|Obviously, the two most important objectives would be to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia - commanded by General Robert E. Lee, and to destroy the Army of Tennessee - commanded by General Joseph Johnston. Even though there were other Confederate armies in the field, General Grant believed that the life's breath of the Confederacy depended on the successes of these two Confederate armies. Therefore, it was his goal to attack them and destroy them in detail.|
General Grant appointed his old friend General William T. Sherman to "go for Joe Johnston", while he would lead the campaign against General Lee. As overall General in Chief of the Union armies, General Grant decided to keep his headquarters in the field, where he could best see what was happening. He left General Meade in charge of the Army of the Potomac. However, he commanded so much authority over all, people soon began to refer to it as "Grant's Army".
As General Grant assumed his new duties, the Army of the Potomac was encamped along the northern side of the upper Rapidan River. On the rivers opposite side was Geeral Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, a little more than 60,000 effective troops. The Union army was nearly twice that number.
General Grant's tactics were simple enough, fight until something broke. Move constantly towards the enemy and engage him whenever and where ever possible. Destroy the Confederate army where it stood.
|Meanwhile, in Tennessee, General Sherman would move against Atlanta and the Army of Tennessee. This would be a well coordinated and well thought out strategy brought to fruition by one commander. Until now, not possible in the Union army.|
It all began to come together on 04 May 1864. General Grant's plan started to come to life as the Army of the Potomac began to cross the Rapidan and move southward. The area known as "The Wilderness", jungle like underbrush accompanied by second growth timber, slowed the army's movement. The idea of forcing the Confederate army to fight in the open was quickly changed, as General Lee directed his army against the Union troops.
General Lee was known for his ability to thwart the plans of the best the Union had to offer. He did so once again, attacking the invading Union troops before they had a chance to clear the heavily wooded area. The actual battle of The Wilderness started in earnest on 05 May 1864.
Here, the advantage was in favor of the Confederates. The majority of the Confederate soldiers were "country boys", used to being in the woods and able to navigate without much trouble. The large numbers of Union troops were of no real advantage as troop movements were difficult at best. The numerical advantage of Union artillery played no part in the battle, as the underbrush and timber was so thick you could not see fifty feet, much less bring an artillery piece to bear.
|The Union Generals Sedgwick and Warren fair no better, as they are also unsuccessful in their attacks. At every point the Union troops are unsuccessful in breaking the Confederates. As the battle draws to a close, the Union had lost 17,000 men. General Grant had been soundly beaten by General Lee, as his predecessors had been. His troops were already resigned to the same orders that had been given over the last three years of fighting; RETREAT!|
On the night of 07 May 1864, the orders did come and the Army of the Potomac was on the move. Southward not Northward in retreat, but towards the enemy... ready to force action again. General Grant had decided to move on Spotsylvania, a crossroads on the road to Richmond. If his army could beat that of General Lee to the crossroads, he could force General Lee to go on the offensive.
Once the Union troops realized that they were moving forward rather than back, they lifted their voices in a cheer. They were not going to retreat, not going back into camps, not going to hang their heads in defeat, but force the fight, force the Confederates to commit to battle, a battle they could scarcely afford to wage.
|However, General Lee had an uncanny ability to read the plans of his enemy and placed his own troops into a forced night march and beat the Union troops to the crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House. General Fitzhugh Lee, the commanding officer's nephew, reached the crossroads with his cavalry and was able to fight a delaying action until Confederate infantry arrived.|
For the next two days and nights, General Grant's troops tried and tried to break the Confederate positions. General Sedgwick of the Union II Corps was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter, a terrible loss to the Union army. Eventually, on 10 May 1864, Union Colonel Emory Upton led twelve picked regiments in a bayonet charge against the Confederate center. However, the Union regiment brigade was decimated by concentrated Confederate artillery fire.
|General grant was not unaware of the importance of the bayonet charge. He was heard to say, "A brigade today, we'll use a Corps tomorrow." This was apparent in his using General Hancock's troops in a massive charge on the Mule Shoe Salient located in the Confederate center. Here, the mass of Union soldiers were able to overrun the Confederate positions, taking with them twenty artillery pieces and thousands of prisoners.|
||Along with those prisoners were two General officers and troops of the famed Stonewall Brigade. But, the Confederates were far from broken, General John B. Gordon counterattacked with his division and pushed the Union troops back to the first line of trenches. Ther the Union soldiers put up a fight, at times hand to hand. This fight was located in what is known today as the "Bloody Angle".|
Here Union troops were jammed into such a small area that they were sometimes thirty deep, the men in the rear ranks passing loaded weapons to the front and over and over again. Cannon fired single and doble cannister at nearly point blank range. This undescribable savage fighting continued on until after midnight.
On 11 May 1864, General Grant intervened on General Sheridan's behalf and had General Meade allow General Sheridan to loose his cavalry towards Richmond. General Sheridan had boasted that he could whip General Stuart and General Grant wanted to afford him that opportunity. The day before the "Bloody Angle" fighting, there was more fighting at a place known as Yellow Tavern.
General J.E.B. Stuart was able to hold the Union cavalry advance. However, General Stuart was gravely wounded by a Michigan trooper and died the next day. General Lee, upon hearing of his Cavalier's death remarked, "I can scarcely think of him, without weeping."
General Grant continued his thrust to the left, trying with all his might to find a weakness in the Confederate defenses. By 19 May 1864, the two opposing armies had been in near constant contact since the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Rappidan River. The Union losses had averaged nearly 2,000 men a day. General Lee's army had sufferd less casualties but had lost many men to prisoners of war. Men he could not afford to lose and could not replace.
|The probing continued, until finally... on 01 June 1864, the two armies were racing for position at a crossroads known as Cold Harbor. General Grant ordered his officers to attack at first light on the morning of 02 June 1864. The usual bungling and inept leadership that had always plagued the Army of the Potomac, delayed the attack until the next day, 03 June 1864. That delay gave General Lee the time he needed to prepare and make ready a strong defense against the Union invaders.|
General Grant, bending over pews from Bethesda Church to reference map, in war conference with General George Meade, planning the assault on Cold Harbor
|At dawn June 3, General Grant ordered a massive frontal assault. The II and XVIII Corps, followed later by the IX Corps, charged the well sited entrenched Confederate positions. These brave troops were decimated, nearly slaughtered. The Union corps lost over 7,000 men in less than a half of an hour. A Confederate Colonel said, "the dead covered more than five acres of groud about as thickly as they could be laid." General Grant wrote in his memoirs that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered.|
||After about ten days of continuous harrassment and more probing, General Grant ordered another side slip to the left. This time, he was abandoning the strong defenses around Richmond and advanced towards Petersburg.|
Nearly all the railroads to and from the South, passed through Petersburg making it a very strategic point. If the Union forces could capture Petersburg, they would be cutting the Confederate supply lines and the Confederates would be forced to abandon Richmond. General William Smith was given the task to lead the Union assault against the city. He bungled the attack and General Lee, sly as always, was able to man the city defenses.
|Thus began the Seige of Petersburg. The Overland Campaign came to an end. As a result of this campaign, the Union army lost 60,000 men. The two opposing armies were never out of contact with one another from the crossing of the Rapidan River in early May all the way through to the end of June and Petersburg. General lee had not been beaten, Richmond had not been taken, and the Union Army of the Potomac was always moving towards the enemy, never retreating.|