How America Fought Its Wars: Military Strategy from the American Revolution to the Civil War

By Victor Brooks; Robert Hohwald | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 32
The Final Turn of the Tide

The Crisis Summer of 1864

The campaign of 1864 produced a number of emotional low points for the North, in which the attempt to restore the Union seemed to be doomed to ultimate failure. However, the authors believe that June 3rd, 1864 would be an excellent candidate for the dubious distinction of the single day during that year when a Federal victory seemed most unattainable. When 7000 Yankee soldiers fell in only 8 minutes at Cold Harbor, even Ulysses Grant began to realize that the Union cause simply couldn't afford to endure many more utterly futile assaults that offered not even a hint of comparable injury to the enemy. By the afternoon of June 3rd all three thrusts at the Confederate capital had come to a screeching halt. Franz Sigel's advance up the Shenandoah Valley had been emphatically stopped at the battle of New Market, when a collection of Confederate regulars, local militia and young VMI cadets had thrown the bluecoats into a panic stricken retreat back toward the Potomac. Ben Butler's march up the Virginia Peninsula had petered out in a series of indecisive battles near Bermuda Hundred where 8000 rebel soldiers had stalemated the Army of the James' 30,000 men and according to Grant, "left Butler's army as completely shut off from further operations directly against Richmond as if it had been in a bottle strongly corked."

The bloody repulse at Cold Harbor had now halted the advance of the third and largest Federal army in Virginia, and had convinced Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee that their strategy of simply holding the Yankees at bay until the November elections seemed to be working. Grant had already lost more men in a month than the Federal casualties at First Manassas, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville combined, and yet was no closer to downtown Richmond than McClellan had been two years earlier. The authors believe that Davis and Lee's optimism at this moment was certainly justified; the Confederacy probably had a better chance of securing its independence in June of 1864 than the American patriots had in

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