Originally published in 1898 as part of the valued “Pall Mall Series’ of military text books, works that are now regarded as classics of military theory Intended for serious or professional students of military history, each volume in this sought after series is interspersed with strategical and tactical comments and illustrated by numerous maps
The newly appointed commander immediately began planning a massive offensive to capture Lee’s army and take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Grant’s Overland Campaign called for a three-pronged attack in Virginia to keep Lee’s forces engaged as General William T. Sherman’s forces swept across the South toward Atlanta. Grant knew he had the numerical advantage in troop strength and wasn’t afraid to sustain high casualties in the short term in the hope that it would save lives in the long term by hastening an end to the war.
As Meade’s Army of the Potomac broke its winter camp 100 miles north of Richmond, Grant ordered the general: “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” So would Grant, who personally accompanied the 115,000-man force as it crossed Virginia’s Rapidan River at dawn on May 4, 1864, to begin the Overland Campaign. With the Union army nearly twice the size of his own, Lee knew his best chance to negate the North’s numerical advantage was to confront his opponent in the tangled woods west of Fredericksburg.
On the morning of May 5, the Union Fifth Corps encountered Confederate troops on the Orange Turnpike, and the Battle of the Wilderness began in earnest. The woods thundered with gunfire, and men fell like forest leaves to the ground. The thick underbrush neutered the Union cavalry and made it impossible for units to move in an orderly fashion. More than 18,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded.
The two-day Battle of the Wilderness ended in a tactical draw. The Army of the Potomac expected that Grant would order their retreat as his predecessors had done repeatedly when repelled by Lee. Grant wasn’t like the other generals, though. He told them to press on toward Richmond. Lee, however, knew that Grant was unlike his previous counterparts as well and anticipated his next move, so when Union soldiers arrived at the crossroads town of Spotsylvania Court House on the morning of May 8, the rebels were already waiting.
Mere hours apart, the Battle of the Wilderness bled right into the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. The Confederates dug themselves into a system of entrenchment’s shaped like an inverted U, and the fierce stand-off climaxed at dawn on May 12 when Grant commanded 20,000 men under Winfield Scott Hancock to pierce the rebels’ curved battle line. For 20 hours in a driving rainstorm, shooting and hand-to-hand combat raged at “Bloody Angle.”
The protracted battled continued for nearly two weeks as forces attacked and counterattacked. When Grant became convinced that he would not be able to dislodge the rebels, he disengaged his army on May 21 and, still confident that he could win a war of attrition even after losing another 18,000 men at Spotsylvania, ordered them to march Southeast toward Richmond. After the armies of Grant and Lee engaged again at North Anna and Totopotomoy Creek, they squared off at Cold Harbor, 10 miles Northeast of Richmond. Grant’s decision to order a massive assault on June 3 resulted in the killing and wounding of as many as 7,000 Union soldiers in less than an hour, and the Confederate victory at the Battle of Cold Harbor would be one the war’s most lopsided engagements.