In May 1864, after the Confederate troops under Robert E. Lee were unable to stop Ulysses S. Grant’s army’s march through Virginia at the Battle of Spotsylvania, Lee would attempt once more and the two armies would meet again. Grant’s march continued, and at North Anna River, Virginia, the two armies met. Lee had established his position on the side of the river opposite Grant’s march after securing a strategic railroad junction, Hanover Junction. Grant’s army was divided by the terrain of the river, and Lee’s position looked as if it would pay off until Lee missed his opportunity to attack Grant’s displaced army. The fighting began on May 31at Cold Harbor, Virginia, where Lee hoped once more to stop the Union march toward Richmond.
There was little decisive action on either side on the first few days, and on the 3rd of June Grant decided to go on the offensive against the defensive and well-entrenched position. Grant hoped that this attack would catch Lee off guard and believe that sending waves of men at Lee would send his men retreating. The Union civilians, headed by Abraham Lincoln, were anxious and pressing Grant for a victory that would secure Union victory in the war. Despite outnumbering the enemy by over ten thousand Grant was unable to push the Confederates out of their position. One key aspect to his attack was that it diverted Lee’s attention away from the Union troops that were marching toward Petersburg, Virginia.
P.G.T Beauregard was in charge of defending Petersburg, and when Grant’s troops were marching toward his position, Beauregard requested reinforcements from Lee’s position. Later that month Lee was able to reinforce Beauregard’s troops, though some time had passed before he did so. Despite Lee’s late action, Grant did not take advantage of the relatively light defenses of Petersburg before Lee reinforced the troops there, and Grant did not capture Petersburg, a railway junction that supplied Richmond. Grant’s troops were unable to take Petersburg after several days of fighting, and the casualties on each side began to increase. For more than a month since the Battle of Spotsylvania Union and Confederate troops were in near-constant fighting and both sides began to become weary.
Because Grant did not deliver success during the offensive that failed on many different levels, the Northern people began to get restless with Grant more and more by the day. Lincoln had replaced generals he believed were incapable or unwilling to do their duties, and it seemed as if Grant was dangerously close to being replaced. There had not been much good news from Grant despite the fact that Grant’s troops were currently in Virginia, and the territory he had gained in the past year was astounding and pushed the Confederates to the brink of collapse. In spite of this, Northern morale dropped because of the constant casualties that were mounting and Grant’s indecisiveness costing him Petersburg as well as being unable to push Lee’s troops out of their entrenchment at Cold Harbor. Grant’s days as the General-in-Chief, it seemed, were surely numbered under Lincoln’s leadership.
College level lecture
Archer Jones and Herman Hattaway – “How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War”
James McPherson – “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”