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A new book by St. Bonaventure University professor Dr. Chris Mackowski recounts the final chapter of the forgotten fall of 1863 — when George GordonMeade made one final attempt to save the Union and, in doing so, save himself.
“The Great Battle Never Fought: The Mine Run Campaign, November 26 – December 2, 1863” has just been released by publisher Savas Beatie.
The stakes for George Gordon Meade could not have been higher.
After his stunning victory at Gettysburg in July of 1863, the Union commander spent the following months trying to bring the Army of Northern Virginia to battle once more and finish the job. The Confederate army, robbed of much of its offensive strength, nevertheless parried Meade’s moves time after time. Although the armies remained in constant contact during those long months of cavalry clashes, quick maneuvers, and sudden skirmishes, Lee continued to frustrate Meade’s efforts.
“This book was a decade in the making,” said Mackowski. “It’s a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, mostly because it’s been so overlooked. Because Mine Run was ‘the great battle that never happened,’ it was anticlimactic. As a result, history has tended to jump from Gettysburg in July 1863 to the Wilderness in May 1864. The entire fall of 1863 tends to get ignored.
“However, Mine Run lays all the groundwork for everything that unfolds in the spring of 1864: the promotion of Ulysses S. Grant to the position of general in chief, a reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, a reliance on defensive warfare by the Army of Northern Virginia, and a host of other things.
“This book looks at Mine Run through the lens of George Gordon Meade, who, I think, had his finest hour at Mine Run. Under incredible political pressure, he nonetheless refused to needlessly waste the lives of his men, at great peril to his own career. That took tremendous moral courage.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Meade’s political enemies launched an all-out assault against his reputation and generalship. Even the very credibility of his victory at Gettysburg came under assault. Pressure mounted for the army commander to score a decisive victory and prove himself once more.
Smaller victories, like those at Bristoe Station and Rappahannock Station, did little to quell the growing clamor — particularly because out west, in Chattanooga, another Union general, Ulysses S. Grant, was once again reversing Federal misfortunes. Meade needed a comparable victory in the east.
And so, on Thanksgiving Day, 1863, the Army of the Potomac rumbled into motion once more, intent on trying again to bring about the great battle that would end the war.
Mackowski, a professor in St. Bonaventure’s Russell J. Jandoli School of Communication, is the editor in chief of Emerging Civil War. He is also a historian-in-residence at Stevenson Ridge, a historic property on the Spotsylvania battlefield. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books on the Civil War. Read Emerging Civil War’s blog at www.emergingcivilwar.com.
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