Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy's Fate
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In the spring of 1864, Virginia remained unbroken, its armies having repelled Northern armies for more than two years. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had defeated the campaigns of four Union generals, and Lee's veterans were confident they could crush the Union offensive this spring, too. But their adversary in 1864 was a different kind of Union commander—Ulysses S. Grant. The new Union general-in-chief had never lost a major battle while leading armies in the West. A quiet, rumpled man of simple tastes and a bulldog's determination, Grant would lead the Army of the Potomac in its quest to destroy Lee's army.
During six weeks in May and June 1864, Grant's army campaigned as no Union army ever had. During nearly continual combat operations, the Army of the Potomac battered its way through Virginia, skirting Richmond and crossing the James River on one of the longest pontoon bridges ever built. No campaign in North American history was as bloody as the Overland Campaign. When it ended outside Petersburg, more than 100,000 men had been killed, wounded, or captured on battlefields in the Wilderness, near Spotsylvania Court House, and at Cold Harbor. Although Grant's casualties were nearly twice Lee's, the Union could replace its losses. The Confederacy could not.
Lee's army continued to fight brilliant defensive battles, but it never mounted another major offensive. Grant's spring 1864 campaign had tipped the scales permanently in the Union's favor. The war's denouement came less than a year later with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Next, Horatio Wright’s VI Corps was ordered to attack the same Rebel column, but the Confederates were gone before Wright could act. “Grant was bitterly disappointed at the double mishap,” wrote Adam Badeau, his military secretary. The Army of the Potomac had again displayed its inability to move quickly.54 Both VI and XVIII Corps now occupied the place where Sheridan’s cavalrymen had repelled two attacks by the Confederate First Corps the previous day. Meade proposed that the infantry corps
animals. They broiled in the June heat while crouched in a welter of stitched-together trenches and bomb shelters that reminded Surgeon George T. Stevens of VI Corps “of the colonies of prairie dogs with their burrows and mounds.” For many, the misery experienced during the days following Cold Harbor exceeded anything they had previously endured. “The heat is intolerable, and the roads are covered with dust six or eight inches deep, which every gust of wind sweeps up, covering everything with a
100, 102, 105, 109, 112 Field hospitals, 125–126, 177 Fieldworks at Cold Harbor, 286 V Corps. See also specific commanding officers at Cold Harbor, 291, 299, 306 march south from North Anna, 267, 279 march to James River, 325 march to Spotsylvania, 131, 133, 136–138, 142 at North Anna, 257 at Petersburg, 336, 340 at Spotsylvania, 162, 167–169, 177, 193–194, 207, 210, 217, 227–229, 236 at the Wilderness, 43–44, 51, 54, 63–64, 66, 74, 76, 78, 84–86, 94, 106, 115, 124 Finnegan, Joseph
shielded First Corps, and Rosser’s Laurel Brigade galloped to Spotsylvania Court House. As the Union columns inched southward on Brock Road, Fitz Lee’s brigades under Generals Lunsford L. Lomax and William Wickham spent the night bushwhacking the Yankees. The Rebel cavalrymen felled trees that blocked the road and, when the Yankees lit lanterns to illuminate their tree-removal efforts, the Confederates picked them off from the dark woods. Then, Captain P. P. Johnston’s horse artillery battery
field works and entrenchments. Stuart ordered the Rebels to hold their fire until the Yankees drew nearer. ALL NIGHT LONG, Sheridan’s troopers had made little progress against Fitz Lee’s cavalrymen, but Warren now believed that with his infantrymen leading the way, he could smash through the barricades barring the army’s way to Spotsylvania. “The opposition to us amounts to nothing as yet,” he confidently informed General Andrew Humphreys at 8 a.m. Dressed in his best uniform, Warren made a