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Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26--June 3, 1864 Hardcover – August 1, 2002
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About the Author
Gordon Rhea i s the author of three previous books, a frequent lecturer throughout the country on military history, and a practicing attorney. A winner of the Fletcher Pratt Literary Award, he lives in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, with his wife and two sons.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book begins with Grant pulling away from the trap that Lee had set for him at the North Anna River. The moves in the chess match between Grant and Lee featured both misreading the other. Each missed opportunities to maul the other. Grant cleverly sidestepped Lee from the North Anna line, but did not follow up the march that he had gained on Lee.
Each side moved in response to what they thought the other was doing, and did a slow dance of maneuver toward Cold Harbor. Major cavalry fighting broke out (e.g., Haw's Shop). Both sides saw some problems with generalship at Corps level (Early's hotheadedness led to some foolish attacks on Union positions; Burnside continued his blundering; Warren dithered; Anderson was at the very limit of his competence). The bleeding of Confederate generals slowly reduced the effectiveness of the Army of Northern Virginia, and Lee had to assume more direct control.
Finally, the two armies fought it out at Cold Harbor, with the Union forces being driven back with many casualties.
And here is where Rhea's book is distinctive. He argues that Cold Harbor was not nearly as disastrous to Grant's forces as often thought. Indeed, as a percentage of forces lost to casualties, the Confederate Army was in worse shop after Cold Harbor than Union forces (that is, they had lost more troops percentagewise than Northern forces). Grant could replenish his forces; Lee had a much more difficult time.
At the end of the slugging matches from The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, Grant pondered his next move. And that's how the book ends.
This is well written. Many maps help the reader visualize the movements of the two armies. The order of battle at the end shows the organization of each army, down to brigade and regimental levels. All in all, a worthy addition to the library of students of the Civil War.
Even though this period does encompass a significant amount of maneuvering, cavalry battles, small infantry engagements and entrenchments, Rhea, as in his previous works, feels obligated to discuss all of it in detail. While he does accomplish an amazingingly organized study of this amazingly complex series of movements, he loses many a reader to these details and ultimately the whole book suffers somewhat in terms of quality.
This isn't to say that this is a bad book...on the contrary, as I've previously stated, Rhea presents an impressive study, taking no liberties in his research to uncover what really happened and when. We start out with the armies facing each other at the North Anna river. U.S. Grant, having realized that R.E. Lee's inverted "V" entrenchment south of the river is indeed a trap, decides to again move "by the left flank" and steals a march on Lee by crossing the Pamunkey river with his sights set on Richmond. Lee finally discovers this and sets up strong defenses along Totopotomoy creek between Grant and Richmond. Cavalry battles at Haw's Shop/Enon Church, Bethesda Church and Matadequin Creek presage the infantry "skirmishes" along Shady Grove Road and Old Church Road.
Then "a fateful cascade of events had brought Cold Harbor to the forefront Grant's and Lee's attention. Federal commanders initially had no intention of using the place in their offensive operations. They considered the road junction significant only because Confederates might exploit it as a staging area to harass Union supply lines and thwart (Union General Baldy) Smith's arrival." Lee, sensing Grant's intention to capture the crossrads and use it as a launching pad for an invasion of Richmond, sends Cavalry to Cold Harbor to prevent them from taking it. Union Cavalry under Phil Sheridan fears that the Confederates plan to attack him there and goes on the offensive. Lee conversely thinks that the Cavalry attack is the vanguard for a major Union attack and shifts an entire infantry corps there. Grant sees this and starts his infantry there and the engagement is on.
The famous confrontations on June 1st and 3rd mark the true battles at Cold Harbor and Rhea hits his stride in discussing them: "Writers later alluded to a 'Cold Harbor' syndrome, claiming that the carnage Union soldiers witnessed in the fighting there persuaded them to shy away from assaulting entrenched positions. In fact, by the time the Army of the Potomac reached Cold Harbor, veterans had already learned that valuable lesson. Cold Harbor is where newcomers discovered what old timers already knew." Famous engagements involving the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery and the 8th New York Heavy Artillery are detailed here making these stories a remarkable companion for the History Channel's "Civil War Combat" episode on Cold Harbor. These army-wide assaults against the entrenched Confederate positions have driven many historians to indict Grant for mis-management of this battle and garnering him the reputation of a "butcher". Rhea dispels these myths: "When viewed in the war's larger context, the June 3 attack falls short of it's popular reputation for slaughter. Grant lost more men each day in the Wilderness and on two different days at Spotsylvania Court House than he did on Jume 3, making his main effort at Cold Harbor only the fifth bloodiest day for the Federals since crossing the Rapidan." What Grant and the Union army is guilty of is army-wide coordination. Time and again, they have an advantage taken away when coordinated movements go awry and the Confederates are able to capitalize...Rhea documents these in his closing chapter and discusses Grant's feeling that this was not a major defeat, but just another obstacle in his road to defeating Lee's army.
A study not for the general reader, but an essential component for historians and of Civil War history, Gordon Rhea's latest book continues his impressive documantation of the close of the war in Virginia and I would encourage all Civil War buffs to read these books.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Shows how Grant used his enlisted men, to accomplish his goals!!!