The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series: The Great Battle Never Fought
Twice this week, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with podcasters about the Mine Run campaign. The campaign’s anniversary, if you missed it, as most people do, spanned the last few days of November, beginning November 26 and running through December 2. It was the great battle never fought, and so, seldom remembered.
Much still exists of the battlefield today, although little is preserved beyond the scene of heavy fighting on November 27 at Payne’s Farm, which has been saved thanks to the vital stewardship of the American Battlefield Trust. If there’s any hope of the Mine Run campaign assuming a more prominent role in the popular chronology of the Civil War, it’s in the battlefield itself. If the land is preserved, then we’ll all have a tangible plot on which to ground ourselves.
This ties back to the importance of preservation in general, of course. The first step in forgetting a battle is losing the battlefield. (Think “Salem Church” as the poster child.)
As I worked on The Great Battle Never Fought, I had the chance to walk almost the entire length of the final Confederate line, all of which remains in private hands. (My thanks to the many landowners who gave permission to me and my friend, Ron Veen, to walk the ground.) I tromped a lot of battlefield!
Knowing the lay of the land helped me better understand the movements of the armies. This was all the more important because, in places, the modern and historical roads that bisect the battlefield run different routes. That makes it more difficult to envision why Meade found the Confederate position so problematic, not just on the infamous flank that Warren faced but all along the line.
I tried to cram as much into the book as I could reasonably fit. Even that proved unreasonable, and I had to shrink the font size down to a 9.5-point font—the smallest we’ve ever used in any book in the series. I’d found so much information on the campaign, and knowing how neglected the campaign had been for so long, I really felt like my book could make an honest contribution to the literature. It’s disguised as an ECWS book, but really, The Great Battle could have stood alone as a hardcover.
From a purely research-oriented perspective, this book contains my heaviest lifting, and I’m proud of it for that reason. A friend told me it didn’t have the typical “Chris Mackowski storytelling” flavor to it, though, and that might be true. It’s definitely a straight-up, straightforward history book as opposed to a work of creative nonfiction the way Grant’s Last Battle or even Strike Them a Blow lean.
Someone made the comment the other day, on the eve of the campaign’s anniversary, that I had written the definitive book on Mine Run. “That’s a low bar,” I laughed. Aside from Brad Gottfried’s 2013 maps book, a 1987 book by Martin Graham and George Skoch written well before the internet made sources so readily available, and a 1969 special insert in Civil War Times Illustrated, there’s not been much written on Mine Run. My book, if it’s definitive, is only so by default (and Jeff Hunt’s forthcoming volume, which I’m looking forward to, will certainly dethrone me.)
I became fascinated with Mine Run because it’s been so overlooked—part of the “forgotten fall” of 1863. People jump from Gettysburg to the Wilderness as though nothing of import happened in between. I was glad for the chance to explore this time period a bit.
I wasn’t sure Ted Savas would bite on the idea, but little did I know when I pitched it to him that he was as big a Mine Run fan as I was. In fact, he helped located the Payne’s Farm battlefield, which had for years been misidentified. Find the “lost” battlefield provided a vital jump-start to the process of remembering: having the battlefield has led to increased awareness, interpretation, research, and tours. I hope it will lead to more preservation, too, for there’s much out there left to save.
The Great Battle Never Fought: The Mine Run Campaign, November 26 – December 2, 1863
by Chris Mackowski
Savas Beatie, 2018
Click here to read more about the book, including a book description, reviews, and author bio.
Click here for ordering information.
Click here for the audio book, read by the author.
6 Responses to The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series: The Great Battle Never Fought
I read your book about Mine Run a couple of years ago, Chris. It’s a subject that deserves far more attention that it has received. Given how “What if’s” are so popular on this site, and will be the theme of next year’s symposium, Mine Run very well might be THE ultimate “What if” pertaining to the Civil War
Years ago, when I first started my hobby of reading about the Civil War, I stumbled upon “Mine Run,” but could find virtually nothing on it. I recall obtaining an informally published piece in a blue cover, likely a masters thesis. When I looked for it tonight, I could not find it. But, because I have had a longstanding interest in Mine Run, I recently started to look for information. Last spring Mike Movius told me about the You Tube video wherein Chris Mackowski describes the battle and the battlefield. I also found information on the website of the American Battlefield Trust. Better yet! While at a book fair sponsored in October, 2021, by the Chambersburg History Tour group, I purchased “The Great Battle Never Fought.” I look forward to reading it this winter and driving to visit the American Battlefield Trust preserved site afterwards.
I’m still going down the Mine Run rabbit trail thanks to you. Every month I seem to be leading a Mine Run tour going the Mackowski “figure-8” route. Despite the pandemic, descendants have come out this year to see where their ancestor was. The other week it was a 5th Va. descendant whose unit literally went down the Payne’s Farm Lane. Earlier this year, it was a direct descendant of General Alexander Hays who stood at “the well” & looked across the road where his ancestor clashed with Harry Hays. Also, a descendant of the 13th Mass whose unit “played a game of ball” after the assault on Mine Run was called off. They think it was a game of baseball, which I’ve never heard of on the front line away from camp…but that’s how excited they must’ve been. There needs to be more work on a comprehensive map of the battle showing every regiment’s location. The map book mentioned comes close but doesn’t get smaller than the division level in many cases. Perhaps “make me a map” could help in that department?
Would love to listen to the podcasts. Which ones did you speak on? Thanks!
Just bought it yesterday and looking for to reading it since I’m finishing up Jeff Hunt’s Rappahhanock Station book. It will make a nice follow up. I’ll get Jeff’s book too when it comes out.
Another good poster child for battlefield preservation is Big Bethel. There’s almost nothing left of it at all; the Army turned the creek into a reservoir and nearly everything above water has been built over. There’s a tiny cemetery with a monument but it’s fenced in and inaccessible.