Battle of Cold Harbor

Battle of Cold Harbor

Overview
The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought from May 31 to June 12, 1864 (with the most significant fighting occurring on June 3). It was one of the final battles of Union
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 Lt. Gen.
Lieutenant General (United States)
In the United States Army, the United States Air Force and the United States Marine Corps, lieutenant general is a three-star general officer rank, with the pay grade of O-9. Lieutenant general ranks above major general and below general...

 Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

's Overland Campaign
Overland Campaign
The Overland Campaign, also known as Grant's Overland Campaign and the Wilderness Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864, in the American Civil War. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, directed the actions of the Army of the...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, and is remembered as one of American history's
History of the United States
The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in the year 1776, although its territory was inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times and then by European colonists who followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The...

 bloodiest, most lopsided battles. Thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded in a hopeless frontal assault against the fortified positions of Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 Gen. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's army.

On May 31, as Grant's army once again swung around the right flank of Lee's army, Union cavalry seized the crossroads of Old Cold Harbor, about 10 miles northeast of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, holding it against Confederate attacks until the Union infantry arrived.
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Encyclopedia
The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought from May 31 to June 12, 1864 (with the most significant fighting occurring on June 3). It was one of the final battles of Union
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 Lt. Gen.
Lieutenant General (United States)
In the United States Army, the United States Air Force and the United States Marine Corps, lieutenant general is a three-star general officer rank, with the pay grade of O-9. Lieutenant general ranks above major general and below general...

 Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

's Overland Campaign
Overland Campaign
The Overland Campaign, also known as Grant's Overland Campaign and the Wilderness Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864, in the American Civil War. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, directed the actions of the Army of the...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, and is remembered as one of American history's
History of the United States
The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in the year 1776, although its territory was inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times and then by European colonists who followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The...

 bloodiest, most lopsided battles. Thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded in a hopeless frontal assault against the fortified positions of Confederate
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

 Gen. Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's army.

On May 31, as Grant's army once again swung around the right flank of Lee's army, Union cavalry seized the crossroads of Old Cold Harbor, about 10 miles northeast of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, holding it against Confederate attacks until the Union infantry arrived. Both Grant and Lee, whose armies had suffered enormous casualties in the Overland Campaign, received reinforcements. On the evening of June 1, the Union VI Corps and XVIII Corps arrived and assaulted the Confederate works to the west of the crossroads with some success.

On June 2, the remainder of both armies arrived and the Confederates built an elaborate series of fortifications 7 miles long. At dawn on June 3, three Union corps attacked the Confederate works on the southern end of the line and were easily repulsed with heavy casualties. Attempts to assault on the northern end of line and to resume the assaults on the southern were unsuccessful.

Grant said of the battle in his memoirs, "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. ... No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained." The armies confronted each other on these lines until the night of June 12, when Grant again advanced by his left flank, marching to James River.

Background




Grant's Overland Campaign was one of a series of simultaneous offensives the newly appointed general in chief launched against the Confederacy. By late May 1864, only two of these continued to advance: Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign
Atlanta Campaign
The Atlanta Campaign was a series of battles fought in the Western Theater of the American Civil War throughout northwest Georgia and the area around Atlanta during the summer of 1864. Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman invaded Georgia from the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning in May...

 and the Overland Campaign, in which Grant accompanied and directly supervised the Army of the Potomac and its commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Grant's campaign objective was not the Confederate capital of Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, but the destruction of Lee's army. President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 had long advocated this strategy for his generals, recognizing that the city would certainly fall after the loss of its principal defensive army. Grant ordered Meade, "Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also." Although he hoped for a quick, decisive battle, Grant was prepared to fight a war of attrition
Attrition warfare
Attrition warfare is a military strategy in which a belligerent side attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and matériel....

. Both Union and Confederate casualties could be high, but the Union had greater resources to replace lost soldiers and equipment.

On May 5, after Grant's army crossed the Rapidan River
Rapidan River
The Rapidan River, flowing through north-central Virginia in the United States, is the largest tributary of the Rappahannock River. The two rivers converge just west of the city of Fredericksburg...

 and entered the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, it was attacked by Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Although Lee was outnumbered, about 60,000 to 100,000, his men fought fiercely and the dense foliage provided a terrain advantage. After two days of fighting and almost 29,000 casualties, the results were inconclusive and neither army was able to obtain an advantage. Lee had stopped Grant, but had not turned him back; Grant had not destroyed Lee's army. Under similar circumstances, previous Union commanders had chosen to withdraw behind the Rappahannock, but Grant instead ordered Meade to move around Lee's right flank and seize the important crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House to the southeast, hoping that by interposing his army between Lee and Richmond, he could lure the Confederates into another battle on a more favorable field.

Elements of Lee's army beat the Union army to the critical crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House and began entrenching. Meade was dissatisfied with Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan
Philip Sheridan
Philip Henry Sheridan was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War. His career was noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S...

's Union cavalry's performance and released it from its reconnaissance and screening duties for the main body of the army to pursue and defeat the Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart
J.E.B. Stuart
James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart was a U.S. Army officer from Virginia and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. He was known to his friends as "Jeb", from the initials of his given names. Stuart was a cavalry commander known for his mastery of reconnaissance and the use...

. Sheridan's men mortally wounded Stuart in the tactically inconclusive Battle of Yellow Tavern
Battle of Yellow Tavern
The Battle of Yellow Tavern was fought on May 11, 1864, as part of the Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan was detached from the Army of the Potomac to conduct a raid on Richmond, Virginia, and challenge legendary Confederate cavalry...

 (May 11) and then continued their raid toward Richmond, leaving Grant and Meade without the "eyes and ears" of their cavalry.

Near Spotsylvania Court House, fighting occurred on and off from May 8 through May 21, as Grant tried various schemes to break the Confederate line. On May 8, Union Maj. Gens. Gouverneur K. Warren
Gouverneur K. Warren
Gouverneur Kemble Warren was a civil engineer and prominent general in the Union Army during the American Civil War...

 and John Sedgwick
John Sedgwick
John Sedgwick was a teacher, a career military officer, and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He was the highest ranking Union casualty in the Civil War, killed by a sniper at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.-Early life:Sedgwick was born in the Litchfield Hills town of...

 unsuccessfully attempted to dislodge the Confederates under Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson
Richard H. Anderson
Richard Heron Anderson was a career U.S. Army officer, fighting with distinction in the Mexican-American War. He also served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, fighting in the Eastern Theater of the conflict and most notably during the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House...

 from Laurel Hill, a position that was blocking them from Spotsylvania Court House. On May 10, Grant ordered attacks across the Confederate line of earthworks, which by now extended over 4 miles (6.5 km), including a prominent salient
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

 known as the Mule Shoe. Although the Union troops failed again at Laurel Hill, an innovative assault attempt by Col. Emory Upton
Emory Upton
Emory Upton was a United States Army General and military strategist, prominent for his role in leading infantry to attack entrenched positions successfully at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House during the American Civil War, but he also excelled at artillery and cavalry assignments...

 against the Mule Shoe showed promise.

Grant used Upton's assault technique on a much larger scale on May 12 when he ordered the 15,000 men of Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock's corps to assault the Mule Shoe. Hancock was initially successful, but the Confederate leadership rallied and repulsed his incursion. Attacks by Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright on the western edge of the Mule Shoe, which became known as the "Bloody Angle," involved almost 24 hours of desperate hand-to-hand fighting, some of the most intense of the Civil War. Supporting attacks by Warren and by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Everett Burnside was an American soldier, railroad executive, inventor, industrialist, and politician from Rhode Island, serving as governor and a U.S. Senator...

 were unsuccessful. In the end, the battle was tactically inconclusive, but with almost 32,000 casualties on both sides, it was the costliest battle of the campaign. Grant planned to end the stalemate by once again shifting around Lee's right flank to the southeast, toward Richmond.

Grant's objective following Spotsylvania was the North Anna River, about 25 miles (40.2 km) south. He sent Hancock's Corps ahead of his army, hoping that Lee would attack it, luring him into the open. Lee did not take the bait and beat Grant to the North Anna. On May 23, Warren's V Corps crossed the river at Jericho Mills, fighting off an attack by A.P. Hill's corps, while Hancock's II Corps captured the bridge on the Telegraph Road. Lee then devised an ingenious plan, which represented a significant potential threat to Grant: a five-mile (8 km) line that formed an inverted "V" shape with its apex on the river at Ox Ford, the only defensible crossing in the area. By moving south of the river, Lee hoped that Grant would assume that he was retreating, leaving only a token force to prevent a crossing at Ox Ford. If Grant pursued, the pointed wedge of the inverted V would split his army and Lee could concentrate on interior lines to defeat one wing; the other Union wing would have to cross the North Anna twice to support the attacked wing.

Grant almost fell into Lee's trap. He assaulted the tip of the apex at Ox Ford and the right wing of the V, but Lee, who was incapacitated in his tent by diarrhea, could not coordinate the attack he planned to make, losing a golden opportunity. Grant finally realized the situation he faced with a divided army and ordered his men to stop advancing and to build earthworks of their own. However, the Union general remained optimistic. He was convinced that Lee had demonstrated the weakness of his army by not attacking when he had the upper hand. He wrote to the Army's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck: "Lee's army is really whipped. ... I may be mistaken but I feel that our success over Lee's army is already assured."

As he did after the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, Grant planned another wide swing around Lee's flank, marching east of the Pamunkey River
Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River is a tributary of the York River, about long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. Via the York River it is part of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay.-Course:...

 to screen his movements from the Confederates. His army disengaged on May 27 and crossed the river. Lee moved his army swiftly in response, heading for Atlee's Station on the Virginia Central Railroad, a point only 9 miles north of Richmond. There, his men would be well-positioned behind a stream known as Totopotomoy Creek to defend against Grant if he moved against the railroads or Richmond. Lee was not certain of Grant's specific plans, however; if Grant was not intending to cross the Pamunkey in force at Hanovertown, the Union army could outflank him and head directly to Richmond. Lee ordered cavalry under Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton
Wade Hampton III
Wade Hampton III was a Confederate cavalry leader during the American Civil War and afterward a politician from South Carolina, serving as its 77th Governor and as a U.S...

 to make a reconnaissance in force, break through the Union cavalry screen, and find the Union infantry.

On May 28, Hampton's troopers encountered Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg in the Battle of Haw's Shop
Battle of Haw's Shop
The Battle of Haw's Shop or Enon Church was fought on May 28, 1864, in Hanover County, Virginia, as part of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E...

. Fighting predominately dismounted and utilizing earthworks for protection, neither side achieved an advantage. The battle was inconclusive, but it was one of the bloodiest cavalry engagements of the war. Hampton held up the Union cavalry for seven hours, prevented it from achieving its reconnaissance objectives, and had provided valuable intelligence to Lee about disposition of Grant's army.

After Grant's infantry had crossed to the south bank of the Pamunkey, Lee saw an opportunity on May 30 to attack Warren's advancing V Corps with his Second Corps, now commanded by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early. Early's divisions under Maj. Gens. Robert E. Rodes
Robert E. Rodes
Robert Emmett Rodes was a railroad civil engineer and a promising young Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed in battle in the Shenandoah Valley.-Education, antebellum career:...

 and Stephen Dodson Ramseur
Stephen Dodson Ramseur
Stephen Dodson Ramseur was one of the youngest Confederate generals in the American Civil War. He was mortally wounded in battle at the Battle of Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley.-Early life:...

 drove the Union troops back in the Battle of Bethesda Church
Battle of Totopotomoy Creek
The Battle of Totopotomoy Creek , also called the Battle of Bethesda Church, Crumps Creek, Shady Grove Road, and Hanovertown, was a battle fought May 28–30, 1864, in Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E...

, but Ramseur's advance was stopped by a fierce stand of infantry and artillery fire. On that same day, a small cavalry engagement at Matadequin Creek (the Battle of Old Church
Battle of Old Church
The Battle of Old Church, also known as Matadequin Creek, was fought on May 30, 1864, as part of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War....

) drove an outnumbered Confederate cavalry brigade to the crossroads of Old Cold Harbor, verifying to Lee that Grant intended to move toward that vital intersection beyond Lee's right flank, attempting to avoid another stalemate on the Totopotomoy Creek line.

Lee received notice that reinforcements were heading Grant's way from Bermuda Hundred
Bermuda Hundred Campaign
The Bermuda Hundred Campaign was a series of battles fought at the town of Bermuda Hundred, outside Richmond, Virginia, during May 1864 in the American Civil War. Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commanding the Army of the James, threatened Richmond from the east but was stopped by forces under ...

. The 16,000 men of Maj. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith
William Farrar Smith
William Farrar Smith , was a civil engineer, a member of the New York City police commission, and Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

's XVIII Corps were withdrawn from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler's
Benjamin Franklin Butler (politician)
Benjamin Franklin Butler was an American lawyer and politician who represented Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives and later served as the 33rd Governor of Massachusetts....

 Army of the James
Army of the James
The Army of the James was a Union Army that was composed of units from the Department of Virginia and North Carolina and served along the James River during the final operations of the American Civil War in Virginia.-History:...

 at Grant's request, and they were moving down the James River
James River (Virginia)
The James River is a river in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is long, extending to if one includes the Jackson River, the longer of its two source tributaries. The James River drains a catchment comprising . The watershed includes about 4% open water and an area with a population of 2.5 million...

 and up the York
York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from at its head to near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area including portions of 17 counties of the coastal plain of Virginia north...

 to the Pamunkey. If Smith moved due west from White House Landing
White House (plantation)
White House, an 18th-century plantation on the Pamunkey River near White House in New Kent County, Virginia, was the home of Martha Dandridge Custis and Daniel Parke Custis after they were married in 1750. They had four children, two of whom survived childhood...

 to Old Cold Harbor, 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of Bethesda Church and Grant's left flank, the extended Federal line would be too far south for the Confederate right to contain. Smith's men arrived at White House May 30–31. One brigade was left behind on guard duty, but about 10,000 men arrived to join Grant's army about 3 p.m. on June 1.

Lee also received reinforcements. Confederate President Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Finis Davis , also known as Jeff Davis, was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President for its entire history. He was born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane Davis...

 directed Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to send the division of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke, over 7,000 men, from below the James River. (The first troops of Hoke's division arrived at Old Cold Harbor on May 31, but were unable to prevent the Union cavalry from seizing the intersection.) With these additional troops, and by managing to replace many of his 20,000 casualties to that point in the campaign, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had 59,000 men to contend with Meade's and Grant's 108,000. But the disparity in numbers was no longer what it had been—Grant's reinforcements were often raw recruits and heavy artillery troops, pulled from the defenses of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, who were relatively inexperienced in infantry tactics, while most of Lee's had been veterans moved from inactive fronts, and who were soon entrenched
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 in impressive fortifications.

Opposing forces


Grant's Union forces totaled approximately 108,000 men. They consisted of the Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

, under Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and the XVIII Corps, on temporary assignment from the Army of the James
Army of the James
The Army of the James was a Union Army that was composed of units from the Department of Virginia and North Carolina and served along the James River during the final operations of the American Civil War in Virginia.-History:...

. The six corps were:
  • II Corps, under Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, including the divisions of Maj. Gen. David B. Birney
    David B. Birney
    David Bell Birney was a businessman, lawyer, and a Union General in the American Civil War.-Early life:Birney was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of an abolitionist from Kentucky, James G. Birney. The Birney family returned to Kentucky in 1833, and James Birney freed his slaves...

     and Brig. Gens. Francis C. Barlow
    Francis C. Barlow
    Francis Channing Barlow was a lawyer, politician, and Union General during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

    , and John Gibbon
    John Gibbon
    John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

    .
  • V Corps, under Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren
    Gouverneur K. Warren
    Gouverneur Kemble Warren was a civil engineer and prominent general in the Union Army during the American Civil War...

    , including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Charles Griffin, Henry H. Lockwood, and Lysander Cutler
    Lysander Cutler
    Lysander Cutler was an American businessman, educator, politician, and a Union Army General during the American Civil War.-Early years:Cutler was born in Royalston, Massachusetts, the son of a farmer...

    . On June 6, the corps was reorganized to the divisions of Griffin, Cutler, and Brig. Gens. Romeyn B. Ayres
    Romeyn B. Ayres
    Romeyn Beck Ayres was a Union Army general in the American Civil War.-Early life:Ayres was born at East Creek, New York, along the Mohawk River in Montgomery County. He was the son of a small-town doctor who urged all of his sons into professional careers...

     and Samuel W. Crawford
    Samuel W. Crawford
    Samuel Wylie Crawford was a United States Army surgeon and a Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    .
  • VI Corps, under Brig. Gen. Horatio G. Wright, including the divisions of Brig. Gens. David A. Russell, Thomas H. Neill
    Thomas H. Neill
    Thomas Hewson Neill, a native of Pennsylvania, became a general in the American Civil War, serving in the Army of the Potomac in some of its most important campaigns.-Birth and early years:Neill was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 9, 1826...

    , and James B. Ricketts
    James B. Ricketts
    James Brewerton Ricketts was a career officer in the United States Army, serving as a Union Army general in the Eastern Theater during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

    .
  • IX Corps, under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside
    Ambrose Burnside
    Ambrose Everett Burnside was an American soldier, railroad executive, inventor, industrialist, and politician from Rhode Island, serving as governor and a U.S. Senator...

    , including the divisions of Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden and Brig. Gens.Robert B. Potter, Orlando B. Willcox
    Orlando B. Willcox
    Orlando Bolivar Willcox was an American soldier who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    , and Edward Ferrero
    Edward Ferrero
    Edward Ferrero was one of the leading dance instructors, choreographers, and ballroom operators in the United States. He also served as a Union Army general in the American Civil War, best remembered for his role in the Battle of the Crater in 1864.-Early life and career:Ferrero was born in...

    . On June 9, Crittenden was replaced by Brig. Gen. James H. Ledlie
    James H. Ledlie
    James Hewett Ledlie was a civil engineer for American railroads and a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He is best known for his dereliction of duty at the Battle of the Crater during the Siege of Petersburg.-Early life:Ledlie was born in Utica, New York...

    .
  • Cavalry Corps, under Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Alfred T.A. Torbert
    Alfred Thomas Torbert
    Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert was a career United States Army officer, a Union Army General commanding both infantry and cavalry forces in the American Civil War, and a U.S. diplomat.-Early life:...

    , David McM. Gregg, and James H. Wilson
    James H. Wilson
    James Harrison Wilson was a United States Army topographic engineer, a Union Army Major General in the American Civil War and later wars, a railroad executive, and author.-Early life and engineering:...

    .
  • XVIII Corps, under Maj. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith
    William Farrar Smith
    William Farrar Smith , was a civil engineer, a member of the New York City police commission, and Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    , including the divisions of Brig. Gens. William T. H. Brooks
    William T. H. Brooks
    William Thomas Harbaugh Brooks was a career military officer in the United States Army, serving as a major general during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    , John H. Martindale
    John H. Martindale
    John Henry Martindale was an American lawyer, Union Army general, and politician.-Early life:Martindale was born in Sandy Hill, Washington County, New York, the son of Congressman Henry C. Martindale and Minerva Hitchcock Martindale. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in...

    , and Charles Devens
    Charles Devens
    Charles Devens was an American lawyer, jurist and statesman. He also served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

    . On June 4, Devens became ill and was replaced by Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames
    Adelbert Ames
    Adelbert Ames was an American sailor, soldier, and politician. He served with distinction as a Union Army general during the American Civil War. As a Radical Republican and a Carpetbagger, he was military governor, Senator and civilian governor in Reconstruction-era Mississippi...

    .


Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

 comprised about 59,000 men and was organized into four corps and two independent divisions:
  • First Corps
    First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia was a military unit fighting for the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. It was formed in early 1861 and served until the spring of 1865, mostly in the Eastern Theater. The corps was commanded by James Longstreet for much of its...

    , under Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson
    Richard H. Anderson
    Richard Heron Anderson was a career U.S. Army officer, fighting with distinction in the Mexican-American War. He also served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, fighting in the Eastern Theater of the conflict and most notably during the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House...

    , including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Charles W. Field
    Charles W. Field
    Charles William Field was a career military officer, serving in the United States Army and then, during the American Civil War, in the Confederate States Army. His division was considered as one of the finest in the Army of Northern Virginia...

     and George E. Pickett, and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw
    Joseph B. Kershaw
    Joseph Brevard Kershaw was a lawyer, judge, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    .
  • Second Corps
    Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was a military organization within the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during much of the American Civil War. It was officially created and named following the Battle of Sharpsburg in 1862, but comprised units in a corps organization for quite...

    , under Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Stephen D. Ramseur, John B. Gordon, and Robert E. Rodes
    Robert E. Rodes
    Robert Emmett Rodes was a railroad civil engineer and a promising young Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed in battle in the Shenandoah Valley.-Education, antebellum career:...

    .
  • Third Corps
    Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was a military organization within the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during much of the American Civil War. The corps was formed in mid-1863 and served until Lee's surrender April 9, 1865, near the end of the war.-Formation:After the death of...

    , under Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Henry Heth
    Henry Heth
    Henry "Harry" Heth was a career United States Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War. He is best remembered for inadvertently precipitating the Battle of Gettysburg, when he sent some of his troops of the Army of Northern Virginia to the small Pennsylvania village,...

     and Cadmus M. Wilcox
    Cadmus M. Wilcox
    Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox was a career United States Army officer who served in the Mexican–American War and also was a Confederate general during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

    , and Brig. Gen. William Mahone
    William Mahone
    William Mahone was a civil engineer, teacher, soldier, railroad executive, and a member of the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress. Small of stature, he was nicknamed "Little Billy"....

    .
  • Cavalry Corps
    Cavalry Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
    The Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was the only organized cavalry corps in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Prior to the establishment of a formal corps, cavalry organization in the Confederacy consisted mostly of partisan ranger units and some battalions, a few...

    , without a commander following the mortal wounding of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart
    J.E.B. Stuart
    James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart was a U.S. Army officer from Virginia and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. He was known to his friends as "Jeb", from the initials of his given names. Stuart was a cavalry commander known for his mastery of reconnaissance and the use...

     on May 11, including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Wade Hampton
    Wade Hampton III
    Wade Hampton III was a Confederate cavalry leader during the American Civil War and afterward a politician from South Carolina, serving as its 77th Governor and as a U.S...

    , Fitzhugh Lee
    Fitzhugh Lee
    Fitzhugh Lee , nephew of Robert E. Lee, was a Confederate cavalry general in the American Civil War, the 40th Governor of Virginia, diplomat, and United States Army general in the Spanish-American War.-Early life:...

    , and W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee
    William Henry Fitzhugh Lee
    William Henry Fitzhugh Lee , known as Rooney Lee or W.H.F. Lee, was the second son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis. He was a planter, a Confederate cavalry General in the American Civil War, and later a member of the U.S. Congress.-Early life:Lee was born at Arlington House in...

    . (Hampton became the commander of the Cavalry Corps on August 11, 1864.)
  • Breckinridge's Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge
    John C. Breckinridge
    John Cabell Breckinridge was an American lawyer and politician. He served as a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Kentucky and was the 14th Vice President of the United States , to date the youngest vice president in U.S...

    .
  • Hoke's Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke.

Location



The battle was fought in central Virginia, in what is now Mechanicsville
Mechanicsville, Virginia
Mechanicsville is the name of four places in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States of America:*Mechanicsville, Hanover County, Virginia*Mechanicsville, Loudoun County, Virginia*Mechanicsville, Rockbridge County, Virginia...

, over the same ground as the Battle of Gaines' Mill
Battle of Gaines' Mill
The Battle of Gaines's Mill, sometimes known as the First Battle of Cold Harbor or the Battle of Chickahominy River, took place on June 27, 1862, in Hanover County, Virginia, as the third of the Seven Days Battles of the American Civil War...

 during the Seven Days Battles
Seven Days Battles
The Seven Days Battles was a series of six major battles over the seven days from June 25 to July 1, 1862, near Richmond, Virginia during the American Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee drove the invading Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, away from...

 of 1862. In fact, some accounts refer to the 1862 battle as the First Battle of Cold Harbor, and the 1864 battle as the Second Battle of Cold Harbor. Union soldiers were disturbed to discover skeletal remains from the first battle while entrenching. Despite its name, Cold Harbor was not a port city. It described two rural crossroads named for a hotel located in the area (Cold Harbor Tavern, owned by the Isaac Burnett family), which provided shelter (harbor) but not hot meals. Old Cold Harbor stood two miles east of Gaines' Mill, New Cold Harbor a mile southeast. Both were approximately 10 miles (16.1 km) northeast of the Confederate capital of Richmond. The intersection was important because from there Grant could attack either Lee's army or the city of Richmond, and it was also the intersection through which reinforcements would arrive after sailing up the Pamunkey River.

Battle



May 31


The cavalry forces that had fought at Old Church
Battle of Old Church
The Battle of Old Church, also known as Matadequin Creek, was fought on May 30, 1864, as part of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War....

 continued to face each other on May 31. Lee sent a cavalry division under Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee
Fitzhugh Lee
Fitzhugh Lee , nephew of Robert E. Lee, was a Confederate cavalry general in the American Civil War, the 40th Governor of Virginia, diplomat, and United States Army general in the Spanish-American War.-Early life:...

 to reinforce Brig. Gen. Matthew Butler
Matthew Butler
Matthew Calbraith Butler was an American military commander and politician from South Carolina. He served as a major general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, postbellum three-term United States Senator, and a major general in the United States Army during the...

 and secure the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor. As Union Brig. Gen. Alfred T. A. Torbert
Alfred Thomas Torbert
Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert was a career United States Army officer, a Union Army General commanding both infantry and cavalry forces in the American Civil War, and a U.S. diplomat.-Early life:...

 increased pressure on the Confederates, Robert E. Lee ordered Anderson's First Corps to shift right from Totopotomoy Creek to support the cavalry. The lead brigade of Hoke's division also reached the crossroads to join Butler and Fitzhugh Lee. At 4 p.m. Torbert and elements of Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg's cavalry division drove the Confederates from the Old Cold Harbor crossroads and began to dig in. As more of Hoke's and Anderson's men streamed in, Union cavalry commander Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan
Philip Sheridan
Philip Henry Sheridan was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War. His career was noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S...

 became concerned and ordered Torbert to pull back toward Old Church.

Grant continued his interest in Old Cold Harbor as an avenue for Smith's arrival and ordered Wright's VI Corps to move in that direction from his right flank on Totopotomoy Creek. And he ordered Sheridan to return to the crossroads and secure it "at all hazards." Torbert returned at 1 a.m. and was relieved to find that the Confederates had failed to notice his previous withdrawal.

June 1


Robert E. Lee's plan for June 1 was to use his newly concentrated infantry against the small cavalry forces at Old Cold Harbor. But his subordinates did not coordinate correctly. Anderson did not integrate Hoke's division with his attack plan and left him with the understanding that he was not to assault until the First Corps' attack was well underway, because the Union defenders were disorganized as well. Wright's VI Corps had not moved out until after midnight and was on a 15 miles (24.1 km) march. Smith's XVIII Corps had mistakenly been sent to New Castle Ferry on the Pamunkey River, several miles away, and did not reach Old Cold Harbor in time to assist Torbert.

Anderson led his attack with the brigade formerly commanded by veteran Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw
Joseph B. Kershaw
Joseph Brevard Kershaw was a lawyer, judge, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

, which was now under a less experienced South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 politician, Col. Lawrence M. Keitt. Keitt's men approached the entrenched cavalry of Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt
Wesley Merritt
Wesley Merritt was a general in the United States Army during the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War. He is noted for distinguished service in the cavalry.-Early life:...

. Armed with seven-shot Spencer repeating carbines
Spencer repeating rifle
The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the...

, Merritt's men delivered heavy fire, mortally wounding Keitt and destroying his brigade's cohesion. Hoke obeyed what he understood to be his orders and did not join in the attack, which was quickly called back by Anderson.

By 9 a.m. Wright's lead elements arrived at the crossroads and began to extend and improve the entrenchments started by the cavalrymen. Although Grant had intended for Wright to attack immediately, his men were exhausted from their long march and they were unsure as to the strength of the enemy. Wright decided to wait until after Smith arrived, which occurred in the afternoon, and the XVIII Corps men began to entrench on the right of the VI Corps. The Union cavalrymen retired to the east.

For the upcoming attack, Meade was concerned that the corps of Wright and Smith would not be sufficient, so he attempted to convince Warren to send reinforcements. He wrote to the V Corps commander, "Generals Wright and Smith will attack this evening. It is very desirable you should join this attack, unless in your judgment it is impracticable." Warren decided to send the division of Brig. Gen. Henry H. Lockwood, which began to march at 6 p.m., but no adequate reconnaissance of the road network had been conducted and Lockwood was not able to reach the impending battle in time to make a difference. Meade was also concerned about his left flank, which was not anchored on the Chickahominy and was potentially threatened by Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry. He ordered Phil Sheridan to send scouting parties into the area, but Sheridan resisted, telling Meade that it would be impossible to move his men before dark.
At 6:30 p.m. the attack that Grant had ordered for the morning finally began. Both Wright's and Smith's corps moved forward. Wright's men made little progress south of the Mechanicsville Road, which connected New and Old Cold Harbor, recoiling from heavy fire. North of the road, Brig. Gen. Emory Upton
Emory Upton
Emory Upton was a United States Army General and military strategist, prominent for his role in leading infantry to attack entrenched positions successfully at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House during the American Civil War, but he also excelled at artillery and cavalry assignments...

's brigade of Brig. Gen. David A. Russell
David Allen Russell
David Allen Russell was a career United States Army officer who served in the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War. He was killed in action as a brigadier general in the Union Army.-Early life:...

's division also encountered heavy fire from Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman's brigade, "A sheet of flame, sudden as lightning, red as blood, and so near that it seemed to singe the men's faces." Although Upton tried to rally his men forward, his brigade fell back to its starting point.

To Upton's right, the brigade of Col. William S. Truex
William S. Truex
William S. Truex was a colonel in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He led a brigade of Union soldiers against the Confederate Army at the Battle of Cold Harbor....

 found a gap in the Confederate line, between the brigades of Clingman and Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford
William T. Wofford
William Tatum Wofford was an officer during the Mexican-American War and a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

, through a swampy, brush-filled ravine. As Truex's men charged through the gap, Clingman swung two regiments around to face them, and Anderson sent in Brig. Gen. Eppa Hunton
Eppa Hunton
Eppa Hunton II was a U.S. Representative and Senator from Virginia and a brigadier general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.-Early years:...

's brigade from his corps reserve. Truex became surrounded on three sides and was forced to withdraw, although his men brought back hundreds of Georgian
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 prisoners with them.

While action continued on the southern end of the battlefield, the three corps of Hancock, Burnside, and Warren were occupying a 5-mile line that stretched southeast to Bethesda Church, facing the Confederates under A.P. Hill, Breckinridge, and Early. At the border between the IX and V Corps, the division of Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden, recently transferred from the West
Western Theater of the American Civil War
This article presents an overview of major military and naval operations in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.-Theater of operations:...

 following his poor performance in the Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Chickamauga
The Battle of Chickamauga, fought September 19–20, 1863, marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia called the Chickamauga Campaign...

, occupied a doglegged position with an angle that was parallel to the Shady Grove Road, separated from the V Corps by a marsh known as Magnolia Swamp. Two divisions of Early's Corps—Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes
Robert E. Rodes
Robert Emmett Rodes was a railroad civil engineer and a promising young Confederate general in the American Civil War, killed in battle in the Shenandoah Valley.-Education, antebellum career:...

 on the left, Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon on the right—used this area as their avenue of approach for an attack that began at 7 p.m. Warren later described this attack as a "feeler", and despite some initial successes, aided by the poor battle management of Crittenden, both Confederate probes were repulsed.

At this same time, Warren's division under Lockwood had become lost wandering on unfamiliar farm roads. Despite having dispatched Lockwood explicitly, the V Corps commander wrote to Meade, "In some unaccountable way, [Lockwood] took his whole division, without my knowing it, away from the left of the line of battle, and turned up the dark 2 miles in my rear, and I have not yet got him back. All this time the firing should have guided him at least. He is too incompetent, and too high rank leaves us no subordinate place for him. I earnestly beg that he may at once be relieved of duty with this army." Meade relieved Lockwood and replaced him with Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford
Samuel W. Crawford
Samuel Wylie Crawford was a United States Army surgeon and a Union general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

.

By dark, the fighting had petered out on both ends of the line. The Union assault had cost it 2,200 casualties, versus about 1,800 for the Confederates, but some progress had been made. They almost broke the Confederate line, which was now pinned in place with Union entrenchments being dug only yards away. Several of the generals, including Upton and Meade, were furious at Grant for ordering an assault without proper reconnaissance.

June 2


Although the June 1 attacks had been unsuccessful, Meade believed that an attack early on June 2 could succeed if he was able to mass sufficient forces against an appropriate location. He and Grant decided to attack Lee's right flank. Anderson's men had been heavily engaged there on June 1, and it seemed unlikely that they had found the time to build substantial defenses. And if the attack succeeded, Lee's right would be driven back into the Chickahominy River
Chickahominy River
The Chickahominy is an river in the eastern portion of the U.S. state of Virginia. The river rises about northwest of Richmond and flows southeast and south to the James River...

. Meade ordered Hancock's II Corps to shift southeast from Totopotomoy Creek and assume a position to the left of Wright's VI Corps. Once Hancock was in position, Meade would attack on his left from Old Cold Harbor with three Union corps in line, totaling 31,000 men: Hancock's II Corps, Wright's VI Corps, and Baldy Smith's XVIII Corps. Meade also ordered Warren and Burnside to attack Lee's left flank in the morning "at all hazards," convinced that Lee was moving troops from his left to fortify his right.

Hancock's men marched almost all night and arrived too worn-out for an immediate attack that morning. Grant agreed to let the men rest and postponed the attack until 5 p.m., and then again until 4:30 a.m. on June 3. But Grant and Meade did not give specific orders for the attack, leaving it up to the corps commanders to decide where they would hit the Confederate lines and how they would coordinate with each other. No senior commander had reconnoitered the enemy position. Baldy Smith wrote that he was "aghast at the reception of such an order, which proved conclusively the utter absence of any military plan." He told his staff that the whole attack was, "simply an order to slaughter my best troops."

Robert E. Lee took advantage of the Union delays to bolster his defenses. When Hancock departed Totopotomoy Creek, Lee was free to shift Breckenridge’s division to his far right flank, where he would once again face Hancock. Breckinridge drove a small Union force off Turkey Hill, which dominated the southern part of the battlefield. Lee also moved troops from A.P. Hill's Third Corps, the divisions of Brig. Gens. William Mahone
William Mahone
William Mahone was a civil engineer, teacher, soldier, railroad executive, and a member of the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress. Small of stature, he was nicknamed "Little Billy"....

 and Cadmus M. Wilcox
Cadmus M. Wilcox
Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox was a career United States Army officer who served in the Mexican–American War and also was a Confederate general during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

, to support Breckinridge, and stationed cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee to guard the army's right flank. The result was a curving line on low ridges, 7 miles (11.3 km) long, with the left flank anchored on Totopotomoy Creek, the right on the Chickahominy River, making any flanking moves impossible.

Lee's engineers used their time effectively and constructed the "most ingenious defensive configuration the war had yet witnessed." Barricades of earth and logs were erected. Artillery was posted with converging fields of fire on every avenue of approach, and stakes were driven into the ground to aid gunners' range estimates. A newspaper correspondent wrote that the works were, "Intricate, zig-zagged lines within lines, lines protecting flanks of lines, lines built to enfilade an opposing line, ... [It was] a maze and labyrinth of works within works." Heavy skirmish lines suppressed any ability of the Union to determine the strength or exact positions of the Confederate entrenchments.

Although they did not know the details of their objectives, the Union soldiers who had survived the frontal assaults at Spotsylvania Court House seemed to be in no doubt as to what they would be up against in the morning. Grant's aide, Lt. Col. Horace Porter, wrote in his memoirs that he saw many men writing their names on papers that they pinned inside their uniforms, so their bodies could be identified. One blood-spattered diary from a Union soldier found after the battle included a final entry: "June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed."

On the northern end of the battlefield, Warren's V Corps linked up with Burnside's IX Corps near Bethesda Church. Early's Confederate Second Corps, on Lee's left flank, pushed forward and captured several of Warren's skirmishers. Light fighting occurred throughout the night, having little effect on the main battle to come. Burnside at one point was advised to attack Early's unprotected flank on Shady Grove Road, but he demurred.

June 3


At 4:30 a.m. on June 3, the three Union corps began to advance through a thick ground fog. Massive fire from the Confederate lines quickly caused heavy casualties, and the survivors were pinned down. Although the results varied in different parts of the line, the overall repulse of the Union advance resulted in the most lopsided casualties since the assault on Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside...

 in 1862.

The most effective performance of the day was on the Union left flank, where Hancock's corps was able to break through a portion of Breckinridge's front line and drive those defenders out of their entrenchments in hand-to-hand fighting
Hand to hand combat
Hand-to-hand combat is a lethal or nonlethal physical confrontation between two or more persons at very short range that does not involve the use of firearms or other distance weapons...

. Several hundred prisoners and four guns were captured. However, nearby Confederate artillery was brought to bear on the entrenchments, turning them into a death trap for the Federals. Breckinridge's reserves counterattacked these men from the division of Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow
Francis C. Barlow
Francis Channing Barlow was a lawyer, politician, and Union General during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

 and drove them off. Hancock's other advanced division, under Brig. Gen. John Gibbon
John Gibbon
John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

, became disordered in swampy ground and could not advance through the heavy Confederate fire, with two brigade commanders (Cols. Peter A. Porter
Peter A. Porter (colonel)
Peter Augustus Porter was a Union Army colonel in the American Civil War. He died in the Battle of Cold Harbor.-Early life:...

 and H. Boyd McKeen) lost as casualties. One of Gibbon's men, complaining of a lack of reconnaissance, wrote, "We felt it was murder, not war, or at best a very serious mistake had been made."

In the center, Wright's corps was pinned down by the heavy fire and made little effort to advance further, still recovering from their costly charge on June 1. The normally aggressive Emory Upton felt that further movement by his division was "impracticable." Confederate defenders in this part of the line were unaware that a serious assault had been made against their position.
On the Union right, Smith's men advanced through unfavorable terrain and were channeled into two ravines. When they emerged in front of the Confederate line, rifle and artillery fire mowed them down. A Union officer wrote, "The men bent down as they pushed forward, as if trying, as they were, to breast a tempest, and the files of men went down like rows of blocks or bricks pushed over by striking against one another." A Confederate described the carnage of double-canister artillery fire as "deadly, bloody work." The artillery fire against Smith's corps was heavier than might have been expected because Warren's V Corps to his right was reluctant to advance and the Confederate gunners in Warren's sector concentrated on Smith's men instead.

The only activity on the northern end of the field was by Burnside's IX Corps, facing Jubal Early. He launched a powerful assault at 6 a.m. that overran the Confederate skirmishers but mistakenly thought he had pierced the first line of earthworks and halted his corps to regroup before moving on, which he planned for that afternoon.
At 7 a.m. Grant advised Meade to vigorously exploit any successful part of the assault. Meade ordered his three corps commanders on the left to assault at once, without regard to the movements of their neighboring corps. But all had had enough. Hancock advised against the move. Smith, calling a repetition of the attack a "wanton waste of life," refused to advance again. Wright's men increased their rifle fire but stayed in place. By 12:30 p.m. Grant conceded that his army was done. He wrote to Meade, "The opinion of the corps commanders not being sanguine of success in case an assault is ordered, you may direct a suspension of further advance for the present." Union soldiers still pinned down before the Confederate lines began entrenching, using cups and bayonets to dig, sometimes including bodies of dead comrades as part of their improvised earthworks.

Meade inexplicably bragged to his wife the next day that he was in command for the assault. But his performance had been poor. Despite orders from Grant that the corps commanders were to examine the ground, their reconnaissance was lax and Meade failed to supervise them adequately, either before or during the attack. He was able to motivate only about 20,000 of his men to attack—the II Corps and parts of the XVIII and IX—failing to achieve the mass he knew he required to succeed. His men paid heavily for the poorly coordinated assault. Estimates of casualties that morning are from 3,000 to 7,000 on the Union side, no more than 1,500 on the Confederate.

At 11 a.m. on June 3, the Confederate postmaster general
Postmaster General
A Postmaster General is a postmaster responsible for an entire mail distribution organization . The term may refer to:* Postmaster General of the United Kingdom* The head of the Hongkong Post...

, John H. Reagan, arrived with a delegation from Richmond. He asked Robert E. Lee, "General, if the enemy breaks your line, what reserve have you?" Lee provided an animated response: "Not a regiment, and that has been my condition ever since the fighting commenced on the Rappahannock. If I shorten my lines to provide a reserve, he will turn me; if I weaken my lines to provide a reserve, he will break them."

June 4–12



Grant and Meade launched no more attacks on the Confederate defenses at Cold Harbor. Although Grant wired Washington that he had "gained no decisive advantage" and that his "losses were not severe," he wrote in his Personal Memoirs that he regretted for the rest of his life the decision to send in his men. The two opposing armies faced each other for nine days of trench warfare, in some places only yards apart. Sharpshooters worked continuously, killing many. Union artillery bombarded the Confederates with a battery of eight Coehorn mortars; the Confederates responded by depressing the trail of a 24-pound howitzer and lobbing shells over the Union positions. Although there were no more large-scale attacks, casualty figures for the entire battle were twice as large as from the June 3 assault alone.
The trenches were hot, dusty, and miserable, but conditions were worse between the lines, where thousands of wounded Federal soldiers suffered horribly without food, water, or medical assistance. Grant was reluctant to ask for a formal truce that would allow him to recover his wounded because that would be an acknowledgment he had lost the battle. He and Lee traded notes across the lines from June 5 to June 7 without coming to an agreement, and when Grant formally requested a two-hour cessation of hostilities, it was too late for most of the unfortunate wounded, who were now bloated corpses. Grant was widely criticized in the Northern press for this lapse of judgment.

On June 4 Grant tightened his lines by moving Burnside's corps behind Matadequin Creek as a reserve and moving Warren leftward to connect with Smith, shortening his lines about 3 miles (4.8 km). On June 6 Early probed Burnside's new position but could not advance through the impassable swamps.

Grant realized that, once again in the campaign, he was in a stalemate with Lee and additional assaults were not the answer. He planned three actions to make some headway. First, in the Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley
The Shenandoah Valley is both a geographic valley and cultural region of western Virginia and West Virginia in the United States. The valley is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians , to the north by the Potomac River...

, Maj. Gen. David Hunter
David Hunter
David Hunter was a Union general in the American Civil War. He achieved fame by his unauthorized 1862 order emancipating slaves in three Southern states and as the president of the military commission trying the conspirators involved with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.-Early...

 was making progress against Confederate forces, and Grant hoped that by interdicting Lee's supplies, the Confederate general would be forced to dispatch reinforcements to the Valley. Second, on June 7 Grant dispatched his cavalry under Sheridan (the divisions of Brig. Gens. David McM. Gregg and Wesley Merritt
Wesley Merritt
Wesley Merritt was a general in the United States Army during the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War. He is noted for distinguished service in the cavalry.-Early life:...

) to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad near Charlottesville
Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville is an independent city geographically surrounded by but separate from Albemarle County in the Commonwealth of Virginia, United States, and named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the queen consort of King George III of the United Kingdom.The official population estimate for...

. Third, he planned a stealthy operation to withdraw from Lee's front and move across the James River. Lee reacted to the first two actions as Grant had hoped. He pulled Breckinridge's division from Cold Harbor and sent it toward Lynchburg
Lynchburg, Virginia
Lynchburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The population was 75,568 as of 2010. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of the James River, Lynchburg is known as the "City of Seven Hills" or "The Hill City." Lynchburg was the only major city in...

 to parry Hunter. By June 12 he followed this by assigning Jubal Early permanent command of the Second Corps and sending them to the Valley as well. And he sent two of his three cavalry divisions in pursuit of Sheridan, leading to the Battle of Trevilian Station
Battle of Trevilian Station
The Battle of Trevilian Station was fought on June 11–12, 1864, in Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan fought against Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gens...

. However, despite anticipating that Grant might shift across the James, Lee was taken by surprise when it occurred. On June 12 the Army of the Potomac finally disengaged to march southeast to cross the James and threaten Petersburg
Petersburg, Virginia
Petersburg is an independent city in Virginia, United States located on the Appomattox River and south of the state capital city of Richmond. The city's population was 32,420 as of 2010, predominantly of African-American ethnicity...

, a crucial rail junction south of Richmond.

Aftermath


The Battle of Cold Harbor was the final victory won by Lee's army during the war (part of his forces won the Battle of the Crater
Battle of the Crater
The Battle of the Crater was a battle of the American Civil War, part of the Siege of Petersburg. It took place on July 30, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General George G. Meade The...

 the following month, during the Siege of Petersburg
Siege of Petersburg
The Richmond–Petersburg Campaign was a series of battles around Petersburg, Virginia, fought from June 9, 1864, to March 25, 1865, during the American Civil War...

, but this did not represent a general engagement between the armies), and its most decisive in terms of casualties. The Union army, in attempting the futile assault, lost 10,000 to 13,000 men over twelve days. The battle brought the toll in Union casualties since the beginning of May to a total of more than 52,000, compared to 33,000 for Lee. Although the cost was horrible, Grant's larger army finished the campaign with lower relative casualties than Lee's.

Estimates vary as to the casualties at Cold Harbor. The following table summarizes estimates from a variety of popular sources:
Casualty Estimates for the Battle of Cold Harbor
Source Union Confederate
Killed Wounded Captured/
Missing
Total Killed Wounded Captured/
Missing
Total
National Park Service       13,000       2,500
Kennedy, Civil War Battlefield Guide       13,000       5,000
King, Overland Campaign Staff Ride       12,738       3,400
Bonekemper, Victor, Not a Butcher 1,844 9,077 1,816 12,737 83 3,380 1,132 4,595
Eicher, Longest Night       12,000       "few
thousand"
Rhea, Cold Harbor       3,500–4,000
(June 3)
      1,500
Trudeau, Bloody Roads South 12,475 killed
or wounded
  2,456 14,931 3,765 killed
or wounded
  1,082 4,847

Some authors (Catton, Esposito, Foote, McPherson, Grimsley) estimate the casualties for the major assault on June 3 and all agree on approximately 7,000 total Union casualties, 1,500 Confederate. Gordon Rhea, considered the preeminent modern historian of Grant's Overland campaign, has examined casualty lists in detail and has published a contrarian view in his 2002 book, Cold Harbor. For the morning assault on June 3, he can account for only 3,500 to 4,000 Union killed, wounded, and missing, and estimates that for the entire day the Union suffered about 6,000 casualties, compared to Lee's 1,000 to 1,500. Rhea noted that although this was a horrific loss, Grant's main attack on June 3 was dwarfed by Lee's daily losses at Antietam
Battle of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam , fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign, was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Northern soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000...

, Chancellorsville
Battle of Chancellorsville
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major battle of the American Civil War, and the principal engagement of the Chancellorsville Campaign. It was fought from April 30 to May 6, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near the village of Chancellorsville. Two related battles were fought nearby on...

, and Pickett's Charge
Pickett's Charge
Pickett's Charge was an infantry assault ordered by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Union positions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Its futility was predicted by the charge's commander,...

, and is comparable to Malvern Hill
Battle of Malvern Hill
The Battle of Malvern Hill, also known as the Battle of Poindexter's Farm, took place on July 1, 1862, in Henrico County, Virginia, on the seventh and last day of the Seven Days Battles of the American Civil War. Gen. Robert E. Lee launched a series of disjointed assaults on the nearly impregnable...

.

The battle caused a rise in anti-war sentiment in the Northern states. Grant became known as the "fumbling butcher" for his poor decisions. It also lowered the morale
Morale
Morale, also known as esprit de corps when discussing the morale of a group, is an intangible term used to describe the capacity of people to maintain belief in an institution or a goal, or even in oneself and others...

 of his remaining troops. But the campaign had served Grant's purpose—as ill-advised as his attack on Cold Harbor was, Lee had lost the initiative and was forced to devote his attention to the defense of Richmond and Petersburg. He beat Grant to Petersburg, barely, but spent the remainder of the war (save its final week) defending Richmond behind a fortified trench line. Although Southerners realized their situation was desperate, they hoped that Lee's stubborn (and bloody) resistance would have political repercussions by causing Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 to lose the 1864 presidential election
United States presidential election, 1864
In the United States Presidential election of 1864, Abraham Lincoln was re-elected as president. The election was held during the Civil War. Lincoln ran under the National Union ticket against Democratic candidate George B. McClellan, his former top general. McClellan ran as the "peace candidate",...

 to a more peace-friendly candidate. The taking of Atlanta
Atlanta Campaign
The Atlanta Campaign was a series of battles fought in the Western Theater of the American Civil War throughout northwest Georgia and the area around Atlanta during the summer of 1864. Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman invaded Georgia from the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning in May...

 in September dashed these hopes, and the end of the Confederacy was just a matter of time.

Cold Harbor Tavern and Garthright House


During the battle, Burnett's tavern (no longer standing) was used as a hospital. Union soldiers carried away all items of value, except for a crystal compote
Compote
Compote is a dessert originating from 17th century France made of whole or pieces of fruit in sugar syrup. Whole fruits are immersed in water and with sugar and spices added to the dish, over gentle heat. The syrup may be seasoned with vanilla, lemon or orange peel, cinnamon sticks or powder,...

 bowl saved by Mrs. Burnett. The Garthright House was also used as a field hosptial, the exterior perserved by the National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

.

Battlefield preservation


In 2008, the Civil War Trust placed the Cold Harbor battlefield on its Ten Most Endangered Battlefields list. Development pressure in the Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 area is so great that only about 300 acres (1.2 km²) of what was once at least a 7500 acres (30.4 km²) battlefield are currently preserved as part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Hanover County also maintains a small park adjacent to the NPS's Cold Harbor holdings.

External links