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The American Civil War (1860-1865) - The Latin Library

The American Civil War (1860-1865) 1860 1861 1862 1863 1864 1865

The economy may suffer devastating impacts during and after a time of war
- Battle of Cold Harbor. The Battle of Cold Harbor, the final battle of Union Lieut. Gen. 's 1864 Overland Campaign during the American Civil War, today lives in infamy as one of history's most lopsided battles. Grant, the losing general, described it as the "one attack I always regretted ordering." The battle was fought in central Virginia over the same ground as the Battle of Gaines' Mill during the Seven Days Battles of 1862. In fact, some accounts refer to the 1862 battle as the First Battle of Cold Harbor, and the 1864 battle as the Second Battle of Cold Harbor. Soldiers were disturbed to discover skeletal remains from the first battle as they entrenched. Despite the name, Cold Harbor was not a port city. It was named for a hotel located in the area which provided shelter (harbor), but not hot meals. The Battle: The battle began on May 31, 1864, when Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. occupied the crucial crossroads of Old Cold Harbor, 10 miles (16 km) from the Confederate capital of Richmond. By outflanking 's army three separate times, including twice after battles that were actually Confederate tactical victories, they stood at the gates of Richmond. Grant hoped that one more attack might finally break the outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Lee. Over the next two days, the armies of Lee and Grant, having disengaged from a standoff at the North Anna River 10 miles (16 km) to the north, took up new positions around Cold Harbor. Grant, having received heavy reinforcement, brought 105,000 men (the bulk of the Army of the Potomac) onto the field. Lee had also managed to replace many of his 20,000 casualties to that point in the campaign, and his army numbered 59,000. But the disparity in numbers was no longer what it had been—Grant's reinforcements were often raw recruits and heavy artillery troops (pulled from the defenses of Washington, D.C.) unfamiliar with infantry tactics, while most of Lee's had been veterans moved from inactive fronts, and they were strongly entrenched in fortifications. Grant, unaware of the strength of the Confederate earthworks that confronted his army, directed to mount an assault. Meade and his corps commanders failed to conduct any meaningful reconnaissance of the enemy position. Many of the soldiers were apprehensive about this assault and there are anecdotes that some pinned notes inside their uniforms, meant to identify their bodies after their presumed deaths. The Assault: On the morning of June 3, Meade's assault on the Confederate right flank was conducted by three corps, totaling 31,000 men: the II Corps (), VI Corps (), and XVIII Corps ( , part of 's then-separate Army of the James). The defenders, consisting mostly of men from the Confederate First and Third Corps, who fought from behind earthworks, slaughtered them as soon as they moved forward. One Confederate soldier was quoted after the battle as saying it was "simply murder". The Confederate musket and artillery fire along the XVIII Corps front was so severe that its men were actually pinned to the ground for protection, unable even to retire to their own lines. Union forces lost 7,000 men in about 90 minutes, the Confederates fewer than 1,500. Grant called off the attacks at midday after visiting his corps commanders. Meade inexplicably bragged to his wife the next day that he was in command for the assault. Before the assault, the Union soldiers had been in no doubt as to what they were up against. Many were seen writing their names on papers that they pinned inside their uniforms, so their bodies could be identified. One blood-spattered diary from a Union soldier found after the battle included a final entry: "June 3, 1864. Cold Harbor. I was killed." The next day, Grant launched no more attacks on the Confederate defenses. He later said 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 low intensity trench warfare. Grant was criticized in the Northern press for refusing to negotiate an immediate temporary truce with Lee for the purpose of gathering bodies and treating the wounded between the lines. On June 12, the Army of the Potomac finally disengaged to march southeast to cross the James River and attack Petersburg, a crucial rail junction south of Richmond. Results and Aftermath: The Battle of Cold Harbor was the final victory won by Lee's army (part of his forces won the Battle of the Crater the following month, during the Siege of Petersburg, but this did not represent a general engagement between the armies), and its most decisive in terms of casualties. The Union army, in bravely attempting the futile assault, lost 10Ð13,000 men over twelve days. The battle brought the toll in Union casualties since the beginning of May to a total of more than 52,000, compared to 33,000 for Lee. Although the cost was horrible, Grant's larger army finished the campaign with lower relative casualties than Lee. Some authors (Catton, Esposito, Foote, McPherson, Smith) estimate the casualties for the major assault on June 3 and all agree on approximately 7,000 total Union casualties, 1,500 Confederate. The battle caused a rise in anti-war sentiment in the Northern States. Grant became known as the "fumbling butcher" for his poor decisions. It also lowered the morale of his remaining troops. But the campaign had served Grant's purpose—as foolish as his attack on Cold Harbor was, Lee was trapped. He beat Grant to Petersburg, barely, but spent the remainder of the war (save its final week) defending Richmond behind a fortified trench line: see Siege of Petersburg. The end of the Confederacy was just a matter of time.

The American Civil War (1860-1865)

- Battle of North Anna. The Battle of North Anna was fought May 23-26, 1864, as part of Union General 's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. 's Army of Northern Virginia. It was fought in central Virginia as small actions in a number of locales, rather than a general engagement between the armies, so individual actions are sometimes named directly: Telegraph Road Bridge and Jericho Mill (for actions on May 23); Ox Ford, Quarles Mill, and Hanover Junction (May 24). After the fighting at Spotsylvania Court House, on the night of May 20, 1864, Grant sent the II Corps under Maj. Gen. from Spotsylvania to Milford Station, where he was to take a position on the west bank of the Mattaponi River and attack the Confederates wherever he encountered them. Grant was hoping that Lee would take the bait of an isolated Union corps and attack it, drawing the Confederates out into the open, where they could be attacked. Union cavalry forces under Brig. Gen. Alfred Torbert drove out a small force of Confederate infantry at Milford Station. Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. warned General Lee of this movement. Lee realized that it was merely the beginning of another Union attempt to turn his right flank and get between his army and Richmond. He began to shift his troops to the south bank of the Po River, but when the remaining Union forces— V Corps under , IX Corps under (who was now assigned to the Army of the Potomac under the direct command of ), and VI Corps under —withdrew from Spotsylvania on May 21, Lee ordered a retreat south to the North Anna River. Grant's original plan to trap Lee was foiled, primarily because Grant grew nervous about leaving Hancock in an isolated position and he moved the remainder of the Army of the Potomac to the southeast to join Hancock before Lee could strike. Lee's army reached the North Anna on May 22. For the first time in the campaign, he received sizable reinforcements, including 's division from the James River defense against the ineffective and 's command from the Shenandoah Valley, altogether about 9,000 men. While this was a positive development, it was counterbalanced by bad news for the Army of Northern Virginia. Many of the senior leaders of the army were out of commission: , who had become sick with an unidentified illness at the Wilderness returned to duty, but was still sick; was exhausted from his ordeal at Spotsylvania; and Lee himself suddenly suffered a debilitating attack of diarrhea. The only corps commander who was ready for duty was , but he was recently promoted and inexperienced in corps-level command. The Confederate position was skillfully laid out behind (south of) the steep bank of the North Anna and well fortified with earthworks. It was a five-mile line that formed an inverted "V" shape, sometimes called a "hog snout line", with its apex on the river at Ox Ford, the only defensible river crossing in the area. On the western line of the V, reaching southwest to New Market, was the corps of A.P. Hill; on the east were Anderson and Ewell, the latter as far to the southeast as Hanover Junction. The Army of the Potomac arrived at the North Anna on May 23. Warren began crossing at the undefended Jericho Mill, northwest of Ox Ford, but at 6 p.m., A.P. Hill attacked in an attempt to drive the V Corps into the river. His attack was clumsy and unsuccessful and Warren was able to cross the river easily, entrenching directly facing Hill's line. Lee was furious with Hill for his piecemeal attacks; if Hill had attacked with his entire corps at the river crossing, Warren might have been defeated. Lee scolded him: "Why did you not do as [Stonewall] Jackson would have done, thrown your whole force upon those people and driven them back?" On May 24, Hancock's II Corps attacked at Chesterfield Bridge, east of Ox Ford, crossed the river, and positioned his corps facing Anderson and Ewell. Burnside's IX Corps was in the center. His IX Corps attempted to cross at Quarles Mill, between Ox Ford and Jericho Mill, but resistance was stiff and Burnside abandoned the effort, remaining north of the river, facing the apex of the V. For the first time, Grant realized that Lee had outmaneuvered him. His army had been moved forward so quickly that it had broken into three widely separated parts, surrounding the V. A unit moving from one flank to reinforce the other would have to cross the North Anna River twice. Lee could attack in either direction and overwhelm either Hancock or Warren, with the other unable to support him in a timely manner. Then, the Confederates could swing back on internal lines and attack the other side. The most likely candidate for an attack was Hancock's II Corps to the east. However, Lee's illness meant that he was on his back in his tent for much of this time and, given his lack of capable subordinates, was unable to arrange an aggressive attack against either Union corps. Grant briefly probed the Confederate line and contemplated a double envelopment, but realized that the defense was too strong. He decided not to attack and there was only light skirmishing on May 25-26. Grant ordered 's cavalry division to cross the river and move west, attempting to deceive Lee into thinking that the Union army intended to envelop the Confederate left flank. The cavalry destroyed stretches of the Virginia Central Railroad during this movement, but had no significant enemy contact. After dark on May 26, Grant withdrew to move 20 miles southeast to the important crossroads of Cold Harbor. He was encouraged by his progress against Lee and wrote to his chief of staff, , in Washington: "Lee's army is really whipped. The prisoners we now take show it, and the actions of his Army show it unmistakably. A battle with them outside of entrenchments cannot be had. I may be mistaken but I feel that our success over Lee's army is already insured." Grant's optimism and his reluctance to assault strong defensive lines would be severely tested in the upcoming Battle of Cold Harbor. In the meantime, North Anna had proved to be a relatively minor affair when compared to other Civil War battles. Union casualties for the four days were 186 killed, 792 wounded, 165 missing or captured, for a total of 1,143. Confederate casualties were not recorded, but due to the bloody fighting between A.P. Hill and Warren, it is probable they suffered around 2,000 casualties.


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- Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, sometimes simply referred to as the Battle of Spotsylvania, was the second battle (following the Wilderness on May 5-7) in Lieut. Gen. 's 1864 Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. It was fought in the Rapidan-Rappahannock river area of central Virginia, a region where more than 100,000 men on both sides fell between 1862 and 1864. The battle was fought from May 8-21, 1864, along a trench line some four miles long, with the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. making its second attempt to halt the spring offensive of the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. . Taking place less than a week after the bloody, inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness, it pitted 60,000 Confederate soldiers against a Union army numbering 120,000. After Lee checked the Union advance in the Wilderness, Grant decided to take advantage of the position he held, which allowed him to slip his army around Lee's right flank and continue to move south toward the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. He already had troops on the move by the night of May 7, just one day after the Wilderness fighting ended, and on May 8, he sent Maj. Gen. and his V Corps to take Spotsylvania, 10 miles to the southeast. Lee anticipated Grant's move and sent forces to intercept him: cavalry under Maj. Gen. and the First Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. because its usual leader, Lieut. Gen. had been wounded in the Wilderness. The Confederates won the race to Spotsylvania, and on May 9, each army began to take up new positions north of the small town. As Union forces probed Confederate skirmish lines on May 9 to determine the placement of defending forces, Union VI Corps commander Maj. Gen. was killed by a sharpshooter; he was succeeded by Maj. Gen. . Lee deployed his men in a trench line stretching more than four miles, with artillery placed that would allow enfilade fire on any attacking force. There was only one major weakness in Lee's line—an exposed salient known as the "Mule Shoe" extending more than a mile in front of the main trench line. Lee recognized this weakness during the fighting of May 10, when twelve regiments under the command of Col. Emory Upton followed up a concentrated, intense artillery attack by slamming into the toe of the Mule Shoe along a narrow front. They actually broke the Confederate line, and the Second Corps had a hard time driving them out. Upton's attack won him a promotion on the spot to brigadier general, and became a staple of military textbooks on how to break an enemy trench line. Similar tactics were used by Germany in its successful March 1918 offensive during World War I. Lee, seeing the danger, began to lay out a new defensive line across the heel of the Mule Shoe that night, but before he could get it finished, Grant sent his entire II Corps of 15,000 men, commanded by Maj. Gen. , to attack the position in the same manner Upton had. This time, the breach in the Confederate line was complete, thanks in large part to an order from Lee that had already pulled much of the Confederate artillery back to the new line. The II Corps took close to 4,000 prisoners and probably would have cut the Army of Northern Virginia in half if the IX Corps (Maj. Gen. , supporting it with an assault on the Confederate right flank, had pushed its attacks home with force. Instead, Lee was able to shift thousands of his men to meet the threat. Due to ineffective leadership displayed by Lieut. Gen. , Lee felt compelled to personally lead Second Corps soldiers in the counterattack. His men realized the danger this would pose and refused to advance until Lee removed himself to a safer position in the rear. The battle in the Mule Shoe lasted for an entire day and night, as the Confederates slowly won back all the ground they had lost, inflicting heavy losses on the II Corps and the reinforcing VI Corps in the process. By 3 a.m. on May 13, just as the Confederates had completed expelling the II Corps from the Mule Shoe, the new line was ready, and Lee had his battered men retire behind it. More than 10,000 men fell in the Mule Shoe, which now passed to the Union forces without a fight. On May 18, Grant sent two of his corps to attack the new line, but they were met with a bloody repulse. That convinced Grant, who had vowed to "fight it out on this line if it takes all summer," that Lee's men could not be dislodged from their Spotsylvania line. Grant, checked by Lee for a second time, responded as he had two weeks earlier. He shifted the weight of his army to the right flank and again moved to the southeast along roads Lee was unable to block. By May 20-21, the two armies were on their way to take positions along the North Anna River, another dozen miles closer to Richmond. Once again, Lee's tactics had inflicted severe casualties on Grant's army. This time, the toll was over 18,000 men, of which close to 3,000 were killed. In two weeks of fighting, Grant had lost 35,000 men, and another 20,000 went home when their enlistments ended. In fact, Grant at one point on the North Anna had fewer than 65,000 effectives. But Lee did not come out of these battles unscathed, either. At Spotsylvania, he lost another 10-13,000 men, and the Confederates had to pull men away from other fronts to reinforce him. Making matters worse, the army was taking heavy losses among its veteran units and its best officers. This may have saved Grant from a disaster on the North Anna, when his decimated army was positioned badly and was ripe to be attacked. Lee never did, because the Army of Northern Virginia was unable to do so. In fact, Lee's army would never regain the initiative it lost in those two weeks of May 1864.

- Battle of the Wilderness. The Battle of the Wilderness was the first battle of Lieut. Gen. 's 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against General and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The battle was fought May 5-7, 1864. The battlefield was the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, an expanse of impenetrable scrub growth and rough terrain that encompassed more than 70 square miles of Spotsylvania County in central Virginia. A number of battles were fought in the vicinity between 1862 and 1864, including the bloody Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. It is often said that the Wilderness and Chancellorsville were fought in the same spot, but the 1864 battle was actually fought a few miles to the west, and only overlapped the old battlefield along the Brock Road on the Union army's left flank. On May 2, 1864, the Army of the Potomac, nominally under the command of Maj. Gen. , but taking orders from Grant, crossed the Rapidan River at three separate points and converged on the Wilderness Tavern, which ironically was the concentration point for the Confederates one year to the day earlier when they launched their devastating attack on the Union right flank at Chancellorsville. But Grant chose to set up his camps to the west of the old battle site before moving southward. Unlike the Union army of a year before, Grant had no desire to fight in the Wilderness. On the other hand, for Lee, who was massively outnumbered as usual (65,000 men to Grant's 123,000), accosting Grant in the Wilderness was imperative for the same reason as a year ago—in a battle contested in the tangled woods, the value of artillery was limited. Lee's artillery possessed fewer guns than Grant's, and those they had were of lower quality. While waiting for the arrival of Lieut. Gen. 's First Corps, which had been posted 25 miles (40 km) to the west to guard the crucial railroad junction of Gordonsville, Lee pushed forward his Second Corps, commanded by Lieut. Gen. , and the Third Corps under the command of Lieut. Gen. , in an effort to engage Grant before he moved south. The Confederates were able to do this, and on May 5, both Ewell, on Lee's left flank, and Hill on the right, clashed with Union soldiers. On the left, Ewell met up with the V Corps under the command of Maj. Gen. , and fought it to a standoff. For much of the day, Ewell's 20,000-man corps actually held a slight numerical advantage on this part of the field. But on the right, Hill was hit hard and driven back by the Union II Corps under Maj. Gen. and a division from the VI Corps. He held his ground, however. On May 6, Hancock, now commanding close to 40,000 men, resumed the attack on Hill's corps, while heavy Union reinforcements on Ewell's front prevented Lee from sending Second Corps men to aid Hill. By late morning, Hancock had driven Hill's corps back more than two miles and inflicted heavy casualties. With the Third Corps in dire straits, Lee began to look desperately for Longstreet, whose arrival had been expected hours before. At around noon, Longstreet and the 20,000-man First Corps arrived at last, and its timing was perfect. Hancock's men were tired and disorganized from six hours of fighting. When Longstreet hurled his forces at the Union attackers, they recoiled and within two hours, the situation was totally reversed. Not only had Longstreet regained all the ground lost, he had advanced one mile beyond that, forcing Hancock to regroup along the Brock Road. At a crucial moment in the fighting, Longstreet attacked through the cut of an unfinished railroad that had divided the Union forces in two, increasing the confusion. However, Longstreet did not have enough men to complete his victory, and the fighting soon petered out near the Brock Road. As the fighting wound down on this part of the battlefield, Longstreet was badly wounded and did not return to the Army of Northern Virginia for several months. (Ironically, Longstreet was the victim of friendly fire, just as fellow general had been nearby a year previously.) The IX Corps (under ) moved against the Confederate center, but was repulsed. Just as this phase of the battle was ending, a division of the Second Corps under Maj. Gen. launched one final assault on the Union right, partially turning the Army of the Potomac's flank and taking close to 1,000 prisoners. But darkness fell before the Confederates had a chance to press their advantage, and with that, the battle came to a close. Union generals and Alexander Hays were killed. Confederate generals John M. Jones, Micah Jenkins, and Leroy A. Stafford were killed. On May 8, Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac to resume its advance, and a few days later, the two armies clashed again 10 miles to the southeast, at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. The battle is usually described as a draw; a better way of describing it would be as a tactical Confederate victory, but a strategic victory for the Union army. At the end of the battle, Grant withdrew his force, which is normally how the loser in a Civil War battle is determined. However, unlike his predecessors since 1861, Grant did not retreat back to the safety of Washington, D.C., but continued in his campaign. Lee inflicted heavy casualties on Grant, but they were a smaller percentage than the casualties his army suffered. And unlike Grant, Lee had very little opportunity to replenish his losses. Understanding this disparity, part of Grant's strategy was to wage a war of attrition. The only way that Lee could escape from the trap that Grant had set was to destroy the Army of the Potomac while he still had sufficient force to do so, and Grant was too skilled to allow that to happen.