Diary of Orrin Brown—March 30, 1865

Grant's Council of War 1864Diary of Orrin Brown, Goldsboro, North Carolina

Thursday–Mar. 30th

It rained most all the after part of the night and nearly all of the fournoon and it was quite cool PM with a high S. W. wind. The regt. was on dress parad and Batalion drill again today. I read 3 Chapt. today.

Grant’s Overland Campaign

Gen. Grant wasted no time in the spring of 1864 after he arrived in the East from Tennessee.  In command of all armies of the United States, he trusted Gen. Sherman to get things done in the West and put his mind to work on the problem of Robert E. Lee in the Overland Campaign.

Overland Campaign map 1864

On 4 May 1864, Grant took Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac across the Rapidan River in Virginia between Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate capital at Richmond.  The next day, Lee surprised Grant with an aggressive attack in the Battle of the Wilderness (5-7 May), resulting in 17,666 Union casualties and 11,033 for the Confederacy.

Unlike Meade (and the Union generals before him), Grant gave as well as he got.  Instead of retreating and licking his wounds, Grant pivoted again, to the southeast.  Much as Sherman would continually maneuver to outflank Confederate forces guarding Atlanta, Grant continually maneuvered between Lee and Richmond.  At Spotsylvania Court House near Fredericksburg, Grant repeatedly attacked Southern defenses (8-21 May), inflicting heavy loses on each side:  18,399 for the Union, 12,687 for the Confederacy.  At this time, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan went over Meade’s head and convinced Grant to let him lead a cavalry raid into the Confederate rear.  At 10,000+ armed with rapid-fire Spencer carbines, Sheridan commanded the most powerful cavalry force assembled in the Civil War against 5,000 Confederate cavalry.  On the 11th of May, legendary Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart (Sheridan’s West Point classmate and friend) was mortally wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern by a Union private in the 5th Michigan.

Moving again, Grant’s armies met Lee’s at the Battle of North Anna River (23-26 May, 2,623 Union casualties, 1,552 Confederate), followed by a series of assaults at Cold Harbor through mid-June (12,737 Union casualties, 5,287 Confederate).  The cavalry again came into play at the Battle of Trevillian Station, where Sheridan commanded 9,200 Union troops in a raid against Confederate Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton‘s 6,800, in the largest all-cavalry battle of the war, resulting in a tactical Southern victory.  The cavalry raid did provide cover for Grant to cross the James River on 15-16 June in a move on Southern supply lines at Petersburg, setting the stage for a nine-month siege.

Overall forces in the field:  118,000 for the Union, 64,000 for the Confederacy.  Overall casualties in two months’ time:  38,000-55,000 for the Union, 33,000-40,000 for the Confederacy (estimates vary).  The campaign was the most costly in the war, and in American history—although Grant suffered a higher number of casualties, Lee lost 50% of his forces in a few short weeks, with no reinforcements in sight.



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