Cold Harbor, VA

Battle of Cold Harbor

[Battle of Cold Harbor by Kurz and Allison, 1888 courtesy of Wikipedia]

Date(s): May 31-June 12, 1864  

Location: Please click on link below for map.

Cold Harbor Battlefield (national park), Virginia, United States

Campaign: Grant’s Overland Campaign [May-June 1864] 

Battles in Campaign:


  • Grant's Overland campaign had been underway since May 4, 1864.

  • Several battles had already occurred (Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House,  North Anna) and after each engagement, Grant maneuvered the Army of the Potomac around Lee's right flank and headed to the southeast.

  • As the Union Army crossed the Pamunkey River and Lee attempted to determine Grant's position and intentions, three smaller engagements occurred at Haw's Shop, Totopotomoy Creek, and Old Church.

  • From the Old Church engagement, Lee determined that Union cavalry had designs on the Old Cold Harbor crossroads, which led to a road network that would allow easy access to Richmond and Lee's rear areas.

  • Lee learned that 16,000 men of Maj. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's XVIII Corps were heading Grant's way to Old Cold Harbor, 3 miles southeast of Bethesda Church.

  • Reinforcements had increased Lee's troops to 59,000 -62,000  to contend with  Grant's 108,000. 

  • Grant's reinforcements were often raw recruits and heavy artillery troops, pulled from the defenses of Washington, D.C. that were relatively inexperienced with infantry tactics.

  • Most of Lee's had been veterans moved from inactive fronts, and they would soon be entrenched in impressive fortifications.


  • Union: Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade

  • Confederate: Gen. Robert E. Lee

Principal Forces:

  • Union: 108,000

  • Confederate: 59,000-62,000


  • On May 31, Sheridan’s cavalry seized the vital crossroads of Old Cold Harbor.

  • Early on June 1, relying heavily on their new repeating carbines and shallow entrenchments, Sheridan’s troopers threw back an attack by Confederate infantry.

  • Confederate reinforcements arrived from Richmond and from the Totopotomoy Creek lines.

  • Late on June 1, the Union VI and XVIII Corps reached Cold Harbor and assaulted the Confederate works with some success.

  • By June 2, both armies were on the field, forming on a seven-mile front that extended from Bethesda Church to the Chickahominy River.

  • At dawn June 3, the II and XVIII Corps, followed later by the IX Corps, assaulted along the Bethesda Church-Cold Harbor line and were slaughtered at all points.

  • Grant commented in his memoirs that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered.

  • The armies confronted each other on these lines until the night of June 12, when Grant again advanced by his left flank, marching to James River.

  • On June 14, the II Corps was ferried across the river at Wilcox’s Landing by transports.

  • On June 15, the rest of the army began crossing on a 2,200-foot long pontoon bridge at Weyanoke.

  • Abandoning the well-defended approaches to Richmond, Grant sought to shift his army quickly south of the river to threaten Petersburg.

Photo Gallery:2

Cold Harbor National Battlefield

Description of Cold Harbor battle and battlefield map

Map of Cold Harbor battlefield walking trail

Marker describing positions of Maj. Read's Confederate artillery

Marker indicating the Confederate main defensive line

Marker indicating the center of the Confederate line of defense

Remains of Union "zig-zag" trench

Remains of Union "zig-zag" trench

Remains of Union "zig-zag" trench

Desription of use of trenches in Civil War

Map of Cold Harbor battlefield showing extensive Union and Confederate trenchworks

We Can Go No Further

Point of advance of Maj. Gen Horatio Wright's Union Sixth Corps

Point of advance of Maj. Gen Horatio Wright's Union Sixth Corps

We Have Broken Through

Point where Union Sixth Corps troops broke through Confederate line

Stand Guard and Stay Awake

Union rifle pit marking line of furthest adavance

Union rifle pit

A Deadly Delay

Lack of truce delayed medical care for three days

A Lethal Occupation

Advanced Confederate line used by sharpshooters

The Waters Ran Red

Creek that was the site of hand-to-hand fighting earning the name Bloody Run

Bloody Run Creek

Bayonets are for Digging

Confederate defensive trench

Confederate Defensive Trench

Confederate Defensive Trench

Confederate Defensive Trench

Those People Stand No Chance

Marker showing a cross-section of Confederate earthworks

Nowhere to Hide

A description of life in the trenches by a Confederate soldier

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Union dead are removed for reburial at Cold Harbor National Cemetery


Classification3: A


  • Union: 13,000

  • Confederate: 2,500

Results: Confederate Victory Miniature Confederate Victory

Battlefield Websites:

Lodging and Restaurants: Virginia Tourism

Recommended Resources:

1 National Park Service summary.

2 Please click on the image to enlarge it. You may copy the images if you include the following note and link with each image: "Courtesy of"

3 Classification:

  • A - having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war

  • B - having a direct and decisive influence on their campaign

  • C - having observable influence on the outcome of a campaign

  • D - having a limited influence on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or affecting important local objectives

4 Casualties are someone killed, injured, wounded, captured or missing.