Cold Harbor Campaign
May 26 to June 3, 1864
After escaping Lee's trap at North Anna, Grant and Meade continued the Union advance south on May 26th. After a cavalry fight at Haw's Shop, Lee took up a formidable position behind Totopotomoy Creek which Grant wisely bypassed. On May 30th, as Grant began moving south across the Totopotomoy, Lee sent Early's Second Corps to attack the southernmost Union corps at Bethesda Church. Meanwhile, the Union cavalry force supposedly covering that flank was instead routing Confederate cavalry in a clash at Matadequin Creek.
During the night and morning of May 30th and 31st, Union cavalry advanced to the important intersection at Cold Harbor but were ordered to withdraw. Later in the day, the Union cavalry recaptured the intersection.
The next day, June 1st, Union cavalry defended their position from attacking Confederate infantry at Beulah Church. Late in the day the Union VI and XVIII Corps arrived and attacked, temporarily breaking the Confederate line. Grant planned to continue the attack the next day, but additional troops arrived too late for action.
So early on the morning of June 3rd, in what would rightly or wrongly become infamous, three of Grant's five corps attacked the Confederate position with no significant gains. Skirmishing continued for days afterward. Grant sent Sheridan's cavalry west to connect with Hunter's advance from the Valley to Lynchburg, but they were defeated at Trevilian Station. Lee sent Early's Second Corps and Breckinridge's division to Lynchburg to stop Hunter and protect his western flank.
Grant then ordered his army across the James River to take the vital city of Petersburg. There, opportunities to end the war quickly were lost in the assault on Petersburg.
Acknowledgements and Sources:
Frank Eggen, a former President of the Roanoke Civil War Roundtable, and now proud owner of a section of Cold Harbor earthworks, provided invaluable help on this section of the webpage. He guided me to the fascinating yet less visited areas of the campaign and is intent to learn all he can about the campaign.
The campaign's undisputed holy book is Gordon Rhea's "Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864", which seemingly owes much to Bobby Krick of the Richmond National Park. Serious study of area entrenchments requires the Micheler map which is sold at the Tredegar visitors center. Any errors here are, of course, my own.
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