Sunday, November 19, 2006
North Anna River and Cold Harbor, VA
Commanders: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of all Federal Armies and Major General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac.
Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.
Prelude: Grant has decided to make another flanking movement in another attempt to get his army around Lee. Each battle and following maneuver resulted in getting the federals closer to the Confederate capital of Richmond, at the same time wearing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia down by attrition. Grant can afford to lose men, with the North’s surplus of manpower at his disposal. He even declared that he would “fight it out on this line if it took all summer.” Even so, as reports of causalities from The Wilderness and Spotsylvania battles reached Northern newspapers there were howls of protest at the butchery that Grant was perceived to be inflicting on his own troops. Grant, on the other hand, knew what it took to bring this to an end.
Lee had no such reserves. Southern manpower was such that boys as young as 15 and man as old as 55 were being drafted into Confederate service. Lee knew that his best chance was to delay Grant and bleed out his army. Problem was that he had less than 50,000 troops to do that with, and little chance of reinforcement. Grant had 110,000 to throw at him with reinforcements coming.
21 May, 1864: Lee learns of Grant’s movement towards the south and orders his army to fall back to the North Anna River. They end up on parallel routes only a few miles apart.
22 May, 1864: The corps of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell arrives at Hanover Junction, south of the North Anna River and begins to dig in. The Confederates manage to entrench just as the Federals arrive.
Lee places Ewell on his right at Hanover Junction, the corps of Lieutenant General Richard Anderson in the center, and the corps of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, who recently returned to duty from illness, on the left.
As the Federals arrive, Major General Winfield Hancock’s II Corps is placed on the left, Major General Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps takes the center, and both Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps and Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps on the right. Wright was named commander of XI Corps following the death of Major General John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania.
23 May 1864: Hancock crosses the North Anna River at the Telegraph Bridge and engages Ewell. On the Federal right, Warren crosses at Jericho Mills and engages Hill. Hill launches a counterattack, which is repulsed. That night Waller crosses in support.
Lee sees an opportunity to split the Federal line, but is taken ill and confined to his tent.
24 May, 1864: Wright and Warren continue their assault on Hill’s line as Burnside crosses Ox Ford to hit the center, while Hancock continued to hit the Confederate right. Lee, despite his illness, places his troops in an inverted V, which splits the Federals in two and preventing one group from supporting the other.
25 May, 1864: Grant realizes that he can not break the Confederate lines, and decides to make yet another flanking maneuver to the south. One stroke of luck for Grant came in the form of Major General Philip Sheridan’s forces. Grant sends Sheridan on a mission to find crossing across the Pamunkey River.
26 May, 1864: Grant orders the Army of the Potomac to pull back across the North Anna and begin marching to the southeast.
27 May, 1864: Sheridan finds a crossing of the Pamunkey River at Hanovertown and promptly occupies the town.
As the Union forces march down the road towards the crossing, they are harassed by Confederate cavalry who were trying to determine the Federal’s movement. Once that was found, word got back to Lee, who orders his army to begin their movement to the southeast.
28 May, 1864: As the Federals reached the Pamunkey and begin to cross, Union cavalry fight a savage engagement at Haw’s Shop. Lee manages to get his troops to the town on New Cold Harbor by marching through the old Mechanicsville and Gaines Mill battlefields.
29 May,1864: Lee manages to entrench his army. He places a division under Major General Jubal Early on the left, anchored near Totopotomoy Creek. Anderson’s corps was placed in the middle between the Old Church Road and New Cold Harbor. Hill was placed on the right between New Colt Harbor and the Chickahominy River.
Union forces begin attacking Confederate positions along the Totopotomoy River. After failing to break through the lines, Grant is forced to move further south in order to outflank Lee.
30 May, 1864: Grant and Meade arrive and begins to place their troops. Hancock’s II Corps in on the left. To the right there was Wright’s VI Corps. A new addition to the Union force was XVIII Corps, under Major General William Smith. Warren’s V Corps and Burnside’s IX Corps anchored the right. Grant orders the Confederate line probed for weaknesses. Grant and his forces are now 10 miles from Richmond, exactly where Major General George McClellan was about two years ago.
An engagement at Bethesda Church, ends in a draw as Union forces drive the Confederate left wing back as their left wing was being driven back.
31 May, 1864: Sheridan’s troops seize the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor. Grant tries to extend his line past Old Cold Harbor but is stopped by Lee.
1 June, 1864: There is fighting along the line, including an attempt by Confederates to take the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor, which is repulsed.
2 June, 1864: The day is hot and humid. Grant decides to launch a frontal assault on the Confederate trenches the next day. Little does he know that Lee had his troops improve their lines with logs to provide overhead cover.
3 June, 1864: 4:30 a.m.: Grant launches an assault with 60,000 men on the Confederate lines. They were met by well placed infantry using interlocking fields of fire. The first 60 minutes became the bloodiest hour of the Civil War, with 7000 killed. Another account told of 20,000 falling within 20 minutes (not all being killed). The Federals managed to place musket fire on the Confederates but not many were getting hit. Grant orders more assaults but despite some of his men reaching the Confederate line, the defenses simply would not break. At noon, Grant calls off the attack. That night, according to one account, he isolated himself in his tent and cried for the losses suffered.
The area between the lines was covered in Federal dead and wounded and the Confederates were not making it easy. Any movement was met with musket fire. Those trapped between also suffered from thirst in the hot and humid weather.
There is a custom that if one side asks for a truce, then he had conceded the battle. Grant could have asked for a truce for the express purpose to evacuating the wounded, but delayed doing so. Finally Grant decided to break with tradition and call for that truce, but not before several hundred more died.
After the wounded were cleared, the two sides would snipe at each other for the next nine days.
Knowing full well that the Confederate line could not be broken without even more massive losses, Grant orders one last flanking maneuver, this time toward the rail junction of Petersburg.
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