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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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Vol. III
p373
Chapter XXII

And Still Grant Hammers

(COLD HARBOR, MAY 31-JUNE 3, 1864)

Now began the last great manoeuvres in the campaign from the Rapidan to the James, the manoeuvres that were to change the character of military operations in Virginia and substitute siege tactics for field strategy.1

By dawn on May 31 the right, under Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Early, had been extended beyond the Old Church road, which led from the Federal position to Mechanicsville and thence to Richmond. The line crossed the road about a mile west of Bethesda Church and four miles east of Mechanicsville. Thence the Confederate front extended irregularly to the north and northwest for a distance of seven and a half miles. The left rested on the Chickahominy swamp, west of Atlee's Station.2 The whole line had been well fortified and, if well supported by artillery, could be held by a comparatively small force of infantry. The works admirably covered the approaches to Richmond from the upper Pamunkey, as will appear from the sketch on the next page.


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Positions of the opposing armies on Totopotomoy Creek, May 31, 1864.

But if Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant was moving by the left flank, as Lee believed, it would be possible for him to swing around to the Chickahominy River and force the Army of Northern Virginia to stand siege in the Richmond defenses. That was the one thing above all others that Lee most desired to avoid, for he knew it could end only in defeat.3 He must, then, extend his flank to save himself from being chained to Richmond. Fitz Lee's cavalry was already well p374 beyond Early's exposed flank, holding the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor, the strategic importance of which Lee had learned in the campaign of the Seven Days. To support Fitz Lee, the commanding general directed that Hoke's division, which was beginning to detrain in Richmond, should move toward Cold Harbor.

The morning of the 31st passed without any development of consequence, but in mid-afternoon, Fitz Lee reported from Old Cold Harbor that the enemy was half a mile from that place and was advancing on it, though only cavalry had been discovered at that hour. Fitz Lee said that he was preparing to dispute the enemy's progress where he stood, but he asked if the van of Hoke's division, which was then between Mechanicsville and Cold Harbor, should not be ordered to him.4

p375 General Lee did more than this. Being almost certain that Smith's corps was moving from White House to join Grant, and reasoning that Grant's army would be strung out on the march, he thought he saw an opportunity for striking the blow he had so long wished to deliver. If he could attack the enemy at Cold Harbor, before the Federal left was in position, he might double it up. To this end, Anderson was taken from his position between Breckinridge and Early and was shifted during the later afternoon into Early's position and beyond it. Breckinridge extended his line somewhat to the right until he was close to Beulah Church, which was about one mile northwest of Old Cold Harbor. Kershaw was in position early in the night; Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pickett and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Field were on the road behind Kershaw.5 Hoke's brigades were to file in on Anderson's right. The situation then would be as shown on page 76.


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Approximate front of the Army of Northern Virginia, 1 A.M., June 1, 1864.

Fifteen thousand Confederate infantry would be in the vicinity of Cold Harbor by daylight. That force, well handled, should be sufficient to turn Grant's left flank and to create a confusion during which the other corps might attack. The great day might be at hand. What had seemed possible on May 6, when Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet had struck the enemy's left in the Wilderness, might be achieved.6º

About 7 o'clock on the evening on May 31, not long before Anderson reported the arrival of his van near Beulah Church, a significant message came from Fitz Lee. The enemy's cavalry, he said, had attacked his troopers and Clingman's brigade of infantry at Cold Harbor and had driven them from the crossroads. Fitz Lee was not sure, but he thought Federal infantry were in his front.7

p376 Infantry! Evidently, then, there was a race for Cold Harbor just as there had been for Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Confederate infantry, by odd chance, were led by the man who had won before. Lee at once took the precaution of placing Hoke under Anderson, and directed that Hoke's rear brigades be hurried to Cold Harbor.8 Lee doubtless wished to go himself, so that he could himself direct the turning movement, but while he was physically much better, he was still so weak that he had to ride p377 in a carriage.9 The most he felt justified in doing was to advance his headquarters to Shady Grove, where he would be nearer the centre of operations in case Anderson's attack made a general offensive possible.10

Hope might well have beaten high in the heart of Lee when he retired at Shady Grove on the evening of May 31. His plans had been well laid and the opportunity at Cold Harbor was great. When he arose on the morning of June 1, and strained his ears vainly for the sound of battle from his distant right, he had every reason to believe that the first courier from Anderson would bring great news. Two years before, in a house not many miles away, he had assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia: Was Anderson about to send him, as an anniversary gift, a report of a stunning victory at Cold Harbor?

It was far otherwise. The dispatch that finally reached him told a humiliating story of failure. Anderson attacked at dawn, in accordance with instructions. The advance was led by Kershaw's veteran brigade. Lee had been aware that the brigade was without a regular commander and had urged Anderson to name one.11 Anderson had delayed, or else had been unable to find a suitable man overnight, and he sent the brigade into action on the morning of June 1 under its ranking colonel, Lawrence M. Keitt of the Twentieth North Carolina, a green regiment that had recently joined the army. Keitt was a distinguished ante-bellum politician and orator who had come to Virginia only a short time previously and had never been in close action. He knew little of the methods of fighting then in vogue in the Old Dominion, and the men of the other regiments were fearful he would make some blunder. He dashed boldly forward, mounted on his charger, and was killed at the first onset. His raw regiment broke p378 and forced the seasoned troops to give ground.12 Liaison between Anderson and Hoke was incredibly bad; Hoke did nothing; the attack failed and perhaps the greatest opportunity presented the army after May 6 was thrown away.13

Bitterly as Lee must have been disappointed, he lost no time in repining. If he could not roll up the Army of the Potomac from his right, he must strengthen that flank to keep Grant from tying him down to the Richmond defenses. By doing that, while holding his position on the left, opposite the Totopotomoy, he might yet find an opening.

Breckinridge was at once ordered to Cold Harbor to strengthen and to extend the right,14 and Lee himself prepared to go there in person. As it happened, Breckinridge was absent from his headquarters when the order reached him, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Heth's division of the Third Corps was changing position. Ere long, an attack developed on Heth's front which, of course, held Breckinridge temporarily where he was and forced Lee to defer his own start for Cold Harbor. Cooke's brigade and Kirkland's, however, easily beat off the enemy. A little later, Breckinridge and Mahone cleared up the ground in their front and took about 150 prisoners. Almost at the same hour the cavalry that was covering the Confederate left met an advance by the Federal horse and drove it back in the dashing style of 1862.15

These three isolated attacks, if designed to alarm Lee for his left, entirely failed of their purpose. He took them to be mere demonstrations to distract his attention, and some time after 4 o'clock he started for Cold Harbor.16 On his arrival he opened headquarters, probably in the field on the right of the Cold p379 Harbor road, just west of the crossing of Powhite Creek at Gaines's Mill.17 He found that important events had happened during the afternoon. Fitz Lee, who had been in advance of Hoke's right, had been forced back by superior numbers. This so threatened Anderson's right that he ordered Hoke to extend his flank southward beyond Old Cold Harbor to the terrain won by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. H. Hill in the battle of Gaines's Mill nearly two years before.18 The key to this position was Turkey Hill. Knowing its strength, Lee had given particular instructions that it should be occupied fully,19 but Hoke did not extend his flank any great distance.20


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Position of the Confederate right, afternoon of June 1, 1864, to illustrate the strategic importance of Turkey Hill.

He might have intended going farther in that direction, but immediately after he made the movement, the enemy attacked with vigor north of the road between New and Old Cold Harbor.21 The force of the Federal assault broke the lines between the left of Hoke and the right of Anderson.22 Clingman's brigade of Hoke's division gave way and Wofford's of Kershaw's division had to fall back, but Kershaw threw in two regiments and regained some of the ground. Hunton's brigade of Pickett's division was thereupon sent to Hoke. Working along the left flank of Hoke, the brigade p380 almost closed the gap. The enemy withdrew after nightfall,23 but contact between Hoke and Anderson was practically lost, and no little confusion prevailed at Anderson's headquarters.24 Anderson's final dispatch of the day, received by Lee at his new headquarters, was to the effect that he had to be reinforced or his p381 lines would be broken.25 Lee had already anticipated this need. Breckinridge, as far as Lee knew, was well on the way and should arrive in time to meet the new attack that Lee expected the enemy to make at daylight.26

But Lee had to look beyond his own army for the strength with which to resist the enemy on a longer line. Writing to the President during the day, he reported a rumored advance of the enemy up the York River Railroad,27 and he began to question whether Grant might not be making for James River. If so, it was desirable for Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard to bring his troops north of the river and to take position on the right of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had been trying for days to effect joint action with Beauregard, and he had consistently failed, except for procuring Hoke's division. On June 1 he tried diplomacy anew. First he telegraphed Beauregard of Grant's shift toward the James, adding that he was ignorant of the situation on Beauregard's front and did not know whether it was in his power to leave the Bermuda Hundred line.28 Beauregard answered that he could not evacuate the south side of the James, prior to the departure of the Federals from that quarter, unless the government was willing to abandon communications between Richmond and Petersburg. In Lee's opinion that was not desirable, "but," he told Beauregard, in an appeal to that officer's known ambition, "as two-thirds of Butler's force has joined Grant, can you not leave sufficient guard to move with the balance of your command to [the] north side of James River and take command of right wing of army?"29

At dawn on the 2d Lee awaited two developments — the arrival of Breckinridge and the resumption of the attack; but he looked in vain for Breckinridge and, when he did not hear from him, was relieved that the Federals withheld their assaults. Anxious regarding Breckinridge, he set out for Mechanicsville, feeble though he still was. He covered the entire distance before he found the Kentuckian at the village with his troops eating breakfast. It was explained that the column had not started until after p382 10 P.M. from the Confederate left and had then been so weary from its day's fighting that the men had to rest every half hour. Major McClellan, who was acting as guide, had no map, and in his ignorance of the country, led the troops by a long route. Lee said nothing at the time and contented himself with hurrying the march.30

Probably while he was at Mechanicsville, Lee learned that the Federals had disappeared from opposite a part of the front of the Third Corps. Reasoning that this meant a still heavier concentration around Cold Harbor, Lee ordered Mahone and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wilcox to march at once for the right and to take position beyond Breckinridge, who was to form south of Hoke, between Old Cold Harbor and the Chickahominy.31

Lee did not stop with this manoeuvre. If Grant was throwing division after division to the Cold Harbor sector, he might readily be weakening his right; and if that was the case, then there might be a chance to turn that flank and thereby to upset Grant's plans at Cold Harbor. With this in view, Lee gave discretionary orders to Early to attack if he found a favorable opening,32 and then he rode once more to the scene of his first victory at Gaines's Mill. He found no change in the situation when he arrived. All was quiet for the time, but a battle was brewing. The very prospect of it seemed to stimulate him perceptibly, and he was almost himself again physically, though his staff had noticed for several days that he was more disposed to remain quiet and to direct operations from a distance. "If he had competent lieutenants," Taylor said, " 'tis the course he might always pursue."33

At last Breckinridge arrived and moved into position. When Major McClellan returned after his unsuccessful adventure as a guide, Lee sent word for him to come to his quarters. McClellan is the best witness to what happened then:

p383 "With a sinking heart I obeyed. The General was seated on a camp stool in front of his tent, an open map spread out on his knees. When I was in position before him, he traced a road with his index finger, and quietly remarked, 'Major, this is the road to Cold Harbor.'

" 'Yes, General,' I replied, 'I know it now.'

"Not another word was spoken, but that quiet reproof sunk deeper and cut more keenly than words of violent vituperation would have done."34

Mahone and Wilcox were now on the road, struggling with heat and dust and thirst. To new troops, the discomforts of the march would have been intolerable; but to the wiry veterans of the Third Corps these things were part of the price they had to pay to beat the enemy, and they were endured with only the casual grumbling and swearing that were their cherished prerogatives.

After Mahone came up he probably went in support of Breckinridge.35 Wilcox arrived at 3 P.M. and took ground to the right and rear of Hoke, where his men began immediately to entrench themselves.36 Lee was not satisfied with the position of his right wing. The enemy to the east had better ground and dominated much of Turkey Hill, which Lee had especially enjoined the commanders on the Confederate right to occupy. He had only awaited the arrival of reinforcements to correct this, and he now ordered Breckinridge to prepare for action. Soon, with the support of two of Wilcox's brigades, Breckinridge was thrown forward and the enemy was cleared from the hill.37 This advance gave Lee artillery control of the bottom-land near the Chickahominy and secured his right against any turning movement, but to make that flank invulnerable he extended Wilcox on the right of Breckinridge until he was within half a mile of the river.38

While making these dispositions, Lee was hopeful that Early had found opportunity of striking a blow on the Confederate left. p384 His first intelligence of what had happened there probably magnified the success, for Lee telegraphed the Secretary of War that Early ". . . drove the enemy from his intrenchments, following him until dark."39 Actually, as Lee subsequently learned, Rodes had attacked, with Gordon on the right and Heth on his left, and had brushed aside a strong skirmish line but had been halted in front of heavy works thrown up northwest of Bethesda Church.40 Here the action ended. Whatever was to be accomplished as a next move must be undertaken on the Confederate right.

It was now the end of the thirtieth day since Lee, from the observation tower on Clark's Mountain, had watched the Federals among their last camps in Culpeper. Never before had the Army of Northern Virginia been so long engaged with the enemy. A week of fighting had sufficed to drive Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan to Harrison's Landing. A fortnight's defensive operations had hurled Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pope's demoralized troops into the Washington defenses. The Maryland expedition had been a matter of twelve days. Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville had been still briefer chapters. Even the ordeal of Gettysburg, from the crossing of the Potomac till the army was safely back on Virginia soil, had lasted but eighteen days. Now, after a month, the persistent Federals were still aggressive, and apparently were as strong as when, on May 5, the first skirmishers had met in the Wilderness. This hammering was having its effect. The morale of the army appeared to be excellent, though the losses had been heavy, the weather oppressive, and rations of the meagrest;41 but the same grim question was rising in many minds: Would the battle never end? Would the enemy continue forever to move around the right flank? Killing Federals, the wags of the army were saying, was like fighting mosquitoes: where one was caught, two would appear.42 On the defensive, the Army of Northern Virginia was as valiant as it had ever been, but on the offensive, though Lee was almost daily planning some new stroke, the operation was never carried through quite as he had hoped. Was the fault that of the commanding officers, or was war weariness beginning to show at last in those superb brigades? p385 Had it become a struggle of endurance — a test of whether the Army of Northern Virginia would be destroyed before Grant would have enough of the slaughter and would quit?

Lee did not ask himself these questions. Save in shaping his strategy and in seeking men and supplies, he never looked into the future, for the future belonged to God; but he knew the limits of endurance, even of his soldiers, and he was struggling hourly to find reinforcements and to outwit his stubborn antagonist so that he could relieve those weary, loyal soldiers who were lying that night in the shallow trenches they had thrown up along the road where they had stopped.43

There would assuredly be another bloody engagement on the morrow: could Beauregard spare as much as one brigade to help in winning a victory on that old battleground of flaming memories? It seemed doubtful, doubtful even whether Lee could retain all of the thin divisions he had. For here, on the evening of June 2, was a telegram from General Imboden at Mount Crawford, saying that General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hunter, who had succeeded Sigel, had the previous day forced him from Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley.44 Breckinridge had been brought from the Valley because Sigel had been driven back. If Hunter was moving up the Shenandoah again, it might be necessary to send Breckinridge back with the two little brigades that were now occupying a critical sector south of the road between the two Cold Harbors. Could the army hold its own if it were weakened still further?

A heavy rain had begun to fall before 4 o'clock on the afternoon of the 2d and continued to pour down during the night of the 2d-3d. It was in refreshing contrast to the heat and dust of the previous day, but it made duty in the trenches disagreeable, particularly for those men stationed in the bogs created by the little streams that lost their way in wandering westward from the watershed around Old Cold Harbor.45

And a long line it was on which the soldiers waited for the dawn. Across the Chickahominy, Fitz Lee's cavalry watched the p386 crossings to report either an advance on Richmond from the York River Railroad or a movement on Grant's part toward the James.46 North of the river and within half a mile of it was the right of Wilcox's division. On the left of Wilcox lay Breckinridge, with Mahone in support. Beyond him, northward, was Hoke, his right south of the Cold Harbor road and his left not quite so much extended as it had been when it had been broken on the afternoon of the 1st. Hunton, of Pickett's division, was between Hoke and Kershaw, with Anderson's, Law's, and Gregg's brigades of the First Corps in support. Pickett was on the left of Kershaw, and Field who was beyond him, connected with Early. Ramseur, leading Early's old division, was either on Early's right or in reserve. Then came Gordon. Rodes was on the left of Gordon, and Heth, of the Third Corps, was on the extreme left. The sketch on the opposite page can only approximate the points of junction of the different units.47


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Order of battle of the Army of Northern Virginia, June 3, 1864.

All along the front, when the rain ceased and the shadows began to gray on the morning of June 3, the ragged veterans manned trenches and stood on the alert. In exposed positions, the guns were charged and primed. Everywhere the feeling was the same: The enemy was surely coming! Why not? That thin, sprawling line was all that stood between him and Richmond. At headquarters, Lee was astir with the dawn, busily considering where he should locate his artillery south of the Chickahominy, in case the enemy moved in that direction.48 Circular orders were issued for the recall of the last man on extra duty.49 Every rifle would be needed behind the parapet that day.

Suddenly, at 4:30, there was a roar of cheers and a crash of musketry, beginning on Lee's right and spreading all along the line. An instant after, the thunder of guns swelled from the heights of the Chickahominy far over to the Confederate left. A general assault was on, a determined effort, backed by all the might of the Army of the Potomac, to break through, everywhere, p387 anywhere — and to take the road into the city that woke from sleep, startled at the loudest firing it had ever heard.50

Lee could only listen to the din and speculate whether it would come closer, for he had not a single regiment in general reserve, and until he could ascertain where the Federal assaults were heaviest, he could not weaken one part of the line to strengthen another. The army had to repel the attacks or be destroyed. For five minutes, for ten, the noise was so overwhelming that it was impossible to tell anything except that the whole front was furiously engaged. Through the smoke that hung heavily over the flat country, nothing was to be seen of retreating, routed columns. Now the firing fell away, now it rose again, as if a new assault was being delivered. Shells were falling by this time in the field where Lee's headquarters were located, and soon p388 the wounded began to come back from the front, but they were not numerous. Stoutly, in that inferno, the lines must be holding. The grand assault must be failing — but what of the details?

At a word, couriers and staff officers rode off to find the commanding generals on the line and to get reports. As Lee awaited their return, listening intently, the fire on some parts of the line began to slacken perceptibly. From the right, south of the road to Old Cold Harbor there were cheers, Federal cheers, and then, ere long, the sound of increased infantry fire, as if new troops had been thrown in. Like a thunderstorm that passes quickly but roars as it passes, the artillery was less furious, though every battery seemed still to be engaged.

In half an hour the first of the messengers round. On the front of Wilcox, no attack had been delivered.51 The enemy had reached Breckinridge's line and had broken through a bit of swampy ground, but Mahone had sent in Finegan52 and the old Maryland battalion and was restoring the front.53 Hill had shown to Lee's courier the dead lying on one another where Grant had vainly assaulted. "Tell General Lee," he said, "it is the same all along my front."54 Hoke reported that the slain and wounded literally covered the ground and that, up to that time, he had not lost a single man in his division.55 On the sector held by the right of Kershaw, where the enemy had entered the works on the afternoon of June 1, successive assaults had been pushed with vigor but had been beaten off with ease.56 Like favorable reports came from the centre and from the left, when later messengers returned.57

p389 On the front of the First Corps, attack followed attack with so much vigor that Anderson by 8 o'clock had counted fourteen.58 From the Confederate works the Federal officers could be heard commanding their men to advance, but as the bloody morning hours passed, the only response to each new order would be a volley from the ground. The men realized it was futile to go on.59 By 11 o'clock, though the artillery were still thundering and the infantry were exchanging furious volleys, the assaults on all parts of the line seemed to be suspended, for the moment at least. Lee, alone at headquarters, except for a single orderly, was beginning to think of the next phase of the great contest when Postmaster General Reagan rode up. He had come out from Richmond with Judge Meredith and Judge Lyons and had heard the desperate fire. Was not the artillery very active? he asked with the curiosity of the civilian.

"Yes," said Lee, "more than usual on both sides. That does not do much harm here." But, he added, waving his hand toward the line where, Reagan said, the sound of the musketry was like the tearing of a sheet, "It is that that kills men."

"General," said the Texan, "if he breaks your line, what reserve have you?"

"Not a regiment," Lee answered, "and that has been my condition ever since the fighting commenced on the Rappahannock. If I shorten my lines to provide a reserve, he will turn me; if I weaken my lines to provide a reserve, he will break them."

Then, taking advantage of the presence of one who was powerful in the civil councils of the Confederacy, Lee explained the exhaustion of his army and its physical deterioration for lack of vegetables. He had urged the men, he said, to dig and eat the roots of the sassafras and the wild grape, but these were a poor substitute. When Reagan returned to Richmond would he see the commissary general and urge him to send potatoes and onions to the army? "Some of the men now have scurvy," Lee added sadly.

Reagan promised and changed the conversation to something p390 more personal. There was uneasiness in Richmond, he explained, because of reports that Lee was exposing himself unduly. Could he not discharge his duties equally well by keeping out of danger?

Lee answered that he had to be close to the front, though he had sent back the stores and the wagons. "I have as good generals as any commander ever had," he went on, "and I know it, but still it is well for me to know the position of our lines. To illustrate this, in forming my right, I directed that it should cover Turkey Hill, which juts out on the Chickahominy Valley so as to command cannon range up and down the stream. In forming the line, however, this was not done, and on yesterday afternoon I had to direct General Breckinridge to recover that position by an assault which cost us a good many men."60

Reagan rode off and Lee turned to the grim task of seeing if he could replace the men who were still falling along the lines under the Federal fire. Hoke had reported that he had captured prisoners that morning from the XVIII Corps, which had joined Grant from Butler's army. This was what Lee had been expecting since the evening of May 30 and it proved, beyond further quibble, that the force in front of Beauregard had been greatly reduced.61 Beauregard on the previous day had telegraphed Lee that the Federals still opposed him in strength and that he could not further reduce his troops.62 Lee now put the facts before the President and added, "No time should be lost if reinforcements can be had."63 The administration was of the same mind and, in a terse exchange of messages, ordered Matt Ransom's brigade from Beauregard to Lee.64

After 1 P.M. it was apparent that the enemy had abandoned all hope of successful general assaults. The Confederate wounded could now be brought out, and the lines could be put in order. On Breckinridge's front the works had been recaptured without heavy loss, so that the whole position was now intact. Desultory firing continued until about nightfall. Then, as Breckinridge and Finegan were establishing their skirmishers, the enemy delivered p391 a final attack, but was beaten off easily.65 The pickets kept up their nervous dispute and at intervals the artillery would open, but the battle was over. "Our loss today," Lee was able to write the President at 8:45, "has been small, and our success, under the blessing of God, all that we could expect."66

That was the most he had to say of the ghastly day that will always cause a shudder whenever the name Second Cold Harbor is mentioned. Lee might have written much more, for while his own casualties had not exceeded 1200 to 1500 on the six miles of front,67 more than 7000 of Grant's men crowded the field hospitals or lay, in every attitude of agony, on the open ground, in the ditches and among the slashed trees. Their agonized cries rose in a tragic chorus, but the sharpshooters were busy everywhere, and the suffering Northerners could not be relieved from the Confederate lines. No flag of truce came from the Federal side asking for permission to remove the wounded and to bury the dead.


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THE TOLL OF COLD HARBOR
The Negroes in this picture, some of them soldiers and some civilians, were engaged in April, 1865,
in the re-burial of Federals killed in the bloody repulse of June 3, 1864.

The repulse had been an incredible success. Although the Confederates did not know it at the time, the planned major assaults had been broken up within eight minutes after the advance had begun.68 One observant Confederate brigadier on the left of Hoke's division subsequently confessed that the worst was over before he realized that any serious attack had been delivered.69 It was, Colonel Venable recorded, "perhaps the easiest victory ever granted to the Confederate arms by the folly of the Federal commanders."70

In the night of misery that covered at last the woods and the trenches, Lee was of course unaware of the effect this final, costly repulse was to have on Grant's strategy, and equally unaware — was it fortunately so? — that he had won his last great battle in the field.


The Author's Notes:

1 It is perhaps in order to note that the Confederate correspondence for the operations of May 31- June 3 is fragmentary and that the positions and movements of the troops have to be established by piecing together bits of information. Much that should be said with precision has to be qualified. There is, however, no justification for accepting the view, tacitly admitted in many of the Southern narratives, that the details of what happened at Cold Harbor are hopelessly confused.

[decorative delimiter]

2 O. R., 36, part 1, p1058; ibid., 51, part 2, p974; Early, 362.

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3 See infra, p398.

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4 O. R., 36, part 3, p858.

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5 O. R., 36, part 1, p1058; ibid., 51, part 2, p974; Early, 362; Alexander, 535‑36.

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6 It must be explained that the points of junction of the various commands at daybreak June 1 cannot be established with certainty. Early, who was the only authority on the position of his corps, simply wrote that Rodes was withdrawn to the west side of Beaver Dam Creek, but he did not specify which branch of the creek (Early, op. cit., 362). The diary of the First Corps (O. R., 36, part 1, p1058) stated that Anderson took over the whole of Early's line. Wilcox (MS. report, 48) said that he was moved to the right to a station "near Pole Green Church," but he did not explain whether he was on the right of Breckinridge or whether he was separated from the rest of the corps. The question is not material, but as it cannot be determined, the sketch shows no lines of division between any two corps.

[decorative delimiter]

7 O. R., 36, part 3, p858. There are no Confederate reports of this action. The account by the Federal commander, Brigadier General A. T. Torbert, appears in ibid., part 1, pp805‑6.

[decorative delimiter]

8 O. R., 36, part 3, p858.

[decorative delimiter]

9 General Lee's opposition to the use of alcoholics showed itself during this illness. Doctor Lafayette Guild, medical director of the army, prescribed port wine and sent the General a case of it, but Lee would not use it (J. W. Fairfax to J. T. Parham, May 21, 1897. Fairfax MSS.). Jones (op. cit., 169) stated that a friend in April, 1861, gave Lee two bottles of whiskey which he carried in his headquarters' wagon for medicinal use. At the end of the war they had never been opened.

[decorative delimiter]

10 One dispatch on the morning of May 31 is dated from "Near Coleman's, on road from Shady Grove Church to Mechanicsville" (O. R., 36, part 3, p858), and a dispatch on the morning of June 1 (ibid., 865), is dated "Shady Grove Church."

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11 O. R., 36, part 3, p851.

[decorative delimiter]

12 History of Kershaw's Brigade, 366 ff.; Johnson Hagood: Memoirs of the War of Secession (cited hereafter as Hagood), 257; O. R., 36, part 1, p1053.

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13 In commenting on this abortive affair, Alexander (op. cit., 536) said: "Unfortunately, Hoke's brigade [division] had not been put under Anderson's command, so neither felt full responsibility." The fact is precisely the contrary. Early in the evening of May 31, as noted in the text, Lee wrote Anderson: "General Hoke will, whilst occupying his present position relative to you, be under your control. He was directed to see you and to arrange for co-operation tomorrow" (O. R., 36, part 3, p858).

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14 O. R., 36, part 3, p863.

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15 O. R., 36, part 1, pp1031‑32.

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16 He was certainly at Shady Grove as late as 4 P.M. (O. R., 36, part 3, p865). Alexander (op. cit., 536) stated that Lee was "not upon the ground in the early hours of the day" of June 1, with the inference that he came later. The statement that he went there during the evening of the 1st rests primarily upon the H. B. McClellan MSS., in which Major McClellan explained that Lee went to Mechanicsville on the morning of June 2 to look for Breckinridge. Obviously Lee would not have known that Breckinridge had not come up if he had not been near Cold Harbor himself.

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17 Postmaster General Reagan, who visited Lee on June 3, said (op. cit., 193), that the headquarters were near the mill in an open field, a few hundred yards in rear of which was a wood of some fifteen or twenty acres, surrounded by clear ground. The spot, he said, was within artillery range. The site indicated in the text is the only one nearby that corresponds to this description, though it was not within range of guns of less than 20 pounds.

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18 O. R., 36, part 1, p867; Hagood, 255.

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19 Reagan, 193.

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20 This seems a proper point at which to note the tradition, long current in North Carolina, that Lee said during the campaign that if he were incapacitated by his diarrhoea, he desired General Hoke to succeed him. There is not the slightest hint of this in any contemporary narrative and its improbability is so great that it may be dismissed as pure fable. General Hoke, though a capable, hard-hitting soldier, had but recently been promoted to divisional command and at this time was handling his division for the first time in action. Lee had not seen him in many months and, except for giving general supervision to the successful minor operation at Plymouth, N. C., had never dealt with him otherwise than as a colonel and a brigadier general. It is inconceivable that Lee would have dreamed of putting Hoke over A. P. Hill, Anderson, or Early, to say nothing of major generals like Rodes, Kershaw, and Gordon. It is futile to speculate on what Lee would have advocated if his illness had disabled him, but in the writer's opinion he would probably have recommended that Beauregard assume command.

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21 This road, across which the Confederate lines ran, is to be mentioned so frequently in the following pages that it will for convenience often be designed simply as the "Cold Harbor road."

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22 Positions at Cold Harbor are very difficult to establish with accuracy. On the map there are two points that conform to the general description of the break, but the detailed accounts given in the History of Kershaw's Brigade, 371, and in Alexander, 537‑38, make it practically certain that the rupture was in the ravine 600 yards north and 400 yards east of New Cold Harbor crossroads. The position was in advance of the heavy Confederate lines still preserved in that part of the Richmond battlefield park. The existing lines at the ravine were drawn and fortified after the operations of June 1.

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23 O. R., 36, part 1, p662.

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24 O. R., 36, part 1, p1059; ibid., 51, part 2, p976.

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25 O. R., 51, part 2, 976.

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26 H. B. McClellan MSS.

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27 O. R., 36, part 1, p1031. This dispatch caused Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Humphreys (op. cit., 170), and Alexander (op. cit., 535), to state that Lee was unaware of the presence of Smith's XVIII Corps with Grant's army until after it had attacked at Cold Harbor on the 1st. This was not the case. Lee, it will be remembered, had told Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Davis on the night of May 30 (O. R., 36, part 3, p850): "Butler's troops (Smith's corps) will be with Grant tomorrow."

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28 O. R., 36, part 3, p865.

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29 O. R., 36, part 3, p864.

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30 H. B. McClellan MSS.

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31 The time of the shifting of Breckinridge, Mahone, and Wilcox to the right has been one of the obscure points in the Cold Harbor campaign, but so far as Breckinridge is concerned, it can be cleared up without much difficulty from the H. B. McClellan MSS. and from the History of McGowan's Brigade, 157. Wilcox stated in his MS. report, 48, that he moved on the morning of June 1 and reached the Confederate right at 3 P.M., but the text of this report shows several errors and corrections of dates, and all the other available sources are unanimous in saying that Wilcox moved on the morning of the 2d (Lane's report, 9 S. H. S. P., 244; History of Thirty-third North Carolina in 2 N. C. Regts., 574; History of McGowan's Brigade, 157).

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32 O. R., 36, part 1, p1032.

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33 Taylor MSS., June 1, 1864.

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34 H. B. McClellan MSS.

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35 This cannot be stated positively, as the references to Mahone's division are singularly few in the reports of the later phase of the campaign from the Rapidan to the James.

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36 Wilcox's MS. report, 48; Lane in 9 S. H. S. P., 244; History of McGowan's Brigade, 157‑58.

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37 Wilcox's MS. report, 48; History of McGowan's Brigade, loc. cit.; Reagan, 193.

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38 Wilcox's MS. report, 48.

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39 O. R., 36, part 1, p1032.

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40 Early, 363.

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41 O. R., 36, part 1, p87; C. A. Page, 92, 4 B. and L., 143, 231.

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42 14 S. H. S. P., 537; cf. 4 B. and L., 231.

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43 Cf. 2 Meade, 201: "How long this game is to be played it is impossible to tell; but in the long run, we ought to succeed, because it is in our power more promptly to fill the gaps in men and material which this constant fighting produces."

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44 O. R., 51, part 2, p981.

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45 O. R., 36, part 1, p87; Hagood, 259.

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46 Cf. Lee's Dispatches, 212‑13.

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47 The exact positions can never be established unless there exists some evidence not now available, though the order of battle, except for Ramseur's division, is determinable. Major Jed Hotchkiss, topographical engineer of the Second Corps, whose maps are invaluable guides to troop positions, seems, unfortunately, to have left no map of Cold Harbor operations.

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48 O. R., 36, part 1, p1051.

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49 O. R., 36, part 3, pp869‑70.

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50 2 R. W. C. D., 224; Mrs. McGuire, 275.

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51 Wilcox's MS. report, 48.

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52 Brigadier General John Finegan had recently been sent from Florida by General Patton Anderson with two battalions of infantry, which, as noted on p368, had been consolidated at once with the remnants of Perry's brigade. The whole was placed under Finegan (O. R., 36, part 2, p1013; part 3, pp836, 843).

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53 O. R., 36, part 1, p1032; ibid., 51, part 2, p983. This break occurred at a point where, said Long, "a portion of the Confederate line occupied the edge of a swamp of several hundred yards in length and breadth, enclosed by a low semicircular ridge covered with brushwood." Long explained: "On the previous night the troops assigned to this part of the line, finding the ground wet and miry, withdrew to the encircling ridge, leaving the breastworks to be held by their picket-line. The attacking column quickly carried this part of the line, and advanced through the mud and water. . . ." The site of this was about 900 yards east, 20 degrees south of New Cold Harbor.

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54 Cooke, 406.

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55Davis, 524.

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56 O. R., 36, part 1, p1059. Law in 4 B. and L., 138; Alexander, 539‑40.

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57 Colonel William Preston Johnson, of the President's staff, who had come out to observe the battle, hurried back to Richmond from Lee's headquarters and was probably the first to carry the news to the President (Lee's Dispatches, 223).

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58 O. R., 36, part 1, p1059.

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59 This led Swinton to assert that the Union troops refused to attack, after the first repulse, but MacMahon (4 B. and L., 218) and Gordon (op. cit., 298) are authority for stating, from opposite sides, that there was no mutinous refusal. The men simply could not push their assaults home in the face of the fire from the Confederate works.

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60 Reagan, 192‑93.

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61 Lee's Dispatches, 212 ff.

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62 O. R., 36, part 3, p868.

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63 Lee's Dispatches, 214.

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64 O. R., 36, part 3, pp870, 871‑72; Calendar of Confederate Papers, 59‑60.

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65 O. R., 51, part 2, pp982‑83.

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66 O. R., 36, part 1, p1032.

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67 Alexander, 542.

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68B. and L., 217.

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69 Hagood, 260.

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70 14 S. H. S. P., 536.


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