Battle of Cold Harbor


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The Battle of Cold Harbor

Cold Harbor, BATTLE OF. In 1864 the Army of the Potomac and a large part of the Army of the James formed a junction near Cold Harbor, a locality in Hanover county, Va., originally known as Cool Arbor, and the old battleground of McClellan and Robert E. Lee in June, 1862. Gen. W. F. Smith and 16,000 men of the Army of the James had been taken in transports from Bermuda Hundred around to the White House, whence they had marched towards the Chickahominy.

The Battle of Cold Harbor

The Battle of Cold Harbor

Sheridan had seized the point at Cold harbor, and the Nationals took a position extending from beyond the Hanover road to Elder Swamp Creek, not far from the Chickahominy. Burnside's corps composed the right of the line, Warren's and Wright's the center, and Hancock's the left. The Confederate line, reinforced by troops under General John C. Breckinridge, occupied a line in front of the Nationals—Richard Ewell's corps on the left, James Longstreet's in the center, and A. P. Hill's on the right. On the morning of June 1, 1864, Hoke's division attempted to retake Cold Harbor. It was repulsed, but was reinforced by McLaws's division. Wright's 6th Corps came up in time to meet this new danger: and Smith's troops from the Army of the James, after a march of 25 miles, came up and took post on the right of the 6th Corps, then in front of Cold Harbor, on the road leading to Gaines's Mills. Between the two armies was a broad, open, undulating field and a thin line of woods. Over this field the Nationals advanced to the attack at 4 P.m. The veterans of Smith soon captured the first line of riflepits and 600 men. Their attack on the second line was a failure, and with darkness the struggle ceased, the Nationals having lost 2,000 men. They held the ground, and bivouacked on the battlefield.

During the night the Confederates made desperate but unsuccessful efforts to retake the riflepits. General Grant had ordered a redisposition of his army, making Hancock form the right, to the right of Wright's corps. Burnside was withdrawn entirely from the front and placed on the right and rear of Warren, who connected with Smith. Having made these dispositions on the 2nd, it was determined to force the passage of the Chickahominy the next morning, and compel Lee to seek safety in the fortifications around Richmond. The Nationals moved at four o'clock on the morning of the 3rd. Wilson's cavalry was on the right flank, and Sheridan's held the lower crossings of the river, and covered the roads to the White House. Orders had been given for a general assault along the whole line. At half-past four, or a little later, the signal for the advance was given, and then opened one of the most sanguinary battles of the war. It was begun on the right by the divisions of Barlow and Gibbon, of Hancock's corps, supported by Birney's. Barlow drove the Confederates from a strong position in front of their works, and captured several hundred men and three guns, when the Confederates rallied and retook the position. General Gibbon, who charged at the same time, was checked by a marsh of the Chickahominy which partly separated and weakened his command, and part of them gained the Confederate works, but could not hold them. There was a severe struggle, and in the assaults Hancock lost 3,000 men. The other divisions of the army were hotly engaged at the same time. The battle was " sharp, quick, and decisive." The Nationals were repulsed at nearly every point with great slaughter. It was estimated that within the space of twenty minutes after the struggle began 10,000 Union soldiers lay dead or wounded on the field, while the Confederates, sheltered by their works, had not lost more than 1,000. And so, at one o'clock in the afternoon of June 3, 1864, the battle of Cold Harbor ended.

It was one of the most sanguinary struggles of the great Civil War. The Nationals had a fearful loss of life, but firmly held their position, with all their munitions of war. Their loss in this engagement, and in the immediate vicinity of Cold Harbor, was reported at 13,153, of whom 1,705 were killed and 2,406 were missing. Immediately after the battle Sheridan was sent to destroy the railways in Lee's rear, and so make Washington more secure. This task he effectually performed, fighting much of the time. Grant then resolved to transfer his army to the south side of the James River.



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