A no-frills day-by-day account of what was happening 150 years ago, this blog is intended to be a way that we can experience or remember the Civil War with more immediacy, in addition to understanding the flow of time as we live in it.
---In Virginia, Grant’s Federals begin to deploy on the
north bank of the Totopotomoy River, facing Lee’s lines.Skirmishing escalates to general fighting all
along the lines, as both armies extend their lines southeasterly. Gen. Early leads his division in a direct assault, but is driven back with heavy casualties.
---Virginia:Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, in a forced
march, moves eastward in an effort to get in front of Grant’s army at Cold
Harbor, where Lee correctly divines that Grant wants to go.Cold Harbor is a crossroads important to
Grant for approaching Richmond.Lee
decides to keep the Chickahominy River at his back, in order to deny to the
Northern forces access to the crossings.
---Battle of Enon
Church:In an effort to learn of Grant’s
intentions, Lee orders two cavalry brigades under his son Fitzhugh Lee and Wade
Hampton to probe the Federal positions.As they do so, Federal cavalry discover them, and organie a charge.The Rebels dismount and form a line,
repelling the charges, again and again.Finally, an additional division in blue is brought up, and Brig. Gen.
George Armstrong Custer and his brigade of Michigan regiments makes an attack
dismounted, and they overrun the Rebel lines.The graycoats withdraw and mount up, leaving the Federals exhausted, but
---Battle of Dallas:In northern Georgia, sporadic fighting
continues all along the lines.Gen. Hood
is ordered to attack the Yankees’ left flank, which is reaching farther to the
east—but Hood finds the Yankee fortifications there too firm for an assault.
---George Templeton Strong, of New York City, notes with
alarm the impact of the war news on trade and the market:
. . . Gold reached 189 today!We are in a bad way, unless Grant or Sherman
soon win a decisive victory.But I see
no symptoms yet of debility in the backbones of loyal and patriotic men, or, in
other words, of the community minus Peace Democrats, McClellan-maniacs, mere
traders and capitalists, and the brutal herd of ignorant Celts and profligate
bullies and gamblers and “sporting men” that have so large a share in the
government of our cities.
---The Army of the Potomac moves swiftly south to the
crossings over the Pamunkey near Hanovertown.Sheridan’s cavalry arrive first, and pontoon bridges are laid down over
the Pamunkey River is short order.They occupy
Hanovertown on the south bank, and later in the day, the infantry formation of
the Army of the Potomac file across the bridges.
---In Cleveland, the Radical Republicans, those opposed to
Lincoln, begin a convention to nominate another team to oppose Lincoln for the
elections.The convention decides to
label this movement The Radical Democracy.
Battle of Picketts Mill – Sherman orders Gen. Thomas of the Army of the
Cumberland to send Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps forward to strike the
Rebels at the right flank of their line at Pickett’s Mill.Brig. Gen. William B. Hazen’s brigade bears
the brunt of the attack, as they sweep forward to find that the position is
already strongly fortified.Also, the
promised reinforcements do not show, and 1,500 Federals are shot down in a very
short amount of time.Many officers
blame Howard for poor planning.Confederate Victory.
Day 4:Seeing that there are no opportunities to
turn Lee’s line, Gen. Grant decides to keep up the skirmishing, and then move
his army by night to the east and south, around Lee’s right flank.To deceive the enemy, Grant sends Brig. Gen.
James Wilson and his cavalry off heading straight west, to make Lee think that
the flanking movement will be in the opposite direction.Wilson destroys large portions of the
Virginia Central railroad, and key supply link for Richmond, but fails to draw
Lee after him.After dark, the units of
the Army of the Potomac begin to pull out of line, and head east and south to
the crossings over the Pamunkey River near Hanovertown.Warren and Wright pull out first, while
Hancock and Burnside hold.Confederate
---Battle of New Hope
Church, Georgia (cont.):The
fighting along Johnston’s hastily-constructed line continues, but degrades into
mere skirmishing as the Federals begin to entrench to protect their own lines.
Day 3:Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren pushes his V Corps
into line to test A.P. Hill’s Third Corps lines, but finds them substantial,
and chooses not to escalate his probing attacks.Then, Gen. Wright brings up his VI Corps on
Warren’s right, in order to try to flank the Confederate lines.But Wright finds that Hill’s left is anchored
on the Little River, and in order to flank him, the Federals need to cross it.But the fords are heavily guarded by the
Southern cavalry in force, and Wright can find no opportunities to cross.The fighting on this day devolves into light
Campaign---Battle of New Hope Church:Gen. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee halts at New Hope Church, forming a
line with Hood in the center, Polk on the left, and Hardee on the right.Gen. Hooker’s bluecoats (XX Corps) strike the
Confederate line in the center, and loses heavily against well-positioned
artillery and the Rebel infantry who have an unobstructed field of fire.Hooker disengages and pull back.Some Union soldiers describe it as some of
the most intense musketry of the war.
Day 2:After working feverishly overnight, Gen.
Lee’s engineers have fortified his inverted V-shape line (called a “hog’s
snout” line), in order to necessarily cause the Federal forces to split itself
to one side of the apex and the other.This morning, Gen . Grant orders more troops to cross the river and
deploy.Hancock’s II Corps crosses to
the east, at Chesterfield Bridge, in large numbers, not realizing that he faces
two of the Confederate corps (Ewell and Anderson).On the west leg, Warren and Wright cross
their two corps over the river.Grant,
not yet understanding what Lee is doing, finds the ease of crossing the North
Anna to be a sign that Lee is retreating.He order Burnside down to cross the river at Ox Ford, and the Yankees
encounter opposition there, which the Federals assume to be a rear guard.Burnside sends Crittenden’s division to cross
at Ox Ford, and sends Samuel Crawford’s division upstream to cross at Quarles
Mills.As soon as Crittenden crosses, he
sends his lead brigade of new Massachusetts regiments, under Brig. Gen. James
Ledlie, to attack the Rebel lines.Ledlie is drunk, and in spite of the fortifications and the Rebel
artillery, orders an attack anyway.His
men are moved down in large numbers, two of his regimental commanders (Weld and
Chandler) are wounded, and Ledlie finally withdraws.(Despite the botched attack, Ledlie is cited
for bravery and given division command later.)
North Anna, May 24
map by Wikipedia
Hancock’s troops go forward, and strike the right flank of
the Confederate line.Gibbon’s division
strikes the Southern earthworks, and a hot firefight engulfs and engages his
entire division.About this time, a
torrential thunderstorm breaks, and both armies slack off their rate of
fire.A bit later, Gen. Birney’s Federal
division moves in alongside Gibbon, and both divisions push, but are unable to
make any headway.Gen. Lee had planned
to make a push that would trap Hancock against the river and destroy his corps
piecemeal, but Lee is debilitated by intestinal illness, and cannot stir from
his cot.He has no other commanders that
he can rely on (Anderson being new, Hill also being ill, and Ewell still shaken
from the Spotsylvania disaster), and so nothing happens.Lee’s intended counter-blow at Hancock never
materializes.When Grant hears about the
disposition of Lee’s lines, he realizes Hancock’s peril, and orders more
pontoon bridges built, in order to better reinforce either wing of his divided
army.Gen. Hancock advises that the
Rebel lines are as strong or stronger than at Spotsylvania.
---Atlanta Campaign:Gen. Joseph Johnston realizes that Sherman is
attempting to flank him again, and so he abandons Allatoona and speeds south to
Dallas in order to keep in front of Sherman.Northern and Southern cavalry skirmish all along the way.
Day 1:In another race, Grant and Lee force-march
their troops to the North Anna River, where they hope to beat the other to the
crossings.But the Rebels already have
possession of the crossings, so Lee’s troops cross to the south bank of the
river.Lee is convinced that the thrust
to the North Anna is a feint by Grant.But
Grant is headed for the North Anna for sure.The west column is Warren and Wright, intending to cross at Jericho
Mills.The east column is Hancock and
Burnside, intending to cross at Ox Ford or Chesterfield Bridge near Hanover
Junction.Hancock is able to overwhelm a
Rebel brigade and take the bridge.Warren crosses at Jericho Mills nearly uncontested.A.P. Hill only places one division there, Cadmus
Wilcox’s.Warren’s troops push across,
and Wilcox’s division holds them and then makes a direct attack, but Warren’s
troops push them back and keep the beachhead.
Battle of the North Anna, May 23, 1864
maps by Wikipedia
This night, Lee decides to arrange his lines in a V-shaped
wedge, with the apex anchored on the river at Ox Ford, in between the two main crossing
points.Lee’s plan is to split the Union
wings, and attack either one wing or the other, and reinforce from the
---In a letter to his wife penned this day, Gen. George G.
Meade writes about the prospects of success:
We expected [this day] to have
another battle, but the enemy refuses to fight unless attacked in strong
entrenchments; hence, when we moved on his flank, instead of coming out of his
works and attacking us, he has fallen back from Spottsylvania Court House, and
taken up a new position behind the North Anna River; in other words, performed
the same operation which I did last fall, when I fell back from Culpeper, and
for which I was ridiculed; that is to say, refusing to fight on my adversary’s
terms. I suppose now we will have to repeat this turning operation, and
continue to do so, till Lee gets into Richmond.
---The New York Times
publishes an editorial that is passionate on the question of Robert E. Lee’s
personal honor, despite the genealogical errors:
The Chivalry of the Rebel Gen. Lee.
“When monkeys are gods, what must
the people be?” ROBERT E. LEE, Commander of the rebel army, is deemed the
paragon of Southern chivalry. The rebels have always been vain of being led by
one of such pure blood, such stainless honor. Justly enough by their standard.
But let us put him to a civilized test.
What is his blood? His grandfather,
R.H. LEE, had the taint of treason in him. Writing in 1790, on the Federal
Constitution, he said, “When we [the South] attain our natural degree of
population, I flatter myself that we shall have the power to do ourselves
justice, with dissolving the bond which binds us together.” His great uncle,
“Light-Horse HARRY,” was stigmatized by JEFFERSON, who knew him well, as “an
intriguer,” “an informer,” a “miserable tergiversator.” Maj.-Gen. CHAS. LEE, of
Revolutionary memory, and a kinsman, was, as one may see by IRVING’s
Washington, not only a calumniator of WASHINGTON, but was a plotter to
supersede him; he was tried by court-martial, after the battle of Monmouth, was
found guilty of disobedience of orders, misbehavior before the enemy, and disrespect
to the Commander-in-Chief; was subsequently dismissed from the service in
disgrace. . . . The great uncle, ARTHUR LEE, was the libeler of FRANKLIN and
JAY and JEFFERSON, and is described by TUCKER, in his life of the latter, to
have been “singularly impracticable in his temper and disposition.” The uncle,
HENRY LEE, was in Congress at the time of the Presidential struggle between
JEFFERSON and BURR, and, according to TUCKER, advised “desperate measures” to
defeat the former; . . . It would be difficult to name an old family in this
country, of any historical mark, whose “blood” has been shown to be of worse
quality than that of the LEES of Virginia.
But it is not family that makes the
gentleman, or the reverse. It is personal honor. Has ROBERT E. LEE this? We say
emphatically that he has it not. He is deficient in its very first and most
essential element — truth. He is as mendacious as BEAUREGARD himself. This can
be proved incontestably, and that too without going back of the history of the
last fortnight. . . . LEE deliberately and flagitiously lied. . . . No
Commander of the Army of the Potomac has been guilty of anything of the kind.
GRANT or MEADE would die on the spot before they would degrade their own
manhood, and insult the manhood of their soldiers, by such deception.
The simple truth is that the very
fact of a soldier’s abandoning his flag involves an abandonment of character.
LEE received his military education from the Government, had been constantly
honored and trusted by the Government, and it was the extreme of perfidy in him
to turn traitor against the Government. . . . It is not morally possible to
perpetrate this supreme crime without wrenching and in fact breaking down the
whole moral nature. Treason cannot be committed on any scale without its
malignity extending to every part of the moral constitution. Fidelity lies at
the very core of sound character, and when that rots, all rots.