The Army of Northern Virginia: Lee's Army in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

By Philip Katcher | Go to book overview
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The Wilderness to Cold Harbor

The beginning of the Richmond Campaign of 1864 saw General Ulysses S. Grant in command of Union armies. From now on there would be no withdrawals. Grant aimed to keep Lee fighting until the Confederacy either surrendered or bled to death.

Lee would never have a chance to put his offensive plans into operation.

On May 4, 1864 he telegraphed the War Department in Richmond: “Enemy has struck his tents. Infantry, artillery, and cavalry are moving toward Germanna and Ely's Fords. This army in motion toward Mine Run.” This Federal army, although still commanded by George Meade, was being supervised by the North's leading general, Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was now a lieutenantgeneral, the first since George Washington in the Revolution, and in March had been given overall command of all U.S. armies. He had chosen not to work from Washington, D.C. but to follow Meade's army and give it his personal attention. Immediately on taking charge Grant also ordered William T. Sherman against Johnston's Army of Tennessee guarding the approaches to Atlanta in the west, a far-western army to move into Texas, an army under political general Benjamin Butler to land at City Point, Virginia and operate against Richmond from the south, and another force to move down the Shenandoah Valley. Grant was a different type of general than those seen before. He did not strike out, find difficulties, and then withdraw to regroup. He pushed on regardless, ending only when his forces had been successful.

Grant's orders to Meade and the Army of the Potomac were simple: “Lee's army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will be also.” Meade's army headed south, crossing the Rappahannock where Hooker's army had crossed on its way to Chancellorsville the year before. The area there was known locally as The Wilderness, a swampy, dense growth of trees and brush, in which a man could be lost after stepping a yard off a road or trail. Grant's army was supported by wagon trains that ran 65 miles (104 km) long, trains that

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