May 31st – June 12th 1864
The battle of Cold Harbor was the scene of a crime. A massacre beyond the bloodiest imaginations of the most Gothic of writers could compare.
The search that Union General Ulysses S. Grant would spend so much time and the lives of the men on, Lee’s right flank. To understand what transpired on that fateful day in Virginia, one must comprehend military tactical movements.
To the casual observer, a right flank or left flank seems foreign, amiss from our vocabulary.
To a military man, the right flank, the side of the battle formation that is on the right, is the most vulnerable area at times. Grant and Lee both knew this. At the battle this undeniable obsession, would lead many a Union soldier to the grave.
Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War
General Grant had around 108,000 men, seasoned professionals that knew the art of battle and were well aware of the enormous task presented before them. That task was Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. The battle was to be one of the bloodiest of the entire war. The Union losses numbered a horrendous 13,000 while the South and Lee’s formidable boys from Virginia lost 2,500.
The battle was won by a combination of military genius and an obsession gone awry. Lee was positioned at the mouth of the Totopotomy Creek, Grant needed to get through that little body of water and continue his march to Richmond.
General Sheridan and his cavalry division took the important crossroads. Now that this essential troop trafficking intersection was in Union hands, the flow of men and supplies could continue unfettered with little loss of life. By taking Cold Harbor and the crossroads, Grant realized that this was the golden opportunity to live his dream, taking Lee’s right flank. Happy day. Lee stood fast and was even said to be in a relaxed state when he was told the news about the Yankee control of Cold Harbor. What did this military genius know that the others did not, could not?
Lee knew that the Union troops would be exhausted after numerous rounds of battles with Rebel troops and artillery fire. The battle at Cold Harbor was far from over as both sides lined up and, of course, grant would continue his pursuit of the right flanking move against Lee. The day passed into night, when the morning came, many a Union soldier saw his last daybreak. Lee’s men attacked and attacked and snipers picked off Union troops by the hundreds at a time. The losses taken by the Union were deplorable. The repercussions from this one battle would have grave consequences for General Sheridan and General Grant.
The citizens of the north would ask for the head of Sheridan but not of Grant. General Grant, whom the loss of so many Union troops would be blamed for, never once demonstrated fear. This is one of the most endearing characteristics of a great commander.
Grant had it and knew that no matter what the casualty count would be, tactically speaking, it was the wins that mattered the most. Grant did not out-flank Lee here during the battle and enormous casualties inflicted upon the North sealed the Confederate victory. Grant would have his day, just not this day.