The Battle of Cold Harbor
More photos from the Library of Congress online image collection. This week is one of my favorite photographs and certainly the most haunting. These men are collecting the dead in the aftermath of the Battle of Cold Harbor, one of the bloodiest engagements of the Civil War.
Cold Harbor, near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, was a clash between General Ulysses S. Grant and commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Robert E. Lee. Fought between May 31 and June 12, 1864, the battle resulted in over 18,000 casualties, mostly Union troops, from a brutal frontal assault of Lee’s entrenched forces. Confederate General Evander Law later said of the battle “It was murder, nor war.”
With over 2,500 troops killed, the men above had a monumental, and horrific, task to collect the remains of the dead. Identification of individual men was rare and most ended up in mass graves. (original file here)
The Overland Campaign
Cold Harbor was one of a series of battles in the forty day Overland Campaign, Grant’s effort to wear down and destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant was determined to break Lee and relentlessly threw his men into the fire but despite the terrible losses, the Overland Campaign severely degraded Lee’s army and proved that Union forces could operate and succeed near the Confederate capital.
The image above (original here) shows the general at his headquarters at Cold Harbor. The man to the left is unidentified.
A general needs horses
War is all about movement and positioning so officers need quick and reliable transportation. During the Civil War the only option, at least over shorter distances, was the horse. Grant had several horses during the war and several available at any one time.
This photo, taken at Cold Harbor, shows three of Grant’s favorites, from left to right Egypt, Cincinnati, and Jeff Davis, captured the previous year near Vicksburg, MS from the plantation of Joe Davis, brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. No one can say that Grant didn’t have a sense of humor.