Down To Fight The Battle Of Cold Harbor

“Matthew Brady” by James D. Horan

It’s June 2, 1864. Photographer Tim O’Sullivan has taken to the steeple of Bethesda Church in Virginia to capture this image of Ulysses S. Grant (between the trees), listening to a report by Colonel Bowers (reading at the far right, inside the circle). On Grant’s right is General Horace Porter (reading a newspaper), and on his left is General Rawlins, chief of staff. Here’s a closer look.

In the next image, Grant has risen, walked around the church pews, and is leaning over Meade’s shoulders, consulting a map. Shortly afterward, he will write out orders for the battle of Cold Harbor the next day.


Minor skirmishes followed by delays began on 31 May, but the main attack occurred on 3 June, when Grant launched a frontal assault on Confederate defenses. He believed that Lee’s men were overextended, but Lee had taken advantage of a delay in Grant’s assault to bring in reinforcements and improve his fortifications. The result of his preparations was carnage; the advancing Union troops were soon felled, with those making it through the first line of defenses soon being slaughtered at the second. More than 7,000 Union troops were killed or injured in one hour before Grant halted the attack.

For the next nine days, the two armies faced each other in opposite trenches, often only yards apart, until Grant marched off his army on 12 June to threaten the critical rail junction at Petersburg, near Richmond. His own comment on the battle: “I regret this assault more than any one I have ever ordered.”

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-B8171-7926 DLC)

After some time had passed, photographer John Reekie took this image of African-American men gathering bones of the dead soldiers.

Union: 1,844 dead, 9,077 wounded

Confederacy: 83 dead, 3,380 wounded

6 thoughts on “Down To Fight The Battle Of Cold Harbor

    1. I was betting that you’d seen that! No, no–I can’t imagine that. I was reading about President LBJ last night, and how people would say, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” and how it affected him, perhaps influencing his heart attack. I couldn’t do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I am still astonished at actual photos from the 1860’s. The destruction and slaughter in our Civil War is something that should always be remembered. That is why I can not fathom the reasons behind trying to “change” history. When will someone come after the Brady pictures?

    Liked by 1 person

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