Category Archives: Mine Run Campaign

Fear Within – Sgt. Tyler’s Mine Run

Before moving on to other subjects, I believe you will find the following first-hand account of Mine Run by Sergeant E. B. Tyler (Company B) to be compelling and deeply personal, because it gives us a better understanding of the infantryman’s thoughts and emotions immediately before battle. This account was included in Charles Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, and it is quoted here in its entirety.

The writer recalls no more serious occasion in his army experience than at Mine Run in the flank movement of the Second Corps when the Fourteenth was lying in the first line of battle, with knapsacks again discarded, a sure sign of the desperate nature of the duty expected of us. Just in front of us was a narrow belt of woods running parallel to our line. This screened us from the view of the enemy. Going through these woods to our picket line, at the further side we could look across the level open fields and plainly see the strongly fortified position of the enemy. How defiantly their flags waved, how heart-sickening the well-wrought abatis in front of their works, for we were only waiting for the signal from the right to charge across the open field amid the shot and shell and canister from the artillery and deadly volleys from the infantry, hoping against hope that a few of our first line might join with the others in clambering through the abatis and gain the works.

This time there was no secret made of what was to be our special duty. No forlorn hope ever faced a more desperate prospect and the old Fourteenth was to be in the first line. We were to be the living, moving breastwork that might in some slight measure afford a little protection to the second, third or fourth line of infantry that were to follow, some of whom it might he hoped would scale the works and gain the victory.

How slowly passed the time and yet we felt sure that for many of us these were the final moments of our lives. Somehow we never for a moment surmised that the old fighting Second Corps would either refuse or be refused an opportunity to fight, no matter what the chances against them.

General Warren, with his staff, was riding up and down our line, going from point to point in order to obtain a better view of the enemy’s lines and works. The men were at rest near their stacked arms, ready to fall into place at the first signal and as General Warren, who was to give the order that meant life or death, rode by, how we scanned his face for some inkling of  purpose or some sign of encouragement. We saw the care, anxiety and burden of responsibility resting upon him apparent in his countenance, serious almost to sadness, yet to us it was inscrutable as the ancient rock faced Sphinx. His record as an able, careful commander was not unknown to us, and trust him we felt we could and must.

The men stood mostly by or near their guns, but a little liberty was given them, and once and again, singly or with a comrade or two, we stole out into the woods a few rods in front of us to calculate the chances of the assault. There seemed to be a fascination in looking over the open field. The rebel flag as it waved from its staff sometimes seemed flaunting only defiance to us, and sometimes in the changing lights and shadows of that winter morning, the staff obscured, the flag alone visible, waving and furling and doubling against the background of some darkening cloud, seemed like the friendly invitation of some spirit hand whose dainty beckoning lifted our thoughts to the great beyond.

Then back again to our guns, waiting, yet dreading to hear the signal given. A deep reechoing sound comes rolling down from the distant right, then another and another. The men sprang to their places, some perhaps with faces a little paler than usual, but never a man wavered or faltered. Determined to do their duty unto death, they stood and waited. But the order to advance came not.

The gunners stood by their pieces to send back to the right the answering response if the attack was to be made, as it was to be made simultaneously on the right and by Warren on the left, if made at all. But the signal guns on the left responded not. The minutes became hours and gradually it dawned upon us that the battle planned for us was not to be fought.

General Warren had weighed the chances, had counted the cost, had become convinced in spite of bravery and courage that never had and never should be questioned, that to make the attack on that stronghold with his one corps miles away from any support would be more the folly of a rash harebrained madman than a wise and considerate officer. It was no lack of confidence in his men. It is reported he said he did not doubt but what his corps could take the works, but he feared it would be at the expense of the almost total loss of the same. He could not assume the responsibility of the sacrifice and for once the lives and the limbs and smarting wounds of the thousands in the ranks outweighed the temptation this slight chance offered to add new luster to a general’s stars.

That day and the next passed, then came the retreat, one of the best managed and entirely successful in the carrying out of all its details of any in the history of the war. After the long tedious march, second to none perhaps we ever made, unless that day we made over thirty miles on our way to Gettysburg, thoroughly exhausted, we reached our old camp near Stevensburg and found our company losses consisted of one or two of our new men, whether  captured as prisoners or voluntary deserters, we were not quite sure.

The Greatest Battle Never Fought

150 YEARS AGO TODAY the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut drove a skirmish line of Rebel pickets down a gentle slope and across a marshy stream known as Mine Run. The main Confederate line lay a few hundred yards ahead at the crest of the opposite slope, so the Connecticut boys gave up the chase and withdrew to the relative safety of the Second Corps line.

Marching from its camps on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1863, the Army of the Potomac had advanced southwestward across the Rapidan River into Orange County. Maj. Gen. George Meade’s goal was to surprise the Confederates and turn their right (southern) flank. If successful, the movement would have put 81,000 Federal soldiers between Lee’s 48,000 and Richmond.

As had often happened before, muddy roads slowed the advance to a crawl, and Lee had time to react. The armies sparred at Locust Grove and Mt. Zion Church, but the engagements were small and not decisive. By Sunday the 29th, the armies faced each other across the shallow valley of Mine Run and all the signs pointed to pitched battle the next day.

That night was bitterly cold. No fires were allowed. The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut shivered uncontrollably. All night long the men heard the incessant chopping of Rebel axes. The enemy was building trenches and breastworks, and felling every tree in front of their works to create clear fields of fire. All would be ready for the expected dawn assault.

At two o’clock on the morning of Monday, November 30th, Meade ordered Maj. Gen. Warren, then in command of the Second Corps, to begin the assault at five o’clock. The corps formed in two lines of battle. The Fourteenth Connecticut took their place in the front line. They would be among the first to try the Confederate defenses. As dawn broke over those half-frozen men, the task before them became dreadfully clear. The Confederates had built a strong line of breastworks along the crest of the low ridge on the west side of Mine Run. Every man in the Union ranks knew his chances of surviving the day were small indeed.

In his History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Charles Page recorded these words of one of the soldiers, J. L. Goss: “Lt. Col. Sam Moore, with his thin face, white and stern, walking slowly among his men said, ‘Men, there is no denying it, but three-quarters of you are to be left in that marsh with your toes turned up; but remember the Fourteenth never quailed yet, and I’ll shoot the first man that does it now.'” With trembling hands many of the men wrote their names, company and regiment on slips of paper and pinned them to their jackets. Worse than being killed was the thought that a man might end up in an unknown grave, and loved ones at home might never know what became of him.

Five o’clock came and no order was given to attack. The assault was delayed until eight o’clock. Lt. William Hawley (Co. B) added this description, as quoted by Page, of what I believe to be one of the most dramatic and pivotal scenes of the Civil War. “The Fourteenth was in the first line of battle where the bullets would strike the thickest in the charge. Knapsacks were ordered to be laid aside so that no useless weight might encumber the men. And now General Warren rides slowly down our lines, his sober face more sober than usual. He evidently dislikes to sacrifice his brave troops in such a desperate undertaking….Eight o’clock has arrived and we expect the order to advance. We hear the roar of cannon from our right. Gen. Meade has sent word from the right, asking Warren if the Second Corps can take the enemy’s works..’Yes,’ replied Warren, ‘they can take them, but there will be no more Second Corps.’ Then Meade himself arrives on the ground, surveys the works through his glass, reckons the time it will take to reach them, and shakes his head, saying ‘It is of no use to try to climb a wall with two ladders.'”

The assault was cancelled. Meade saw it would have been another Fredericksburg, perhaps even worse. To his credit, and probably at great cost to himself professionally, he saved his army to fight another day. The Army of the Potomac fell back north of the Rapidan to Culpeper County again, and went into winter quarters. Their next campaign would be directed by a man from the west, a man whose name they had heard, but whose face they had never seen—Ulysses S. Grant..

Beyond the Rapidan

On November 10th, 1863, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry were near the town of Stevensburg in Culpeper County, Virginia. They were told to encamp and to expect an extended stay. The ground was suitable for supporting a long encampment and the army began to issue rations of that most coveted foodstuff, freshly baked bread, still warm from the huge ovens that were quickly built and fired. So for the second time that autumn, construction of winter quarters began, and the men began to settle in to the easy routine of camp life.

While most states already celebrated Thanksgiving Day, and many on the last Thursday in November, it was not until President Lincoln issued his “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” that it became a national holiday. The army was at rest, settling in for the winter, and the men gathered with great relish whatever edible delicacies they could find for the great day of feasting. It really didn’t get any better for the Civil War soldier. But just imagine how you would feel if having taken your place at the table, you were about to chomp down on a crispy-skinned turkey leg, but before you can enjoy even a single morsel, you’re ordered to drop it, fall in and march off to fight the Rebs.

And that’s exactly what happened. The extended stay lasted sixteen days. On the 26th of November, Thanksgiving Day, of course, the army was ordered out of camp to march against the enemy. The men of the Second Corps, still under the temporary command of Major General Gouverneur Warren, marched south toward the Rapidan. The men of the Fourteenth must have started early, because by ten o’clock in the morning, they had marched eight miles and were crossing the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford.

We can only imagine the coarse grumbling that must have run back and forth through the ranks, for not only did they miss their Thanksgiving dinner, but also the weather turned cold, very cold for late November, and no doubt, the men must have missed their log huts and warm fires even more.

To read how the men of the regiment spent Thanksgiving 1862, read my post of November 23, 2012, and I think you’ll agree, these guys and Thanksgiving were not the best of friends.