. The entire plan had been conditioned on a quick operation that would uncover direct communications with the Rapidan. The trains, therefore, had been left on the north bank, and the troops furnished with a limited number of rations, now nearly exhausted. In this state of facts, grievous and galling though it was to permit the campaign to come to such abortive issue, General Meade felt there was no alternative. He, therefore, during the following night, [398] withdrew the army across the Rapidan, and it resumed its old camps.23 Lee did not follow up in the least.

Iv. The army in winter quarters.

The movement on Mine Run terminated for the season grand military operations in Virginia, and the army established itself in winter cantonments for the next three months. During this period the dignity of dulness was disturbed only by one or two cavalry expeditions, planned with the ambitious aim of capturing Richmond by a sudden dash. The first of these schemes, which had the merit of boldness in conception if not in execution, was devised by General Butler, then commanding the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. Believing that Richmond had been stripped of its garrison for the purpose of strengthening the Confederate force operating in North Carolina under General Pickett, General Butler formed the design of swooping down on the Confederate capital with a cavalry raid by way of New Kent Courthouse on the Peninsula. As a ‘diversion’ in favor of this enterprise, the Army of the Potomac was to make a demonstration across the Rapidan. The raiding column, under command of Brigadier-General Wistar, left New Kent Courthouse on the 5th of February, and reached the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge [399] on the following day. The 7th, in obedience to orders from Washington, General Sedgwick, temporarily commanding the Army of the Potomac in the absence of General Meade, threw Kilpatrick's cavalry division across the Rapidan at Ely's Ford, and Merritt's division at Barnett's Ford, while, at a point between, two divisions of the Second Corps made the passage at Germanna Ford by wading. The Confederates held their positions, and considerable skirmishing took place during the day. The troops remained on the south bank until the time fixed for the termination of General Butler's movement, when they were withdrawn. The raiding scheme resulted in nothing. General Wistar found Bottom's Bridge blockaded, and after reconnoitring the position, he returned. He does not appear to have lost any thing; but the troops of the Army of the Potomac, that had the luck to be engaged in the ‘diversion,’ suffered a sacrifice of two hundred and fifty men.

A few weeks later a bold expedition was fitted out with the view of releasing the large body of Union prisoners held at Richmond, the accounts of whose ill-treatment had excited profound sympathy throughout the North. This enterprise was under command of General Kilpatrick, with some threat or four thousand cavalry, seconded by Colonel Dahlgren, a young officer of extraordinary dash and daring. It set out on the 28th of February, after Sedgwick's corps and Custer's cavalry had made a demonstration on Lee's left. Crossing the Rapidan at Ely's Ford, beyond the Confederate right flank, the force marched thence to Spottsylvania Courthouse. Here Colonel Dahlgren, with five hundred picked men, assuming the most daring part of the expedition, diverged from the main body and pushed forward by way of Frederickshall towards the James River. The column under General Kilpatrick at the same time moved rapidly southward, and on the following night, the 29th, struck the Virginia Central Railroad at Beaver Dam Station, whence parties were sent out to damage the road. While engaged in this work, a train of troops arrived from the direction of Richmond; but [400] after some skirmishing these retired. Another party was dispatched to destroy the bridge of the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad across the South Anna—a purpose that was foiled by the presence of a small observing force. The main column then advanced with insignificant opposition, and on the forenoon of the following day, March 1st, reined up before the fortifications of Richmond. The swoop had been so sudden that the troopers passed unopposed within the outer line of redoubts; but the Confederates having, meanwhile, brought up some forces, Kilpatrick found himself arrested before the second line by opposition he could not break through. In the mean time, Colonel Dahlgren, with his isolated party, had moved southward from Frederickshall, after destroying the depot, till he struck the James River, where he did considerable damage to the canal, etc. A native of the country had undertaken to lead the party to a ford not far from Richmond, but through ignorance or treachery he missed his way, and conducted the column to near Goochland Courthouse, a full day's march from the intended point. The guide was hanged on the nearest tree, and Dahlgren moved down the course of the river towards Richmond, in front of which he arrived late on March 1st. But in the interim, General Kilpatrick, having been estopped in front of the fortifications, and hearing nothing of Dahlgren's column, became fearful as to his safety, and decided to fall back down the Peninsula, which he did in face of considerable opposition.

Dahlgren was thus completely isolated from the main body, while the country around him, now thoroughly aroused, was alive with parties of armed citizens and militia. During the night of the 3d, while on the retreat, Colonel Dahlgren, with a hundred horsemen, became separated from the rest of his command, and falling into an ambush, he was killed, with some of his men, the rest surrendering. The other portion succeeded in making a junction with Kilpatrick's column, which returned to the Army of the Potomac by way of Fortress Monroe. [401]

These outlying operations, which were indeed of a rather Quixotic character, very slightly affected the main current of the war, whose issue, it was clearly seen, must await new and weightier trials of strength by the two great armies. As all the grounds of inference led to the belief that the spring campaign must be decisive of the war, both armies, as by consent, settled down in winter cantonments, to recuperate from the wear and tear of the trying season of 1863, and renew their strength for the impending shock of arms. Lee held the south bank of the Rapidan, his forces being distributed from the river along the railroad to Orange Courthouse and Gordonsville. The Army of the Potomac established itself along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from the Rapidan back to the Rappahannock. The ranks of both armies were replenished by conscripts, and drills, inspections, and reviews were energetically pushed forward within the opposing camps. Thus the months of winter glided by, till vernal grasses and flowers came to festoon the graves on battle-fields over which the contending hosts had wrestled for three years.

Then, upstarting, the armies faced each other along the lines of the Rapidan.

1 No demonstration was made in the Valley of the Shenandoah other than that of a body of cavalry under Gregg, which retired after an indecisive engagement with the Confederate cavalry under General Fitz Hugh Lee at Shepherdstown.

2 General Warren, in his evidence before the War Committee, states that General French ‘made a very feeble attack, with one brigade only, and wasted the whole day.’ He adds, that General Meade ‘was more disappointed in that result than in any thing that had happened.’—Report on the Conduct of the War, second series, vol. i., pp. 381, 382.

3 ‘As the Federals continued to advance along the eastern slope of the mountains, apparently with the purpose of cutting us off from the railroad, Longstreet was ordered on the 19th of July to proceed to Culpepper Courthouse by way of Front Royal. He succeeded in passing part of his command over the Shenandoah in time to prevent the occupation of Manassas and Chester Gaps by the enemy. As soon as a ponton-bridge could be laid down, the rest of his corps crossed and marched through Chester Gap to Culpepper, where they arrived on the 24th. He was followed by Hill's corps. Ewell reached Front Royal the 23d, and encamped near Madison Courthouse the 29th.’—Lee: Report.

4 I learn from General Longstreet that Lee at this time frequently spoke of an operation that should ‘swap Queens;’ that is, he thought of marching direct upon and capturing Washington, giving up the attempt to cover Richmond. But Mr. Davis would never consent to this war d l'outrance ; and, besides, the Army of Northern Virginia was at this time too much reduced from its late losses to authorize so audacious an enterprise.

5 Lee: Report of Fall Operations in Virginia.

6 Lee's Report.

7 The batteries of Captains Ricketts, Arnold, and Ames.

8 Warren's Report.

9 A remarkable example of this destructive effect was furnished by one of the shells which killed seven men.

10 Lee: Report of Summer Operations of 1863; Warren: Report of Operations.

11 ‘Attacked thus on every side, with my command separated by a considerable stream, encumbered with a wagon-train, in the vicinity of the whole force of the enemy, and whom the sound of actual conflict had already assured of my position, to halt was to await annihilation, and to move as prescribed carried me along routes in a valley commanded by the heights on each side.’ Warren: Report of Operations.

12 These regiments were the One Hundred and Twenty-sixth New York, under Lieutenant-Colonel Bull, supported by the Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers; and General Hays, in his official report, gives the following account of this spirited affair: ‘I moved forward the entire regiment of the One Hundred and Twenty-sixth New York, supported by the Twelfth New Jersey. In a short time our force came in contact with the rebels. It was short, but very decisive. The rebel cavalry, led by Colonel Thomas Ruffin, charged furiously upon the deployed One Hundred and Twenty-sixth, and were most gallantly repulsed with the loss of their leader, who was mortally wounded.’

13 The escape was so narrow, that, as reported by Colonel Brooke (who commanded the rear brigade of Caldwell's division, and to whose skilful manoeuvring the successful withdrawal was in no small degree due), ‘the enemy succeeded in throwing a column of infantry across the road, and cutting off the Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers. Lieutenant-Colonel Chapman, commanding the regiment, proved himself equal to the emergency, and by promptly moving to the right by a slight detour, succeeded in rejoining the column with but slight loss. I held the enemy at bay on my left and front by fighting him sharply with my flankers and skirmishers, and finally drove him by my fire into the woods on my left.’

14 According to General Lee's report, Ewell ‘drove back the rear-guard of the enemy, and rapidly pursued it.’ But the extent of the pursuit has been recorded above.

15 General Lee states that Hill's attack was made by two brigades, and extenuates the result by stating that the assault was ‘against greatly superior numbers.’ But Hill's own Report shows that he had two divisions on the field. Warren met their attack with little over three thousand men.

16 Lee's Report.

17 This delay in following up was owing to the fact that since the army had crossed to the north side, that stream had become much swollen by heavy rains; and previous to that, not anticipating that the ponton-bridges would be needed, they had been sent with the other trains some eight or ten miles to the rear.

18 Stuart says, ‘great confusion.’ ‘I pursued them from three miles of Warrenton to Buckland, the horses at full speed the whole distance, the enemy retreating in great confusion.’—Stuart's Report. But the reports of Custer and Kilpatrick are naturally not so frank as to avow this.

19 On this point, see Birney's testimony: Report on the Conduct of the War. second series, vol. i., p. 372; Warren's testimony: Ibid., p. 885

20 ‘In order to secure an efficient and active reconnoissance, orders were given to every corps-commander to prepare himself to attack the enemy in his immediate front, and to examine critically, and to ascertain, as early as he possibly could, where would be the best place to attack the enemy.’—Meade's evidence: Report on the Conduct of the War, p. 345.

21 This disposition was based on the hope that as Warren's attack was to be the main one, his opening first would cause the Confederates to weaken their left, opposed to Sedgwick, and thus afford him a favorable opportunity.

22 It happened frequently during the war that dispositions were made during the day for attack the following morning. Attacks thus planned in an d vance generally failed, as might be expected.

23 It would have been a move well adapted to the circumstances had General Meade, on seeing his plan of operations frustrated, advanced on Fredericksburg instead of falling back to his old line across the Rapidan. This would have had the character of an offensive movement, and would have saved the morale of the army and the confidence of the country, both of which were rudely shaken by these frequent fruitless operations. But here General Meade was met by previous prescriptions from General Halleck, not to make any change of base. This absurd piece of pedantry prevented what would have been an excellent measure. From General Meade I learn that he would assuredly have made this move, had he been free to do so.

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