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Crossing the James River, June 1864 "...the real crisis of the war"

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The Overland Campaign began on 4 May 1864. What followed were 45 days of continuous marching, fighting, and digging. It was the fourth year of the Civil War, and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had been brought east to command all the Union armies and end the war. He had planned a coordinated series of simultaneous offensives to deny the Confederates the ability to redistribute their forces to meet these attacks. Grant knew that Virginia would continue to be the main theater of the war, and he chose to make his headquarters in the field with the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General George G. Meade. Facing that force would be General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Up until then, the war in the Eastern Theater had not gone well for the Union, and Grant had faced strong opposition and heavy casualties as the Army of the Potomac fought its way south from the area around Fredericksburg toward Richmond. Sidestepping Lees army repeatedly, both armies came to rest at Cold Harbor, just eight miles east of the Confederate capital. A stalemate ensued as the opposing armies dug in extensively after the failure of the Federal assaults on the morning of 3 June. The armies would remain in place under hot, fetid conditions for the next 9 days. The Confederates had faced difficult situations before, but Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander proclaimed this as the real crisis of the war. Grant now determined to change his strategy. His new target would be the Confederate commercial and transportation hub at Petersburg, 20 miles south of Richmond along the Appomattox River. By capturing Petersburg, Grant could easily starve the Southerners out of their defenses around Richmond, which would allow him to defeat them on open ground of his own choosing. To do that, he would have to steal a march on the Confederates, cross the James River undetected to the south, and capture Petersburg by a coup de main before the Confederates could react.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Civil Engineering
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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