COLD HARBOR, VA.
JUNE 1-3, 1864

     Cold Harbor, Va., June 1-3, 1864.  Army of the Potomac. 
This was the last engagement of any consequence in the campaign 
from the Rapidan to the James, which began with the battle of 
the Wilderness on May 5-7.  The severe losses in the Wilder-
ness, at Spottsylvania Court House and along the North Anna 
river had made necessary several changes, and the Army of the 
Potomac on the last day of May was organized as follows:  The 
2nd corps, Maj.Gen. Winfield S. Hancock commanding, was com-
posed of the three divisions commanded by Brig.-Gen. Francis C. 
Barlow, Brig.Gen. John Gibbon and Brig.-Gen. David B. Birney,
and the artillery brigade under Col. John C. Tidball.  The 5th 
corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, included 
four divisions, respectively commanded by Brig.-Gens. Charles 
Griffin, Henry H. Lockwood, Samuel W. Crawford and Lysander 
Cutler, and the artillery brigade of Col. Charles S. Wain-
wright.  (On June 2 Crawford's division was consolidated with 
Lockwood's.)  The 6th corps, Maj.-Gen. Horatio G. Wright com-
manding, consisted of three divisions commanded by Brig.-Gens. 
David A. Russell, Thomas H. Neill and James B. Ricketts, and 
the artillery brigade of Col. Charles H. Tompkins.  The 9th 
corps, under command of Maj.-Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, was made 
up of the four divisions commanded by Maj.-Gen. Thomas L. Crit-
tenden, Brig.-Gen. Robert B. Potter, Brig.-Gen. Orlando B. 
Willcox and Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero, and the reserve artil-
lery under Capt. John Edwards.  (Ferrero's division was com-
posed of colored troops.)  The cavalry corps under Maj.-Gen. P. 
Sheridan, consisted of three divisions commanded by Brig.-Gens.
Alfred T. A. Torbert, David McM. Gregg and James H. Wilson, and 
a brigade of horse artillery under Capt. James M. Robertson. 
The 18th corps, formerly with the Army of the James, commanded 
by Maj. Gen. William F. Smith, embraced three divisions, re-
spectively commanded by Brig.-Gens. William H. T. Brooks, James 
H.  Martindale and Charles Devens, and the artillery brigade un-
der command of Capt. Samuel S. Elder.  This corps was added to 
the Army of the Potomac just in time to take part in the battle 
of Cold Harbor.  The artillery reserve was under command of 
Brig.-Gen. Henry J. Hunt.  On June 1 Grant's forces numbered 
"present for duty" 113,875 men of all arms.  The Confederate 
army under command of Gen. Robert E. Lee, was organized practi-
cally as it was at the beginning of the campaign, (See Wilder-
ness) with the exception of some slight changes in commanders 
and the accession of the divisions of Breckenridge, Pickett and 
Hoke.  Various estimates have been made of the strength of the 
Confederate forces at Cold Harbor.  Maj. Jed Hotchkiss, topog-
rapher for Lee's army states it as being 58,000 men, which is 
probably not far from the truth. 

     Cold Harbor is about 3 miles north of the Chickahominy 
river and 11 miles from Richmond.  Grant considered it an im-
portant point as several roads centered there, notably among 
them those leading to Bethesda Church, White House landing on 
the Pamunkey, and the several crossings of the Chickahominy, 
offering facilities for the movement of troops in almost any 
direction.  On the last day of May Sheridan sent Torbert's di-
vision to drive away from Cold Harbor the Confederate cavalry 
under Fitzhugh Lee, which was done with slight loss. Gregg's 
division reinforced Torbert, but the Confederates were also re-
inforced and Sheridan sent word to Grant that the enemy was 
moving a heavy force against the place and that he did not 
think it prudent to hold on.  In response to this message 
Sheridan was instructed to hold on at all hazards, as a force 
of infantry was on the way to relieve him.  This infantry force 
was the 6th corps, which arrived at Cold Harbor at 9 a. m. on 
the 1st, just as Sheridan had repulsed the second assault by 
Kershaw's division, the rapid fire of the retreating carbines 
and the heavy charges of canister proving too much for the en-
emy.  Wright relieved the cavalry and about 2 p. m. Smith's 
corps came up from Newcastle and took position on the right of 
the 6th.  Both were under instructions to assault as soon as 
they were ready but the troops were not properly disposed until 
6 o'clock that afternoon.  When Lee discovered that Grant was 
moving some of his force to the left of the Federal line, he 
decided to meet the maneuver by transferring Anderson's corps 
from the Confederate left to the right in order to confront 
Wright.  Anderson took position on the left of Hoke, whose 
division formed the extreme right of Lee's line.  At 6 p. m. 
Wright and Smith moved forward to the attack.  In their front 
was an open space, varying in width from 300 to 1,2OO yards, 
and the moment the first line debauched from the wood the enemy 
opened fire.  The troops pressed forward, however, with an un-
wavering line until they reached the timber on the farther side 
of the clearing. Ricketts' division struck the main line of 
entrenchments at the point where Anderson's and Hoke's commands 
joined, with such force that the flank of each was rolled back 
and about 500 prisoners were captured.  Smith drove the enemy 
from a line of rifle-pits in the edge of the wood and captured 
about 250 prisoners, but when he attempted to advance on the 
main line he was met by such a galling fire that he was com-
pelled to retire to the woods, holding the first line captured. 
After trying in vain to dislodge Ricketts the enemy retired 
from that part of the works and formed a new line some distance 
in the rear.  Wright and Smith then intrenched the positions 
they had gained and held them during the night, though repeated 
attacks were made by the enemy in an endeavor to regain the 
lost ground.  Badeau says:  "The ground won, on the 1st of 
June, was of the highest consequence to the national army; it 
cost 2,000 men in killed and wounded. but it secured the roads 
to the James, and almost outflanked Lee."  

     In the meantime Lee had assumed the offensive on his left. 
Hancock and Burnside along Swift run and near Bethesda Church 
were attacked, probably with a view to force Grant to draw 
troops from Cold Harbor to reinforce his right.  Three attacks 
were also made on Warren, whose corps was extended to cover 
over 4 miles of the line, but each attack was repulsed by 
artillery alone.  Late in the afternoon Hancock was ordered to 
withdraw his corps early that night and move to the left of 
Wright at Cold Harbor, using every effort to reach there by 
daylight the next morning.  Grant's object was to make a gen-
eral assault as early as possible on the 2nd, Hancock, Wright 
and Smith to lead the attack, supported by Warren and Burnside, 
but the night march of the 2nd corps in the heat and dust had 
almost completely exhausted the men, so that the assault was 
first postponed until 5 p. m. and then to 4:30 on the morning 
of the 3d.  The 2nd was therefore spent in forming the lines, 
in skirmishing and entrenching.  In the afternoon it was dis-
covered that a considerable Confederate force under Early was 
in front of the Federal right and at midnight the orders to 
Warren and Burnside were modified by directing them, in case 
Early was still in their front, to attack at 4:30 "in such man-
ner and by such combinations of the two corps as may in both 
your judgments be deemed best.  If the enemy should appear to 
be in strongest force on our left, and your attack should in 
consequence prove successful, you will follow it up, closing in 
upon them toward our left; if, on the contrary, the attack on 
the left should be successful, it will be followed up, moving 
toward our right." 

     The battle of June 3 was fought on the same ground as the 
battle of Gaines' mill in the Peninsular campaign of 1862 ex-
cept the positions were exactly reversed.  Lee now held the 
trenches, extended and strengthened, that had been occupied by 
Porter, who, with a single corps, had held the entire Confeder-
ate army at bay and even repulsed its most determined attacks, 
inflicting severe loss upon its charging columns, while the Un-
ion troops were now to assault a position which Lee two years 
before had found to be impregnable.  The Confederate right was 
extended along a ridge, the crest of which formed a natural 
parapet, while just in front was a sunken road that could be 
used as an entrenchment.  Promptly at the designated hour the 
columns of the 2nd, 6th and 18th corps moved to the attack. 
Hancock sent forward the divisions of Barlow and Gibbon, sup-
ported by Birney.  Barlow advanced in two lines under a heavy 
fire of infantry and artillery, until the first line encoun-
tered the enemy's line in the sunken road.  This was quickly 
dislodged and as the Confederates retired over the crest Bar-
low's men followed, capturing several hundred prisoners and 3 
pieces of artillery.  These guns were turned on the enemy, who 
broke in confusion, leaving the national forces in possession 
of a considerable portion of the main line of works.  The bro-
ken ranks were soon rallied and reinforced, a heavy enfilading 
artillery fire was brought to bear on the assailants, and as 
Barlow's second line had not come up in time to secure the ad-
vantage gained he gave the order to fall back to a slight crest 
about 50 yards in the rear, where rifle-pits were dug under a 
heavy fire, and this position was held the remainder of the 
day. 

     Gibbon's division, on the right of Barlow, was also formed 
in two lines, Tyler's brigade on the right and Smyth's on the 
left in the first line, McKeen's and Owen's on the right and 
left respectively in the second.  As the division advanced the 
line was cut in two by an impassable swamp, but the men pushed 
bravely on, in spite of this obstacle and the galling fire of 
cannon and musketry that was poured upon them, until close up 
to the enemy's works.  A portion of Smyth's brigade gained the 
intrenchments, and Col. McMahon, with part of his regiment, the 
164th N. Y., of Tyler's brigade, gained the parapet, where 
McMahon was killed and those who were with him were either 
killed or captured, the regimental colors falling into the 
hands of the Confederates.  Owen had been directed to push 
forward in column through Smyth's line, but instead of doing so 
he deployed on the left as soon as Smyth became engaged, thus  
losing the opportunity of supporting the lodgment made by that 
officer and McMahon.  The result was the assault of Gibbon was 
repulsed, and the division fell back, taking advantage of the 
inequalities of the ground to avoid the murderous fire that 
followed them on their retreat.  Some idea of the intensity of 
the fighting on this part of the line may be gained from the 
fact that Gibbon's command lost 65 officers and 1,032 men in 
killed and wounded during the assault.  Wright's advance with 
the 6th corps was made with Russell's division on the left, 
Ricketts' in the center and Neill's on the right.  Neill car-
ried the advanced rifle-pits, after which the whole corps as-
saulted the main line with great vigor, but the attack was 
repulsed with heavy loss.  The only advantage gained - and this 
a rather dubious one - by the corps was that of being able to 
occupy a position closer to the Confederate entrenchments than 
before the attack. 

     A description of the attack by the 18th corps is perhaps 
best given by quoting Smith's report.  He says: "In front of my 
right was an open plain, swept by the fire of the enemy, both 
direct and from our right; on my left the open space was nar-
rower, but equally covered by the artillery of the enemy.  Near 
the center was a ravine, in which the troops would be sheltered 
from the cross-fire, and through this ravine I determined the 
main assault should be made.  Gen. Devens' division had been 
placed on the right to protect our flank and hold as much as 
possible of the lines vacated by the troops moving forward. 
Gen. Martindale with his division was ordered to move down the 
ravine, while Gen. Brooks with his division was to advance on 
the left, taking care to keep up the connection between Martin-
dale and the Sixth Corps, and if, in the advance, those two 
commanders should join, he (Gen. Brooks) was ordered to throw 
his command behind Gen. Martindale ready to operate on the 
right flank, if necessary.  The troops moved promptly at the 
time ordered, and, driving in the skirmishers of the enemy, 
carried his first line of works or rifle- pits.  Here the com-
mand was halted under a severe fire to readjust the lines. 
After a personal inspection of Gen. Martindale's front, I found 
that I had to form a line of battle faced to the right to pro-
tect the right flank of the moving column, and also that no 
farther advance could be made until the Sixth Corps advanced to 
cover my left from a cross-fire.  Martindale was ordered to 
keep his column covered as much as possible, and to move only 
when Gen. Brooks moved.  I then went to the front of Gen. 
Brooks, line to reconnoiter there.  Gen. Brooks was forming his 
column when a heavy fire on the right began, which brought so 
severe a cross-fire on Brooks that I at once ordered him not to 
move his men farther, but to keep them sheltered until the 
cross-fire was over.  Going back to the right, I found that 
Martindale had been suffering severely. and having mistaken the 
firing in front of the Sixth Corps for that of Brooks had de-
termined to make the assault, and that Stannard's brigade had 
been repulsed in three gallant assaults."

     On the right the attacks of Burnside and Warren were at-
tended by no decisive results.  The former sent forward the di-
visions of Potter and Willcox; Crittenden's being held in re
serve.  Potter sent in Curtin's brigade, which forced back the 
enemy's skirmishers carried some detached rifle-pits and build-
ings, and gained a position close up to the main line, from 
which the Federal artillery silenced the principal battery in-
side the Confederate works and blew up two of their caissons. 
Willcox recaptured a line of rifle-pits from which he had been 
driven the day before, Hartranft's brigade driving the enemy to 
his main entrenchments and establishing itself close in their 
front.  In this attack Griffin's division of the 5th corps co-
operated with Willcox.  Owing to the necessity of placing ar-
tillery in position to silence the enemy's guns, active opera-
tions were suspended until 1 p. m. An order was therefore is-
sued to the various division commanders in the two corps to 
attack at that hour, and Wilson was directed to move with part 
of his cavalry division across the Totopotomy, with a view of 
attacking the Confederate position on the flank and rear.  The 
arrangements were all completed by the appointed time and the 
skirmish line was about to advance for the beginning of the 
assault, when an order was received from headquarters to cease 
all offensive movements, on account of the general repulse on 
the left.

     Meade reported his loss in the battle of Cold Harbor as 
1,705 killed, 9,042 wounded and 2,042 missing.  As in the other 
engagements of the campaign from the Rapidan to the James, no 
detailed report of the Confederate casualties was made, but 
Lee's loss at Cold Harbor was comparatively slight.  Hotchkiss 
gives it as "about 1,700."  Some of the Federal wounded were 
brought in at night by volunteers from the entrenching parties, 
but most of them lay on the field, under the hot sun of a Vir-
ginia summer, for three days before Grant would consent to ask 
permission under a flag of truce to bury the dead and care for 
the injured.  By that time the wounded were nearly all beyond 
the need of medical aid, and the dead had to be interred almost 
where they fell.  The assault on the 3d has been severely crit-
cised by military men.  Gen. Martin T. McMahon, in "Battles and 
Leaders," begins his article on the battle of Cold Harbor with 
the following statement:  "In the opinion of a majority of its 
survivors, the battle of Cold Harbor never should have been 
fought.  There was no military reason to justify it.  It was 
the dreary, dismal, bloody, ineffective close of the Lieuten-
ant-General's first campaign with the Army of the Potomac, and 
corresponded in all its essential features with what had pre-
ceded it."  Grant, in his "Personal Memoirs"  (Vol. II, page 
276), says:  "I have always regretted that the last assault at 
Cold Harbor was ever made. * * * No advantage whatever was 
gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.  Indeed 
the advantages other than those of relative losses, were on the 
Confederate side."  After the battle Grant turned his attention 
to the plan of effecting a junction with Butler and approaching 
Richmond from the south side of the James, along the lines sug-
gested by McClellan two years before.  The "hammering" process 
had proved to be too costly and the army settled down to a 
regular siege of the Confederate capital.  The campaign from 
the Rapidan to the James began with the battle of the Wilder-
ness on May 5, and from that time until June 10, when the move-
ment to the James was commenced from Cold Harbor, the Army of 
the Potomac lost 54,550 men. 


Source: The Union Army, vol. 5