Overland Alternative Decisions in the Overland Campaign

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Besides the obvious June 3 assault at Cold Harbor, where did the AOTP zig where it should have zagged between the crossing of the Rapidan and the crossing of the James?

1. Don't send Sheridan off on a raid early in the campaign. It left the AOTP with insufficient scouting and screening.

2. Warren's attacks after the first day at Spotsylvania. Futile, bloody assaults with little chance of accomplishing anything.

What else?

As for Lee:

1. if Grant remains longer at Cold Harbor (perhaps there are delays getting necessary pontoons and shipping for crossing the James), does Lee try to take the initiative? If so, how?

2. If there is no assault on June 3 and instead planning for crossing the James starts two days earlier thus allowing Grant to move two days earlier, does Lee still dispatch Early to the Shenandoah?
 

jackt62

Captain
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Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Grant's first error was in getting stuck in the Wilderness after successfully crossing the Rapidan. Perhaps either he and/or Meade did not have good control over their cumbersome wagon train and marching orders, or lacked sufficient intelligence, or did not act promptly as to the swift approach of the ANV. Gaining open ground east of the Wilderness was important for Grant and the AOTP to either confront the ANV on more favorable terrain, or put in place a turning movement to encircle the ANV. As far as Lee is concerned, his major error was losing control of the tactical situation and enabling Gant to undertake a stealth movement of the AOTP from Cold Harbor across the James River, thus beginning the "siege" of Petersburg.
 

Carronade

Captain
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Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
On May 9, as the AofP and ANV were facing off to the west of Spotsylvania Court House, Burnsides' 9th Corps approached from the northeast along Fredericksburg Road (incidentally they had been delayed by Sheridan's cavalry column riding across their front on its way out of the battle zone). There were very few Confederates in their path, and Burnside might have struck into Lee's rear, but the opportunity was allowed to slip.

On the morning of May 10 the Confederates launched an attack against the right flank of the Union army at Spotsylvania - Heth's division, supported by Mahone's, initially against Barlow's division of Hancock's 2d Corps. The Union response was strictly defensive: throw up field fortifications and then beat a hasty retreat, almost in panic. This seems to have been a chance to fight the Confederates out in the open, just what Grant and Meade were supposedly looking for - let them attack Barlow while preparing a counterstroke. Hancock's other two divisions were nearby, marching away to a planned assault on the main Confederate line, and apparently it was inconceivable to change the plan.

The Federals would have been considerably helped in either of these situations by their cavalry being where it was supposed to be and doing its job, scouting ahead of the corps and probing for the enemy.

Both occasions also showed the "what Lee might do to us" mindset that Grant so deplored.
 
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Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Almost forgot my old favorite from May 5, the first day of fighting, when A.P. Hill's corps (two divisions) was discovered marching down the Orange Plank Road between Hancock's corps and the rest of the AofP (+ 9th Corps). All the Union leadership thought of was the danger of Hancock being cut off or Hill getting into the supply trains, never mind that the rebs were strung out along the road with a more powerful Union force on each side...
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Almost forgot my old favorite from May 5, the first day of fighting, when A.P. Hill's corps (two divisions) was discovered marching down the Orange Plank Road between Hancock's corps and the rest of the AofP (+ 9th Corps). All the Union leadership thought of was the danger of Hancock being cut off or Hill getting into the supply trains, never mind that the rebs were strung out along the road with a more powerful Union force on each side...

Given the thickness of the terrain a pincer movement might not have been feasible.
 

Greywolf

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 17, 2017
What I would like to know, if someone has detailed info, how was Grant able to disengage at CH, and then get across the James right under Lee's nose without a reaction from him. On the surface it seems implausible this would work. Lee had seen Grant disengage and keep coming and that close to richmond/Petersburg one would think plenty of confederate eyes would have been on him.

We talk about the wilderness, spots., CH, but this may have been the biggest move of the eastern theater.
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Given the thickness of the terrain a pincer movement might not have been feasible.

You may be right; on the other hand, most of the fighting involved troops struggling through the woods. If we say for example "Hancock attacked along the Orange Plank Road" it really means that most of his men were in line on both sides of the road, trying to move forward together. I don't think they would have been any worse off trying to come at Hill from the south while Sedgwick's came down from the north.

Historically the Union effort was all frontal assaults. When they became aware of Hill's advance, their sole thought was to get troops in front of him, initially Getty's division of Sedgwick's corps. When Hancock's leading divisions arrived, they lined up with Getty for a frontal assault. The rest of 2d Corps merely fell in behind Getty to add weight to the push (ironically as they marched north on Brock Road they had crossed the unfinished railroad line which might have led them around Hill's flank as it did Longstreet against them the following day). That sort of "strategy" invites speculation about other options.
 

Jamieva

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 7, 2006
Location
Midlothian, VA
What I would like to know, if someone has detailed info, how was Grant able to disengage at CH, and then get across the James right under Lee's nose without a reaction from him. On the surface it seems implausible this would work. Lee had seen Grant disengage and keep coming and that close to richmond/Petersburg one would think plenty of confederate eyes would have been on him.

We talk about the wilderness, spots., CH, but this may have been the biggest move of the eastern theater.


Lee's cavalry is off chasing Sheridan at Trevilian station when Grant moves.
 

Greywolf

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 17, 2017
Lee's cavalry is off chasing Sheridan at Trevilian station when Grant moves.
I found some letters, newspaper clips and diary entries for that time period. At least from the ones I read the federal troops didnt seem to be harassed at all before and during the crossing. Just blows my mind that Lee didnt anticipate this possibility. Especially since Grant had done the disengage and advance around to Lees right after wilderness, Spotsylvania, and North Anna.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
I found some letters, newspaper clips and diary entries for that time period. At least from the ones I read the federal troops didnt seem to be harassed at all before and during the crossing. Just blows my mind that Lee didnt anticipate this possibility. Especially since Grant had done the disengage and advance around to Lees right after wilderness, Spotsylvania, and North Anna.

Lee did anticipate Grant crossing the James before it happened. He had cavalry screening the Chickahominy crossings too. Problem were that Lee thought Grant might move that way, but didn't know for certain, didn't know when it might happen, and didn't know where.

Meanwhile, Hunter was running wild in the Shenandoah as well which led to dispatching Breckinridge then Early.

The move by the AOTP was well-planned and mostly well-executed until they got to Petersburg. Crossing the James required a lot of logistics and Lee might have underestimated how quickly Grant could pull it off.
 

TerryB

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
Lee did anticipate Grant crossing the James before it happened. He had cavalry screening the Chickahominy crossings too. Problem were that Lee thought Grant might move that way, but didn't know for certain, didn't know when it might happen, and didn't know where.

Meanwhile, Hunter was running wild in the Shenandoah as well which led to dispatching Breckinridge then Early.

The move by the AOTP was well-planned and mostly well-executed until they got to Petersburg. Crossing the James required a lot of logistics and Lee might have underestimated how quickly Grant could pull it off.
In his own dispatches Lee wrote that he couldn't believe Grant could get his entire army across the James, so it was three days before he came to Beauregard's rescue. A determined assault by the Union could have taken Petersburg before Lee got there.
 

Jamieva

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Feb 7, 2006
Location
Midlothian, VA
grant should have moved to the northwest of Richmond.

Can you flesh out more of how he would do that? Lee's 3 corps are in the general vicinity of NW of Richmond by being in the Gordonsville and Culpeper areas. So are you looking for Grant to swing out through the Valley?

Keep in mind any move by Grant's right opens up Lee's direct route to Washington and takes him away from multiple rivers that can supply him and defend his flanks with the Federal navy.
 
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