The Battle of Cold Harbor "I Am Killed" June 1 - 3, 1864
Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, in his first campaign in command of the Army of the Potomac, had been lavish with his soldiers' blood. In the first 28 days of almost continuous fighting, the Army of the Potomac had suffered more than 31,000 casualties, an increase of more than 7,000 over what Grant's western commands had sustained in the previous three years of the war. The appalling casualty lists were causing an uproar on the Northern home front. Grim-faced President Lincoln was silent, for he knew that the man the papers were calling a "butcher" was the general he had sought for so long. He had at last found a general that could, as Lincoln described it, "face the numbers."
Grant and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee were moving their armies as though on a chessboard. Continually trying to gain some advantage in position or numbers over each other, they fought their way south through the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Now the two armies found themselves several hundred yards from each other in entrenched lines within just a few miles of Richmond. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had gained its position first, on May 31, 1864, and had constructed a formidable defensive line with flanks secured on two swamps.
In two days of fighting at Cold Harbor, Grant had already lost 5,000 men, but always aggressive, he decided on another massive attack. Because of fatigue and delays in distributing ammunition, the Union soldiers had an extra day to consider the task they had been assigned. These veterans knew well the high cost of mass assaults against Rebel entrenchments and recognized that this was a particularly fatal field. One of Grant's aides attested to the soldiers' grim determination to do their duty. Passing among the front lines, the aide found that "the men were calmly writing their names and home addresses on slips of paper and pinning them on the backs of their coats, so that their bodies might be recognized and their fate made known to their families at home."
Fascinating Fact: A diary was found on a Union soldier who was killed in the attack. Before leaving his entrenchments that morning, he had written for June 3, 1864, "I am Killed."
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