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Civil War Series

The Battle of Cold Harbor

   

JUNE 1, EVENING: WRIGHT AND SMITH ASSAULT AT OLD COLD HARBOR

By evening, Confederate and Union troops faced off behind earthworks extending perpendicularly to the road running from Old Cold Harbor to New Cold Harbor. Wright's corps held the left portion of the Union line, with Brigadier General James B. Ricketts's division north of the roadway and the divisions of Brigadier Generals David A. Russell and Thomas H. Neill extending south and curving back to the east. Smith's corps continued the line northward, then bent back to Beulah Church, with the divisions of Brigadier Generals Charles Devens, Jr., William T. H. Brooks, and John H. Martindale arrayed northward in that order. On the Confederate side, Hoke faced Wright, and Anderson faced Smith, with Kershaw's division on Hoke's left, Major General Charles W. Field's division on Kershaw's left, and Pickett's division in reserve.

AS WRIGHT'S BATTLE LINES SWEPT FORWARD, CONFEDERATE ATTENTION WAS DIVERTED FROM AN UNDEFENDED STREAMBED, WHICH ALLOWED A LONE FEDERAL BRIGADE TO PASS THROUGH THE SOUTHERNERS' POSITION. THIS MOMENTARY ACHIEVEMENT RAISED HOPES AT GRANT'S HEADQUARTERS FOR A MORE SUCCESSFUL ASSAULT THE FOLLOWING MORNING. (NPS)

Late in the day, Grant decided to attack once more at Old Cold Harbor. At 6:30 P.M., Wright and Smith pitched in. South of the road, rebel musketry and artillery turned the approaches into killing fields. The Federals made no appreciable headway. Advancing immediately north of the road, Brigadier General Emory Upton's brigade of Russell's division met a bloody repulse. The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, commanded by Colonel Elisha Kellogg, had recently joined Upton as infantrymen, bringing with it 1,500 men, more than doubling the size of the brigade. Kellogg's men marched forward under a deadly fire, clawed through pine trees the rebels had felled as obstacles, and emerged onto open ground in front of Clingman. "Aim low and aim well," Clingman instructed his soldiers. According to one of Upton's troops, "A sheet of flame, sudden as lightning, red as blood, and so near that it seemed to singe the men's faces, burst along the rebel breastwork." A bullet tore through Kellogg's head, killing the colonel, and his men broke for the rear. Clingman's soldiers shot them down as they ran. "Men of Connecticut, stand by me," Upton bellowed, setting an example by firing from behind a tree as fast as soldiers could hand him loaded rifles. When Kellogg's replacement complained that his ammunition was exhausted, Upton retorted, "Catch them on your bayonets, and pitch them over your heads." Upton's bravado was no match for Clingman's minie balls, and his brigade fell back to its starting point.

Colonel William S. Truex, stationed on Upton's right, had somewhat better luck. Clingman's left flank rested on a swampy brush-filled ravine north of the road. Brigadier General William T. Wofford's Georgia brigade picked up the Confederate line on the ravine's north side. The depression itself, however, was undefended and created an inviting gap in the Confederate formation.


(click on image for a PDF version)
OPTIMISM RUNS HIGH: JUNE 1, 6:30 P.M.
Having gathered both Wright's and Smith's corps at Old Cold Harbor, Grant orders an attack. Kershaw ties down Smith's attack to the north, while Hoke contends with Wright's advance. Along a small creek on which the two Confederate divisions hinge, an undefended gap is discovered by Truex's brigade. Funneling through the Confederate line, Truex effects a break-through only to be stopped by Southern reinforcements. Emboldened by this partial success, Grant plans to follow up with a general assault the next morning.

Truex funneled into the undefended ravine to emerge behind Clingman and Wofford. Clingman swung two regiments around to face the intruders, and Anderson, who had snapped out of his doldrums, promptly pulled Brigadier General Eppa Hunton's brigade from its reserve position and directed it into the breach. Elements from other rebel units piled in as well. Lacking reinforcements, Truex faced the difficult task of extricating his brigade from a pocket lined on three sides by Confederates. Darkness settled over a confused melee as soldiers fired at opposing muzzle flashes. Truex finally disengaged, bringing with him hundreds of captured Confederates, predominantly Georgians. The rift in the Confederate line closed behind him.

GRANT'S REPULSE ON JUNE 1 DID NOT DISCOURAGE THE UNION COMMANDER. (LC)

Shooting petered out a few hours after dark. Wright and Smith had lost about 2,200 men and had no gains to show for their efforts. Upton was furious with Grant, whom he complained had "recklessly ordered [Wright and Smith] to assault the enemy's entrenchments, knowing neither their strength nor position." The attack also upset Meade, who bridled at Grant's penchant for ordering assaults without sufficient reconnaissance or preparation. Grant's popularity with the press also nettled the army commander. "The papers are giving Grant all the credit for what they call successes," he grouched to his wife, "I hope they will remember this if anything goes wrong."

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