« VorigeDoorgaan »
battle was in front about a 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.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST CORPS,
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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. 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 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 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. 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 welldevised 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 these 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 trestlework 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.
Sunday, Nov. 29.
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.
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 sur
geon, 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.
We quote once more from the "Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac" by Swinton:
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 aide-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. 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 abattis. Looking at the position with the critical eye of an engineer, but not without those lofty inspirations of courage 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 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
The following is taken from the account of the Mine Run campaign published in the "History of the Civil War in America," by the Count de Paris:
The demonstration made by Warren on Mine Run in the afternoon of the 29th, which cost him about twenty men, has of course attracted Hill's attention toward his extreme right, which he hastily reënforced. The concentration of the Federal forces on the south of the plank-road could the less escape him since Warren, far from concealing them, has, on the contrary, applied himself, while placing them in sight of the enemy and lighting large fires, to making them appear still more considerable than they were in reality. He has himself stated this fact, without explaining the reason of these tactics, which are incomprehensible on the eve of an attack. If he hoped to intimidate the enemy he was greatly mistaken. Hill, well warned, brings back all his forces on the south of the plankroad, thus opposing about twenty thousand men to the twenty-six thousand of his adversary, and hastily constructs a few intrenchments. A small stream and a space of about six hundred yards separate the combatants. The night is long and cold.
The dawn, impatiently waited for on both sides, at length makes its appearance. Meade's manoeuvre has been baffled. The Southern army, closed in mass behind Mine Run, presents everywhere a formidable front; the intrenchments roughly sketched the day before by Hill have been completed during the night; the artillery, concealed in the woods, is displayed on all the heights.
The Federals study with attention, then with uneasiness, the positions which they are about to assault. Almost all have witnessed Fredericksburg and Gettysburg; they know by a double experience that a bloody defeat is reserved to one of the two armies which takes the offensive. It is said that most of them on the morning of the 30th took care to pin to their coats pieces of paper bearing their names. They wished that their names might be placed over the fresh earth which was to cover them in their everlasting sleep. No hope of glory was occupying their minds at that supreme hour, but they were anxious to secure on that distant soil the modest epitaph which allows the soldier's family to distinguish his remains, instead of having to kneel at the grave of the unknown. It was in this manner, it is related, that they silently showed the conviction that they were going to be asked for a useless sacrifice. If it is only a legend - for legends are some. times easily made it is worth being quoted, for it perfectly describes the character of the Army of the Potomac.
A few minutes more and it will be 8 o'clock; every one is waiting for the signal; faces are grave, but resolute. Warren, however, has been still more struck than his soldiers by the formidable aspect of the enemy's positions; those which