"COLD HARBOR - 'IT'S NOT WAR, IT'S MURDER!'" Richmond National Battlefield Park by mtncorg

By the end of May 1864, Grant had moved the Army of the Potomac ever closer to Richmond. He had still not caught Lee's army out in the open for the climactic battle to end the War, but it hadn't been for lack of trying. The campaign - known as the Overland Campaign - had cost the Union army well over 35000 casualties in the first two battles -
Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Now the armies had maneuvered into the old battlefields of the Peninsula Campaign that had been fought in late Spring of 1862. Lee, being quicker, as usual was able to get troops to the important road intersection at Cold Harbor before Grant. Now, as a result of the Confederate inactions at the Battle of North Anna, Grant had become convinced that Lee and the Rebel army had become demoralized and just needed one good punch to finish them off. He was to be proven wrong in a big way.

In getting most of the Union army to Cold Harbor, Lee was given two extra days to entrench, which his men did well. On the morning of June 3, Grant ordered a full scale assault for 430 am. Here, the Union command control structure - far from perfect throughout the Overland Campaign - fell apart. No one took responsibility for the actual planning of the attack - neither Grant nor Meade, who was still in command of the Army of the Potomac. With no command control at the top, things got no better down the chain of command. Corps commanders did little to reconnoiter in front of their positions so they knew little about the Rebel positions in their direct front. Nor was any attempt made to coordinate the many units in their lines of attacks. Since the Rebel positions were not known until the actual attacks, attacking units had to adjust as they went into action. Individual units then went off on their own axis of attacks leaving neighboring units to be hit in the front and the flank. Within a half hour, the attack had failed at a cost of 7000 casualties. The immediate gravity of what had happened was initially lost upon Grant whose preliminary report to Washington included, 'Our loss was not severe, nor do I suppose the enemy to have lost heavily.' Later, as results of the failure became more apparent, they were downplayed. Not good to lose 7000 casualties (the Confederates lost about 1200) in twenty minutes of work with nothing to show for it, especially with a Presidential election looming.

Only a small part of the battlefield is preserved as a unit of the Richmond Battlefield Historic Park - most of the rest of the lines were north of the Park - but what is there gives you a decent idea of the terrain and challenges faced by both sides. There is a small exhibit shelter with information on the battle near the entrance and then a short road loop that takes you past positions held by each side. The area is cloaked in forests that were not there during the battle. You can also walk a short trail which loops through the Park, popular with local joggers. Just east of the Park is the Cold Harbor National Cemetery, established in 1866 to rebury Federal soldiers who fell on this field and on others in the nearby area.

  • Intro Updated Jul 11, 2007
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