This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cold Harbor and Malvern Hill Battlefields

I have to back up just a bit. For most of the Civil War there battles fought around Richmond. It is difficult to move from one battlefield to another only a few miles and 2 years apart and keep the timeline in perspective. The first battlefield we visited today was at Cold Harbor (previously discussed on this blog). 

In the spring of 1864 Grant began his “Overland Campaign,” which was to march South and capture the Confederate Capital of Richmond.  Lee battled Grant for six weeks at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Totoptomoy Creek.  Grant was stalled each time but never stopped.  The next logical military objective for Grant was the crossroads know as Old Cold Harbor.

Gen. Lee anticipated Gen. Grant’s movements and pulled 62,000 men away from Richmond’s defenses and placed them in Grant’s anticipated path east of Richmond along the lowlands of the Chickahominy River.  When Grant’s army of 108,000 men arrived on June 1, 1864 the Confederates were already entrenched and ready.  By the morning of June 2, both armies had formed a 7-mile front.  The Union army attacked with 50,000 troops at dawn on June 3.  In one hour, Union losses numbered 7,000 and by noon Grant had called off the entire attack.  In Grant’s memoirs he commented that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered.  Historians have referred to the battle as “mindless slaughter” and “not war, but murder.”

The Union dead and wounded lay between the two armies for four days until Grant and Lee negotiated a 2-hour cease-fire for the Union to retrieve their wounded.  By that time very few were still alive.

For 7 days both armies fortified their positions and waited.  The trenches were close enough at some places for one side to hear the other side talking.  To stick your head up for a look outside the trenches invited a sharpshooter to put a .56 caliber mini ball through it.  If the bullet did not kill on contact it could destroy bone, organs, or sever limbs.  Amputation was the treatment of choice in order to avoid infection.  An abdominal wound (“gut shot”) was usually considered fatal.

During the week there were minor attacks, artillery duels, and sniping.  On the night of June 12 the Union army withdrew south towards the James River.  Grant changed his strategy and abandoned further moves against Richmond. When it was all over there were 13,000 US casualties compared to 2,500 Confederate casualties. Petersburg was now his goal.

After walking the Cold Harbor battlefield we drove a few miles further south to Malvern Hill.  We have now moved from 1864 back to 1862.  Malvern Hill was the final battle in what is know as the “Seven Days Battle”.  The Union army was commanded by Gen. George McClellan and the Confederate army by Gen. Robert E. Lee.

During the Seven Days Battles, as previously mentioned, McClellan had steadily fallen back (retreated) until his disjointed army and its supply trains began arriving in the Malvern Hill area.  McClellan rallied his reunited army of 89,000 on the crest of a nearby hill (Malvern Hill is only about 30 feet higher than the surrounding fields).  McClellan’s plan was to hold off Lee’s army of 71,000 men until he was able to safely retreat south along the James River to his new supply base at Harrison’s Landing.  Being only 2 miles from the James River McClellan had heavy artillery support from Union gunboats in addition to his own artillery.

McClellan placed 18,000 troops at the crest of the hill along with about 40 pieces of artillery. The top was too narrow for any more men or artillery so McClellan put another 15,000 troops in reserve behind the ridge.

From the crest of the hill to the tree line from which the Confederates would approach was 800 yards at the closest point but up to a mile for most of the front.  The bottom of the hill at the tree line was wider than the top of the hill.  This forced the Confederates to be “funneled” up the hill making them easy targets for the Union artillery and sharpshooters.

Lee was anxious to deliver one last blow to the Union troops before they could complete their retreat.  As a result, planning was incomplete, orders were vague and misunderstood, and the attack was delivered piece-meal.  Only about 35,000 of Lee’s 71,000 men actually participated in the July 1 attack.  The effect of the Union guns on the Confederates was devastating.  They were mowed down in waves yet the attack was not called off until nightfall.

On the morning of July 2, the Confederates discovered that the Union forces had moved out during the night and were nowhere to be seen.

The Confederates sustained almost 5,500 casualties while the Union forces incurred about 3,200.

1 comment :

Croft Randle said...

I find your reports on the Civil War battlefields fascinating. It was not something Canadian schools spent a lot of time on so my knowledge is limited to my casual reading since then.

It was very interesting to visit some of the Civil War sites in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and of course your own State of Texas in 2010. It is something I would like to spend more time doing sometime. In the meantime, you are successfully whetting my appetite!