Looking on a map today, Cold Harbor, Virginia doesn’t look that impressive or important, but then we see today’s maps with the Interstates and modern roads. Try taking yourself back 152 years ago when there were no interstates and Richmond was a much smaller town about 10 miles west southwest of Cold Harbor.
Yet, Cold Harbor was the site of one of the bloodiest and costliest battles fought in the American Civil War.
It started with a series of battles between Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee known as the Overland Campaign. Grant’s Army of the Potomac was in northern Virginia when the Union general set his sights on the Confederate capital of Richmond. In early May 1864, Grant began his march to the Confederate capital.
Between May 5-7, 1864, the two generals clashed at a battle known as The Wilderness. Combined casualties, (killed, wounded and missing) mounted to 29,800.
Between May 8-21, 1864, the Union and Confederate generals battling in and around the Spotsylvania Court House. Combined casualties mounted to around 30,000.
On May 11, 1864, the battle was at Yellow Tavern with 800 combined casualties.
Between May 23-26, 1864, they battled again at North Anna with combined casualties of 4,000.
On May 24, 1864, they battled at Wilson’s Wharf with combined casualties of 165.
On May 28, 1864, they battled at Haw’s Shop with combined casualties of 744.
Between May 28-30, 1864, the battle between the two leaders engaged at Totopotomoy Creek where they suffered another 2,200 casualties.
On May 30, 1864, the battle took place at Old Church with combined casualties of 900.
Between May 31 and June 12, 1864, Grant and Lee fought at the crossroads at Cold Harbor, only 10 miles from Richmond. Combined casualties amounted to 15,500.
Between June 11-12, 1864, they battled at Trevilian Station with casualties of 1,600.
On June 24, 1864, the last of the Overland Campaign battles took place at Saint Mary’s Church with casualties of 630.
On this day, June 3, 1864, during the Battle at Cold Harbor, Union General Ulysses Grant ordered wave after wave of assaults against Lee’s position around Cold Harbor. The Confederates were well entrenched and fortified. The Union forces were open and vulnerable as they tried to advance on the Confederates. In perhaps the bloodiest hour of the Civil War, Confederate forces killed or wounded 7,000 Union soldiers in less than an hour as they tried to storm the Confederate stronghold. Grant would later admit that this was his greatest mistake.
All toll, the Overland Campaign resulted in total combined casualties of 86,339 dead, wounded and missing. Grant’s forces lost the most with just over 50,000 casualties. Lee suffered casualties of nearly 33,000. Even though Grant suffered the most casualties, he started with an army of over 120,000 while Lee only started with 60,000 men. In the end, Lee lost over half of his army and Grant still had 70,000 men left.
The Overland Campaign was considered by many to be a stalemate. Some believe it was a victory for Lee and the Confederates since they stopped Grant from reaching Richmond. Others may tend to believe the Union won by destroying over half of Lee’s army and set the stage for the eventual surrender a year later at the Appomattox Court House.
Sources for the above includes: 10 Facts About Cold Harbor; Battle of Cold Harbor; Union Disaster at Cold Harbor; Cold Harbor; Civil War June 1864: Gruesome Battle of Cold Harbor, Lincoln Renominated, Submarine Built Here, Petersburg Siege Begins and Springfield’s “Gallant Tenth” Comes Home; Cold Harbor National Cemetery Mechanicsville, Virginia; Battle of Cold Harbor; The Overland Campaign of 1864.