Grant's Overland Campaign

Grant's Overland Campaign

The Overland Campaign, also known as Grant's Overland Campaign and the Wilderness Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, directed the actions of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and other forces against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Although Grant suffered horrible losses and multiple tactical defeats during the campaign, it is considered a strategic Union victory, which maneuvered Lee into an untenable position at Petersburg, VA. The campaign was the bloodiest in American history with approximately 55,000 Union and 32,600 Confederate casualties.

This campaign may be explored on the National Park Service website Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial

Please click on link below for map.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park [Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park] (national military park), Virginia, United States

The website contains directions to the Wilderness Battlefield and Spotsylvania Battlefield. The National Park Service recommends that you go to the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center or Chancellorsville Visitor Center to obtain information on the battles, directions to the battlefields, brochures and maps.  I would suggest that you spend the morning at the Wildness site and the afternoon touring the more extensive Spotsylvania Battlefield that has a five-mile driving tour and seven miles of loop walking trails.

The Overland Campaign began with the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. Fighting started when Ewell's Confederate corps, moving rapidly down the Orange Turnpike, collided violently with Warren's V Corps. As the day progressed, fighting broke out further south along the Orange Plank Road where A. P. Hill's Confederates met Hancock's II Corps. On May 6th, Longstreet's Confederate corps arrived on the field. It first halted a Federal advance, and then in a flank attack, the corps sent the Federals into retreat until they established a defensive position near the Brock Road. Amidst all the confusion, Longstreet was wounded by friendly fire and replaced in corps command by Richard Anderson.

On May 7th, rather than following his predecessors' habit of retreating back north following a battle against Lee, Grant sent his men south and east to the crossroads town of Spotsylvania Court House. However, Lee beat Grant to the town and dug in. The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House took place from May 8-21, 1864.  During the next two weeks, Grant's forces attacked the Confederate lines, mostly centered on a salient known as the "Mule Shoe". Grant disengaged and slipped to the southeast.

A number of engagements occurred after Spotsylvania:

  • Yellow Tavern (May 11) - J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern in a battle between Sheridan's and Stuart's cavalry.

  • Meadow Bridge (May 12) - Sheridan's cavalry captured a railroad bridge over the rain-swollen Chickahominy River that allowed engineers to rebuild a nearby road bridge and permitted the troopers to escape to safety.

  • Wilson's Wharf (May 24) - Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry attacked the Union supply depot at Wilson's Wharf but were repulsed by two black regiments.

  • North Anna (May 23 – May 26) - Lee positioned his forces behind the North Anna River in a salient that forced Grant to divide his army to attack it. On May 23rd, one of A.P. Hill’s divisions assaulted the V Corps, which had crossed the river, resulting in bloody but inconclusive fighting. On the May 24th, Union infantry was repulsed at Ox Ford but advanced on the Confederate right. Lee missed an  opportunity to defeat Grant's divided forces and the Union forces continued moving southeast toward Old Cold Harbor.

  • Haw's Shop (May 28) - Gregg's Union cavalry division, supported by Torbert's division, advanced to cover the Army of the Potomac's crossing of the Pamunkey River and movement toward Totopotomoy Creek. Wade Hampton's cavalry division met the Federals at Enon Church and stopped the Federal advance.

  • Totopotomoy Creek (May 28 – May 30) - Lee's forces entrenched behind the Totopotomoy Creek and covered all of the direct approaches to Richmond. The Union II Corps crossed and captured the first line of Confederate trenches, but were stopped at the main line. The Federal V Corps, near Bethesda Church on the far left flank of the Union army, were attacked by Early's corps and driven back.

  • Old Church (May 30) - With the armies stalemated along the Totopotomoy Creek line, the Federal cavalry began probing east and south. Torbert's Union cavalry division attacked and defeated Matthew C. Butler's brigade near Old Church. Butler's troopers were driven back on the road to Old Cold Harbor, which allowed  Sheridan to capture the important crossroads the next day.

The Battle of Cold Harbor took place from May 31 to June 12, 1864.  On May 31st, Sheridan's cavalry seized the vital crossroads of Old Cold Harbor, and on June 1st, they repulsed an attack by Confederate infantry. Confederate reinforcements arrived from Richmond and from the Totopotomoy Creek lines. Late on June 1st, the Union VI and XVIII Corps reached Cold Harbor and attacked the Confederate works. By June 2nd, both armies were on the field, and had formed a seven-mile front from Bethesda Church to the Chickahominy River. On June 3rd, the Union II, XVIII and IX Corps, attacked along the Bethesda Church-Cold Harbor line and were slaughtered. The armies confronted each other on these lines until the night of June 12th, when Grant advanced by his left flank, marching to the James River. The Cold Harbor site contains six stops on the tour

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

The campaign concluded with the Battle of Trevilian Station (June 11 – June 12). To draw off the Confederate cavalry and to clear the way for movement to the James River, Sheridan mounted a large-scale cavalry raid into Louisa County, threatening to cut the Virginia Central Railroad. On June 11th, Sheridan with Gregg's and Torbert's divisions attacked Hampton's and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry divisions at Trevilian Station. Sheridan drove a wedge between the Confederate divisions, throwing them into confusion. On June 12th, Hampton and Lee dismounted their troopers and formed a defensive line across the railroad and the road to Gordonsville. From their position the Confederates defeated several Union dismounted assaults. Sheridan withdrew after destroying about six miles of the Virginia Central Railroad. The Confederate victory at Trevilian prevented Sheridan from reaching Charlottesville and cooperating with Maj. Gen. David Hunter's army in the Valley.

On June 24th, Hampton's cavalry attempted to cut off Sheridan's cavalry at Saint Mary's Church. Sheridan fought a delaying action to protect a long supply train. 

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Revised 03/29/2013