On this day in 1863, around a small valley called Mine Run in Virginia, Union General George Meade moves against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after months of inaction following the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July of that year. Meade’s troops found no weaknesses in Lee’s lines, and the offensive was abandoned after five days.
Meade was under pressure from President Abraham Lincoln’s administration to act before the end of 1863. For months after Gettysburg, the two battered armies nursed their wounds and gazed warily at one another across the Rappahannock River. In October 1863, Lee attempted to move his army between the Union force and Washington, D.C., but his offensive failed at Bristoe Station, Virginia. Now, Meade hoped to attack part of Lee’s army.
On November 26, Meade sent three corps against Lee’s right flank near Mine Run. Unfortunately for the Union, William French’s Third Corps took the wrong road and did not cross the Rapidan River (just south of the Rappahannock) on time. Lee moved part of his army east to meet the threat. While French’s corps wandered in the Virginia wilderness, Confederate General Edward Johnson moved to block their advance. French’s men fought Johnson’s at Payne’s Farm; French suffered some 950 men killed and wounded to Johnson’s 545. The blunder cost the Union heavily. Lee’s men took up strong positions along Mine Run, and Meade realized that to attack head on would be foolish. By December 1, Meade began pulling his men back across the Rappahannock and into winter quarters. There would be no further activity between the two great armies until spring.