June, 1864: Battle of Cold Harbor Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

When Ulysses S. Grant was appointed to lead the various Union armies in March, 1864, he was upset by the lack of a coordinated plan for victory. He believed a policy of unrelenting attrition would eventually ground down the Confederacy. He ordered George G. Meade to advance toward Richmond. To ensure Meade’s continual advance, Grant attached himself to the combined force. Opposing this Union thrust was the Army of Northern Virginia, ably led by Robert E. Lee.

Workers bury the remains of men who died at the Battle of Cold Harbor. (Corbis)

General George G. Meade (National Archives)

When Ulysses S. Grant was appointed to lead the various Union armies in March, 1864, he was upset by the lack of a coordinated plan for victory. He believed a policy of unrelenting attrition would eventually ground down the Confederacy. He ordered George G. Meade to advance toward Richmond. To ensure Meade’s continual advance, Grant attached himself to the combined force. Opposing this Union thrust was the Army of Northern Virginia, ably led by Robert E. Lee.

The first major battles were at the Wilderness (May 5–7) and Spotsylvania (May 8–20). In both of these conflicts, Union forces suffered substantial casualties, but Grant continued moving to the Confederate right, seeking to outflank his opponent. On June 3, the Northern armies launched a massive assault on the entrenched Confederates at Cold Harbor. The Southerners decimated the Union infantry. Gunners firing from fortifications mowed down waves of foot soldiers. Ultimately, the Union suffered 7,000 casualties, compared with only 1,500 for the defenders.

After the Battle at Cold Harbor, Grant again moved south, then advanced on Petersburg. The heavy losses incurred at Cold Harbor caused Grant to later comment that he regretted this assault more than any other he had ever ordered.

Categories: History Content