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Historians hope to bring attention to little-known Orange County battlefield where Union, Confederacy met in a brief but hot fight
The fields and forests of Payne's Farm are nearly the same
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BY CLINT SCHEMMER
Out in the countryside of Orange County, historians are working to breathe new life into an old battle.
When complete, their efforts should help the public appreciate one of the Civil War's least-known campaigns, called Mine Run, after the creek of the same name off State Route 20.
Mine Run may be as notable for what didn't happen as what did. It involved 145,000 troops and set up what could have been a full-bore, bloody series of battles between the armies led by Union Gen. George Gordon Meade and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
But at the 11th hour, Meade--who had initiated the campaign under pressure from President Lincoln to bag Lee's Army of Northern Virginia--called it quits.
"Historians have tended to overlook this campaign because there was no major bloodletting," said Timothy H. Smith, a historian from Gettysburg, Pa.
Yet veterans of the Battle of Payne's Farm said its musketry was as hot as anything they'd experienced at Antietam or at Gettysburg, the latter just four months earlier.
"This battle has not made a large figure in history, but it was a very sharp engagement," the historian of the 10th Vermont Volunteers wrote later. "Every tree in the thick forest was scarred with bullets and the undergrowth half cut away. How any man could come out of that tremendous storm alive seemed a wonder."
The Confederates saw it that way, too. It was "as warm a contest as this regiment was ever engaged in," a member of the 3rd North Carolina Infantry recalled. " It seemed as if the enemy was throwing Minie balls upon us by the bucket-full, when the battle got fairly under way."
More than 1,200 casualties were inflicted at Payne's Farm and in a simultaneous encounter along the Orange Turnpike (Route 20).
Last week, Smith and three colleagues tromped across the fields and through the woods where the campaign's fiercest battle was fought, on what was Madison Payne's farm near the Rapidan River's Raccoon Ford.