CMH - 150th Anniversary
The "Overland Campaign"
Lieutenant General Grant Takes Command
One hundred and fifty years ago this spring, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant launched the campaign that marked the beginning of the end of the American Civil War. For over a month, he and General Robert E. Lee were locked in a remorseless struggle that took their armies across the woodlands and farm clearings of central Virginia on the road to the Southern capital of Richmond.
In the Wilderness, Union and Confederate soldiers battled in an almost trackless forest in which the opposing sides could hardly see each other and the severely wounded fell victim to spreading flames from underbrush set afire. At Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle, for over twenty hours, opposing troops grappled from opposite sides of a breastwork in a pouring rain in some of the fiercest hand-to–hand fighting of the entire war. At Cold Harbor, perhaps 5,000 Federal troops fell in the first hour of a hopeless, bungled attack that Grant would forever regret having ordered. And at Yellow Tavern, Union horsemen cut down the great Confederate cavalry leader, Maj. Gen. James E. B. "Jeb" Stuart.
The myth of chivalry that Stuart represented could find no room in a grim, pitiless contest that inflicted almost 100,000 casualties, went far toward ruining two great American armies, and foreshadowed the massive industrial conflicts of the twentieth century. Yet, after six weeks of bitter, unrelenting combat, the nation was that much closer to Appomattox Court House and eventual reunion.
In commemoration of this significant campaign in the history of the U.S. Army, the Center of Military History has published The Overland Campaign, 4 May – 15 June 1864 (pdf) , by David W. Hogan, Jr. An online version is now available, and a printed edition is on its way. This pamphlet covers the strategic setting of the campaign, describes its various phases and supporting operations, and provides analysis of the campaign in light of the latest scholarship. This pamphlet will join other commemorations of the Overland Campaign's 150th anniversary, including observances at Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park (May 3-26) and Richmond National Battlefield Park (May 24-June 7).
For more on National Park Service activities, check the individual park websites at:
The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861
The Vicksburg Campaign November 1862 - July 1863
The Chancellorsville Campaign January - May 1863
The Gettysburg Campaign June - July 1863
Civil War in the Western Theater, 1862
The Overland Campaign, 4 May – 15 June 1864
The Overland Campaign:
- March 9:
- Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assumes command of all armies of the United States
- May 4:
- The Union Army of the Potomac leaves its camps around Culpeper Court
House, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia departs from its
camps around Orange Court House.
- May 5:
- The Battle of the Wilderness begins with clashes along the Orange
Turnpike and Orange Plank Road.
- May 6:
- After initial Union success along the Orange Plank Road, General Robert
E. Lee counterattacks and drives in both Union flanks, inflicting heavy
losses on the Army of the Potomac.
- May 7:
- Grant decides to continue the campaign and issues orders for a night
march to Spotsylvania Court House.
- May 8:
- Grant's march to Spotsylvania is blocked by Lee at Laurel Hill, and both
armies dig in around Spotsylvania Court House.
- May 9:
- Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan starts his Union cavalry raid toward
- May 10:
- Grant strives to find a weak point in Lee's line, probing both flanks and
attacking the Confederate front. Only Col. Emory Upton's innovative
assault achieves even a partial breakthrough.
- May 11:
- Sheridan defeats the Confederate cavalry at Yellow Tavern and kills the
Southern cavalry leader, Maj. Gen. James E. B. "Jeb" Stuart
- May 12:
- Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock's Union II Corps scores a breakthrough
at the Mule Shoe salient, but a Confederate counterattack and stand at
the Bloody Angle buys time for Lee to construct a new defensive line.
- May 14:
- Sheridan reaches Haxall's Landing, completing his raid on Richmond.
- May 15:
- Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge turns back Union Maj. Gen.
Franz Sigel's drive up the Shenandoah Valley at New Market,
Brig. Gen. George Crook and Brig. Gen. William W. Averell join forces at
Union, West Virginia, after a disappointing week of campaigning against
Confederate rail communications and mines in southwest Virginia.
- May 16:
- Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard effectively contains Union
Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler's Army of the James in the earthworks of the
Bermuda Hundred Peninsula, ending Butler's threat to Richmond
- May 18:
- After a week of maneuvering, Lee stops cold Grant's assault on the new
Confederate line near the Mule Shoe.
- May 19:
- As Grant prepares to launch a new phase of the campaign, Lee attacks
the Union right flank near Harris Farm, but is repulsed by a force largely
consisting of green heavy artillery units from Washington.
- May 23:
- The two armies deploy on both sides of the North Anna River, and the
Union V Corps establishes a bridgehead at Jericho Mills, repulsing a
- May 24:
- Union forces probe the V-shaped Confederate defensive line along the
North Anna but decide the position is too strong and their own situation
too exposed to risk an assault.
- May 25:
- Grant decides to move southeast again toward the Pamunkey River line.
- May 27:
- The Army of the Potomac crosses the Pamunkey River at Hanovertown
and Nelson's Crossing. Lee moves to block the Federal thrust at
- May 28:
- Federal cavalry defeats the Confederate horsemen at Haw's Shop, but both sides get the information they are seeking on enemy dispositions.
- May 30:
- Lee drives in the Union left flank near Bethesda Church but cannot
capitalize on his advantage.
- May 31:
- As Union probes along Totopotomoy Creek find the Confederate position
too strong, Sheridan seizes the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor.
- June 1:
- Grant reinforces Sheridan at Old Cold Harbor with two corps. A Union
attack late in the day gains limited success, and Grant orders another
effort for June 2.
- June 2:
- The Army of the Potomac is unable to launch the planned attack, giving
Lee time to move reinforcements to Cold Harbor and to strengthen his
- June 3:
- The Union attack at 0430 at Cold Harbor fails with heavy losses.
- June 12:
- Grant begins his redeployment in preparation to cross the James River.
- June 14-16:
- The Army of the Potomac crosses the James River and begins a new
campaign directed against Petersburg.