The first draft of the manuscript is in the mail–always a welcome feeling–but already I’m looking down the road to the next project. In this case, the road I’m looking down is Virginia Route 20. I’m standing at the intersection near the old Robertson’s Tavern in Locust Grove, looking down the long descent in the direction of Mine Run.
That’s where the next campaign will take me.
Kris White and I have just wrapped up the first draft of our manuscript on the Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front. We already have some revisions to do, and our publisher, the highly supportive Ted Savas, has given us room to expand the manuscript if we’d like. He wants this to be the book on the subject, which isn’t too hard because not much has been written on the battles.
We’re waiting to hear back from several colleagues who’ve been kind enough to look over the book for us. We’ll use their feedback to help guide our revisions. It’s hearting to know, though, that Ted’s initial reaction was unqualified: “The manuscript looks very strong.”
When I finish a project, I always like to know what’s coming next. I like to have that next project lined up, and I get restless if I don’t. In this case, though, it’s been hard to look ahead because of the intensity of the work Kris and I have been putting into Forgotten Front. Fortunately, as we began wrapping up work, I had an idea to pitch to Ted, which Ted took instantly: a book on Mine Run.
I’ve been wanting to write on Mine Run for years, and I’ve slowly been collecting material, but I’ve not had the occasion to make a go of it for a variety of reasons. It was important, too, to get Second Fred/Salem Church taken care of because Kris has been wanting to write that book for as long as I’ve known him. It’s been his real passion project. He wanted to get that book written, and I wanted him to get that book written. I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to make that happen, and I’m gratified that I got to be part of it. Working with Kris is always a fantastic experience. He’s a helluva historian.
Now, it turns out, we get to turn to my passion project.
Mine Run has fascinated me for a long time because it’s an engagement everyone forgets about. It’s the giant battle that almost happened but didn’t, and as a consequence, most people with a casual interest in the Civil War jump from Gettysburg in July of ’63 all the way to the Wilderness in May of ’64 as if nothing took place in between.
However, the armies were in constant contact during the months after Gettysburg, skirmishing, probing, maneuvering, poking, prodding. “The Stations,” as I like to call them (Bristoe and Rappahannock), both resulted in bruises for both sides. The entire chessmatch culminates in the anticlimax of Mine Run—arguably George Gordon Meade’s finest hour as commander of the Army of the Potomac, although he gets no credit for it.
At Mine Run, Meade called off a major attack because he saw how hopeless it would be against surprisingly tough Confederate fortifications. He did so despite immense political pressure from Washington to initiate a major engagement. Meade put the lives of his own men over the dictates of politicians.
The thanks it earned him was the position of second fiddle to Ulysses S. Grant, whom Lincoln would promote to lieutenant general and bring east to manage the war. Grant would ride shotgun with the Army of the Potomac, all but totally overshadowing Meade.
Mine Run foreshadows the Overland Campaign in other ways, too: a growing emphasis on defensive warfare by the Confederates, a bulky Union army that finds it difficult to maneuver quickly, and troublesome dynamics between Union corps commander Major General Gouverneur K. Warren and his superiors.
I can’t wait to start diving into the story in depth. That I get to do so with Kris as my writing partner only makes the campaign look all the more exciting.
Ted, too, will be helping. It seems that Mine Run is a passion for him, too. The illustrative Eric Wittenberg has graciously agreed to pen an introduction for us, as well.
Not much remains of the Mine Run battlefield today: a few earthworks run through the yards of homes that have been built along the former Confederate line; lunettes lurk along the Orange Plank Road, guarding the westward approaches; an old road trace reaches up from Mine Run itself. The geography is easy enough to read if you know what to look for, but mostly, the battlefield has faded into historical obscurity like the engagement itself.
The one bright spot is Payne’s Farm, where the opening engagement took place on November 27, 1863. Preserved by the Civil War Trust, the property features a one-mile interpretive trail that follows the action as it unfolded through wooded gullies and ravines and over rolling farmland. It’s a great little gem of a battlefield.
I’ll be spending much time here over the next few months, I’m sure, as Kris and Ted and I begin to unfurl this story. First, Kris and I will need to put the finishing touches on Forgotten Front. In the meantime, I’m content to stand on this ground and look down the road and imagine the good things that wait ahead.
While the Civil War Trust has excellent interpretation at Payne’s Farm, the rest of the battlefield remains largely uninterpreted beyond a pair of markers from the Orange County Historical Society.