Battle of Mine Run
The text below is from a park brochure on the Mine Run Campaign (November 26-December 2, 1863) including a summary of the battle, directions to the battlefield and suggested tour route. The visitor centers at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville has free copies of the brochure which includes a map of the tour route.
After the battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Major General George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac returned to Virginia and fought a series of smaller engagements along the lines of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers. The Mine Run Campaign was the last of these battles before both sides settled into winter camp.
In mid-November, 1863, Meade pondered the best way for his 80,000-man army to attack Lee's 50,000 Southerners, who were well entrenched south of the Rapidan River. When Meade learned that Jacobs, Germanna, and Culpeper Mine Fords on Lee's right were practically unguarded, he formulated a plan to quickly cross the Rapidan at those points and advance to the Orange Plank Road, which led to Lee's rear. Success of the plan, wrote Chief of Staff, Major General Andrew A. Humphreys, depended on "prompt, vigorous action, and intelligent compliance" on the part of Meade's officers. This did not happen.
Meade planned to launch his campaign on November 24th, but heavy rains caused a 48-hour delay. Even worse, an army scout reported the intended movement to Lee, putting the Confederate commander on the alert. Although Lee did not know Meade's exact intent, he knew the Federals were about to move.
The Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan on November 26th. Meade hoped to reach Robertson's Tavern on the Orange Turnpike that day, but muddy roads slowed the advance. At sunset the Union army halted far short of its destination. While Meade's men struggled through the Virginia mud, Lee shifted his army east in an effort to block Meade's flanking maneuver. Bad weather had thwarted Meade's plan for surprise.
Daybreak on the 27th found both sides moving toward each other. Skirmishing began about 11 a.m. near Robertson's Tavern between the Confederate divisions of Major Generals Jubal A. Early and Robert E. Rodes, and Major General Gouvernor K. Warren's Union Second Corps. The fighting continued throughout the day, as both sides awaited the arrival of reinforcements. Meanwhile, three miles to the south, Brigadier General David M. Gregg's Federal cavalry clashed with Major General J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate horsemen near New Hope Church on the Plank Road. Both sides fought a holding action until about 2:30 p.m. when Major General Henry Heth's Confederate division occupied the key high ground west of the church. A short time later the men of Major General George Sykes' Union Fifth Corps arrived and pushed Heth's division off the hill, occupying it themselves. Meade ordered Sykes to hold his position until the entire army was ready to attack.
Father to the north, Major General William French's Union Third Corps advanced slowly from Jacob's Ford to the crossroads at the Widow Morris farm in an effort to unite with Warren's corps at Robertson's Tavern. The right fork led directly to the tavern after merging with Raccoon Ford Road, which was partially blocked by Confederate cavalry. It also led to the exposed left flank of Rodes division. The left fork also led to the tavern, but by a much longer route. French lost valuable time pondering which rod to follow.
While French deliberated about which road to take, Confederate Major General Edward Johnson led his division down the Raccoon Ford Road to connect with Rodes' left. About 4 p.m. he collided with French's men on the Payne farm. Unaware that he faced an entire Union corps, closely supported by a second (32,000 men total), the aggressive Johnson attacked with his 5,300 veterans. The heaviest fighting of the campaign occurred as troops charged and countercharged one another across the Payne farm fields and through the adjacent woods. Significantly, Johnson's Southerners halted the Federals and thereby protected Rodes' left flank at Robertson's Tavern. After dark the Confederates pulled back to a new position on the high ground west of Mine Run and constructed strong earthworks. Meade now realized that his plan to steal a march and place his army on Lee's flank had failed. During the night he concentrated his army on a line perpendicular to the Turnpike, west of Robertson's Tavern. Heavy rains and muddy roads hampered the next day's advance. While Lee's men strengthened their defenses, Meade plotted his next move.
On the morning of November 29th Meade sent Warren's corps on a wide flanking maneuver to the south. It took Warren all day to get his men into position, but by 5 p.m. they stood poised to roll up the lightly defended Confederate right flank. Unfortunately for the Federals, darkness postponed the assault until morning. During the night, General Lee learned of Warren's movement and shifted Lieutenant General A.P. Hill's corps to the south, where it hastily constructed trenches opposite Warren's line. Overnight the temperature dropped below zero, and without tents, shelters or even fires, the soldiers shivered through what, for many, was perhaps the worst night of the war.
Meade planned an all-out assault at 6 a.m. on the 30th, but when Warren informed him that Hill had entrenched across his front and that the movement could not succeed, Meade suspended the attack. Again the Union commander pondered his options. Frustrated by Lee's countermove, low on provisions, and faced with continuing bad weather, he withdrew his army back across the Rapidan on December 1st.
DIRECTIONS TO THE BATTLEFIELD
To reach the Mine Run battlefield, drive west on Rt. 3 from Fredericksburg and proceed 3.5 miles beyond the traffic light at Wilderness Junction (Rt. 20). Just after passing Rt. 711 on your right, make a U-turn and travel back towards Fredericksburg in the eastbound lane. Go 0.1 mile and turn right on Rt. 601. After going 0.6 mile, turn right on Rt. 603, which eventually turns into a well-graded gravel road. Travel 1.5 miles to a stop sign. Turn right and continue on Rt. 603 (Indiantown Road) for 2.3 miles and stop at the junction of the Woodville Road.
Stop 1 - Road from Jacobs Ford. The Third and Sixth Union Corps crossed the Rapidan River at Jacobs Ford, approximately one mile to your right, and marched up the Woodville Road toward your present location. Today the road ends at a private residence several hundred yards from the ford.
Follow the Union advance by continuing on Rt. 603 for 0.6 mile to its intersection with Rt. 715 (Lewistown Road). Brigadier General Henry Prince's division, the leading element of French's Third Corps, reached this point before halting on the night of November 26th. Prince spent the night at "the apex of the angle of the forks." Drive 0.5 mile father and stop at the intersection with Rt. 685 (Russell Road).
Stop 2 - Widow Morris Farm. Generals French and Prince wasted several hours at this road junction debating which road to take. During the fighting at Payne's farm, French used the Widow Morris house as his headquarters. A modern structure now stands on the site of the Morris house, at the southeast corner of the junction.
Continue to follow the Third Corps advance by driving on Rt. 603 1.2 miles farther to Rt. 611. Turn left and continue 0.2 mile to New Zoar Church.
Stop 3 - Payne's Farm. Marching down the Raccoon Ford Road (Rt. 611), Edward Johnson's Confederate division collided with French's corps in the woods and fields in this vicinity. To orient yourself to the direction of Johnson's attack, stand with your back to the church and face the road. The Stonewall Brigade, on Johnson's left, marched past the site of the modern church, crossed the road, and passed through the woods on the opposite side into the open fields of the Payne farm. About a hundred yards to your right is a dirt road that leads to the Payne house. Stafford's and Jones' brigades, on Johnson's right, crossed the Raccoon Ford Road, wheeled to the left, and formed along this dirt road, facing northwest across the field. Return to your car and continue south on Rt. 611 a distance of 1.2 miles to the junction of Rt. 602. Johnson's division used this road when it pulled back across Mine Run on the right of the 27th. Proceed on Rt. 611 1.2 miles farther to Rt. 20. Carefully cross this busy highway and park your car on the other side.
Stop 4 - Robertson's Tavern. Meade originally intended to concentrate his army at this intersection then continue west to flank Lee's army, but poor weather, muddy roads, and a quick Confederate reaction foiled his plan. Skirmishing occurred here on the 27th between Early's Confederate division and Brigadier General Alexander Hays' Union division. When this brochure was written in the mid 1990's, the ante-bellum tavern still stood at the northeast corner of the intersection where a convenience store now exists. The tavern was relocated a short distance north on Rt. 611 that you passed on the way here from Payne's farm.
Turn left (west) on Rt. 20 and drive 1.2 miles to the junction of Rt. 729.
Stop 5 - Federal position. On November 28th, the Federal army entrenched along this ridge facing west, the direction you are now traveling. General Meade made his headquarters near here, in a field north of the road. 0.9 mile ahead is Mine Run, the creek that gave the battle its name. In order to attack the Confederate line, Meade's men would have to cross the creek and charge 1,000 yards up a cleared slope under a murderous artillery fire. Meade ultimately determined the attempt would be too hazardous and withdrew his army back across the Rapidan River.
Continue west on Rt. 20 for approximately 2.0 miles and pull to the right at the power station.
Stop 6 - Confederate Position. The Confederate line intersected the road in this vicinity. General Meade reported that the western bank of Mine Run was "crowned with infantry parapets, abatis, and epaulment for batteries."
Drive 0.3 mile and turn left on Rt. 692. As you drive south on this road, you will be traveling behind and roughly parallel to the Confederate line. Continue 2.0 miles and turn left on Rt. 621, the Orange Plank Road, now known as the Mine Run Road. 0.6 mile down the road you will once again cross Mine Run. When you reach the run, General Warren's position on the night of the 29th will be on your right. Continue 2.9 miles past Mine Run and stop at New Hope Church.
Stop 7 - New Hope Church. This modern structure stands on the same site as a church that was here during the war. After an initial cavalry clash in this vicinity on the 27th, Heth's Confederate division arrived and occupied the important hill just west of the church. Sykes' Union Fifth Corps then took the high ground from Heth and cautiously sought the advantage while the army consolidated. During the battle, Federal cavalry commander David Gregg used the church as his headquarters.
To return to Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, or I-95, continue east on Rt. 621 to Rt.3 and turn right. The battlefields of Kelly's Ford, Rappahannock Station, Brandy Station, Bristoe Station and Cedar Mountain are nearby. Written guides are available for these and other nearby battlefields.
Did You Know?
Marye's Heights is what Civil War soldiers called the high ground immediately west of Fredericksburg. It would be more accurate to call it Willis Heights. The heights consisted of two hills where the Willis and Marye families lived prior to the war. Willis Hill is the larger of the two hills.