November 30, 1863 (Monday)
The Federal artillery pierced the sharp morning air, bringing its terrible heat to the biting wind. It was 8am, and as General Meade ordered, the guns opened early, heralding the coming infantry assault. The attack was to be led by Gouverneur K. Warren, commanding the II Corps and several divisions of the III.
It had been Warren’s idea, and was seconded by Meade without so much as a look at the ground over which the advance would come. Warren had perceived that the Rebel right flank was vulnerable and spent the day previous maneuvering his troops into position near the head of Mine Run.
General Warren had placed his men well, covering his flanks and leaving an entire division in reserve. “I was thus prepared for strong and repeated assaults,” he wrote in his report, asserting that “no part escaped our observation.”
But this was through the night and in the dark. Come the first morning light, Warren saw a much different picture. The Rebel flank before him had been strengthened and hardly seemed any longer to be a flank. He found “the breastworks, epaulements, and abatis perfected.” He saw that in the time that his men would take to reach the enemy works, they would be cut down. “I at once decided not to attack,” he continued, “and informed General Meade.”
But General Warren’s attack wasn’t the only one Meade had ordered. John Sedgwick’s corps on the Union right was to step off shortly after Warren’s appointed time. When Meade received the news, he quickly sent word to Sedgwick before storming off to the left to finally have a look at Warren’s front, and to possibly schedule another attack.
When Meade arrived, Warren pleaded his case. “I advised against any further attempt to outflank the enemy in his immediate front,” recalled Warren. “Any further attempt to outflank the enemy in his immediate presence, with the force I then had, separated, as I was, 4 miles from the right wing [of the Union Army], exposed my command to the chances of an overwhelming attack from him, and was not justifiable on any principle, nor was it proposed to me.” Meade apparently concurred, and ordered no further attack for that day.
But, thought Warren, all was not lost. If only General Meade would order the rest of the army to his position, an attack could successfully be made. Warren allowed that it would mean a complete abandoning of their base of operations, but in the end he believed it would be worth it. Meade, on the other hand, did not. Instead, he shuffled around a few divisions, relieving Warren of the burden of the troops he was given from the III Corps, and stared across Mine Run at the ever-improving Confederate works.
Directly across from Warren’s position were Rebels under A.P. Hill. Before the dawn, Hill had moved a division to the right, thus extending his lines. It was merely a way to improve his defenses. Nobody in gray had an inkling how close General Meade had come to making an attack.
Though he was outnumbered, General Lee had no desire to retreat. He believed his position a good one and only needed the Federals to attack it for his army to come away in victory. “Believing that the enemy would not abandon an enterprise undertaken with so great a display of force without giving battle,” wrote Lee in his official report, “I was unwilling to lose the advantage of our position, and awaiting the development of his plans….”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 1, p697-698, 829, 896; The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade Vol. 1; From Gettysburg to the Rapidan by Andrew Atkinson Humphreys; “The Mine Run Campaign – An Operational Analysis of General George G. Meade” by Kavin L. Coughenour. [↩]