June 2, 1864
Battle of Cold Harbor
May 31-June 12, 1864
Day 2: Things begin badly today for the Union army, once again bedeviled by poor communications on the field and ambiguous command structure. Grant ordered Meade to follow a now-common pattern: to hold with the V Corps (Warren) and move the II (Hancock) and the VI (Wright) to steal a flanking march on the Rebels. The problem: they had never caught Lee flat-footed. Hancock and Wright are ordered to march to Cold Harbor to participate in a morning attack. In theory, the Union left, by then the strongest flank for the Army of the Potomac, would be ready for Meade to make an attack with 3 corps, numbering well over 30,000 men. However, poor roads and disjointed staff work means that the march is slow and plagued with misdirection and the results of exhausted troops in constant contact with the enemy for nearly a month. As Hancock withdraws from the line, Burnside—whose IX Corps’ right flank was covered by Hancock—is not even informed of the move.
Lee is not fooled by the move, and sends Breckinridge’s fairly fresh division over to the Confederate left to reinforce Anderson’s First Corps. Lee also detaches Mahone’s and Wilcox’s divisions from A.P. Hill (whose ill health still plagues him) to send over to join Breckinridge. Lee’s new line is anchored on the two rivers, and therefore no longer has any vulnerable flank. There is skirmishing all along the line throughout the evening, as the Confederates put the finishing touches on an amazingly intricate line, with converging fields of fire, flanking trenches, and enfilading lines.
Hancock’s men, having marched all night, are in no condition or position to make a morning attack. Gen. Grant agrees to delay the attack until 5:00 PM., and begins shifting his lines to prepare for this assault: Burnside and Warren form a new line to withstand increasing pressure from Early’s Second Corps. Several Rebel attacks on Burnside’s and Warren’s lines yield several hundred Yankee prisoners for the attackers. Finally, Grant agrees to a general attack the next morning, June 3. A number of brigade and division commanders protest, having seen the ground in front of them, and the Southerners in their positions. Several observers take notice of infantrymen who, being advised of the attack on the Confederate works in the morning, are writing their names and hometowns on slips of paper and sewing them to their jackets; they do not expect to survive the attack.