THE BATTLE OF COLD HARBOR DISCUSSION
This is a copy of a discussion of Cold Harbor that took place on 22 June 1997 in WebAmerica's Civil War Chatroom. The discussion was moderated by Irish, a Military History Professor at Pepperdine University. It began with a few opening comments from Irish and continued from there. While there are few participates in the actual discussion, there were many onlookers.
Cold Harbor Study Site
Irish's Opening Statement
"Cold Harbor is, I think, the only battle I ever fought that I would not fight over again under the circumstances. I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made." Ulysses S. Grant
The initial June 3rd assault against General Lee's entrenchments at Cold Harbor lasted nearly twenty-two minutes on the Second Corps' front, eight minutes on the Sixth Corps' front, and thirty minutes on the Eighteenth Corps' front.
The army made their attack at 4:30 a.m. on June 3rd. One of the largest attacks of the war. The Second Corps numbered 31,153 men, Sixth Corps numbered 26, 830 men. Eighteenth Corps numbered 10,000 men. Each of these corps plus the Ninth Corps stepped off at the same time.
General C.H. Morgan, Chief of Staff of the Second Corps, reported: "The Second Corps here (Cold Harbor) received a mortal blow, and never again was the same body of men. Between the Rapidan and the Chickahominy, a period of about thirty days, the losses of the corps had averaged over four hundred daily."
Francis A. Walker, historian for the Second Corps, reports: "In the long column which wound its way, in the darkness, out of the intrenchments at Cold Harbor, on the 12th of June, 1864, and took the road to the Chickahominy, little remained of the divisions that had crossed that river, on the 31st of May, 1862 (Peninsula Campaign)...the story of Cold Harbor is the epitaph of the Second Corps."
Of the strategy, it must be said that General Grant's original objective, the destruction of General Lee's army, was sound. With the crushing of the Army of Northern Virginia, Richmond would have fallen, and with it the Confederacy. After his failure in frontal attacks against entrenchments, General Grant was justified in adopting plans which involved the turning of the entrenched position. Marshal Foch, of the French Army, in his "Principles of War" said: "As has been seen previously, modern war knows only of one argument: the tactical fact, the battle, for which it requires all the forces, relying on strategy to bring them there, and engaging all these forces with tactical impulsion to arrive to shock."
This theory compels movements and maneuvering. "But at the same time as it aims at battle, it recognizes the necessity of detaching troops to: discover the enemy; ascertain his strength; immobilize him; cover and protect the concentration of its own side; maintain the dispersion of the enemy; and prevent his concentration."
A study of the record shows how far the Federal commander avoided just such detachments and how the army was handled as a mass. The record also shows clearly that the maneuvers which followed the decision to outflank Lee were far from meeting the conditions for a successful turning movement. Instead of immobilizing Lee's army at the North Anna while carrying on the turning movement, the Federal commander moved his whole army away from the enemy, leaving that enemy free to maneuver. The result of this movement was, as might well have been expected, that there was no flank to turn. Lee, taking advantage of the chance for free movement, presented not a flank, but a front to the Army of the Potomac when contact was next established.
The tactics following contact ignored the advantages derived from strategic or tactical surprise. When the Army of the Potomac crossed the Pamunkey and formed what substantially amounted to a line of battle, the cavalry was so close to the main body of the infantry as to afford no screening at all. The presence of the Federal army, its strength and disposition, were well-advertised. The Confederate cavalry, on the other hand, acted as an almost perfect screen behind which General Lee placed and arranged his forces, and the Federal reports very clearly show how tight such a screen could be made and utilized.
The reconnaissance towards Polly Hundley's Corners and Hanover Court House, which was more like a concentration for battle than an expedition for gathering information of the enemy, was a violation of the principle of economy of force. It substantially amounted to sending the entire army on advance guard work. The result of this misuse of forces was that the Federal army was nailed down to a battle line of their enemy's choosing and called upon to fight without sufficient information of either enemy dispositions or the battle site.
Sheridan's cavalry attack at Cold Harbor does not appear to have been Grant's intent. Sheridan attacked because he felt threatened by the Confederate cavalry. By attacking the Confederates, he not only did not prevent the concentration of the enemy at a strategic point, but actually hastened it. The Cold Harbor position was the key to the Mechanicsville position, and was well south of the Confederate flank, as that flank stood at the time of Sheridan's attack. It is apparent that Sheridan was not trying to turn Lee's flank, but just looking for a fight. In fact, he thought so little of his success that he abandoned his position during the night. Yet this attack brought Hoke into position in time to check the assault of the Sixth Corps on June 1st.
Irish at [Jun 22 19:26:56]: The tactical formations for the battle are worth notice, because of their ineffectiveness against entrenchments. The formation that the Eighteenth Corps employed on June 3rd featured deep lines and closely massed columns which gave a force in which only the front rank had firepower. In the assault, its firepower was particularly ineffective against the entrenched foe. The weight of the heavy lines or massed columns would not count until actual hand-to-hand contact had been established and the bayonet could be used. This is probably the most ill-conceived plan to assault trenches. The bullet which missed the front ranks found a sure victim in one of the following lines. All advantages gained by having replacements and support for the front ranks were more than offset by the losses in the rear ranks.
A quotation from General Maurice's "Robert E. Lee, The Soldier": "Cold Harbor was a costly blunder, but it was a blunder in execution as well as conception, and for the execution, Meade, the actual commander of the attacking troops, must take a great share of the responsibility."
An introduction to the battle: Meade's Circular Order Meade's circular order of 2:30 p.m. -- The attack ordered for 5:00 p.m. this day is postponed until 4:30 a.m. tomorrow. Corps commanders will employ the interim in making examination of the ground on their fronts and perfecting their arrangements for the assault. The circular order was given on June 2 for the attack of June 3.
Successful assaults against an entrenched force could be realized if the proper position was massed and the proper reserves cooperated. Brigadier General Upton of the Sixth Corps had been successful in breaking the line at Spotsylvania but was not supported. Hancock had been successful in breaking the salient at Spotsylvania, however, he had too many troops assigned to the task and his assault soon became a confused mass of unorganization.
The Federal Army had been maneuvering over extremely difficult terrain and were in poor condition to attempt to assault an entrenched enemy. A massed force cooperating with reserves had a chance of success. There is nothing in the official records that will support the fact that much detail went into the planned assault for June 3rd. General Smith, who was not at Spotsylvania, was probably the severest critic of Army Headquarter's orders for the 3rd. He says: "Such an order of battle as was developed in that circular - an attack along the whole line - is denounced by standard writers on the art of war, and belongs to the first period in history after man had ceased to fight in unorganized masses."
Throughout the Overland Campaign, General Sheridan complained that his cavalry was not used for its proper task of being the eyes and ears of the army. When Sheridan was given the freedom to act independently, his forces fought capably. The cavalry had shown great ability in using its resources at Yellow Tavern. What now seemed to be the problem was that just looking for a fight was not all that was required.
General Sheridan had not yet seemed able to comprehend that his mission was to identify and preserve strategic ground. He had gotten to the Cold Harbor crossroads, fought a battle, and then retired only to be ordered back to the position by General Meade.
On June 2nd, his men were assigned the task of holding the Federal flank near the Chickahominy. This meant defending the strategic position along Turkey Hill. Had Sheridan held this real estate, some, if not most, of the problems associated with the attack on June 3rd would have been alleviated.
General Breckinridge was able to push the cavalry from Turkey Hill without much resistance. General Pendelton quickly emplaced his artillery along the crest of the hill. A twenty-four pound Howitzer of McIntosh's Battalion was adjusted a little in the rear of the line and served as a mortar.39 This was quickly followed up by the emplacement of Confederate infantry.
The entire Confederate line was readjusted. The change in the line at the junction of Kershaw's and Hoke's divisions was important. This was where the breakthrough of June 1st occurred (Wofford-Clingman). Major General E.M Law's was asked to view the area before placing his troops. Upon seeing the point of the breakthrough, the Confederate general decided to build a new line behind the breakthrough point. This gave the new Confederate line a clear sweep across a killing field that consisted of marshy ground.
The soldiers of 1864 were quickly able to grasp the fundamentals of earthwork construction. They easily recognized the value of even slight protection and used their own initiative in adapting both natural and artificial elements to this end.
Trenches were usually constructed by enlisted men with little direction from their officers. Foreign officers observing the troops were often astonished to see the men do what seemed to them to be technical engineering duties. These duties, in most foreign services, were carried out only by trained officers and men, and were never attempted by the common soldier.
I realize that Cold Harbor is not the most researched or read battle of the Civil War. A few years ago, my son in law and his brother and I visited the Cold Harbor field, we wanted to find some research on the field, and found that there was none. It was at that time, that we decided to write a history of the battle. My son-in-law provided most of the writing that you have seen so far. My main contribution to this was deciphering military jargon, and explaining movements .
After reading what limited information was available and investigating many sources including period newspapers, little known archives, well known archives, we came up with three points concerning the Campaign and Battle of Cold Harbor that most historians have ignored or have not discovered, the most glaring of which was the failure of General Anderson to comply with General Lee's orders to assault the Sixth Corps as it approached the Cold Harbor Crossroads. The Sixth Corps and the Eighteenth Corps had been given orders from different generals to head for the same place. The Sixth Corps was completely worn out and was in some what of a column as they approached the Crossroads. The Eighteenth Corps did not bring very much ammunition, between 20 to 40 rounds per soldier and just enough ammunition to fill up gun chests of their caissons.
These two corps were an accident waiting to happen, and Lee knew the importance of getting to Cold Harbor before they did. Anderson made a small attempt at an attack against Federal Cavalry entrenched at Cold Harbor. Once being thrown back, he tried no more.
I have probably thrown way too much information at you, but I would prefer to throw this out to everyone right now, comments...questions...etc.
shotgun at [Jun 22 20:14:15]: Irish, I understand that Anderson was Longstreet's replacement. I believe according to Opportunities Lost that he was pretty good at lower commands but was sorely lacking at the Corps level. Was this his first experience at this level?
M at [Jun 22 20:15:25]: Irish, how have you been. Just waiting for you to finish you're statements. On Anderson's not attacking as desired by Lee, and his lack luster performance against the US Cav at Cold Harbor, we need to keep in mind that Anderson was brand new to commanding a Corp and, in my opinion, it was a position above what he was qualified for. Not all men can handle that large a unit. A. P. Hill also fell short of fulfilling Lee's wishes in this campaign. Again a man who was an excellent Div commander, but never showed as much as a Corp commander.
Matt at [Jun 22 20:18:02]: Matt's in. Being the original dummy and based on what little I've read, the Cold Harbor fight was one of missed opportunities on both sides as well as a brilliant (?) defense by a sick leader(Lee) who countered each sliding movement by Grant( Who should have been shot for the losses he incurred in the time he was in command) Now I will shut up for awhile
Irish at [Jun 22 20:19:02]: I don't know whether Anderson had ever commanded at the Corps level before the wounding of Longstreet. However, Anderson did have some shades of glory (promise) in that his troops won the race to Spotsylvania Courthouse earlier in the month of May. His problem at Cold Harbor was that there were several troops sent to Cold Harbor that had not been a part of the Lee's army, Hoke had brought his troops from Petersburg and was a part of Beauregard's forces. Anderson ranked Hoke, but was not very forceful in command. Hoke made a small attack with General Clingman's troops on the cavalry, and was beaten back, primarily because of the use of a green regiment as the spear point. Andeson must have felt like this was all that was needed. It was a major error on his part.
M at [Jun 22 20:20:29]: Irish, about Sheridan holding Cold Harbor, he had superior CS forces headed his way (e.g. Hokes Div) and could have concidered that he could not hold out against them. M
Irish at [Jun 22 20:22:58]: Very true M. The problem with what had happened in Anderson's front was that he was given explicit orders to attack troops moving down the Cold Harbor--Old Church Road. This was the first offensive movement contemplated by Lee since Longstreets' wounding in the Wilderness. Lee realized that the Federals had to be in a very weakened condition, which they were. Had Anderson followed orders he would have rolled up the Sixth Corps on top of the Eighteenth Corps. Neither corps was in any shape to receive an attack. This attack would have placed Anderson on the left and rear of the Federal Army with Hampton's cavalry protecting his right, and his left would have been joined to Ewell's Corps I believe. It would have reversed the events that eventually taken place.
M at [Jun 22 20:24:24]: Irish, I have never seen any reference to Anderson ever commanding a Corp prior to this. Yes, Hoke was part of the roughly 6,000 men Beauregard sent to Lee after Lee's losses of between 17,000-18,000 men in the prior battles.
Irish at [Jun 22 20:24:36]: Sheridan, went to Cold Harbor looking for a fight, not a valuable crossroads. It was after his fight began that Hoke's troops were being moved to his position. He did not know this at the time. However, Meade exploded when he heard that Sheridan had left and ordered him back to defend at all hazards.
Matt [Jun 22 20:26:53]: Irish, true, but that goes back to Anderson being in command of a Corp. I just don't think he was up to that level of command and decision making (although is shouldn't have required much thought to do what Lee had told him too).
Irish at [Jun 22 20:30:54]: Extraordinary deeds by extraordinary people had been the order of the day in many of Lee's fights with the Federal armies. Somebody always stepped forward to do something that was right. Sometimes Lee did it himself: he twice in the space of a few days attempted to lead troops into battle himself, to stop breakthroughs. This was the event where if he needed to step forward and show his right wing commander the importance of such a move. It probably would have been more devastating to the Army of the Potomac than Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville.
M at [Jun 22 20:30:55]: Irish, had Sheridan stayed I don't think he ultimately could have held (but we shall never really know the answer to that).
M at [Jun 22 20:33:46]: Irish, it certainly would not have made Grant happy, but given his mentality I think he would have kept coming. I'm not sure anything short of the total destruction of the AoP would have stopped Grant. He certainly had no problem butchering his men, even if he had nothing to show for it. M
shotgun at [Jun 22 20:36:39]: Irish, I would like to ask about the data that your and your son-in-law had to sift through to get the required information. Is this because it was so close to the end that very little was written about it. I know when I was researching for ORs to post I found that Grant never wrote one on the overall operation. He had about a two paragraph mention in his overall one for his tenure as U.S. Army Commander. I am also aware that a lot of Confederate ones were lost or destroyed but Anderson, to have played such a major role, wrote about one paragraph. Most of the ORs are written prior to the actual assault on the breastworks themselves. It seems it was truly an operation and not just a battle.
Irish at [Jun 22 20:37:14]: Sheridan fought a battle with Hampton's cavalry on May 31, I believe. He moved Hampton to his left, so he did have to worry about him being in his rear if he advanced. However, when he left on the night of the 31, nobody was in position to advance on Cold Harbor. Sheridan was ordered back to the crossroads later that night. He just got there and dug in when Clingman's brigade made their attack. It was repulsed very quickly, however only one brigade (actually one regiment) was involved, that being the South Carolina regiment led by Colonel Keitt. I can't think of the name of the regiment at this point, but it was very green, and Keitt was new to the battle field. Anderson let a green regiment determine his ability to follow orders.
Matt at [Jun 22 20:37:29]: Question, Powell had a chance to ruin Grant a couple of days prior, what happened? Any reason Powell committed a only one division and that by bit and pieces. Had he been successfull would Cold Harbor been fought?
Irish at [Jun 22 20:40:30]: Grant's determination for winning at all cost would have no doubt played a part of what would have happened next if Anderson had driven in the Sixth Corps as he was ordered to do. This movement would have also effectively turned Grant left flank. He was not covered by entrenchments at the time, and he would have had to make use of a great amount of maneuvering to watch out for an all out attack along his entire line, with his left being turned. Hard to say what would have happened next, but it is safe to say that Lee would have bought himself some breathing space.
M at [Jun 22 20:40:46]: Shotgun, the assault on the breastworks was suppose to be a battle. However the Federals suffered so heavily in just a few minutes time that they stopped, even though ordered to continue. The Confederate commanders were unaware of exactly how much damage had been done and were waiting for the real attack to come (but of course nothing else happened). M
M at [Jun 22 20:43:37]: Irish, it was the 20th SC and they broke after almost immediately after the shooting started. M
Irish at [Jun 22 20:44:14]: shotgun, we were very successful and fortunate to find a compilation regarding Cold Harbor that was buried in the document section of Richmond Battlefield National Park headquarters. It was written in 1933 I believe, by an historian named Charles Calrow. He had a good working knowledge of military writing, and also was from Norfolk, which is also where adjutant Taylor's family resided. He made a great deal of sense out of a lot of nonsense in regard to putting the OR together so that it did make sense. He also interviewed the family there and put together some ideas that had been kicked around by Adjutant Taylor, A.P. Porter, Venable and others. We were lucky to find all of these.
Irish at [Jun 22 20:46:34]: Matt, the Army of Northern Virginia was in a perfect place to defend against the Army of the Potomac while they were on the Totopotomoy ridge line near Hawes Shop. Lee was oblivious to the position he held as he was in terrible shape at that time. It is very similar to the position his troops held at North Anna, where they squandered an opportunity there due to Lee's sickness. Lee, Ewell, and Hill were just not fit for duty at this crucial time of the fighting.
M at [Jun 22 20:47:25]: Irish, the rout of the 20th SC also brought a complete halt to the rest of that brigade, which had veterans in it, but they had to try and get out of the way of the retreating troops.
Irish at [Jun 22 20:51:03]: M. They were veterans, and there is a statement made by Hampton who said that while they were falling back they couldn't find the anchor, because everyone was falling back. The 20 SC was so large that it took many supporting regiments with it in the retreat. However, this was in the morning. There was plenty of time to sort everything out and get back to the fight. The Sixth Corps had a few hours more march, and the Eighteenth Corps was barely on the road. Porter made a great comment concerning this action or lack of action of Anderson. I can't recall exactly what it is, but it is on shotgun's site.
Irish at [Jun 22 20:53:35]: When we started researching this battle, we were actually trying to find out as much as we could about the June 3rd Federal attack. We had no idea that the Confederates passed up a bigger opportunity to inflict damage on the Federals. We had little knowledge of the afternoon assault of June 1, and no idea of the cavalry battles that took place there.
shotgun at [Jun 22 20:59:36]: Let's do a little "What if." What if Longstreet had been there and had performed brilliantly. The Confederates had a major major victory. Wouldn't the outcome of the war had been essentially the same. Grant was not going back to Washington! He was going to Richmond, walking or riding.
Irish at [Jun 22 20:59:57]: Another point that is brought out in the book, is that had there been any probes made of the Federal line on June 3, they would have found a huge gap in the Federal line between the Fifth Corps and Eighteenth Corps. It was just across from Pickett's division. Longstreet may not be known for an offensive general, but he did know how to probe a line, as he did at Chickamauga and Second Manassas. His wounding in the Wilderness brings out so many missed opportunities. If the Confederates would have probed this position and then launched an assault there as the Federal troops were pinned down in front of the entrenchments on the Federal left and left center, a much worse disaster would have befallen the Federal army there.
M at [Jun 22 21:02:59]: Shotgun, absolutely correct, which is the point I tried to make earlier. Nothing short of the complete destruction of his army was going to stop him. And with the way he was replacing his losses, it is unlikely that Lee could have ever done that. Grant had no problems with fighting a war of attrition, since he knew he could keep replacing his losses and Lee couldn't. That accounts for his massive losses on his way to Richmond. He just didn't care.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:05:12]: It is hard to decide what ifs in regard to Grant in that casualties did not seem to make much difference to him. Had Longstreet had been in command of the troops that were given orders to attack the Sixth Corps it would have put Grant in serious jeopardy, since Longstreet knew how to exploit a position. I think, a great deal of Sixth Corps men would have been captured. This is 26,000 men reduced from the overall picture. In their own accounts, this had been the worst march in their history. The Eighteenth Corps would have been pushed but probably not routed nearly as bad as the Sixth Corps. The Ninth Corps and Fifth Corps would have been hit by Early (commanding for Ewell), this would have kept them from helping the Sixth Corps, but they in turn would have had to watch their left flank. Hill and Breckinridge were in front of the Second Corps and may have possibly tried to get around to flank the Second Corps on its' right.
M at [Jun 22 21:06:19]: Irish, no doubt that Old Pete could have made a difference, and the situation was actually better than the one at Chickamauga, but I have to agree with Shotgun. While it would have cost Grant probably over 10,000 more men than he lost anyway, he would have continued on.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:07:42]: By this time of the war, Grant had used all of his reinforcements and reserves. In the June 3rd Battle, he had no reserve force. Birney, from the Second Corps had been moved to shore up the Eighteenth Corps, but in actuality Grant had it the bottom of the barrel when it came to reserves. 10th Corps was holding the line on the south side of the James. The small army of the james was fighting in the Shenandoah, and the Washington defenses had already been sent to Grant.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:11:02]: I think Grant would not have ever left the front that he was fighting on. He was very determined. However, a push like the one I am suggesting on the part of the Confederates would have stopped Grant's common method of maneuver--going twenty miles to the east to move five miles south. The what if here is where would Grant fight next? The topography of the area certainly was more suited for defensive fighting than offensive. But, the move on Richmond-Petersburg would have had to have taken a much different avenue.
M at [Jun 22 21:11:11]: Irish, actually, I think the biggest impact this would have had might have been political. The Union would have screamed even more about these mind numbing number of casualties and Abe might not have been reelected in Nov.
shotgun at [Jun 22 21:11:46]: Are you saying then Irish, in your opinion of course, that had the Confederates exploited most, if not all of their opportunities during this "operation" (gonna call it that from now on) that the outcome of the war could very well have been changed?
shotgun at [Jun 22 21:14:22]: Dang M, you stole my thunder. I was going to say that the outcome of the war might have been changed because of political reasons rather than military ones.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:14:58]: That is exactly the point M. A major defeat at Cold Harbor or Old Church as the case may have been, especially with the casualties which would have been much higher than the ones incurred would have brought the wrath of the people down hard around Lincoln's administration. Can you imagine the circumstances of fighting at Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Yellow Tavern, North Anna, and Old Church, and then to have your offensive halted...even temporarily. My question to everyone, is what avenue was left for Grant had the Anderson attack been made? It was certain that he was going to look for one. I have searched High and Low for the avenue, along with many of my colleagues...can't find it.
M at [Jun 22 21:17:39]: Shotgun, sorry, but I've always maitained that Sherman gave Abe the election by taking Atlanta and being at Savannah. Grant had suffered over 50% casualties during this campaign and the Union was already upset over that. With these additional numbers I think it would have been too much. Grant would not have been laying siege to Petersburg/Richmond, and even Sherman's success might not have over come that.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:18:13]: shotgun, had Anderson done what he was ordered to do...or had Lee come to the right flank of his army to supersede this all important task...I think that there would not have been the investment of Petersburg as we know it. You will have to read the entire book and make your own case for what would have happened. Grant certainly would have tried to fight his way out of the situation, but I have a hard time thinking that he would have backed off for too long, and tried a route to the west although that is entirely possible. But, still, Lee had great interior lines, and could have moved to stop Grant. The ground was very good for defense all around that area.
Matt at [Jun 22 21:18:38]: Irish, RE: Lee's position at Totopotomoy, You really think Lee could have destroyed Grant there?. There was a seven hour cavalry battle that essentially covered Grant's movement beyond Haw's Shop. I kinda feel that what hurt was when Fitz's cav fell back to receive support from Hoke and they, thinking it was a retreat, ran for cover.
M at [Jun 22 21:22:02]: Irish, logically, Grant should have dug in, used his cave and other forces (he still had two other armies in this theater of the war) to harrass and weaken Lee. Other oportunities might have presented themself, but not in time for the Nov elections (in my opinion). However, Grant had his grand plan, and he might have continued to push on. With those losses it would have spelled a military disaster waiting to happen. He might have actually destroyed the AoP.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:22:54]: Matt, I never said he would have destroyed Grant's army. He would have created more casualties. Each river-ridge line had to be defended. Federal cavalry was so close to the Federal line, that Lee was able to decipher exactly where the Federal infantry was located. In retrospect, Lee kept his cavalry far enough ahead of him that Grant/Meade had no idea where the Confederate line was located. They kept moving their entire force around looking for the Confederates. Had the Confederates fought on the totopotomoy line, like many of Lee's aides expected, the result would have been a strong delaying action where the Federals would have lost more than the Confederates, and probably a lot more. It would never have destroyed Grant's army though, it just would have made tougher decisions for Grant.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:27:38]: Butler had a small army across the river, that was basically holding Beauregard in place. Sigel or Hunter, not for certain who was in command at this jucture in the Shenandoah could not be counted on, they were moving the wrong way in order to help Grant. Grant would have had to regroup his forces somewhere probably near North Anna. The Eighteenth Corps would have had to have tried to link back up with the Army of the James. To say it was impossible for Grant to have been ultimately whipped at this stage is not what I have on my mind. I believe if anyone could restore an army after it was soundly defeated it was Grant. He was a great calcualtor. He had set backs in his first tries at Vicksburg. He did not let defeats get in his way. I think he would have retreat somewhat to the North Anna River and got his cavalry out in front of him like he should have been doing throughout the campaign. I don't think he could let Lee off the ropes for too long though. But, again I ask, what were his alternatives?
M at [Jun 22 21:29:03]: Of course we have moved from the battle to the "what if", which is also fun, but doesn't cover the event. Of course there's not much to discuss about the less than 30 minute assault
Irish at [Jun 22 21:32:30]: The Thirty minute assault is where we all end up at. It is what began the research in the first place for me. I think, but am not certain, it was the largest attack in the Civil War, in that at 4:30 a.m. every soldier in the Eighteenth, Ninth, Second, and Sixth Corps advanced on the Rebel position. It didn't take long for them to figure out that they could not go very far. However, the Second Corps did break the line. There were no reserves to help the breakthrough, and the men who actually broke through were thrown back by Finegans' Floridians in the vicinity of the Adams house, just behind the Watts house if you have ever been to this portion of the 1862-64 battles.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:34:19]: Another what if, in conjunction to this portion of the battle is what if Birney had not been sent to shore up the Eighteenth Corps and had been left in reserve in the Second Corps sector? His troops could have poured through the break through and turned Lee's right flank.
M at [Jun 22 21:34:58]: Irish, he had only two alternatives. Fall back and regroup, or continue moving forward. I believe he probably would have tried to slide around Lee again. He might not have succeeded, but I think he would have tried. I feel he had committed himself to this basic stratagy. He might have completely stripped the DC defenses, but I believe he would have moved again. However, he miht have been releaved of his command too. Lincoln, as you said, would have been under incredible pressure.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:37:26]: M. Where would he have slid to. Any movement to the east would have taken in down the peninsula in the wrong direction. He was up against the James and the Chickahominy and a lot of swamps. His maneuvering space to the east was no longer an option for him. Maneuvering in that direction would have taken him further away from his objective. (This is of course had Anderson made the desired assault)
Irish at [Jun 22 21:39:10]: Actually had Anderson turned his left flank, there was absolutely no way he could maneuver to the east. He would not have had access to any of the roads heading east following the Pamunkey or York River.
M at [Jun 22 21:45:35]: Irish, then he might have tried a feint to hold most of Lee's troops in place and tried to push through with a major assault at a different point. I don't feel Grant's personality would have allowed for him to sit and wait. He wanted to bleed Lee and defeat him, and he could do neither by waiting around. I might have even tried to transfer troops from the West, but I still think he would have kept try to move east. That just seemed to be his nature.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:46:51]: Some of the worst butchery of the war actually occurred after the June 3rd assault. Many troops were lying helpless in no-man's land between the two fighting forces. No help could be administered. There were no Angels on this ground. The wounded Federal troops suffered for many days in the hot baking sun, as their life drifted away. Many letters were sent back and forth between Meade and Lee, and eventually Grant and Lee asking for a flag of truce. Lee would not give the ok for this until Grant, not Meade, asked as the party that had been defeated. By the time help arrived, two men were brought off the field suffering from their wounds...the rest had died.
Irish at [Jun 22 21:48:50]: M. There is no doubt that Grant would have tried somewhere else. It was his nature. But think how his men would have reacted. Asked to assault entrenchments again??? The entire army was ordered to make an assault later on June 3rd. They, to a man, refused. An entire army refusing to make another assault on entrenchments. Makes you wonder doesn't it?
M at [Jun 22 21:48:55]: Irish, actually at this point he didn't want to move east, but south. He could have moved back west, then south and crossed the James before moving east again. It at least would have him continuing on towards Richmond and that was were he wanted to go.
M at [Jun 22 21:51:45]: Irish, I think if this "what if" had happened I think what Grant would have done is less important than what Lincoln would have done. I really feel he would have been forced to relieve Grant, and Grant would have hated what the men would have added to their original saying of "you haven't met Bobby Lee yet".
Irish at [Jun 22 21:52:38]: Not trying to dispute what you are saying, M. What I am saying is that any movement south would have found Lee in entrenchments and the Federals trying to break through. They, as an army, were fatigued and in no-way looking forward to attacking an entrenched foe. I think Lee could have held the entrenchments for a long time and gave Grant many more headaches. Eventually a siege situation may have occurred somewhere in the vicinity of north of Richmond. It would have been tough to do this, since the lines would have been much longer than the ones used at Petersburg. But it is possible, not disagreeing.
M at [Jun 22 21:55:31]: Irish, I don't think Grant could have had the success with a siege in this position. His supply lines would have been too vulnerable. By sea was a much safer means of him to supply his army and he could not have effectively used that methode from North of Richmond. He still would have had to fight. But I still think he would have been relieved.
shotgun at [Jun 22 21:57:44]: What do you suppose Lee was thinking after Grant took such a hammering on his assault? Was he thinking that Grant would revert to his siege mentality as he did at Vicksburg. I think Grant tried six times there to take the city before he got his troops around and finally settled in on a siege. Surely this could not have been Lee's thoughts. There was nothing to lay siege to. On the other hand I think Lee could only wait for Grant to make the move.
M at [Jun 22 21:59:02]: Irish, of course continuing with the "what if", who would have replaced Grant. Sherman, Sheridan, not Meade again, who would Lincoln have tried this time?
Irish at [Jun 22 21:59:27]: Probably the result of an Anderson attack on the Federal left flank on June 1 would have been Grant's relief...or Meade, depending on who received blame. Lincoln was certainly willing to let Meade have the blame since Meade did not get along with media or Washington. I definitely agree that Richmond could not have been placed under siege from the north. My thoughts in that regard is that maneuvering far to the west was possibly the only option to maneuver. Head long attacks at entrenched fortifications were not going to prove much for the north following Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor.
Irish at [Jun 22 22:01:41]: Sherman would have taken command of the entire army. Meade would have been gone before Grant. There was probably others to consider...Schofield, Ord, who knows?
M at [Jun 22 22:05:24]: Irish, that's what I said earlier, move west, then south and back east. It's going around your elbow to get to your hand, but it at least would have kept him going to Richmond. However, I like your statement about what would his troops have done. The heavier casualties would have really destroyed their morale. Your assessment on that is probably the most profound statement about what would have happened. He probably would have lost the support of his troops and it's hard to lead under those conditions.
Irish at [Jun 22 22:08:22]: M. I fought at Tarawa. I waded across three hunrdred yards of knee to chest deep water into withering gun fire. I did that once. Those men in May and June of 1864 did it several times during that bloody month. I cannot imagine the courage...I just cannot imagine it.
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