Friday, May 30, 2014

North Anna to Cold Harbor

When the armies of Grant and Lee again came to a halt in the entrenchments south of the North Anna River, Grant decided to move again. He would again move south east, trying to get around Lee's flank, keep close to the navy, and edge toward Butler's army on the Bermuda Hundred. The army successfully withdrew from their lines on the night of May 26, recrossing the North Anna and then turning the columns to march down stream. When Lee discovered the movement, he set his troops in motion in the same direction. He chose a good defensive position behind Totopotomy Creek, just a few miles north of Richmond. He was not, however, sure of what the Federal plans were, so he sent Wade Hampton's cavalry forward to reconnoiter.

Battle of Haw's Shop
Hampton met the Federal in a sharp engagement on May 28th at the Battle of Haw's Shop. There were about four thousand troopers on both sides, and the battle involved the Federals trying to dislodge the Southerners, who had dismounted and arrayed behind hastily build breastworks. After repulsing several attacks over seven hours, Hampton pulled his men back. They had fulfilled their mission, having learned that two crops had crossed the river. This was the largest cavalry battle in the east in nearly a year, but it was different than those which had gone before, as it was fought behind breastworks.

The next day Grant and Meade's army continued to push forward, and took up a position opposite Lee across Totopotomoy Creek. On 30th the Federals pressed Lee's lines. Meanwhile, Lee ordered Early to strike the Federal left flank. Robert Rodes successfully reached the flank and crushed the division placed there. But the attack stalled, and Early's other divisions were not able to provide adequate support. Stephen Ramseur, a new division commander, made a rash attack that was repulsed by the Federal artillery. At length Early called of the attacks.

Lee was disappointed to hear of Early's failure, but he was even more disturbed by another piece of news that he received – that a corps was being sent by Butler from the Bermuda Hundred to reinforce Grant. He needed to ensure that Grant did not use these troops to outflank him, so he ordered Fitzhugh Lee to scout with his cavalry out on the Confederate right. Lee's men rode towards Cold Harbor, where the next great battle of the Overland Campaign was destined to occur.


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