Overland Start of Grant's Overland Campaign

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

frontrank2

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May 4th, 1864 - On this day, the Army of the Potomac embarks on the biggest campaign of the Civil War and crosses the Rapidan River in Virginia, precipitating an epic showdown that eventually decides the war. In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant became commander of all the Union forces and devised a plan to destroy the two major remaining Confederate armies: Joseph Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee, which was guarding the approaches to Atlanta, and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant sent William T. Sherman to take on Johnston, and then rode along with the Army of the Potomac, which was still under the command of George Meade, to confront Lee.
On May 4, the Army of the Potomac moved out of its winter encampments and crossed the Rapidan River to the tangled woods of the Wilderness forest. Grant had with him four corps and over 100,000 men. The plan was to move the Federal troops quickly around Lee’s left flank and advance beyond the Wilderness before engaging the Confederates. But logistics slowed the move, and the long wagon train supplying the Union troops had to stop in the Wilderness.
Although there was no combat on this day, the stage was set for the epic duel between Grant and Lee. In the dense environs of the Wilderness, the superior numbers of the Union army were minimized. Lee attacked the following day—the first salvo in the biggest campaign of the war. The fighting lasted into June as the two armies waltzed to the east of Richmond, Virginia, ending in Petersburg, where they settled into trenches and faced off for nearly nine months.

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/army-of-the-potomac-crosses-the-rapidan

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1SGDan

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The photo shows only one span across the Rapidan. Federal engineers actually bridged the river four times at three different locations and another span to assist movements across the Hazel River. So effective were their operations that by the end of the 5th the entire AoP was across the river and all but one bridge (Germana Ford) were disassembled and ready for further use.
 
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frontrank2

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The photo shows only one span across the Rapidan. Federal engineers actually bridged the river four times at three different locations and another span to assist movements across the Hazel River. So effective where their operations that by the end of the 5th the entire AoP was across the river and all but one bridge (Germans Ford) were disassembled and ready for further use.
BTW, this is the one at Germanna Ford. :smile:
 

Bruce Vail

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Sears' book on the Penninsula Campaign says it was the largest of the war. I'm assuming that he is talking abouth the number of men involved, counting both sides. Which is right?
 

dlofting

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Sears' book on the Penninsula Campaign says it was the largest of the war. I'm assuming that he is talking abouth the number of men involved, counting both sides. Which is right?

That's a good question. You'd have to decide when to count the number of soldiers (PFD), as both sides, in both campaigns were reinforced, received replacements and suffered casualties. Gordon Rhea is probably the best source for numbers/casualties during the Overland Campaign.

You can safely say that Lee commanded the single, largest Confederate army of the war at one point during the Peninsular Campaign/Seven Days Battles.
 

frontrank2

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On May 5th the forces of Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee clash in the Wilderness forest in Virginia, beginning an epic campaign. Lee had hoped to meet the Federals, who plunged into the tangled Wilderness west of Chancellorsville, Virginia, the day before, in the dense woods in order to mitigate the nearly two-to-one advantage Grant possessed as the campaign opened.
The conflict quickly spread along a two-mile front, as numerous attacks from both sides sent the lines surging back and forth. The fighting was intense and complicated by the fact that the combatants rarely saw each other through the thick undergrowth. Whole brigades were lost in the woods. Muzzle flashes set the forest on fire, and hundreds of wounded men died in the inferno. The battle may have been particularly unsettling for the Union troops, who came across skeletons of Yankee soldiers killed the year before at the Battle of Chancellorsville, their shallow graves opened by spring rains.

By nightfall, the Union was still in control of the major crossroads at the Wilderness. The next two days brought more pitched battles without a clear victory for either side. Grant eventually pulled out and moved further south toward Richmond, Virginia, and for the next six weeks the two great armies maneuvered around the Confederate capital.
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/grant-and-lee-clash-in-the-wilderness-forest

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frontrank2

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The fighting on May 5th had left A. P. Hill's troops disorganized and outnumbered. But he was not overly concerned, for Gen. Lee had promised him that Longstreet's Corp would be on the field and would relieve him by daybreak the next morning. Two of Hill's division commanders, Cadmus Wilcox and Henry Heath, approached Hill that night to ask permission awaken their men to prepare them for battle. Hill turned down their requests based on his assumption that Longtreet's Corp would be doing the fighting. Know what happens when you assume? Longstreet was late, and Hancock resumed the attack the morning of the 6th and sent Hill's men skedaddling.
Even when Longstreet's men arrived, the Federals were on the verge of breaking through. But fortunately for the rebels, the Federal troops got bogged down in the dense undergrowth. General Lee moved up near the front to rally the troops, and just about this time fresh troops from the Texas Brigade arrived on the field. When Lee saw who they were, he shouted " Hurrah for Texas! Hurrah for Texas! " The Texans formed a hasty battle line and advanced across the field. When Lee moved to their front and appeared intent on leading the charge, the Texans would not allow it. With shouts of "Lee to the rear!" they turned their commander back. The brigade then swept ahead into the opposite woods, halting the Yankees and giving Lonstreet time to bring up the rest of his corps.

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Greg Taylor

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Here is a letter dated May 5, 1864. It is written by my g-g grandfather, Adj. William B. Phillips of the 2nd Pennsylvania Provisional Heavy Artillery with the heading "Near Brandy Station, On Ammunition box." In it he says, "We are going to see some tough times, but I guess I'll stand it." A few hours later the regiment crossed the Rapadan River and entered the Wilderness. https://wbp2ndpaha.wordpress.com/may-1864/
 

frontrank2

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Grant Leaves the Wilderness for Spotsylvania - May 7, 1864

Following two days of intense fighting in Virginia’s Wilderness forest, the Army of the Potomac, under the command of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, moves south. Grant’s forces had clashed with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a pitched and confused two-day battle in which neither side gained a clear victory. Nonetheless, Lee could claim an advantage, since he inflicted more casualties and held off the Yankees, despite the fact that he was outnumbered.

When Lee halted Grant’s advance, Grant proved that he was different than previous commanders of the Army of the Potomac by refusing to fall back. Many of his veteran soldiers expected to retreat back across the Rapidan River, but the order came down through the ranks to move the army south. The blue troops had just suffered terrible losses, and the move south lifted their spirits. “We marched free. The men began to sing,” recalled one Yankee.

In some ways, warfare would never be the same. Grant had promised President Abraham Lincoln that there would be no turning back on this campaign. He would aggressively pursue Lee without allowing the Confederates time to retool. But the cost was high: Weeks of fighting resulted in staggering casualties before the two armies dug in around Petersburg, Virginia, by the middle of June.
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/grant-leaves-the-wilderness-for-spotsylvania

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frontrank2

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May 8th, 1864 - Lee beats Grant to Spotsylvania Court House

On this day, Yankee troops arrive at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, to find the Rebels already there. After the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6), Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac marched south in the drive to take Richmond. Grant hoped to control the strategic crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House, so he could draw Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia into open ground.

Spotsylvania was important for a number of reasons. The crossroads were situated between the Wilderness and Hanover Junction, where the two railroads that supplied Lee’s army met. The area also lay past Lee’s left flank, so if Grant beat him there he would not only have a head start toward Richmond, but also the clearest path. Lee would then be forced to attack Grant or race him to Richmond along poor roads.

Unbeknownst to Grant, Lee had received reports of Union cavalry movements to the south of the Wilderness battle lines. On the evening of May 7, Lee ordered James Longstreet’s corps, which were under the direction of Richard Anderson after Longstreet had been shot the previous day, to march at night to Spotsylvania. Anderson’s men marched the 11 miles entirely in the dark, and won the race to the crossroads, where they took refuge behind hastily constructed breastworks and waited. Now it would be up to Grant to force the Confederates from their position.
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lee-beats-grant-to-spotsylvania


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