Battle of Cold Harbor
Return to www.BattlefieldPortraits.com


Location: Cold Harbor, VA
Dates: May 31, 1864 - June 12, 1864
Union Commander:  Ulysses S. Grant, Lieutenant General
Confederate Commander:  Robert E. Lee, General

Battle Summary:
Earlier in May, Grant stated to the administration, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."  Obviously aware of the mood of the country during McClellan's days leading the Potomac, Grant was determined to get ahead of Lee, during the Overland Campaign of 1864.

After tangling with Lee in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania Court House, Grant met Lee at the North Anna River.  Grant recognized this as a dangerous place for his army and performed a daring retreat back across the North Anna River and then moved his army south, across the Pamunkey River.  After a serious cavalry engagement at Haw's Shop, Grant finds Lee at a dusty crossroads village called Cold Harbor.  In the time it took Grant to reach Cold Harbor, Lee, on a shorter line from the North Anna, had time to build earth works and trenches which he felt were critical with his smaller army, now backed up against Richmond.  Grant believed the field better for a battle and moved his army into position.

Believing he could punch through Lee's army, deliver a lethal blow, and move into Richmond, Grant attacked Lee on June 1.  Throwing two corps (Horatio Wright's VI Corps and William F (Baldy) Smith's XVIII Corps) into Lee's entrenched lines, Grant had some success late in the afternoon.

With both armies up, on June 2, the line of battle was seven miles long.    Both armies entrenched in their positions, creating the most elaborate line of trenches used thus far in the war.

In position, on the morning of June 3, Grant had three corps (Winfield Hancock's II Corps, "Baldy" Smith's XVIII Corps and Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps) attack the Army of Northern Virginia.  The Union assault was repulsed along the entire line, causing huge casualty lists.  In his memoirs, Grant stated that the second assault at Cold Harbor was the one decision he made, that he later regretted.

The Army of the Potomac stayed in position for another week, before Grant decided he needed to continue his push around Lee's right flank.  Once again, Grant was able to pull out of his works and leave, unnoticed by Lee

Campaign: Overland

Outcome: Confederate Victory

Troop Strengths
Union: 117,000
Confederate: 60,000

Casualties (estimated):
Union: 13,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 5,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Battle Aftermath:
Cold Harbor would mark the end of the Overland Campaign.  Grant would relocate his army south of the James River and settle in for a siege of Petersburg.  While the siege of Petersburg took place over 10 months, Lee knew his army, and the Confederacy, could not survive a siege south of the James.  While the Union had a huge amount of troops they could feed into the Army of the Potomac, Lee could not replace lost troops.   
 Close Window