Overland Campaign

Overland Campaign

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The Overland Campaign, also known as Grant's Overland Campaign and the Wilderness Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 during May and June 1864, in 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...

. 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...

, general-in-chief of all 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...

 armies, directed the actions 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...

, commanded by Maj. Gen.
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

 George G. Meade, and other forces against 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 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...

. Although Grant suffered severe losses during the campaign, it was a strategic Union victory. It inflicted proportionately higher losses on Lee's army and maneuvered it into a siege at Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia
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...

, in just over eight weeks.

Crossing 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...

 on May 4, 1864, Grant sought to defeat Lee's army by quickly placing his forces between Lee and Richmond and inviting an open battle. Lee surprised Grant by attacking the larger Union army aggressively in the Battle of the Wilderness
Battle of the Wilderness
The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–7, 1864, was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Both armies suffered heavy casualties, a harbinger of a bloody war of attrition by...

 (May 5–7), resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. Unlike his predecessors in the Eastern Theater
Eastern Theater of the American Civil War
The Eastern Theater of the American Civil War included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina...

, however, Grant did not withdraw his army following this setback, but instead maneuvered to the southeast, resuming his attempt to interpose his forces between Lee and Richmond. Lee's army was able to get into position to block this movement. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, sometimes simply referred to as the Battle of Spotsylvania , was the second major battle in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. Following the bloody but inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness, Grant's army disengaged...

 (May 8–21), Grant repeatedly attacked segments of the Confederate defensive line, hoping for a breakthrough, but the only results were again heavy losses for both sides.

Grant maneuvered again, meeting Lee at the North Anna River (Battle of North Anna
Battle of North Anna
The Battle of North Anna was fought May 23–26, 1864, as part of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. It consisted of a series of small actions near the North Anna River in central Virginia, rather than a...

, May 23–26). Here, Lee held clever defensive positions that provided an opportunity to defeat portions of Grant's army, but illness prevented Lee from attacking in time to trap Grant. The final major battle of the campaign was waged at Cold Harbor
Battle of Cold Harbor
The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought from May 31 to June 12, 1864 . It was one of the final battles of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign during the American Civil War, and is remembered as one of American history's bloodiest, most lopsided battles...

 (May 31 – June 12), in which Grant gambled that Lee's army was exhausted and ordered a massive assault against strong defensive positions, resulting in disproportionately heavy Union casualties. Resorting to maneuver a final time, Grant surprised Lee by stealthily crossing 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...

, threatening to capture the city of Petersburg, the loss of which would doom the Confederate capital. The resulting 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...

 (June 1864 – March 1865) led to the eventual surrender of Lee's army in April 1865 and the effective end of the Civil War.

The campaign included two long-range raids by Union cavalry under 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...

. In a raid toward Richmond, legendary Confederate cavalry commander 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...

 was mortally wounded at the 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). In a raid attempting to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad
Virginia Central Railroad
Virginia Central Railroad was chartered as the Louisa Railroad in 1836 by the Virginia Board of Public Works and had its name changed to Virginia Central Railroad in 1850. It connected Richmond with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad at Gordonsville in 1854, and had expanded westward past the Blue...

 to the west, Sheridan was thwarted by 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...

 at 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...

 (June 11–12), the largest all-cavalry battle of the war.

Background and opposing forces

Principal Union commanders
Confederate corps commanders

In March 1864, Grant was summoned from the Western Theater
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:...

, promoted to lieutenant general, and given command of all Union armies. He chose to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, although Meade retained formal command of that army. Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
William Tecumseh Sherman
William Tecumseh Sherman was an American soldier, businessman, educator and author. He served as a General in the Union Army during the American Civil War , for which he received recognition for his outstanding command of military strategy as well as criticism for the harshness of the "scorched...

 succeeded Grant in command of most of the western armies. Grant and 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...

 devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, Meade, and Benjamin Butler
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....

 against Lee near 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...

; Franz Sigel
Franz Sigel
Franz Sigel was a German military officer, revolutionist and immigrant to the United States who was a teacher, newspaperman, politician, and served as a Union major general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 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...

; Sherman to invade Georgia
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...

, defeat Joseph E. Johnston
Joseph E. Johnston
Joseph Eggleston Johnston was a career U.S. Army officer, serving with distinction in the Mexican-American War and Seminole Wars, and was also one of the most senior general officers in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

, and capture Atlanta; George Crook
George Crook
George R. Crook was a career United States Army officer, most noted for his distinguished service during the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

 and William W. Averell
William W. Averell
William Woods Averell was a career United States Army officer and a cavalry general in the American Civil War. After the war he was a diplomat and became wealthy by inventing American asphalt pavement.-Early years:...

 to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

; and Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama
Mobile, Alabama
Mobile is the third most populous city in the Southern US state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 195,111 during the 2010 census. It is the largest...

. This was the first time the Union armies would have a coordinated offensive strategy across a number of theaters.

Although previous Union campaigns in Virginia targeted the Confederate capital of Richmond as their primary objective, this time the goal was the destruction of Lee's army. Lincoln 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....

. He meant to "hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our common country to the constitution and laws of the land." Both Union and Confederate casualties could be high, but the Union had greater resources to replace lost soldiers and equipment.

At the beginning of the campaign, Grant's Union forces totaled 118,700 men and 316 guns. They consisted of the Army of the Potomac, under Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and the IX Corps (until May 24 formally part of the Army of the Ohio
Army of the Ohio
The Army of the Ohio was the name of two Union armies in the American Civil War. The first army became the Army of the Cumberland and the second army was created in 1863.-History:...

, reporting directly to Grant, not Meade). The five 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:...

    , 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:...

    , and Gershom Mott
    Gershom Mott
    Gershom Mott was a United States Army officer and a General in the Union Army, a commander in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-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, John C. Robinson
    John C. Robinson
    John Cleveland Robinson had a long and distinguished career in the United States Army, fighting in numerous wars and culminating his career as a Union Army brigadier general of volunteers and brevet major general of volunteers in the American Civil War. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated...

    , 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:...

    , and James S. Wadsworth
    James S. Wadsworth
    James Samuel Wadsworth was a philanthropist, politician, and a Union general in the American Civil War. He was killed in battle during the Battle of the Wilderness of 1864.-Early years:...

    .
  • VI Corps, under Maj. Gen. 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...

    , including the divisions of Brig. Gens. Horatio G. Wright, George W. Getty
    George W. Getty
    George Washington Getty was a career military officer in the United States Army, most noted for his role as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac during the final full year of the American Civil War....

    , 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 Brig. Gens. Thomas G. Stevenson
    Thomas G. Stevenson
    Thomas G. Stevenson was a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was killed in action during the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.-Biography:...

    , 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...

    .
  • 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:...

    .


Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia comprised about 64,000 men and 274 guns and was organized into four corps:
  • 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 Lt. Gen. James Longstreet
    James Longstreet
    James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the...

    , including the divisions of Maj. Gen. 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 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. Richard S. Ewell
    Richard S. Ewell
    Richard Stoddert Ewell was a career United States Army officer and a Confederate general during the American Civil War. He achieved fame as a senior commander under Stonewall Jackson and Robert E...

    , including the divisions of Maj. Gens. Jubal A. Early, Edward "Allegheny" Johnson
    Edward Johnson (general)
    Edward Johnson , also known as Allegheny Johnson , was a United States Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

    , 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. 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...

    , 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:...

    .
  • 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...

    , 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...

    , 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...

    .


Despite Grant's superior numbers, he had manpower challenges. Following their severe beating at the Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

 the previous year, the I Corps and the III Corps had been disbanded and their survivors reallocated to other corps, which damaged unit cohesion and morale. Because he was operating on the offensive in enemy territory, Grant had to defend his bases of supply and the lines extending from them to his army in the field; it was principally for this reason that Grant chose to maneuver repeatedly around Lee's right flank during the campaign, relying on waterborne supply lines instead of the railroads, such as the Orange and Alexandria, in Virginia's interior. Furthermore, since many of his soldiers' three-year enlistments were about to expire, they were naturally reluctant to participate in dangerous assaults. To deal with these challenges, Grant supplemented his forces by reassigning soldiers manning the heavy artillery batteries around 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....

, to infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 regiments.

The Wilderness (May 5–7, 1864)



The Overland Campaign began as Grant's forces 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...

 on May 4, 1864. Grant's objective was to force an engagement with Lee, outside of his Mine Run fortifications, by either drawing his forces out or turning
Turning movement
In military tactics, a turning movement involves an attacker's forces reaching the rear of a defender's forces, separating the defender from their principal defensive positions and placing them in a pocket...

 them. Lee, displaying the audacity that characterized his generalship, moved out as Grant desired, but more quickly than Grant anticipated; Union forces had insufficient time to clear the area known as the Wilderness, a tangle of scrub brush and undergrowth in which part of the Battle of 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...

 had been fought the previous year. By forcing a fight here, Lee effectively neutralized the Union's advantage in artillery. He ordered Ewell's Corps to advance on the Orange Turnpike, A.P. Hill's in parallel on the Orange Plank Road, and Longstreet's from the distant Gordonsville
Gordonsville, Virginia
Gordonsville is a town in Louisa and Orange counties in the U.S. state of Virginia. The population was 1,496 at the 2010 census.-History:Nathaniel Gordon purchased in 1787 and in 1794, or possibly earlier, applied for and was granted a license to operate a tavern...

.

Early on May 5, Warren's V Corps was advancing south toward the Plank Road when Ewell's Corps appeared in the west on the Turnpike. Meade halted his army and directed Warren to attack if the Confederates were a small, isolated group. Ewell's men erected earthworks on the western end of the clearing known as Saunders Field. Warren requested a delay from Meade so that Sedgwick's VI Corps could be brought in on his right and extend his line. By 1 p.m., Meade was frustrated by the delay and ordered Warren to attack before Sedgwick could arrive. The brigade of Brig. Gen. 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...

 had to take cover in a gully to avoid enfilading fire. The brigade of Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Bartlett
Joseph J. Bartlett
Joseph Jackson Bartlett was a New York attorney, brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and postbellum international diplomat and pensions administrator for the United States Government. He was chosen to receive the stacked arms of General Robert E...

 made better progress to Ayres's left and overran the position of Brig. Gen. John M. Jones
John M. Jones
John Marshall Jones was a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He fought at the Battle of Gettysburg and was killed in action at the Battle of the Wilderness.-Early life:...

, who was killed. However, since Ayres's men were unable to advance, Bartlett's right flank was now exposed to attack, and his brigade was forced to flee back across the clearing.

To the left of Bartlett, the Iron Brigade
Iron Brigade
The Iron Brigade, also known as the Iron Brigade of the West or the Black Hat Brigade, was an infantry brigade in the Union Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. Although it fought entirely in the Eastern Theater, it was composed of regiments from Western states...

, commanded by Brig. Gen. 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...

, struck a brigade of Alabamians commanded by Brig. Gen. Cullen A. Battle
Cullen A. Battle
Cullen Andrews Battle was an American attorney, politician, and general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

. Although initially pushed back, the Confederates counterattacked with the brigade of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon, tearing through the line and forcing the Iron Brigade to flee. Near the Higgerson farm, the brigades of Col. Roy Stone
Roy Stone
Roy Stone was a Union Army general during the American Civil War. He is most noted for his stubborn defense of the McPherson Farm during the Battle of Gettysburg.-Early life and family:...

 and Brig. Gen. James C. Rice attacked the brigades of Brig. Gen. George P. Doles
George P. Doles
George Pierce Doles was a Georgia businessman and Confederate general during the American Civil War. His men played a key role on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in driving back the Union XI Corps.-Early life:...

's Georgians and Brig. Gen. Junius Daniel
Junius Daniel
Junius Daniel was a planter and career military officer, serving in the United States Army, then in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, as a brigadier general. His troops were instrumental in the Confederates' success at the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg...

's North Carolinians. Both attacks failed under heavy fire, and Crawford ordered his men to pull back. Warren ordered an artillery section into Saunders Field to support his attack, but it was captured by Confederate soldiers, who were pinned down and prevented by rifle fire from moving the guns until darkness. In the midst of hand-to-hand combat at the guns, the field caught fire and men from both sides were shocked as their comrades burned to death. The lead elements of Sedgwick's VI Corps reached Saunders Field at 3 p.m., by which time Warren's men had ceased fighting. Sedgwick attacked Ewell's line in the woods north of the Turnpike and both sides traded attacks and counterattacks that lasted about an hour before each disengaged to erect earthworks.

A.P. Hill's approach on the Plank Road that afternoon was detected, and Meade ordered the VI Corps division of Brig. Gen. George W. Getty
George W. Getty
George Washington Getty was a career military officer in the United States Army, most noted for his role as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac during the final full year of the American Civil War....

 to defend the important intersection with the Brock Road. Getty's men arrived just before Hill's and the two forces skirmished briefly, ending with Hill's men withdrawing a few hundred yards west of the intersection. Meade sent orders to Hancock directing him to move his II Corps north to come to Getty's assistance. As the Union men approached the position of Maj. Gen. 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,...

, they were pinned down by fire from a shallow ridge to their front. As each II Corps division arrived, Hancock sent it forward to assist, bringing enough combat power to bear that Lee was forced to commit his reserves, the division commanded by Maj. Gen. 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:...

. Fierce fighting continued until nightfall with neither side gaining an advantage.

On May 6, Hancock's II Corps attacked Hill at 5 a.m., overwhelming the Third Corps with the divisions of Wadsworth, Birney, and Mott; Getty and Gibbon were in support. Lee had assured Hill that Longstreet's Corps would arrive to reinforce Hill before dawn, but moving cross-country in the dark, they made slow progress and lost their way at times. Ewell's men on the Turnpike had attacked first, at 4:45 a.m., but continued to be pinned down by attacks from Sedgwick's and Warren's corps and could not be relied upon for assistance. Before a total collapse, however, reinforcements arrived at 6 a.m., Brig. Gen. John Gregg
John Gregg
John Gregg may refer to:* John Gregg Anglican Archbishop of Armagh 1939–59* John Gregg , founder of Greggs bakery* John Gregg , Anglican Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, 1862–78...

's 800-man Texas Brigade
Texas Brigade
The Texas Brigade, also often referred to as Hood's Brigade, was an infantry brigade in the Confederate States Army that distinguished itself for its fierce tenacity and fighting capability during the American Civil War.-Organization:...

, the vanguard of Longstreet's column. General Lee, caught up in the excitement, began to move forward with the advancing brigade. As the Texans realized this, they halted, refusing to move forward unless Lee remained in the rear.
Longstreet counterattacked with the divisions of Maj. Gen. 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 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:...

. The Union troops fell a few hundred yards back from the Widow Tapp farm. At 10 a.m., Longstreet's chief engineer reported that he had explored an unfinished railroad bed south of the Plank Road and that it offered easy access to the Union left flank. Longstreet's aide, Lt. Col. Moxley Sorrel
Moxley Sorrel
Gilbert Moxley Sorrel was a Confederate States Army officer and historian of the Confederacy.-Early life:Sorrel was born in Savannah, Georgia, the son of one of the wealthiest men in the city, Francis Sorrel. He was the brother-in-law of William W...

, and the senior brigade commander, 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"....

, struck at 11 a.m. with four brigades. At the same time, Longstreet resumed his main attack, driving Hancock's men back to the Brock Road, but the momentum was lost when Longstreet was wounded by his own men, putting him out of action until October.

At the Turnpike, inconclusive fighting continued for most of the day. Early in the morning, Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon scouted the Union line and recommended to his division commander, Jubal Early, that he conduct a flanking attack, but Early dismissed the venture as too risky and did not approve it until that evening. Gordon's attack made good progress against inexperienced New York troops, but eventually the darkness and the dense foliage took their toll as the Union flank received reinforcements and recovered.

On the morning of May 7, Grant chose maneuver instead of further attacks. By moving south on the Brock Road, he hoped to reach the crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House, which would interpose his army between Lee and Richmond, forcing Lee to fight on ground more advantageous to the Union army. He ordered preparations for a night march on May 7 that would reach Spotsylvania, 10 mi (16 km) to the southeast, by the morning of May 8. Unfortunately for Grant, inadequate cavalry screening allowed Lee's army to reach the crossroads before sufficient Union troops arrived to contest it.

Spotsylvania Court House (May 8–21)


At dawn on May 8, Fitzhugh Lee's cavalrymen staked out a defensive line on a low ridge that they dubbed "Laurel Hill." Reinforcements from Anderson arrived just as Warren's men pulled up within 100 yards to the north. Assuming only cavalry blocked his path, Warren ordered an immediate attack. Multiple attacks by the divisions of the V Corps were repulsed with heavy casualties. In the afternoon, Sedgwick's VI Corps arrived near Laurel Hill and extended Warren's line to the east. By 7 p.m., both corps began a coordinated assault but were repulsed by heavy fire. They attempted to move around Anderson's right flank, but were surprised to find that divisions from Ewell's Second Corps had arrived in that sector to repulse them again.

Generals Meade and Sheridan had quarreled about the cavalry's performance throughout the campaign and their failures May 7–8 brought Meade's notorious temper to a boil. Sheridan told Meade that he could "whip Stuart" if Meade let him. Meade reported the conversation to Grant, who replied, "Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it." Meade deferred to Grant's judgment and issued orders to Sheridan to "proceed against the enemy's cavalry." Sheridan's entire command of 10,000 cavalrymen departed the following day. They engaged with (and mortally wounded) Stuart at the 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...

 on May 11, threatened the outskirts of Richmond, refitted near the James River, and did not return to the army until May 24. Grant and Meade were left without cavalry resources during the critical days of the battle to come.
Over the night of May 8–9, the Confederates erected a series of earthworks more than four miles (6.5 km) long, highlighted by an exposed 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" extending more than a mile (1.6 km) in front of the main trench line. At about 9 a.m., Maj. Gen. 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...

 was inspecting his VI Corps line when he was shot through the head by a Confederate sharpshooter's bullet, dying instantly. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright.

Grant ordered Hancock to cross the Po River
Mattaponi River
The Mattaponi River is a tributary of the York River estuary in eastern Virginia in the United States.It rises as four streams in Spotsylvania County, each of which is given a shorter piece of the Mattaponi's name:...

 and attack the Confederates' left flank, driving them back toward Burnside's position near the Ni River
Mattaponi River
The Mattaponi River is a tributary of the York River estuary in eastern Virginia in the United States.It rises as four streams in Spotsylvania County, each of which is given a shorter piece of the Mattaponi's name:...

, while the rest of his command, in the center, watched for an opening to attack there as well. Hancock's II Corps advanced across the Po, but he delayed his attack until the morning. This error was fatal to Grant's plan. That night, Lee moved two divisions of Jubal Early's corps from Spotsylvania Court House into position against Hancock. On the morning of May 10, Grant ordered Hancock to withdraw north of the Po, leaving a single division in place to occupy the Confederates in that sector, while the rest of his army was to attack at 5 p.m. across the entire Confederate line. At 2 p.m., Jubal Early decided to attack the division, which retreated across the Po without being captured, destroying the bridges behind them.

While Hancock was in the Po sector, Warren requested permission from Meade to attack Laurel Hill at 4 p.m., uncoordinated with the rest of Grant's attack. Again the Laurel Hill line repulsed the Union troops with heavy losses. Grant was forced to postpone his 5 p.m. coordinated assault until Warren could get his troops reformed. Not informed of the delay, Brig. Gen. Gershom Mott
Gershom Mott
Gershom Mott was a United States Army officer and a General in the Union Army, a commander in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 of the II Corps moved his division forward at 5 p.m. toward the tip of the Mule Shoe. When his men reached the open field, Confederate artillery ripped them to shreds, and they retreated. At around 6 p.m., 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...

 led a group of 12 hand-picked regiments, about 5,000 men in four battle lines, against an identified weak point on the west side of the Mule Shoe. The plan was for Upton's men to rush across the open field without pausing to fire and reload, reaching the earthworks before the Confederates could fire more than a couple of shots. The plan worked well initially, but Generals Lee and Ewell were quick to organize a vigorous counterattack with brigades from all sectors of the Mule Shoe. No Union supporting units arrived. Upton's men were driven out of the Confederate works, and he reluctantly ordered them to retreat.

Despite his reverses on May 10, Grant had reason for optimism because of the partial success of Upton's innovative assault. He planned to use the same tactics with Hancock's entire corps. On the Confederate side, Lee received some intelligence reports that made him believe Grant was planning to withdraw toward Fredericksburg. If this happened, he wanted to follow up with an immediate attack. Concerned about the mobility of his artillery to support the potential attack, he ordered that the guns be withdrawn from Allegheny Johnson
Edward Johnson (general)
Edward Johnson , also known as Allegheny Johnson , was a United States Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

's division in the Mule Shoe to be ready for a movement to the right. He was completely unaware, of course, that this was exactly the place Grant intended to attack. Johnson requested to Ewell that his artillery be returned, but somehow the order did not reach the artillery units until 3:30 a.m. on May 12, 30 minutes before Hancock's assault was planned to start.

Hancock's assault started at 4:35 a.m. on May 12 and easily crashed through the Confederate works. Despite the initial success at obliterating much of the Mule Shoe salient, there was a flaw in the Union plan—no one had considered how to capitalize on the breakthrough. The 15,000 infantrymen of Hancock's II Corps had crowded into a narrow front about a half mile wide and soon lost all unit cohesion, becoming little more than an armed mob. Following the initial shock, the Confederate leadership at all levels began to react well to the Union onslaught and reinforcements were rushed in to stem the tide.

As Hancock bogged down, Grant sent in reinforcements, ordering both Wright and Warren to move forward. The VI Corps division of Brig. Gen. 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...

 headed for the western leg of the Mule Shoe, at the point where it turned to the south. This sector of the line, where the heaviest fighting of the day would occur, became known as the "Bloody Angle." Heavy rain began to fall, and both sides fought on the earthworks slippery with both water and blood. Warren's attack at Laurel Hill began on a small scale around 8:15 a.m. For some of his men, this was their fourth or fifth attack against the same objective and few fought with enthusiasm. They were repulsed again. Burnside advanced against the eastern leg of the Mule Shoe before dawn, materially aiding Hancock's breakthrough. At 2 p.m., Grant and Lee coincidentally ordered simultaneous attacks in this stalemated sector. The advance by Union Brig. Gen. 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:...

's division was stopped as Brig. Gen. James H. Lane's brigade moved forward and hit them in the flank.

Throughout the afternoon, Confederate engineers scrambled to create a new defensive line 500 yards further south at the base of the Mule Shoe, while fighting at the Bloody Angle continued day and night with neither side achieving an advantage. At 4 a.m. on May 13, the exhausted Confederate infantrymen were notified that the new line was ready, and they withdrew from the original earthworks unit by unit. The combat they had endured for almost 24 hours was characterized by an intensity of firepower never previously seen in Civil War battles, as the entire landscape was flattened, all the foliage destroyed. May 12 was the most intensive day of fighting during the battle, with Union casualties of about 9,000, Confederate 8,000; the Confederate loss includes about 3,000 prisoners captured in the Mule Shoe.

Despite the significant casualties of May 12, Grant was undeterred. He planned to reorient his lines and shift the center of potential action to the east of Spotsylvania, where he could renew the battle. He ordered the V and VI Corps to move behind the II Corps and take positions past the left flank of the IX Corps. On the night of May 13–14, the corps began a difficult march in heavy rain. Grant notified Washington that, having endured five days of almost continuous rain, his army could not resume offensive operations until they had 24 hours of dry weather. The weather finally cleared on May 17. Grant ordered the II Corps and the VI Corps to attack against the Mule Shoe area again at sunrise, May 18. Unfortunately for the Union plan, the former Confederate works were still occupied by Ewell's Second Corps and they had used the intervening time to improve the earthworks and the obstacles laid out in front of them. Unlike on May 12, they were not caught by surprise. As Hancock's men advanced, they were caught up in abatis
Abatis
Abatis, abattis, or abbattis is a term in field fortification for an obstacle formed of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy. The trees are usually interlaced or tied with wire...

 and subjected to artillery fire so devastating that infantry rifle fire was not necessary to repulse the attack. Wright and Burnside had no better luck in supporting attacks.

Grant decided to abandon the Spotsylvania area. He ordered Hancock's II Corps to march to the railroad line between Fredericksburg and Richmond, and then turn south. With luck, Lee might take the bait and follow, seeking to overwhelm and destroy the isolated corps. In that case, Grant would chase Lee with his remaining corps and strike him before the Confederates could entrench again. Before Hancock began to move, Lee ordered Ewell to conduct a reconnaissance in force to locate the northern flank of the Union army. Ewell fought near the Harris farm with several units of Union heavy artillery soldiers who had recently been converted to infantry duty before he was recalled by Lee. Grant's intended advance of Hancock's corps was delayed by the Harris farm engagement, so the troops did not begin their movement south until the night of May 20–21. Lee did not fall into Grant's trap of attacking Hancock, but traveled on a parallel path to the North Anna River
North Anna River
The North Anna River is a principal tributary of the Pamunkey River, about long, in central Virginia in the United States. Via the Pamunkey and York rivers, it is part of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay...

.

Yellow Tavern (May 11)


For the early days of the campaign—the Wilderness and the approach to Spotsylvania Court House—Meade had employed Sheridan's Cavalry Corps primarily in the traditional role of screening and reconnaissance, whereas Sheridan saw the value of wielding his force as an independently operating offensive weapon for wide ranging raids into the rear areas of the enemy. On May 8, Sheridan told Meade that if his command were freed to operate as an independent unit, he could defeat "Jeb" Stuart. Grant was intrigued and convinced Meade of the value of Sheridan's request.

On May 9, over 10,000 troopers with 32 artillery pieces rode to the southeast to move behind Lee's army. The column, which at times stretched for over 13 miles (20.9 km), reached the Confederate forward supply base at Beaver Dam Station that evening. Sheridan's men destroyed numerous railroad cars and six locomotives of the Virginia Central Railroad, destroyed telegraph wires, and rescued almost 400 Union soldiers who had been captured in the Wilderness.

Stuart moved his 4,500 troopers to get between Sheridan and Richmond. The two forces met at noon on May 11 at Yellow Tavern, an abandoned inn located six miles (10 km) north of Richmond. Not only did the Union outnumber the Confederates by three divisions to two brigades, it had superior firepower—all were armed with rapid-firing Spencer carbines. The Confederate troopers tenaciously resisted from the low ridgeline bordering the road to Richmond, fighting for over three hours. A countercharge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry
1st Virginia Cavalry
The 1st Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment was a cavalry regiment raised in Virginia for service in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

 pushed the advancing Union troopers back from the hilltop as Stuart, mounted on horseback, shouted encouragement. As the 5th Michigan Cavalry streamed in retreat past Stuart, he was shot, dying in Richmond the following day. The fighting kept up for an hour after Stuart was wounded, 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:...

 taking temporary command.

Meadow Bridge (May 12)



After Yellow Tavern, Sheridan led his troops southward towards Richmond on May 11, carefully feeling his way through the abandoned outer defensive works. He kept up his movement down the Brook Pike, not realizing that he was boxing himself into a potential trap. Sheridan found himself only two and half miles from his objective, but saw that the intermediate defenses in his front swarmed with enemy troops. His left flank was against the swollen Chickahominy, and Confederate cavalry threatened his rear, hoping to capture the Union force.

Sheridan decided to force a crossing of the river at Meadow Bridge, where the Virginia Central Railroad crossed the river. He assigned the Michigan brigade of Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, part 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:...

's division, to seize the span and the high bluffs beyond. The rest of Sheridan's command had to hold the Confederates at bay while Custer executed his orders. The rearguard of Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg's division was assailed on three sides when it was light enough for a brigade of Confederate infantry to sally forth from the fortifications and attack. Soon, other Confederates, including Richmond citizens hastily pressed into military service, joined in the efforts to break through the rear lines. 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:...

's men were initially pushed back in some confusion, but Gregg had concealed a heavy line of skirmishers armed with repeating carbines in a brushy ravine. His men poured forth a destructive fire, halting the final Confederate advances, assisted by some of Wilson's men who turned the flank of the attacking column. Federal horse artillery made sure that the Confederate infantry no longer was a threat, and three mounted cavalry regiments skirmished with approaching enemy cavalry, turning them aside and protecting the rear.

In the meantime, Custer's 5th Michigan Cavalry used snipers to suppress Confederate rifle fire while several daring dismounted troopers crossed the damaged railroad bridge, hopping from railroad tie to tie while menaced by persistent enemy artillery fire. Followed by the 6th Michigan, they succeeded in the early afternoon in clearing the north bank of the Chickahominy and gaining a foothold on the Confederate side of the river. Custer's men pinned down remaining threatening enemy units and captured two artillery pieces, while pioneers energetically planked the bridge to provide safe passage for large numbers of men and horses. By mid-afternoon, Merritt's entire division had crossed and engaged the Confederate hasty works on Richmond Heights, driving the defenders back to Gaines's Mill. By 4 p.m., the rest of Sheridan's cavalry had crossed the river.

Sheridan destroyed the Virginia Central Bridge in his wake to prevent further pursuit. After his men had rested, Sheridan brushed aside the remaining Confederate resistance in the area and marched his column to 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...

. They bivouacked that night at Gaines's Mill, which was burned the following morning by some of the stragglers; Sheridan ordered a bucket brigade to douse the flames. Upon reaching Bottom's Bridge over the Chickahominy, they found it had also been damaged and rested there for the night while it was repaired. By this time, Sheridan's men were suffering from hunger and it was becoming urgent that they reach Union lines. On May 14, he led his men to Haxall's Landing on 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...

, linking up with 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....

 force, ending his raid. After resupplying with Butler, Sheridan's men returned to join Grant at Chesterfield Station on May 24.

Sheridan's raid was an overall tactical success, having killed Jeb Stuart at Yellow Tavern and beaten Fitzhugh Lee at Meadow Bridge, all with relatively minimal casualties—about 625 men for the entire raid, compared to 800 Confederate. From a strategic standpoint, however, the raid deprived General Grant of the cavalry resources that would have been helpful at Spotsylvania Court House and his subsequent advance to the North Anna River
Battle of North Anna
The Battle of North Anna was fought May 23–26, 1864, as part of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. It consisted of a series of small actions near the North Anna River in central Virginia, rather than a...

, and there are lingering questions about whether Sheridan should have attempted to assault the city of Richmond. In the latter case, Sheridan believed it would not have been worth the risk in casualties and he recognized that the chances of holding the city for more than a brief time would be minimal; any advantages would primarily result from damage to Confederate morale.

North Anna (May 23–26)


As the armies started their movements from Spotsylvania, the odds between them had become closer. Grant's army totaled approximately 68,000 men, depleted from the start of the campaign by battle losses, illnesses, and expired enlistments. Lee's was about 53,000; for the first time in the campaign he received sizable reinforcements, including three of the four brigades in Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett's division (about 6,000 men) from the James River defenses and two brigades (2,500 men) of 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...

's command from 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...

.

Grant's objective following Spotsylvania was the North Anna River, about 25 miles (40.2 km) south, and the important railroad intersection just south of it, Hanover Junction. Grant knew that Lee could probably beat him in a straight race to the North Anna, so he devised a stratagem that might be a successful alternative. He designated Hancock's II Corps to head southeast from Spotsylvania to Milford Station, hoping that Lee would take the bait and attack this isolated corps. If he did, Grant would attack him with his three remaining corps; if he did not, Grant would have lost nothing and his advance element might reach the North Anna before Lee could.

Hancock's corps of 20,000 men started marching the night of May 20–21. He was surprised to encounter some of Pickett's men at Milford Station on May 21, from which he inferred correctly that Lee was being reinforced. Rather than risk his corps in a fight in an isolated location, he decided to terminate his maneuver. Lee was still in the dark about Grant's intentions and was reluctant to disengage prematurely from the Spotsylvania Court House line. He cautiously extended Ewell's Corps to the Telegraph Road and notified Breckinridge, who was en route to join Lee, to stop at Hanover Junction and defend the North Anna River line until Lee could join him. Meanwhile, Grant started the rest of his corps on their marches. Lee ordered Ewell to march south on the Telegraph Road, followed by Anderson's Corps, and A.P. Hill's Corps on parallel roads to the west. Lee's orders were not urgent—he knew that Ewell had 25 miles (40.2 km) miles to march over relatively good roads, versus Hancock's 34 miles (54.7 km) over inferior roads.
On the morning of May 23, Warren and Hancock approached the North Anna. There were no significant fortifications to their front. Lee had misjudged Grant's plan, assuming any advance against the North Anna would be a mere diversion, while the main body of Grant's army continued its flanking march to the east. At the Chesterfield Bridge crossing the Telegraph Road, a small South Carolina brigade under Col. John W. Henagan had created a dirt redoubt
Redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

, and there was a small party guarding the railroad bridge downstream, but all the other river crossings were left undefended. Grant had been presented with a golden opportunity if he moved quickly enough to take advantage of it.

Hancock's men, led by the division 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...

, overwhelmed Henagan's small force, which fled across the bridge. Union sharpshooters discouraged Confederate attempts to burn the bridge. Hancock's men did not cross the bridge and seize ground to the south because Confederate artillery was laying down heavy fire against them. At Jericho Mills, Warren found the river ford unprotected and established a beachhead south of the river. General Lee convinced his Third Corps commander, A.P. Hill, that Warren's movement was simply a feint, so Hill sent only a single division, commanded by Maj. Gen. 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 deal with Warren's supposedly minor threat. The Union troops were taken by surprise and their right flank was beaten back, but they were supported by three batteries of artillery, which slowed the Confederate advance until Union reinforcements arrived to end the brief battle. The next morning, Lee expressed his displeasure at Hill's performance: "General Hill, why did you let those people cross here? Why didn't you throw your whole force on them and drive them back as Jackson
Stonewall Jackson
ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

 would have done?"

By the evening of May 23, Lee finally understood that a major battle was developing in this location and began to plan his defensive position. He and his chief engineer devised a masterful solution: 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. On the western line of the V, reaching southwest to anchor on Little River, was the corps of A.P. Hill; on the east were Anderson and Ewell, extending through Hanover Junction and ending behind a swamp. Lee's men worked nonstop overnight to complete the fortifications. The new position represented a significant potential threat to Grant. 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.

On the morning of May 24, Hancock's II Corps crossed the Chesterfield Bridge with Maj. 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:...

's division in the lead. Grant had begun to fall into Lee's trap. Seeing the ease of crossing the river, he assumed the Confederates were retreating. He wired to Washington: "The enemy have fallen back from North Anna. We are in pursuit."

The only visible opposition to the Union crossing was at Ox Ford, which Grant interpreted to be a rear guard action, and ordered Burnside's IX Corps to deal with it. Burnside's division under 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:...

 marched downriver to Quarles Mill and seized the ford there. Burnside ordered Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden's division to cross over at the ford and follow the river's southern bank to Ox Ford and attack the Confederate position from the west. Crittenden's lead brigade was under 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...

, who was known for excessive drinking of alcohol in the field. Intoxicated and ambitious, Ledlie decided to attack the Confederate position with his brigade alone. Encountering the Confederate earthworks manned by 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"....

's division, Ledlie's men were immediately repulsed. Crittenden sent word to Ledlie not to attack until the full division had crossed the river, but Ledlie, by now completely drunk, ordered a charge. The Confederates waited to open fire until they were at close range, and the effect was to drive Ledlie's leading men into ditches for protection. Two Massachusetts regiments rallied, but Mahone's Mississippi troops stepped out of their works and shot them down. Despite his miserable performance, Ledlie received praise from his division commander that his brigade "behaved gallantly." He was promoted to division command after the battle and his drunkenness in the field continued to plague his men, culminating in his humiliating failure at 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...

 in July, after which he was relieved of command, never to receive another assignment. Hancock's II Corps began pushing south from Chesterfield Bridge at about the same time that Ledlie was initially crossing the river, but the combined divisions of Maj. Gens. 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:...

 and 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...

 could not break the Confederate line.

Although the Union army had done precisely what Lee had hoped it would do, the Confederate general was unable to capitalize on the situation. Breaking down under the strain of nonstop campaigning, Lee suddenly suffered a debilitating attack of diarrhea
Diarrhea
Diarrhea , also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day. It is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and...

 and was forced to remain in his tent, bedridden. Unfortunately, he had no suitable subordinate commander to take over during his illness. Lee lamented in his tent, "We must strike them a blow—we must never let them pass again—we must strike them a blow." But Lee lacked the means to execute his plan. 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.

A significant command change occurred on the evening of May 24. Grant and Meade had had numerous quarrels during the campaign about strategy and tactics and tempers were reaching the boiling point. Grant mollified Meade somewhat by ordering that 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...

 and his IX Corps would henceforth report to Meade's Army of the Potomac, rather than to Grant directly. Although Burnside was a more senior major general than Meade, he accepted the new subordinate position without protest.

On May 25, light skirmishing occurred between the lines and Union soldiers occupied themselves by tearing up 5 miles of the Virginia Central Railroad, a key supply line from the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond. Grant's options were limited. The slaughter at Spotsylvania Court House ruled out the option of frontal attacks against the Confederate line and getting around either Confederate flank was infeasible. 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."

Wilson's Wharf (May 24)


One of a series of protective outposts guarding supply lines for Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler
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....

's Bermuda Hundred Campaign
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 ...

 was a fort at Wilson's Wharf, at a strategic bend in the James River in eastern Charles City
Charles City, Virginia
Charles City is a census-designated place in and the county seat of Charles City County, Virginia, United States. The population as of the 2010 Census was 133....

, overlooked by high bluffs. Its garrison of predominantly United States Colored Troops
United States Colored Troops
The United States Colored Troops were regiments of the United States Army during the American Civil War that were composed of African American soldiers. First recruited in 1863, by the end of the Civil War, the men of the 175 regiments of the USCT constituted approximately one-tenth of the Union...

 (USCT) under Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild
Edward A. Wild
Edward Augustus Wild was an American homeopathic doctor and a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Early life and career:...

 had a frightening reputation among Southerners. His soldiers freed and recruited slaves and in one case whipped a plantation owner who had a reputation for harshness to his slaves. 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...

 newspapers denounced these activities and put intense pressure on the government of 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...

 to put a stop to Wild's depredations. 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:...

's cavalry division was ordered to "break up this nest and stop their uncivilized proceedings." Lee took 2,500 men and one cannon on a 40-mile march from Atlee's Station to reach Wilson's Wharf.

At 1:30 p.m. on May 24 Lee demanded the surrender of the garrison. He promised that the black soldiers would be taken to Richmond and treated as prisoners of war, but if they did not surrender, he would not be "answerable for the consequences." Wild and his men interpreted this to mean that some of the men would be returned to their former masters and others would be tried by state authorities for inciting insurrection. Wild sent back a written reply that said "We will try it" and verbally told the two officers sent by Lee, "Take the fort if you can."

Brig. Gen. Williams C. Wickham's Confederate brigade moved east of the fort, while Col. John Dunovant of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry demonstrated on the western end of the fort. Dunovant's men advanced as far as the ditch and abatis, but were driven back by heavy fire. Wickham's men rushed forward across an open field and were met by interlocking fields of musket fire, canister rounds from two 10-pound Parrott rifle
Parrott rifle
The Parrott rifle was a type of muzzle loading rifled artillery weapon used extensively in the American Civil War.-Parrott Rifle:The gun was invented by Robert Parker Parrott, a West Point graduate. He resigned from the service in 1836 and became the superintendent of the West Point Foundry in Cold...

s, and naval gunfire from the gunboat USS Dawn
USS Dawn (1857)
The first USS Dawn was a steam-operated vessel acquired by the Union Navy during the American Civil War. She was used by the Navy to patrol navigable waterways of the Confederacy to prevent the South from trading with other countries....

. Lee ordered his men to withdraw to Charles City Court House and the next morning they rode back to Atlee's Station.

Casualties were relatively light and the action had little effect on the outcome of the war, but the North scored a propaganda victory. It was the first significant combat encounter between the Army of Northern Virginia and black soldiers, who had fought well in a defensive battle against a larger attacking force. Southerners, unwilling to acknowledge their defeat against a predominantly African-American force, claimed that six gunboats and substantial numbers of white Union soldiers were involved in the action.

Across the Pamunkey (May 27–29)



As he did after the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, Grant now planned to leave the North Anna in 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. He ordered (on May 22) that his supply depots at Belle Plain, Aquia Creek
Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve
Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve is a large wilderness area located on the southern border of Stafford County, Virginia, between Potomac Creek and Accokeek Creek. The greater portion of the Crow’s Nest Peninsula is approximately and lies within the coastal plain of Virginia.Virtually the entire...

, and Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located south of Washington, D.C., and north of Richmond. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 24,286...

 be moved to a new base at Port Royal, Virginia
Port Royal, Virginia
Port Royal is an incorporated town in Caroline County, Virginia, United States. The population was 170 at the 2000 census.Port Royal was established in the mid-17th century in the Colony of Virginia primary as a port on a navigable portion of the Rappahannock River for export of tobacco, Virginia's...

, on the Rappahannock River
Rappahannock River
The Rappahannock River is a river in eastern Virginia, in the United States, approximately in length. It traverses the entire northern part of the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, across the Piedmont, to the Chesapeake Bay, south of the Potomac River.An important river in American...

. (Six days later the supply base was moved again, from Port Royal to White House
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...

 on the Pamunkey.) If Grant had decided to move directly south, he would have been forced to cross three rivers, the Little River, the New Found, and the South Anna, minor obstacles that Lee would have to navigate instead.

Before he could move, however, Grant was faced with the problem of disengaging from Lee's army. Not only were the armies closely situated, Grant's first had to withdraw north over the North Anna, during which it would be very vulnerable to attack. Grant decided on a series of deceptive measures to disguise his intentions. On May 26, he sent a cavalry division under Brig. Gen. 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:...

 to Little River, probing the western end of the Confederate line, while at the same time men from the cavalry 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:...

 and David McM. Gregg were sent to the Little Page Bridge and Taylor's Ford on the Pamunkey, 10 miles upriver from Grant's intended crossing points. Lee, who was still in his tent suffering from the diarrhea that had incapacitated him during the North Anna battle, was fooled by Grant's actions and assumed that the Union general would be moving west for the first time in the campaign.

The Union infantry withdrew stealthily after dark on May 26 and by the morning of May 27 all were safely north of the North Anna. Burnside's IX Corps and Hancock's II Corps stayed in place to guard the river crossings while Warren's V Corps and Wright's VI Corps, led by Sheridan's cavalry, began their march toward crossings near Hanovertown, about 34 miles to the southeast. Once Lee recognized that his opponent had departed, he moved his army swiftly in response. His three corps marched south along the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad, and then overland, 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. He also sent a small brigade of North Carolina cavalry down the southern bank of the Pamunkey to scout and harass the Union advance wherever possible. During the march, Lee's illness forced him to ride in a carriage. Ewell was also laid up with a similar illness and rode in an ambulance; his condition was serious enough that he was temporarily replaced in command by Maj. Gen. Jubal Early.

On May 27, Union cavalry established a bridgehead over Dabney's Ford on the south side of the Pamunkey River. Brig. Gen. George A. Custer's Michigan cavalry brigade
Michigan Brigade
The Michigan Brigade, sometimes called the Wolverines, the Michigan Cavalry Brigade or Custer's Brigade, was a brigade of cavalry in the volunteer Union Army during the latter half of the American Civil War...

 scattered the mounted Confederate pickets guarding the ford and an engineer regiment constructed a pontoon bridge
Pontoon bridge
A pontoon bridge or floating bridge is a bridge that floats on water and in which barge- or boat-like pontoons support the bridge deck and its dynamic loads. While pontoon bridges are usually temporary structures, some are used for long periods of time...

. Custer's men fought a brisk engagement north of Salem Church against Confederate cavalry 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:...

, the 1st Maryland under Col. Bradley T. Johnson and the brigade of North Carolinians under Col. John A. Baker. The Confederates withdrew under the pressure of superior numbers. The rest of Torbert's division then crossed the river, followed by Gregg's cavalry division and a division of Union infantry.

Lee knew that his best defensive position against Grant would be the low ridge on the southern bank of Totopotomoy Creek, but he was not certain of Grant's specific plans; 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.

Haw's Shop (May 28)


At 8 a.m. on May 28, Hampton rode off from Atlee's Station. As more of Grant's infantry crossed the pontoon bridge over the Pamunkey, Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg led his cavalry division probing west from Hanovertown, searching for Lee, while 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:...

's division began to picket along Crump's Creek in the direction of Hanover Court House. Three miles west of Hanovertown, and a mile beyond a large blacksmith shop called Haw's Shop, Gregg's troopers ran into Hampton at Enon Church, finding the Confederate cavalrymen dismounted in a wooded area, hurriedly erecting breastworks made of logs and rails, and well covered by artillery. Brig. Gen. Henry E. Davies, Jr.
Henry Eugene Davies
Henry Eugene Davies was an American soldier, writer, public official and lawyer. He served in the Union Army as a brigadier general of volunteers in cavalry service during the American Civil War and was promoted to the grade of major general of volunteers at the end of the war...

, deployed pickets from the 10th New York Cavalry to Hampton's front, but they were driven back. The Confederates deployed in line in shallow rifle pits faced with log and fence-rail breastworks. Before Hampton could attack the approaching Union cavalry, Col. J. Irvin Gregg's brigade arrived and moved to the right of Davies's men, extending his flank. A Confederate mounted charge, followed by dismounted troopers, was repulsed. Hampton fed in the green troops of the 4th South Carolina on his right and they met Davies's next charge with their longer range Enfield rifles
Pattern 1853 Enfield
The Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle-Musket was a .577 calibre Minié-type muzzle-loading rifle-musket, used by the British Empire from 1853 to 1867, after which many Enfield 1853 Rifle-Muskets were converted to the cartridge-loaded Snider-Enfield rifle.-History &...

, killing or wounding 256 men. Union return fire was heavy as well, because the troopers were 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...

.

As Davies's first attack ground to a halt and the attack of Irvin Gregg's brigade failed to dislodge the Confederates, David Gregg sent for reinforcements from Sheridan, who released two brigades from Torbert's division. Torbert's reserve brigade under 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:...

 extended Gregg's line to the right, thwarting a flanking maneuver attempted by Hampton with Chambliss's newly arrived brigade. There was plenty of infantry nearby that could have been called for reinforcements, with Hancock's II Corps dug in about one mile to the north, and there are disagreements between Sheridan's memoirs and historians about whether he asked for such reinforcements.

Torbert's other brigade, under Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, dismounted and deployed in a long, double-ranked line of battle, as if they were infantrymen. Custer inspired his men by staying mounted as he led them forward. Receiving heavy rifle and artillery fire, 41 of the Union cavalrymen fell in the attack. Meanwhile, a mistaken identification of some dismounted Union cavalrymen as infantry concerned Hampton and he gave the order to begin withdrawing. (Hampton had also just received intelligence from prisoners on the location of two Union corps that had crossed the Pamunkey, which meant that his reconnaissance mission had been successfully completed.) As the Confederate brigades withdrew, Custer took advantage of the situation by charging forward for a final attack. Davies's brigade joined the attack and the remaining Confederate line fell apart into a rout, but by nightfall Hampton's cavalry was safely west of Totopotomoy Creek.

The Battle of Haw's Shop lasted for over seven hours and was the bloodiest cavalry battle since Brandy Station
Battle of Brandy Station
The Battle of Brandy Station, also called the Battle of Fleetwood Hill, was the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the American Civil War, as well as the largest to take place ever on American soil. It was fought at the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign by the Union cavalry under Maj....

 in 1863. It was an unusual battle in comparison to previous cavalry engagements in the Eastern Theater
Eastern Theater of the American Civil War
The Eastern Theater of the American Civil War included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the coastal fortifications and seaports of North Carolina...

 because it was fought predominantly by dismounted infantry, many of which were protected by earthworks. Both sides claimed victory. Sheridan bragged that his men had driven Hampton from the field and had again demonstrated their superiority over the Confederate cavalry. Hampton, however, had prevented Sheridan from learning the disposition of Lee's army while delaying the Union advance for seven hours. And General Lee received the valuable intelligence he had sought. He now knew that Grant had crossed the Pamunkey in force, although he was still unclear on the next steps that Grant might take and therefore waited for further developments.

Totopotomoy Creek/Bethesda Church (May 28–30)


As Lee's army stood in entrenchments behind Totopotomoy Creek, they were short on men. Lee requested that General P.G.T. Beauregard send him reinforcements from his 12,000-man army, sitting relatively idle as they bottled up Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler
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....

's army at 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 ...

. Beauregard initially refused Lee's request, citing the potential threat from Butler. Lee was determined despite this disappointment. He wrote to President Davis, "If General Grant advances tomorrow I will engage him with my present force."

On May 29, Grant's army advanced southwest to confront Lee. Since most of his cavalry was occupied elsewhere, he decided to use infantry for a reconnaissance in force. Hancock's II Corps followed the Richmond-Hanovertown Road (also known as Atlee Station Road) to Totopotomoy Creek. Finding that Lee was firmly entrenched on the far bank, Hancock's men began digging in. Warren's V Corps extended the II Corps line to the left. Wright's VI Corps was sent northwest from Hanovertown toward Hanover Court House. Burnside's IX Corps was in reserve near Haw's Shop and Sheridan's Cavalry Corps was far to the Union left, near Old Church. The Confederate line, from left to right, consisted of the corps of A.P. Hill, Breckinridge's independent division, and the corps of Anderson and Early. No action beyond minor skirmishing occurred during the day.

Grant began a general advance on May 30. Wright's corps was to move south against A.P. Hill on the Confederate left, while Hancock attacked across the creek against Breckinridge in the center, and Warren moved west toward Early along Shady Grove Road. Wright's advance became bogged down in the swampy land near Crump's Creek, delaying his VI Corps until late in the day. Hancock's skirmishers captured some of Breckinridge's rifle pits, but made little progress against the main Confederate line. Meade ordered Burnside's reserve corps to assist Hancock, but they arrived too late in the day to affect the battle. On the Union left, Warren moved the rest of his V Corps across the creek and began probing west. Lee ordered Early's corps, which was entrenched across Warren's path, to attack the V corps with the assistance of Anderson's corps. Early planned to send the division of 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 a flanking march along Old Church Road, turning north at Bethesda Church, and following paths that his cavalry had precut through the underbrush to smash into Warren's rear areas.

As the V corps moved forward slowly, Warren became concerned about the safety of his left flank. He directed Crawford's division to move south along a farm track to Old Church Road, where they erected simple breastworks. Crawford sent forward the brigade of Col. Martin D. Hardin
Martin D. Hardin
Martin Davis Hardin was a United States Senator from Kentucky.-Biography:Born along the Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania, Hardin moved with his parents to Kentucky in 1786. He pursued an academic course, and attended Transylvania Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky...

, men of the Pennsylvania Reserves
Pennsylvania Reserves
The Pennsylvania Reserves were an infantry division in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Noted for its famous commanders and high casualties, it served in the Eastern Theater, and fought in many important battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg....

 whose enlistments were due to expire that day. Rodes's men marched directly into Hardin's brigade at about noon and routed them. Crawford's entire division formation collapsed, exposing the V Corps' left flank. Unfortunately for the Confederates, Rodes lost control of his men, who ran beyond their objectives and descended into confusion. Warren began shifting his corps to face south toward Early.
Maj. Gen. 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:...

 of Early's corps, newly promoted to division command, recklessly charged the Union artillery at 6:30 p.m. Gordon's division was still deploying and could not support the attack. Rodes's men were too occupied with protecting the Confederate right to assist. The only brigade that attacked was Pegram's, commanded by Col. Edward Willis. They advanced through a severe crossfire of rifle and cannon fire and were able to close within 50 yards of the Union position before Willis was mortally wounded and the brigade fell back to its starting point.

Meade ordered a general assault across the line to relieve pressure on Warren, but none of his corps commanders were in positions to comply immediately. However, Warren's men had extricated themselves from their predicament without additional assistance. The repulse of Ramseur's division discouraged Early and he ordered his corps to withdraw a short distance to the west. He blamed Anderson for not arriving in time to assist, but the soldiers blamed Ramseur, who had ordered the charge without sufficient reconnaissance.
Of more concern to Lee than Early's failed attack was intelligence he received that reinforcements were heading Grant's way. Just as Hoke's division was leaving Bermuda Hundred, 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 Butler's 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 to Cold Harbor, 3 miles southeast of Bethesda Church and Grant's left flank, the extended Federal line would be too far south for the Confederate right to contain it. Lee sent his cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee to secure the crossroads at Cold Harbor.

On May 31 Hancock's II Corps again crossed Totopotomoy Creek, but found that the Confederate defense line stood well behind the actual creek bed. Grant realized that the strength of the Confederate position meant another stalemate was at hand. He began shifting his army southward toward Cold Harbor on the night of May 31.

Old Church/Matadequin Creek (May 30)



As the infantry of the two armies fought at Bethesda Church on May 30, Sheridan began to receive requests for assistance from Warren, who was concerned that his isolated advanced position on the left flank of the Union army put him at risk. Sheridan initially paid little attention to Warren's requests because he still harbored ill feelings from arguments the two generals had had at Spotsylvania, but as Warren's requests became more urgent, Sheridan agreed to screen roads leading to Warren's left flank, assigning the task to his division under Brig. Gen. Alfred T. A. Torbert. Torbert delegated the responsibility to the brigade of Col. Thomas C. Devin
Thomas Devin
Thomas Casimer Devin was an United States Army officer and general. He commanded Union cavalry during the American Civil War and during the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

, which was encamped at the Old Church crossroads. He placed his brigade in a good defensible position on the north bank of Matadequin Creek and sent a squadron to a forward position at the Barker farm, south of the creek.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Sheridan, Lee was concerned about the critical road intersection at Old Cold Harbor, only six miles from Richmond. He dispatched Brig. Gen. Matthew C. Butler's brigade of 2,000 troopers from 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...

 to determine whether the intersection was threatened. At 3 p.m., an attack by Butler overwhelmed the Union pickets, who fought a vigorous delaying action to prevent the South Carolinians from crossing over the creek. Devin deployed three regiments in line, Butler two, with one in reserve.

Torbert ordered the rest of his division to move up. 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:...

's reserve brigade was the first to arrive, and fought dismounted with the Confederates into a temporary stalemate.
The stalemate was broken by the arrival of the Union brigade under Brig. Gen. George A. Custer. His attack flanked the Confederates on both ends of the line. As Butler's men fled to the rear, his reserve regiment, the 7th South Carolina, counterattacked in an attempt to maintain the line. The superior Union numbers and firepower—the Michiganders were armed with Spencer repeating rifles—carried the day. The Union troopers pursued the retreating Confederates with enthusiasm. Butler eventually rallied his men at Old Cold Harbor and Torbert's men bivouacked about 1.5 miles northeast of the intersection.

Although Butler had successfully gathered the information that Robert E. Lee needed, for the second time in three days—Haw's Shop and Matadequin Creek—the Confederate cavalry had been driven back by their Union counterparts, and in both cases Custer's brigade had provided the crucial force needed to prevail. The door was open for Sheridan's capture of the important Old Cold Harbor crossroads the next day.

Cold Harbor (May 31 – June 12)


The cavalry forces that had fought at Old Church 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 Butler and secure the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor and 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.

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's attack was poorly coordinated and driven back by the heavy firepower of the Union cavalry's Spencer repeating carbines. By 9 a.m. Wright's lead elements arrived at the crossroads, but Wright decided to delay Grant's intended attack until after Smith arrived, which occurred in the afternoon, and the XVIII Corps men began to entrench on the right of the VI Corps. 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, 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 also met with heavy fire from Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman's brigade and 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 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.

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, 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—attacked at 7 p.m. Warren later described this attack as a "feeler", and despite some initial successes, both Confederate probes were repulsed.

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 target Lee's right flank. 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. Robert E. Lee took advantage of the Union delays to bolster his defenses. When Hancock departed Totopotomoy Creek, Lee was free to shift Breckinridge's division to his far right flank. He 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."
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. 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...

. However, nearby Confederate artillery turned the entrenchments 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. 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. 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. 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." Estimates of casualties that morning are from 3,000 to 7,000 on the Union side, no more than 1,500 on the Confederate.
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. 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.

Crossing the James (June 12–18)



Grant realized he was again in a stalemate with Lee and additional assaults at Cold Harbor 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 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. He planned to cross to the south bank of the river, bypassing Richmond, and isolate the capital by seizing the railroad junction of Petersburg to the south. 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...

.

On June 9, Meade ordered the construction of a new line of entrenchments in the army's rear, extending northward from Elder Swamp to Allen's Mill Pond. On June 11, the construction was complete and he issued orders for a movement to the James River, beginning after dark on June 12. (Also on June 11, Lee ordered Early's Second Corps to depart for Charlottesville, likewise on June 12.) As night fell on June 12, Hancock's II Corps and Wright's VI Corps took up positions on the new entrenchment line. Warren's V Corps cleared the roads heading south, advancing over Long Bridge and White Oak Swamp Bridge, taking up a blocking position just east of Riddell's Shop, facing toward Richmond while Burnside's IX Corps and Smith's XVIII Corps withdrew from the original line of entrenchments. The cavalry brigade of Col. George H. Chapman, part of Brig. Gen. 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:...

's division, which did not accompany Sheridan on his raid, screened the roads heading toward Richmond. Burnside headed south, followed by Wright and Hancock. Smith's XVIII Corps marched to White House, where on the morning of June 13 they embarked on steamers for Bermuda Hundred. They arrived at Point of Rocks on the Appomattox River
Appomattox River
The Appomattox River is a tributary of the James River, approximately long, in central and eastern Virginia in the United States, named for the Appomattocs Indian tribe who lived along its lower banks in the 17th century...

 the night of June 14.

While Lee remained unaware of Grant's intentions, Union army engineers constructed the longest pontoon bridge of the war. It stretched 2200 feet (670.6 m) over deep water, crossing the James from Windmill (Weyanoke) Point to Fort Powhatan. Work started at 4 p.m. on June 15 and was completed seven hours later. Although most of Grant's infantry crossed the river by boats, the IX Corps, one division of VI Corps, the animals and supply wagons, and a part of the artillery crossed on the bridge on June 15 and 16. By the morning of June 17, more than 100,000 men, 5,000 wagons and ambulances, 56,000 horses and mules, and 2,800 head of cattle had crossed the river without alerting the Confederates. Before the entire army had crossed, Smith's XVIII Corps, followed by Hancock's II Corps, became engaged in the next campaign, Richmond–Petersburg (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...

), with attacks on Petersburg on June 15.

Trevilian Station (June 11–12)


Sheridan and two cavalry divisions left on June 7 for their raid against the Virginia Central Railroad and to link up with Hunter. In the first two days, plagued by heat and humidity, and by irregular mounted raiding parties, the Federal column advanced only about 40 miles. Scouts passed word of Sheridan's movements to 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...

, the senior Confederate cavalry commander, on the morning of June 8. He correctly guessed that the Union targets were the railroad junctions at Gordonsville and Charlottesville, and knew that he would have to move quickly to block the threat. His division and the division of 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:...

 began to move in pursuit early on June 9. Although the Federals had a two-day head start, the Confederates had the advantage of a shorter route (about 45 miles versus 65) and terrain that was more familiar to them. By the evening of June 10, both forces had converged around Trevilian Station. The Federals had crossed over the North Anna River at Carpenters Ford and camped at locations around Clayton's Store.

At dawn on June 11, Hampton devised a plan in which he would split his divisions across the two roads leading to Clayton's Store and converge on the enemy at that crossroads, pushing Sheridan back to the North Anna River. Hampton took two of his brigades with him from Trevilian with his third remaining on his left to prevent flanking. The other division, under Fitzhugh Lee, was ordered to advance from Louisa Court House, making up the right flank. While the Confederates began their advance, Sheridan started his. Two brigades of Brig. Gen. Alfred T. A. Torbert's division moved down the road to Trevilian Station while a third advanced toward Louisa Court House. The first contact occurred on the Trevilian Road as the South Carolinians of Brig. Gen. Matthew C. Butler's brigade clashed with 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:...

's skirmish line. Hampton dismounted his men and pushed the skirmishers back into the thick woods, expecting Fitzhugh Lee to arrive on his right at any minute. However, Hampton was severely outnumbered and soon he was forced back. Eventually Col. Gilbert J. Wright's Confederate brigade joined in the close-quarter fighting in the thick brush, but after several hours they also were pushed back within sight of Trevilian Station.
After a brief clash on the Confederate right flank between Fitzhugh Lee and the advancing brigade of Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, Custer led his brigade on a road southwest to Trevilian Station. He found the station totally unguarded, occupied only by Hampton's trains—supply wagons, caissons containing ammunition and food, and hundreds of horses. The 5th Michigan Cavalry captured the lot, but left Custer cut off from Sheridan, and in their pursuit of the fleeing wagons, lost a number of their own men and much of their bounty. One of Wright's regiments, the 7th Georgia, got between Custer's force and Trevilian Station. Custer ordered the 7th Michigan to charge, driving the Georgians back. Hampton now learned of the threat in his rear area and sent in three brigades. Suddenly Custer was virtually surrounded, his command in an ever shrinking circle, as every side was charged and hit with shells. Sheridan heard the firing from Custer's direction and realized he needed help. He charged with two brigades, pushing Hampton's men back all the way to the station, while a third brigade swung into Fitzhugh Lee's exposed right flank, thus pushing him back. Hampton fell back to the west, Lee to the east, and the battle ended for the day with the Federals in possession of Trevilian Station.

That night, Fitzhugh Lee maneuvered south to link up with Hampton to the west of Trevilian Station. Sheridan learned that General Hunter was not headed for Charlottesville as originally planned, but to 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...

. He also received intelligence that Breckinridge's infantry had been sighted near Waynesboro
Waynesboro, Virginia
Waynesboro, deriving its name from General Anthony Wayne, is an independent city surrounded by Augusta County in the U.S. state of Virginia. The population was 21,006 in 2010.....

, effectively blocking any chance for further advance, so he decided to abandon his raid and return to the main army at Cold Harbor.

On July 12, the Union cavalry destroyed Trevilian Station, several railcars, and about a mile of track on either side of the station. Concerned about the Confederates hovering near his flank, at about 3 p.m. Sheridan sent Torbert's division on a reconnaissance west on the Gordonsville and Charlottesville roads. They found Hampton's entire force in an L-shaped line behind some log breastworks two miles northwest of Trevilian. The Union cavalrymen launched seven assaults against the apex and shorter leg of the "L", but were repulsed with heavy losses. Two brigades of Fitzhugh Lee's division swung around to hit the Union right flank with a strong counterattack. The battle ended about 10 p.m. and the Union withdrew late in the night. It had been the bloodiest and largest all-cavalry engagement of the war. Sheridan, burdened with many wounded men, about 500 prisoners, and a shortage of ammunition, decided to withdraw. He planned a leisurely march back to Cold Harbor, knowing that Hampton would be obliged to follow and would be kept occupied for days, unavailable in that time to Robert E. Lee.

Saint Mary's Church (June 24)


Following the Battle of Trevilian Station, Sheridan's cavalry began to return on June 13 from their unsuccessful raid. They crossed the North Anna at Carpenter's Ford and then headed on the Catharpin Road in the direction of Spotsylvania Court House. On June 16 the column passed through Bowling Green
Bowling Green, Virginia
Bowling Green is an incorporated town in Caroline County, Virginia, United States. The population was 936 at the 2000 census.The county seat of Caroline County since 1803, Bowling Green is best known as the "cradle of American horse racing", the home of the second oldest Masonic Lodge, and the...

 and, traveling along the north bank of the Mattaponi River
Mattaponi River
The Mattaponi River is a tributary of the York River estuary in eastern Virginia in the United States.It rises as four streams in Spotsylvania County, each of which is given a shorter piece of the Mattaponi's name:...

, arrived at King and Queen Court House
King and Queen Court House, Virginia
King and Queen Court House is a census-designated place in and the county seat of King and Queen County, Virginia, United States. The population as of the 2010 Census was 85. The community runs along State Route 14, near the Mattaponi River...

 on June 18. Hampton's Confederate cavalry left Trevilian Station and followed Sheridan on roughly parallel roads to the south.

While Sheridan's men were off on their raid, Grant's army had begun moving from Cold Harbor to cross the James River. In conjunction with this move, Grant ordered that his principal supply base be moved from White House on 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 City Point
City Point, Virginia
City Point was a town in Prince George County, Virginia that was annexed by the independent city of Hopewell in 1923. It served as headquarters of the Union Army during the Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War.- History :...

 on the James. Sheridan learned that the White House depot had not yet been broken up, so he sent his wounded, prisoners, and African-Americans who had been following his column, to White House under escort on June 19, and then marched back to Dunkirk, where he could cross the Mattaponi.

On June 20, Fitz Lee attempted to attack the Union supply depot at White House, but Sheridan's arrival relieved the garrison there. On June 21, Sheridan crossed over the Pamunkey River, leading 900 wagons toward the James River. On June 24, Torbert's division escorted the wagons as Gregg's division followed a parallel route, protecting the right flank. At about 8 a.m., Gregg's division pushed back Confederate pickets to the north and entrenched to the west of Samaria Church (identified in Federal reports as St. Mary's Church). From 3 to 4 p.m., Hampton's five brigades attacked Gregg's two. The pressure was too great on the Union cavalrymen and they began to withdraw down the road to Charles City Court House.

Gregg's division escaped relatively intact and the supply wagons were unmolested. Having been blocked by Hampton's cavalry, Sheridan withdrew on June 25 and moved through Charles City Court House to Douthat's Landing, where the trains crossed the James on flatboats. His cavalry followed on June 27 and 28. The Confederate cavalry attempted to position themselves for another attack, but the Union force was too strong and the Southern horsemen were too worn out. Hampton received orders from Robert E. Lee to continue quickly to Petersburg to deal with the Wilson-Kautz Raid
Wilson-Kautz Raid
The Wilson-Kautz Raid was a cavalry operation in south central Virginia in late June 1864, during the American Civil War. Occurring early in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the raid was conducted by Union cavalry under Brigadier Generals James Wilson and August Kautz, who were ordered to cut...

 against railroads south of the city. His men crossed the James on a pontoon bridge at Chaffin's Bluff
Chaffin's Bluff
Chaffin's Bluff is located in Henrico County, Virginia, United States, along the James River. Chaffin's Bluff on the north side of the river opposite Drewry's Bluff, long-considered a major defense point of the river below Richmond...

, also on June 27 and 28.

Sheridan's raid to Trevilian Station and back to the Army of the Potomac achieved mixed results. He successfully diverted Confederate attention from Grant's crossing of the James, but was unsuccessful in his objective of cutting the Virginia Central Railroad, a critical supply line to the Confederate capital and Lee's army. He also suffered relatively heavy casualties—particularly in his officer corps—and lost a large number of his horses to battle and heat exhaustion. And yet Sheridan claimed his raid was an undeniable victory. In his 1866 official report on operations he wrote, "The result was constant success and the almost total annihilation of the rebel cavalry. We marched when and where we pleased; were always the attacking party, and always successful."

The results of Hampton's cavalry activities against Sheridan were also mixed, but are usually seen in a more positive light than Sheridan's. He had succeeded in protecting the railroads and, indirectly, Richmond. He achieved tactical victories on the second day of Trevilian Station and against Gregg at Samaria Church, but failed to destroy the Union cavalry or its trains. in August, he was named commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, filling the position that had remained open since the death of 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...

.

Aftermath


After Lee learned that Grant had crossed the James, his worst fear was about to be realized—that he would be forced into a siege of the capital city. Petersburg, a prosperous city of 18,000, was a supply center for Richmond, given its strategic location just south of the capital, its site on the Appomattox River
Appomattox River
The Appomattox River is a tributary of the James River, approximately long, in central and eastern Virginia in the United States, named for the Appomattocs Indian tribe who lived along its lower banks in the 17th century...

 that provided navigable access to the James River, and its role as a major crossroads and junction for five railroads. Since Petersburg was the main supply base and rail depot for the entire region, including Richmond, the taking of Petersburg by Union forces would make it impossible for Lee to continue defending the Confederate capital. This represented a change of strategy from that of Grant's Overland Campaign, in which confronting and defeating Lee's army in the open was the primary goal. Now, Grant selected a geographic and political target and knew that his superior resources could besiege Lee there, pin him down, and either starve him into submission or lure him out for a decisive battle. Lee at first believed that Grant's main target was Richmond and devoted only minimal troops under Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to the defense of Petersburg as 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...

 began.

The Overland Campaign was a thrust necessary for the Union to win the war, and although Grant suffered a number of tactical defeats (most notably Cold Harbor), the campaign was a strategic success for the Union. By engaging Lee's forces and not permitting them to escape, Grant forced Lee into an untenable position. But this came at a high cost. The campaign was the bloodiest in American history: approximately 55,000 casualties on the Union side (of which 7,600 were killed), 32,600 (4,200 killed) on the Confederate. Lee's losses, although lower in absolute numbers, were higher in percentage (over 50%) than Grant's (about 45%).

Estimates vary as to the casualties for the entire campaign. The following table summarizes estimates from a variety of popular sources:
Casualty Estimates for the Overland Campaign
Source Union Confederate Total
Casualties
Killed Wounded Captured/
Missing
Total Killed Wounded Captured/
Missing
Total
National Park Service       38,691       31,448 70,139
Bonekemper, Victor, Not a Butcher 7,621 38,339 8,966 54,926 4,206 18,564 9,861 32,631 87,557
Esposito, West Point Atlas       55,000       20–40,000 75–95,000
McPherson, Battle Cry       65,000       35,000 100,000
Rhea, In the Footsteps of Grant and Lee       55,000       33,000 88,000
Smith, Grant       almost
65,000
      35,000 almost
100,000
U.S. War Dept., Official Records 6,586 26,047 6,626 39,259          

The massive casualties sustained in the campaign were damaging to the Northern war effort. The price of gold almost doubled and Abraham Lincoln's prospects for reelection were put into jeopardy. It was only the later successes at Mobile Bay
Battle of Mobile Bay
The Battle of Mobile Bay of August 5, 1864, was an engagement of the American Civil War in which a Federal fleet commanded by Rear Adm. David G. Farragut, assisted by a contingent of soldiers, attacked a smaller Confederate fleet led by Adm...

, the Shenandoah Valley
Valley Campaigns of 1864
The Valley Campaigns of 1864 were American Civil War operations and battles that took place in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia from May to October 1864. Military historians divide this period into three separate campaigns, but it is useful to consider the three together and how they...

, and Sherman's capture 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...

, that turned Northern morale and the political situation around. Grant's reputation also suffered. The knowledge that he could more easily afford to replace his losses of men and equipment than Lee may have influenced Grant's strategy. However, historians do not agree that Grant deliberately engaged in numerous attacks merely to defeat Lee solely through attrition, without regard for the losses to his army, needlessly throwing lives away in fruitless frontal assaults to bludgeon Lee. The overall strategy of the Overland Campaign depended on using Grant's numerical superiority to allow progressive shifts to the left by "spare" Union corps while Confederate forces were relatively pinned in their positions by the remaining Union forces. Such a strategy could not succeed without the continuing threat of defeat by direct assault in each of the positions assumed by Lee's army. The strategy failed in that Lee, possessing shorter lines of march (being nearer to Richmond, which was also his base), was able to prevent Grant's forces getting between Lee and Richmond, but was effective in allowing Grant to draw progressively closer to Richmond up to the battle at Cold Harbor. There, with the barrier of the James River and estuary to his left, Grant did not have the room necessary to continue such movements. He had to choose one among three possibilities: attack, shift to the right and thus back toward Washington, or cross the James to get at Lee's supply lines. He attempted the first, then did the third, as the second was unacceptable.

Further reading

  • Alexander, Edward P.
    Edward Porter Alexander
    Edward Porter Alexander was an engineer, an officer in the U.S. Army, a Confederate general in the American Civil War, and later a railroad executive, planter, and author....

     Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander. Edited by Gary W. Gallagher. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8078-4722-4.
  • Atkinson, Charles Francis. Grant's Campaigns of 1864 and 1865: The Wilderness and Cold Harbor (May 3 – June 3, 1864). The Pall Mall military series. London: H. Rees, 1908. .
  • Bearss, Edwin C.
    Ed Bearss
    Edwin Cole Bearss , a United States Marine Corps veteran of World War II, is a military historian and author known for his work on the American Civil War and World War II eras and is a popular tour guide of historic battlefields...

     Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2006. ISBN 0-7922-7568-3.
  • Carmichael, Peter S., ed. Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8071-2929-1.
  • Catton, Bruce
    Bruce Catton
    Charles Bruce Catton was an American historian and journalist, best known for his books on the American Civil War. Known as a narrative historian, Catton specialized in popular histories that emphasized colorful characters and historical vignettes, in addition to the basic facts, dates, and analyses...

    . Grant Takes Command. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1968. ISBN 0-316-13210-1.
  • Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1953. ISBN 0-385-04451-8.
  • Frassanito, William A. Grant and Lee: The Virginia Campaigns 1864–1865. New York: Scribner, 1983. ISBN 0-684-17873-7.
  • Fuller, Maj. Gen. J. F. C. The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant. New York: Da Capo Press, 1929. ISBN 0-306-80450-6.
  • Gallagher, Gary W., ed. The Wilderness Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8078-2334-1.
  • Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse. New York: Free Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-684-82787-2.
  • Grant, Ulysses S.
    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...

     Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. 2 vols. Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885–86. ISBN 0-914427-67-9.
  • Humphreys, Andrew A.
    Andrew A. Humphreys
    Andrew Atkinson Humphreys , was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, and a Union General in the American Civil War. He served in senior positions in the Army of the Potomac, including division command, chief of staff, and corps command, and was Chief Engineer of the U.S...

     The Virginia Campaign of '64 and '65: The Army of The Potomac and the Army of The James. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1883. .
  • Lyman, Theodore. With Grant and Meade: From the Wilderness to Appomattox. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8032-7935-3.
  • Matter, William D. If It Takes All Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988. ISBN 978-0-8078-1781-0.
  • Porter, Horace
    Horace Porter
    Horace Porter, was an American soldier and diplomat who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War....

    . Campaigning with Grant. New York: Century Co., 1897. .
  • Power, J. Tracy. Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8078-2392-9.
  • Wert, Jeffry D.
    Jeffry D. Wert
    Jeffry D. Wert is an American historian and author specializing in the American Civil War. He has written several books on the subject, which have been published in multiple languages and countries.-Bibliography:...

    The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-2506-6.

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