Monday, June 2, 2014

150 Years Ago June 3: The Slaughter at Cold Harbor

150 Years Ago June 3: The Slaughter at Cold Harbor

The Battle of Cold Harbor began on May 31 when General Philip Sheridan's Union cavalry seized a keycrossroads between Bethesda Church and the Chickahominy River.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee responded with a series of counterattacks as Cold Harbor was astride his line of communications back to Richmond.  Both armies continued to hurl men at each other for days along a front that grew to seven miles as they kept attempting to turn each other's flanks.

On the morning of June 3 and impatient General U.S. Grant tried to bludgeon his way through the Rebel line with a massive human assault.  Three Corps (IInd, VIth, XVIIIth) were packed tight into a block and as the sun rose they moved forward - into a hell of Confederate fire.  In one 20-minute period over 7,000 Union soldiers fell; most of them new or green recruits from the heavy artillery regiments that Grant had ordered to leave their fortress positions around Washington and take up rifles.  The assault collapsed, many of the survivors taking cover behind the bodies of the fallen.

Grant, who rarely responded to charges that he was a" murdering officer" and for whom the "butcher's bill" was part of his war of attrition strategy, is on record as saying that he "always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made."   After the attack, Grant changed his strategy, first going to a war of trenches and then beginning his grand turning movement toward the James, a wide swing that would eventually bring the armies back face to face at Petersburg, whre they would remained locked in trench warfare until war's end.

Although primarily a game of naval strategy, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas also replicates the land war.  Many of the key figures in the land campaigns, including Grant (USN Card 8), Sheridan (USN Card 11) and Lee (CSN Card 60) are in the game, and many of the tactics, events and blunders of that war are similarly represented, among them a Cold Harbor card (CSN Card 105).

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