Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy's Fate

Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy's Fate

Joseph Wheelan

Language: English

Pages: 448

ISBN: 0306822067

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


For forty crucial days they fought a bloody struggle. When it was over, the Civil War's tide had turned.

In the spring of 1864, Virginia remained unbroken, its armies having repelled Northern armies for more than two years. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had defeated the campaigns of four Union generals, and Lee's veterans were confident they could crush the Union offensive this spring, too. But their adversary in 1864 was a different kind of Union commander—Ulysses S. Grant. The new Union general-in-chief had never lost a major battle while leading armies in the West. A quiet, rumpled man of simple tastes and a bulldog's determination, Grant would lead the Army of the Potomac in its quest to destroy Lee's army.

During six weeks in May and June 1864, Grant's army campaigned as no Union army ever had. During nearly continual combat operations, the Army of the Potomac battered its way through Virginia, skirting Richmond and crossing the James River on one of the longest pontoon bridges ever built. No campaign in North American history was as bloody as the Overland Campaign. When it ended outside Petersburg, more than 100,000 men had been killed, wounded, or captured on battlefields in the Wilderness, near Spotsylvania Court House, and at Cold Harbor. Although Grant's casualties were nearly twice Lee's, the Union could replace its losses. The Confederacy could not.

Lee's army continued to fight brilliant defensive battles, but it never mounted another major offensive. Grant's spring 1864 campaign had tipped the scales permanently in the Union's favor. The war's denouement came less than a year later with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House.

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“You have to be mighty careful how you shows a head around here.”106 MEADE POLLED HIS corps commanders about whether they believed a new assault stood a good chance of success. Without exception, they said no. A letter that Barlow wrote to Hancock on this subject found its way into the hands of Meade and Grant, and they decided to make no more attacks at Cold Harbor. “I do not think it expedient to assault again at present. The men feel just at present a great horror and dread of attacking

benefiting him in one of two ways. It would compel Grant either to weaken his army in order to deal with Early, or to launch a desperate attack on Lee in the hope of forcing Lee to recall Early.140 Learning that Sheridan had crossed the Pamunkey River on June 8 with two cavalry divisions, horse artillery, ambulances, wagons, and cattle, Lee sent the cavalry divisions of Fitz Lee and Wade Hampton up the Virginia Central Railroad to shadow the Union troopers, “keeping the enemy on their right, and

Gillmore, Quincy (general), 156, 254–255, 331 Glendale, 12 Gomaer, Robert (soldier), 307 Gordon, James (general), 183–184, 218 Gordon, John (general) on God’s protection and guidance, 33 replacement of Early by, 145 on Robert E. Lee, 36 at Spotsylvania, 205–206, 209, 213, 222, 236–237 at the Wilderness, 73–74, 116–119 Gordonsville, Virginia, 34 Gorgas, Josiah (colonel), 185 Goss, Warren (soldier), 249 Grace, Charles (sergeant), 161 Graham, W. M. (soldier), 87 Grand, Frederick Dent,

of Yankees, who took 2,000 to 3,000 prisoners, including Generals Johnson and Steuart. The bluecoats scooped up thirty colors and pursued the fleeing survivors.122 Johnson and Steuart were taken to Grant’s headquarters, where Meade and Hancock were sorting through battle reports. When Hancock saw Johnson, an old friend, he extended his hand. “General Johnson,” said Hancock, “I am glad to see you.” Tears streaming down his face, Johnson took Hancock’s hand. “General Hancock, this is worse than

underpinnings—railroads, food, supplies, arms, clothing, and other necessities, as Sherman had done in Meridian—while preventing him from reinforcing his armies. When Grant described his plan to Lincoln during the weekly meetings that began with Grant’s return from the West, the president immediately grasped it. This was unsurprising, because in January 1862 Lincoln, frustrated by the Union army’s inaction, had advocated just such a plan, to “threaten all their positions at the same time with

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