Clement Anselm Evans.

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mand had received but two issues of rations since leav-
ing Hanover Junction; one of these was three army


crackers and a small slice of pork; two days later a
cracker was issued to each soldier. This was all that
could be done to give physical strength to the grim vet-
erans that stood behind the breastworks they had hur-
riedly thrown up to meet Grant's last contention for
reaching Richmond from the north side of the James.

On the morning of the ist of June, from near Bethesda
church, then in front of Lee's center, Dana wrote to
Stanton, that, at about 5 of the previous afternoon,
Sheridan drove a force of Fitz Lee's cavalry, sup-
ported by Clingman's infantry, after a severe fight, from
Cold Harbor, and took possession of the place, which the
Sixth corps, at 10 p. m., set out to occupy, to be followed
by a still larger force. He was in ignorance of the fact
that Lee was moving a heavy column in the same
direction. Later, he wrote that the Sixth corps
reached Cold Harbor at 9 a. m. of that day, closely fol-
lowed by Smith's; that these maneuvered, and at 2 p.m.
found that there was no longer any enemy before them,
except a few holding part of the road between Bethesda
church and Cold Harbor. Warren, who had been
ordered to attack the Confederate column marching
toward Cold Harbor, had only opened on it with artil-
lery, and, "at 3 p. m., reported that the intrenchments of
the enemy were exceedingly strong, and that his own
lines were so long that he had no massx>f troops to attack
with. ' ' Dana added that Wright had blundered in exe-
cuting his order to attack Cold Harbor, and Warren had
failed to execute his orders, and "both Generals Grant
and Meade are so intensely disgusted with these failures
of Wright and Warren, that a change has been made in
the disposition of the corps, which will give us a heavy,
movable column, for attack or defense, under a general
who obeys orders without excessive reconnoitering;" and
concluded by saying: "Sheridan, with Gregg's and
Torbert's divisions, has moved around Lee's right flank
to attack him in the rear. We are now (6 p. m.) waiting
to hear Sheridan's guns. General Grant's present design
is to crowd the rebel army south of the Chickahominy,
then he means thoroughly to destroy both the railroads,
up to the North Anna, before he moves from here;
besides, he wishes to keep the enemy so engaged here
that he can detach no troops to interfere with the opera-
tions of Hunter."



Two hours later, Dana dispatched: "At about 5
o'clock we heard the cannon of Sheridan, and soon after
Wright and Smith attacked Lee's right wing with their
whole force. They moved from Cold Harbor in the direc-
tion of Mechanicsville. Judging from the sounds of artil-
lery and musketry, the fight was furious. ... At about
6 o'clock Warren attacked in the center, but apparently
not with much force. His firing is that of a lively skir-
mish. Immediately upon Wright's attack, the enemy
moved out on his left against Hancock, as if to try what
strength we had in that direction. He was decisively
repulsed. Hancock followed up the repulse, but was not
able to get over the rebel works, and fell back to his own
lines." At 6 a. m., of the 2d, Dana again wrote, of the
contests of the ist:

It appears that the rebels three times assaulted the lines of GrifBn,
and they came up in three lines. They were terribly slaughtered
by canister, and went back in disorder every time. Wright carried
the rebel works before him, but withdrew afterward on account of
an enfilading fire. It appears that Sheridan did not attack, his
order not having reached in time, and his troops being scattered.
He will go in the morning. . . . Hancock moved during the night
to Cold Harbor, where his advance arrived about daylight. His rear
is now (6 a. m.) marching past these headquarters. In conjunction
with Wright and Smith, he will this morning fall upon Lee's right.
. . . Warren and Burnside are ordered to open as soon as they hear
that the three corps on our left have begun the battle. . . . Our line
now extends from near the Chickahominy to Totopotomoy creek,
but Burnside is ordered to withdraw from the right to the center,
as rapidly as possible.

In a dispatch to the secretary of war, June ist, Lee
wrote :

There has been skirmishing along the lines to-day. General An-
derson and General Hoke attacked the enemy, in their front, this-
afternoon, and drove them to their intrenchments. This afternoon
the enemy attacked General Heth and were handsomely repulsed by
Cooke's and Kirkland's brigades. Generals Breckinridge and Ma-
hone drove the enemy from their front.

On the 2d, Lee again wrote:

Yesterday afternoon the enemy's cavalry were reported to be
advancing, by the left of our line, toward Hanover Court House and
Ashland. General Hampton, with Rosser's brigade, proceeded to
meet them. Rosser fell upon their rear, and charged down the
road toward Ashland, bearing everything before him. His progress
was arrested, at Ashland, by the intrenchments of the enemy, when
he changed his direction and advanced up the Fredericksburg rail-
road. Gen. W. H. F. Lee came up at this time, with part of his
division, and a joint attack was made. The enemy was quickly
driven from his place and pursued toward Hanover Court House
until dark.


General Lee added that Fitz Lee was forced to re-
tire from Old Cold Harbor, and that he had extended
his own lines in that direction, placing Hoke on the
extreme right; and as the enemy's movements were still
continuing to his right, on the morning of the 2d, he
had moved Breckinridge's corps and two divisions of
Hill's to the right. In concluding he said:

General Early, with Ewell's corps and Heth's division, occupied
our left, and was directed to ^et upon the enemy's right flank and
drive him down in front of our line. General Early made the move-
ment in the forenoon, and drove the enemy from his intrenchments,
following him until dark. While this attack was progressing,
General Hill reinforced Breckinridge with two brigades of Wilcox's
division, and dislodged the enemy from Turkey hill, in front of our
extreme right.

Lee's center under Anderson, the First corps and
Hoke's division, were now in line across the River road
between New Cold Harbor and Old Cold Harbor, facing
eastward and covering a highway to Richmond. The
corps of Breckinridge and Hill extended the right to the
Chickahominy, while the Second corps, under Early,
extended Lee's line to the left, covering the roads lead-
ing from the northeast, strengthened on the left by
Heth's division of the Third corps.

In the afternoon of the 2d, Lee took the offensive, by
ordering Early to assail Grant's right and sweep down
toward his left ; but he found Grant's right returned with
formidable works, and, as his offer of open battle was
not accepted, he built strong earthworks in front of
Grant's, where he spent the night of the 2d.

At 4 p. m. of the 2d, Dana dispatched Stanton :

There has been no battle to-day. Hancock's men were so tired
with their night march, of nearly 12 miles, from their previous posi-
tion on our extreme right, and the heat and dust so oppressive, that
at a p. m. to-day, General Grant ordered the attack to be postponed
till 4:30 a. m. to-morrow. The weather is now changed, and we are
having a violent rainstorm. Our entire losses yesterday were, in
round numbers, 2,500 killed and wounded. . . . The right of our
lines is now at Bethesda church, and on the left the cavalry hold,
down to the Chickahominy. [Of Rosser's fight, he said:] Wilson
fought his ■tyay out without great loss, but was obliged to leave his
dead on the field. There joined this army, yesterday, ten old and
new regiments, making an additional force of 2,327 men. [A post-
script reads] I omitted to state, in cipher, that Sheridan had a smart
fight this morning, near Gaines' mill, but was unable to force the
line of the enemy, owing to the commanding position of their bat-

On the morning of June 3d, at half past four, Grant


opened the culminating battle of his "on to Richmond"
campaign by direct roads. Lee's veteraps had, by this
time, all become skillful military engineers, and of their
own impulse had thrown up lines of defense, abounding
in salients whence heavy guns could send forth search-
ing cross-fires, at short range, against every portion of
an attacking enemy. The infantry were well provided
with loop-holes, and crevices between logs, from which
to fire, also at short range, with deliberate aim. Hunger
but made them fiercer combatants, and as Grant's great
host advanced, it was met all along the line by a furious
fire from artillery and infantry that no body of soldiers,
no matter how brave and determined, could long with-
stand. Hancock assailed Lee's right with double line of
battle, followed by supports. His daring men, rushing
forward, captured one of Lee's salients, which Breckin-
ridge recovered, by a prompt fire of artillery, under which
3,000 of Hancock's men fell upon the field. The equally
bold assaults upon Lee's center and left met with the
same fate, and within ten minutes the whole front of
Grant's line of assault was shattered, and his troops, in
dismay, fled to cover.

At 9 o'clock Grant ordered another attack. Han-
cock refused to even give it to his men. Smith, with the
Eighteenth corps, writes, "That order I refused to
obey. ' ' McMahon, chief of staff of the Sixth corps, says
that Grant sent a second, and then a third order for
renewed attack, and when it "came to corps head-
quarters, it was transmitted to the division headquarters,
and to the brigades and the regiments without com-
ment. To move that army farther, except by regular
approaches, was a simple and absolute impossibility,
known to be such by every officer and man of the three
corps engaged. The order was obeyed by simply renew-
ing the fire from the men as they lay in position. "

Unable to force his men to again attach Lee's position,
Grant ordered the construction of regular approaches,
as if he would lay siege to the Confederate position, pro-
fessing that he did this to keep Lee from sending troops
against Hunter, who had now entered the Shenandoah
valley and was advancing on Staunton, there to meet an
army coming from the westward, and follow out Grant's
orders to advance to Charlottesville and Lynchburg to
destroy railways and canals — an expedition which came


to grief, through the operations of General Early, as
related in a subsequent chapter.

In these two Cold Harbor battles, of June ist and 3d,
Grant lost fully 10,000 men, of his 110,000, the larger
portion of them in the assault on the 3d. From the time
of his crossing the Pamunkey up to the date of his
retreat to the James, on the night of the 12th, he had
lost over 14; 000 men, besides the 3,000 sick that he had
sent to the North, reducing his numbers by over 17,000.
Lee's losses were about 1,700 of his 58,000, but 3 per

In fleeing from Lee's front, on the 3d, Grant left the
ground intervening between Lee's and his own intrench-
ments, strewn with wounded, who lay exposed to in-
tense heat and the glare of a June sun, enduring sufEering
that cannot be described, until the 5 th; Grant, unwill-
ing, thinking it a confession of defeat, as it really was,
to send a flag of truce and ask permission to remove
them. When he did send, it was with the remarkable
proposition, "that hereafter, when no battle is raging,
either party be authorized to send, to any point between
the pickets or skirmish lines, unarmed men, bearing lit-
ters, to pick up their dead or wounded, without being
fired upon by the other party. ' ' Lee made reply that
Grant should follow the regular course and ask for a
truce. This he did, but to find his wounded men dead and
to blame Lee for the delay. Gen. F. A. Walker, in his
history of Hancock's corps, writes: "If it be asked why
so simple a duty of humanity as the rescue of the wounded
and the burial of the dead had been thus neglected,
it is answered that it was due to an unnecessary scruple
on the part of the Union commander-in-chief. Grant
delayed sending a flag of truce to General Lee for this
purpose because it would amount to an admission that he
had been beaten on the 3d of June. It now seems
incredible that he should, for a moment, have supposed
that any other view could be taken of that action."

At two of the afternoon of the 3d, Grant dispatched to
Halleck :

We assaulted at 4:30 this morning, driving the enemy within his
intrenchments at all points, but without gaining any decisive advan-
tage. Our troops now occupy a position close to the enemy, some
places within 50 yards, and are intrenching. Our loss was not
severe, nor do I suppose the enemy to have lost heavily.


His next dispatch from Old Cold Harbor, on the sth
of June, reads :

A full survey of all the ground satisfies me that it would not be
practicable to hold a line northeast of Richmond that would
protect the Fredericksburg railroad to enable us to use it for sup-
plying the army. . . . My idea, from the start, has been to beat
Lee's army, if possible, north of Richmond, then, after destroying
his lines of communication north of the James river, to transfer the
army to the south side and besiege Lee, in Richmond, or follow him
south if he should retreat. I now find, after more than thirty days of
trial, that the enemy deems it of the first importance to run no risks
with the armies which they now have. They act purely on the
defensive, behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive, imme-
diately in front of them, and where, in case of repulse, they can in-
stantly retire behind them. Without a greater sacrifice of human
life than I am willing to make, all cannot be accomplished that 1
had designed outside of the city. I have therefore resolved upon
the following plan: I will continue to hold, substantially, the
ground now occupied by the army of the Potomac, taking advantage
of any favorable circumstance tha*; may present itself, until the cav-
alry can be sent west to destroy the Virginia Central railroad, from
about Beaver Dam, for some 25 or 30 miles west When this is
effected, I will move the army to the south side of James river,
either bjr crossing the Chickahominy and marching near to City Point,
or by going to the mouth of the Chickahominy on the north side and
crossing there. To provide for this last, and most probable contin-
gency, six or more ferryboats, of the largest size, ought to be imme-
diately provided. Once on the south side of James river, I can cut
off all sources of supply to the enemy, except what is furnished
by the canal. If Hunter succeeds in reaching Lynchburg, that will
be lost to him also. Should Hunter not succeed, I will still make
the effort to destroy the canal by sending cavalry up the south side
of the river with a pontoon train to cross wherever they can. The
feeling of the two armies now seems to be that the rebels can protect
themselves only by strong intrenchments, while o\xc army is not
only confident of protecting itself without intrenchments, but that it
can beat and drive the enemy whenever and wherever he can be
found without this protection.

The preceding was Grant's last dispatch from north
of the James. Notwithstanding Grant's assertion that
his army was "confident of protecting itself without
intrenchments, ' ' he had been making intrenchments of
the strongest character, during his whole campaign,
whenever he had halted, or wherever he had taken
position after crossing the Rapidan, as the writer per-
sonally knows from having sketched them, from the
Rapidan to the Chickahominy, immediately after they
were evacuated.

Dana reported on July 3d: "The working parties of
each of those three corps (Hancock's, Wright's and


Smith's) carried forward their approaches. Hancock's
lines were thus brought within som"e 40 yards of the
rebel works;" and again at 4 p. m. of the 9th: "Our
engineers, under General Barnard, are now at work on
a.n inner line of intrenchments to cover the withdrawal
of the army from this position. ' '

Informed of Hunter's progress up the Valley and the
results of the battle of Piedmont, on the 5th of June, and
of Hunter's junction with Crook, from the Kanawha
region, at Staunton, on the 8th, Lee detached Breckin-
ridge's division on the loth, to prevent Hunter from
crossing the Blue ridge toward Charlottesville and
destroying the Virginia Central railroad, thus again
anticipating and interfering with Grant's plan of cam-
paign. On the 8th, Butler sent a body of cavalry and
infantry to capture Petersburg and destroy the bridges
-across the Appomattox. Grant says of this movement,
in his official report: "The cavalry carried the works on
the south side and penetrated well in toward the town,
but were forced to retire. General Gillmore, finding the
works which he approached very strong, and deeming
.an assault impracticable, returned to Bermuda Hundred
without attempting one." Thus failed the first Federal
attempt to capture the "Cockade City."

On the 7th of June, Grant sent, as he reports, "two
-divisions of cavalry, under General Sheridan, on an
expedition against the Virginia Central railroad, with
instructions to Hunter, whom I hoped he would meet
near Charlottesville, to join his forces to Sheridan's, and,
•after the work laid out for them was thoroughly done, to
join the army of the Potomac by the route laid down in
Sheridan's instructions." This raid of Sheridan was
met by Hampton's cavalry at Trevilian's station of the
Virginia Central (now Chesapeake & Ohio) railroad, on
the 12th, and after a hotly-contested battle that lasted
several hours, Sheridan was forced to retreat to Grant's
rear, without having accomplished the mission on which
lie was sent.

Notwithstanding the assertions of Grant, previously
•quoted, as to the condition and tactical operations of the
army of Northern Virginia, Lee, on the 12th of June,
before Grant began drawing back from his front to
retreat to the James, ordered his Second corps, now in
command of Lieut. -Gen. Jubal Anderson Early (General


Ewell having been put in command of the troops in
Richmond), to march to Charlottesville and thence by rail
to Lynchburg, as expeditiously as possible, to intercept
Hunter's advance, which he was making, by way of Lex-
ington, toward that important railway center and depot
of supplies. Early, by his energetic movements, was
enabled to meet Hunter in front of Lynchburg, on the
17th and 1 8th, and drive him in disaster across to the
Valley, at Salem, and into the Appalachians, in contin-
uous retreat to the Kanawha, while he turned northeast
and moved on Washington, as related in detail in a sub-
sequent chapter.

After providing a new line of intrenchments, in front
of Lee, for his rear guard. Grant, during the night of
June 12th, began his retreat; or, as some would call it,
his fifth flank movement, but far away from Lee's left,
from Cold Harbor to the James. A division of cav-
alry under Wilson, and his Fifth corps, crossed the Chicka-
hominy at the long bridges and guarded his flank to
White Oak swamp, while his other corps, marching far-
ther to the east, reached Wilcox's landing and Charles
City Court House on the James, during the night of the
13th, all marching through a country familiar to the army
of the Potomac from the operations of McClellan in 1862.
On the morning of the 14th, Grant's Second corps began
crossing the James, in ferryboats, at Wilcox's wharf,
while pontoons were being laid, which were completed
by midnight, on which the rest of his army crossed
rapidly, and on the 15 th, the whole of it was safely con-
centrated in Butler's rear, on the south side of the

The impartial historian, having in hand the records of
the leaders of the army of the Potomac and of the army
of Northern Virginia, with all their detailed statements,
made during and after this bloody campaign from the
Rapidan to the James, from May 4 to June 14, 1864, is
forced to the conclusion, that, in so far as Grant's lead-
ership was concerned, it was a disastrous failure. He
had not accomplished one of his strategic plans, unless
that be called one which placed his army on the banks of
the James, below Harrison's landing, to which McClellan
had retreated after his disastrous campaign of 1862, after
a loss of more than 42,000 men from the vast army of
over 140,000 which was under his command during the


campaign, when he might have secured the same posi-
tion, by moving by water, without the loss of a man.
The only claim that he could make for recognition as
a capable military leader, based on what he did in these
campaigns,is that he had thinned Lee's ranks some 20,000
veterans, by his bulldog method of conducting war,
which Lee could not replace, and to that extent had
weakened the resisting power of the Confederacy.

The condition of Grant's entire army, after this
remarkable campaign, may be inferred from what Gen.
F. A. Walker, the historian of Hancock's corps, acknowl-
edged to be the best in Grant's army, writes concerning
that bodj'- of famous veterans:

As the corps turned southward from Cold Harbor to take its part
in the second act of the great campaign of 1864, the historian is
bound to confess that something of its pristine virtue had departed
under the terrific blows that had been showered upon it in the series
of fierce encounters which have been recited. Its casualties had
averaged more than 400 a day for the whole period since it crossed
the Rapidan. . . . Moreover, the confidence of the troops in their
leaders had been severely shaken. They had again and again been
ordered to attacks which the very privates in the ranks knew to be
hopeless from the start ; they had seen the fatal policy of ' 'assaults all
along the line' ' persisted in, even after the most ghastly failures ; and
they had almost ceased to expect victory when they went into battle.
The lamentable story of Petersburg cannot be understood without
reference to facts like these.

General Grant, in his report, written July 22,1865, t^^is
summarizes this campaign :

During three long years the armies of the Potomac and Northern
Virginia had been confronting each other. In that time they had
fought more desperate battles than it probably ever before fell to
the lot of two armies to fight without materially changing the van-
tage ground of either. The Southern press and people, with more
shrewdness than was displayed in the North, finding that they had
failed to capture Washington and march on New York, as they had
boasted they would do, assumed that they had only defended their
capital and Southern territory. Hence, Antietam, Gettysburg, and
all other battles that had been fought, were by them set down as
failures on our part and victories for.them. And their army believed
this. It produced a morale which could only be overcome by des-
perate and continuous hard^fighting. The battles of the Wilderness,
Spottsylvania, North Anna'and Cold Harbor, bloody and terrible as
they were on our side, were even more damaging to the enemy, and
so crippled him as to make him wary ever after of taking the offen-
sive. His losses in men were probably not so great, owing to the
fact that we were, save in the Wilderness, almost invariably the
attacking party, and when he did attack, it was in the open field.
The details of these battles, which for endurance and bravery on the
part of the soldiery had rarely been surpassed, are given in the
reports of Major-Greneral Meade, and the subordinate reports
accompanying it


In his dispatch of June sth, Dana states, that since his
report of June zd, 19,190 men had reinforced Grant's
army, and that, at that date, it contained 115,000 fighting-
men. He concludes: "Generals Grant and Meade
agree that Lee's whole command, here and south of
Richmond, is now 80,000, exclusive of any mere militia
that may have been at Richmond. ' ' In reality Lee had,
at that time in his immediate command, less than 30,000
men, all told.

On the afternoon of June sth, Dana, for the first time,
intimates a retreat to the James by saying: "Sheridan
thinks we shall have no difficulty in crossing the Chick-

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 46 of 153)