I want Sheridan to send a cavalry force of at least half a
brigade, if not a whole brigade, at 5 A.M. in the morning, to
communicate with Smith and to return with him. I will send
orders for Smith by the messenger you send to Sheridan with his
U. S. GRANT.
I also notified Smith of his danger, and the precautions that
would be taken to protect him.
The night of the 30th Lee’s position was substantially from
Atlee’s Station on the Virginia Central Railroad south and cast
to the vicinity of Cold Harbor. Ours was: The left of Warren’s
corps was on the Shady Grove Road, extending to the
Mechanicsville Road and about three miles south of the
Totopotomoy. Burnside to his right, then Hancock, and Wright on
the extreme right, extending towards Hanover Court House, six
miles south-east of it. Sheridan with two divisions of cavalry
was watching our left front towards Cold Harbor. Wilson with
his division on our right was sent to get on the Virginia
Central Railroad and destroy it as far back as possible. He got
possession of Hanover Court House the next day after a skirmish
with Young’s cavalry brigade. The enemy attacked Sheridan’s
pickets, but reinforcements were sent up and the attack was
speedily repulsed and the enemy followed some distance towards
ADVANCE ON COLD HARBOR–AN ANECDOTE OF THE WAR–BATTLE OF COLD
HARBOR–CORRESPONDENCE WITH LEE–RETROSPECTIVE.
On the 31st Sheridan advanced to near Old Cold Harbor. He found
it intrenched and occupied by cavalry and infantry. A hard fight
ensued but the place was carried. The enemy well knew the
importance of Cold Harbor to us, and seemed determined that we
should not hold it. He returned with such a large force that
Sheridan was about withdrawing without making any effort to hold
it against such odds; but about the time he commenced the
evacuation he received orders to hold the place at all hazards,
until reinforcements could be sent to him. He speedily turned
the rebel works to face against them and placed his men in
position for defence. Night came on before the enemy was ready
Wright’s corps was ordered early in the evening to march
directly to Cold Harbor passing by the rear of the army. It was
expected to arrive by daylight or before; but the night was dark
and the distance great, so that it was nine o’clock the 1st of
June before it reached its destination. Before the arrival of
Wright the enemy had made two assaults on Sheridan, both of
which were repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy. Wright’s
corps coming up, there was no further assault on Cold Harbor.
Smith, who was coming up from White House, was also directed to
march directly to Cold Harbor, and was expected early on the
morning of the 1st of June; but by some blunder the order which
reached Smith directed him to Newcastle instead of Cold
Harbor. Through this blunder Smith did not reach his
destination until three o’clock in the afternoon, and then with
tired and worn-out men from their long and dusty march. He
landed twelve thousand five hundred men from Butler’s command,
but a division was left at White House temporarily and many men
had fallen out of ranks in their long march.
Before the removal of Wright’s corps from our right, after dark
on the 31st, the two lines, Federal and Confederate, were so
close together at that point that either side could detect
directly any movement made by the other. Finding at daylight
that Wright had left his front, Lee evidently divined that he
had gone to our left. At all events, soon after light on the
1st of June Anderson, who commanded the corps on Lee’s left, was
seen moving along Warren’s front. Warren was ordered to attack
him vigorously in flank, while Wright was directed to move out
and get on his front. Warren fired his artillery at the enemy;
but lost so much time in making ready that the enemy got by, and
at three o’clock he reported the enemy was strongly intrenched in
his front, and besides his lines were so long that he had no mass
of troops to move with. He seemed to have forgotten that lines
in rear of an army hold themselves while their defenders are
fighting in their front. Wright reconnoitred some distance to
his front: but the enemy finding Old Cold Harbor already taken
had halted and fortified some distance west.
By six o’clock in the afternoon Wright and Smith were ready to
make an assault. In front of both the ground was clear for
several hundred yards and then became wooded. Both charged
across this open space and into the wood, capturing and holding
the first line of rifle-pits of the enemy, and also capturing
seven or eight hundred prisoners.
While this was going on, the enemy charged Warren three separate
times with vigor, but were repulsed each time with loss. There
was no officer more capable, nor one more prompt in acting, than
Warren when the enemy forced him to it. There was also an attack
upon Hancock’s and Burnside’s corps at the same time; but it was
feeble and probably only intended to relieve Anderson who was
being pressed by Wright and Smith.
During the night the enemy made frequent attacks with the view
of dispossessing us of the important position we had gained, but
without effecting their object.
Hancock was moved from his place in line during the night and
ordered to the left of Wright. I expected to take the offensive
on the morning of the 2d, but the night was so dark, the heat and
dust so excessive and the roads so intricate and hard to keep,
that the head of column only reached Old Cold Harbor at six
o’clock, but was in position at 7.30 A.M. Preparations were
made for an attack in the afternoon, but did not take place
until the next morning. Warren’s corps was moved to the left to
connect with Smith: Hancock’s corps was got into position to the
left of Wright’s, and Burnside was moved to Bethesda Church in
reserve. While Warren and Burnside were making these changes the
enemy came out several times and attacked them, capturing several
hundred prisoners. The attacks were repulsed, but not followed
up as they should have been. I was so annoyed at this that I
directed Meade to instruct his corps commanders that they should
seize all such opportunities when they occurred, and not wait for
orders, all of our manoeuvres being made for the very purpose of
getting the enemy out of his cover.
On this day Wilson returned from his raid upon the Virginia
Central Railroad, having damaged it considerably. But, like
ourselves, the rebels had become experts in repairing such
damage. Sherman, in his memoirs, relates an anecdote of his
campaign to Atlanta that well illustrates this point. The rebel
cavalry lurking in his rear to burn bridges and obstruct his
communications had become so disgusted at hearing trains go
whistling by within a few hours after a bridge had been burned,
that they proposed to try blowing up some of the tunnels. One
of them said, “No use, boys, Old Sherman carries duplicate
tunnels with him, and will replace them as fast as you can blow
them up; better save your powder.”
Sheridan was engaged reconnoitring the banks of the
Chickahominy, to find crossings and the condition of the
roads. He reported favorably.
During the night Lee moved his left up to make his line
correspond to ours. His lines extended now from the Totopotomoy
to New Cold Harbor. Mine from Bethesda Church by Old Cold Harbor
to the Chickahominy, with a division of cavalry guarding our
right. An assault was ordered for the 3d, to be made mainly by
the corps of Hancock, Wright and Smith; but Warren and Burnside
were to support it by threatening Lee’s left, and to attack with
great earnestness if he should either reinforce more threatened
points by drawing from that quarter or if a favorable
opportunity should present itself.
The corps commanders were to select the points in their
respective fronts where they would make their assaults. The
move was to commence at half-past four in the morning. Hancock
sent Barlow and Gibbon forward at the appointed hour, with
Birney as a reserve. Barlow pushed forward with great vigor,
under a heavy fire of both artillery and musketry, through
thickets and swamps. Notwithstanding all the resistance of the
enemy and the natural obstructions to overcome, he carried a
position occupied by the enemy outside their main line where the
road makes a deep cut through a bank affording as good a shelter
for troops as if it had been made for that purpose. Three
pieces of artillery had been captured here, and several hundred
prisoners. The guns were immediately turned against the men who
had just been using them. No (*33) assistance coming to him, he
(Barlow) intrenched under fire and continued to hold his
place. Gibbon was not so fortunate in his front. He found the
ground over which he had to pass cut up with deep ravines, and a
morass difficult to cross. But his men struggled on until some
of them got up to the very parapet covering the enemy. Gibbon
gained ground much nearer the enemy than that which he left, and
here he intrenched and held fast.
Wright’s corps moving in two lines captured the outer rifle-pits
in their front, but accomplished nothing more. Smith’s corps
also gained the outer rifle-pits in its front. The ground over
which this corps (18th) had to move was the most exposed of any
over which charges were made. An open plain intervened between
the contending forces at this point, which was exposed both to a
direct and a cross fire. Smith, however, finding a ravine
running towards his front, sufficiently deep to protect men in
it from cross fire, and somewhat from a direct fire, put
Martindale’s division in it, and with Brooks supporting him on
the left and Devens on the right succeeded in gaining the
outer–probably picket–rifle-pits. Warren and Burnside also
advanced and gained ground–which brought the whole army on one
This assault cost us heavily and probably without benefit to
compensate: but the enemy was not cheered by the occurrence
sufficiently to induce him to take the offensive. In fact,
nowhere after the battle of the Wilderness did Lee show any
disposition to leave his defences far behind him.
Fighting was substantially over by half-past seven in the
morning. At eleven o’clock I started to visit all the corps
commanders to see for myself the different positions gained and
to get their opinion of the practicability of doing anything
more in their respective fronts.
Hancock gave the opinion that in his front the enemy was too
strong to make any further assault promise success. Wright
thought he could gain the lines of the enemy, but it would
require the cooperation of Hancock’s and Smith’s corps. Smith
thought a lodgment possible, but was not sanguine: Burnside
thought something could be done in his front, but Warren
differed. I concluded, therefore to make no more assaults, and
a little after twelve directed in the following letter that all
offensive action should cease.
COLD HARBOR, June 3, 1864.-12.30 P.M.
Commanding A. P.
The opinion of corps commanders not being sanguine of success in
case an assault is ordered, you may direct a suspension of
farther advance for the present. Hold our most advanced
positions and strengthen them. Whilst on the defensive our line
may be contracted from the right if practicable.
Reconnoissances should be made in front of every corps and
advances made to advantageous positions by regular approaches.
To aid the expedition under General Hunter it is necessary that
we should detain all the army now with Lee until the former gets
well on his way to Lynchburg. To do this effectually it will be
better to keep the enemy out of the intrenchments of Richmond
than to have them go back there.
Wright and Hancock should be ready to assault in case the enemy
should break through General Smith’s lines, and all should be
ready to resist an assault.
U. S. GRANT,
The remainder of the day was spent in strengthening the line we
now held. By night we were as strong against Lee as he was
During the night the enemy quitted our right front, abandoning
some of their wounded, and without burying their dead. These we
were able to care for. But there were many dead and wounded men
between the lines of the contending forces, which were now close
together, who could not be cared for without a cessation of
So I wrote the following:
COLD HARBOR, VA., June 5, 1864.
GENERAL R. E. LEE,
Commanding Confederate Army.
It is reported to me that there are wounded men, probably of
both armies, now lying exposed and suffering between the lines
occupied respectively by the two armies. Humanity would dictate
that some provision should be made to provide against such
hardships. I would propose, therefore, that hereafter, when no
battle is raging, either party be authorized to send to any
point between the pickets or skirmish lines, unarmed men bearing
litters to pick up their dead or wounded, without being fired
upon by the other party. Any other method, equally fair to both
parties, you may propose for meeting the end desired will be
accepted by me.
U. S. GRANT,
Lee replied that he feared such an arrangement would lead to
misunderstanding, and proposed that in future, when either party
wished to remove their dead and wounded, a flag of truce be
sent. I answered this immediately by saying:
COLD HARBOR, VA., June 6, 1864.
GENERAL R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of N. Va.
“Your communication of yesterday’s date is received. I will
send immediately, as you propose, to collect the dead and
wounded between the lines of the two armies, and will also
instruct that you be allowed to do the same. I propose that the
time for doing this be between the hours of 12 M. and 3 P.M.
to-day. I will direct all parties going out to bear a white
flag, and not to attempt to go beyond where we have dead or
wounded, and not beyond or on ground occupied by your troops.
U. S. GRANT,
Lee’s response was that he could not consent to the burial of
the dead and removal of the wounded in the way I proposed, but
when either party desired such permission it should be asked for
by flag of truce and he had directed that any parties I may have
sent out, as mentioned in my letter, to be turned back. I
COLD HARBOR, VA, June 6, 1864.
GENERAL R. E. LEE.
Commanding Army, N. Va.
The knowledge that wounded men are now suffering from want of
attention, between the two armies, compels me to ask a
suspension of hostilities for sufficient time to collect them
in, say two hours. Permit me to say that the hours you may fix
upon for this will be agreeable to me, and the same privilege
will be extended to such parties as you may wish to send out on
the same duty without further application.
U. S. GRANT,
Lee acceded to this; but delays in transmitting the
correspondence brought it to the 7th of June–forty-eight hours
after it commenced–before parties were got out to collect the
men left upon the field. In the meantime all but two of the
wounded had died. And I wrote to Lee:
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