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The Battle of Cold Harbor Ends: June 12, 1864

Fold3 Image - Plan of the Battle of Cold Harbor
On June 12, 1864, the Battle of Cold Harbor ended when General Ulysses S. Grant withdrew his Union troops following a failed attempt to break through Confederate lines to push on to Richmond. Though the battle had resulted in high Union casualties, it would essentially prove to be Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s final victory of the war.

The Battle of Cold Harbor was actually a series of skirmishes and battles that occurred between May 31 and June 12. Grant and Lee had been clashing the entire month of May in the battles of the Wilderness (May 5–7), Spotsylvania Court House (May 8–21), and North Anna (May 23–26), as Grant worked his way southeast to try to take Richmond. Finally, the two armies neared Cold Harbor, Virginia, just 10 miles from the Confederate capital.

The first action of the Battle of Cold Harbor occurred on May 31, when Union and Confederate cavalry fought for possession of Cold Harbor. The Union cavalry emerged the victors of that clash as well of the fight the following morning, when the Confederates—reinforced by the arrival of infantry—attacked again. The Union cavalry also shortly received reinforcements of infantry, and both sides began digging in and making entrenchments, creating a line 7 miles long. That same evening, June 1, the Union launched a partial attack to allow them to get in a better position for the battle planned for the following day, June 2.

However, due to the late arrival of a portion of his troops following an exhausting night march, Grant decided to let them rest, and the attack was postponed until the following day. However, this gave Lee’s troops time to get firmly entrenched, and the Union failed to reconnoiter the Confederate position and learn of the well-executed Confederate defenses.

Fold3 Image - Battle of North Anna River Map
Three Union corps attacked the Confederate entrenchments at dawn on June 3, and the result was one of the bloodiest battles of the war for the Union, despite the total number of available Union troops being nearly twice that of the Confederates. Caught in concentrated and overlapping fields of fire, Grant’s troops suffered high casualty rates. Although the battle would last until 1:30 that afternoon, the majority of the damage was done in the opening minutes of the fighting. Casualties for the Federal troops just for that day were estimated at around 7,000, while Confederate troops lost about 1,500.

Following the loss at Cold Harbor, Grant decided not to try for Richmond again but instead headed for the rail center of Petersburg, where both armies would become entrenched for most of the remainder of the war.

Did you have ancestors who fought at Cold Harbor? Tell us about it! Or search for more records about the battle on Fold3.

109 Comments

  1. My gg uncle, John Daly (Daily, Daley) was in the NY 147th Infantry from Oswego, New York. This Regiment fought at Cold Harbor. It then went onto Petersburg, VA. My ancestor was injured in the stomach. He died of his wounds 19 Jun 1865.

  2. A memorial I wrote for my gg-granduncle.

    Joseph Anderson Lively

    A confederate soldier of the 26th Virginia Battalion, Company H. Captured during the Cold Harbor battle on June 3, 1864, at Gaines Mill near Richmond. Taken to Point Lookout, MD, then on July 12th was transfered to Elmira, NY.

    Suffering in horrible conditions at Elmira, many prisoners were taken ill soon after arrival. Late Sept. 1864 orders were received to send “unfit” prisoners south for exchange. Oct. 11, 1864 J. A. Lively was transfered to Baltimore. A report dated Oct. 14, 1864 indicates that during the previous days about 1200 prisoners arrived at Baltimore by train and were examined by doctors. Doctors recorded the horrible condition of many of the prisoners, stating that some “should have never been permitted to leave Elmira”. Joseph A. Lively was part of this transfer.

    He died Oct. 19, 1864 at Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD, where many of the prisoners had been taken. He was buried Oct. 21, 1864. He was 37 years old and left behind a wife and at least 8 children, the oldest not yet a teenager.

    • Buried at Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, MD.

    • so sorry to hear of ur gg-uncle my gg-gfather was in 21st NC/ company G and was taken prisoner at the battle of monocacy , MD and taken to elmira in july 1864 and survived the POW camp (HELLmira) and was pardoned in June 1865….there is a book about elmira i have read but don’t remember the name (i think its the only one) the thing about the northern camps was the north HAD the food to give the POW’s they just chose not to…were as the south didn’t have food much less for their own army…

  3. My great grandfather Job Sherman Driggs participated in the Battle of Cold Harbor. He was part of the Iron Brigade and the 6th Wisconsin Volunteers. He had been born in Colrain, Ma in 1840 into a family descended from several 1st families of Massachusetts and Connecticut. He enlisted in 1861 from Glendale, Wisconsin and fought in most of the great battles with the Iron Brigade, including Antietam, where he was in Company I and was sent into the Corn Field and fought back and forth during that horrific battle. After Antietam he was attached to the 4th U. S. Artillery and participated at Gettysburg at the Railroad Cut, and he was wounded at the Wilderness.

    He eventually was promoted to 1st lieutenant and mustered out at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. After the war he returned to Wisconsin, then to Texas where he worked for the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railroad, He participated in the Land Run into Indian Territories in Oklahoma in 1889. He eventually moved to the foot of Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga, Tennessee where he died in 1921. He was buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery and later when his 3rd wife and my great grandmother Georgia Ann Boatman Driggs died her body was placed on top of his grave.

    Thanks, Ken Pennington

  4. My 3rd great uncle Captain Adin Caswell commanded Company B of the 27th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. At Cold Harbor he was knocked to the ground by canister fire, and his overcoat was pierced several times by bullets, but he escaped with only minor wounds. Because the regiment’s commander was killed at Cold Harbor, he took command of the regiment for about 10 weeks. Captain Caswell returned home to Massachusetts after the war in relatively good health. He lived until 1900, and was held in high esteem by his comrades in the Grand Army of the Republic veterans group.

  5. One thing no one talks about is the number of Union Troops, and for that matter, southerners that went AWOL during Grant’s push to Richmond. Grant’s strategy was to waste Lee’s Army which he did, wasted his own Army in the process, but the North had more Troops to send.
    The South didn’t listen to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston who did not want to waste his Army guarding Cities but wanted to engage with Gorilla Fighting on favorable Ground. Both Lee and Davis were against Johnson and they were wrong.

    • General Johnston understood the situation that existed in the south at the time much better than Davis. However, his approach was politically unfavorable and did not suit the emotional climate that existed, with the south wanting to annihilate the northern armies in the field. Johnston loved his men and loved the south but his pragmatism was not appreciated. When Davis removed him from command before the battle of Atlanta and gave his army to General Hood, I feel that that decision was one of the final nails in the coffin for the Confederacy. Very few memorials for General Johnston but he was a great general and loved my his troops.

    • Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign is a sample of what would have happened if the South had indulged in guerilla warfare – scorched earth tactics. Look also at what Sherman’s March to the Sea and subsequent march north from Savannah did, and imagine Grant’s and Thomas’s armies added to the mix. Plus a large number of pro-Union groups in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina. The results would have been catastrophic damage to the Confederacy, in terms of both property and impact on civilians.
      Thanks to Lee, the war in the east was waged on relatively restrained terms, with the exception of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, which was partially an answer to guerrilla warfare, though mainly to the threat pose by forces there to Washington.

    • I agree in part… Lee started making sedentary mistakes after the loss of Jackson. N. Bedford Forrest was the main element for Johnstons plans for guerilla war, and I believe it would have bled the north into a state of apathy…

  6. My great grandfather David Crockett Whitt was there with the 29th VA and after the battle they were known as the Bloody Twentyninth I write a book about it. See at. http://dahnmonwhittfamily.com

  7. My 2nd & 3rd great-grandfathers, Andrew A. Wells & his son George W. Wells both fought at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Finnegans Floridians.

  8. My gg grandfather Henry Connahey fought in 183rd Pennsylvania 1st brigade. He made it through all the wilderness campaigns! Pretty sure he was at Appomattox court house when Lee surrendered. Died of lead poison at 48 yrs old. He was a house painter after war

  9. My gg grandfather William Draper fought with the 8th Alabama at Cold Harbor and was with Lee at Appomattox. He died in Texas in 1892.

  10. Had a great grandfather ,Phillip A work that caught in that Battle Of Cold Harbor.

  11. My GGG grandfather Martin Lyddy (or Liddey, Liddy, Liddie) Private of Company E of the 155th New York Infantry (Irish regiment) was killed on 4th June 1864 at Cold Harbor. He arrived in New York from Glasgow (an Irishman) in 1861 or 1862 and sent for his Scottish wife Jane and two infant children to follow him. They eventually arrived New Year 1864, by that time Martin had signed up for the army and was away fighting. I do not know if the family ever saw Martin before he was killed but they struggled to survive in New York. One child died and Jane eventually remarried and returned to Scotland. Her application for a pension is lodged at the Washington National Archive and was a revelation to find when I visited from Britain last year. I also made it to the Cold Harbor Battle Site. The Ranger was extremely knowledgable and could locate the place where Martin is likely to have died with the recorded death date, company and regiment info. since there are diagrams showing the battle lines. Fascinating. I would be very interested to hear of any other 155th NY ancestors’ stories.
    I am still trying to find out where Martin was from in Ireland, and this is proving very difficult. If anyone has pointers I would be glad to hear.

    • My Gorman relatives (husband, wife and six children) first relocated to Glasgow from County Tyrone in hopes of finding work. On 28 AUG 1852 they arrived in NY. This would suggest you look in the northern part of Ireland.

  12. I have a gguncle who fought in the battle of Franklin from the 2nd and 6th Missouri. He was wounded on Nov 30th and supposedly died a few days later. His name was Charles F Moran. Young man, not married, however he left loving parents to mourn him. If you should find anything on him or about his unit, please email me! Thanks
    Joy

  13. Brave men in another era…hard to believe but true.

  14. The NJ 14th Regiment included many ancestors. My GG grandfather, John Yetman, was shot and captured at Cold Harbor. He survived Andersonville Prison and I believe is mentioned as Getman in the diary of “Death Before Dishonor” written by a fellow tent mate who did not survive Andersonville. My GGG uncle, Daniel Polhemus Soden, was killed at Cold Harbor shot in both legs. His nephew, Peter Soden, also died there. Fortunately my GGG uncle Jonathan Craig Soden survived.

    • Glenn…are you from NJ? We just put a flag on Memorial Day on soldiers from the 14th NJ buried in Adelphia, NJ. including a Willam Yetman of the 14th. Relation?

      you can contact me offsite at [email protected]

  15. What incredible stories. Thank you for honoring your ancestors.

  16. My great grandfather, George Finley Walters and his brother, Sidney Walters fought in that battle. He, his brother and step father, James Boon, were captured in the battle near Fredericksburg. They all survived the war.

  17. My Great Grandfather, Archibald Boan, fought at Cold Harbour with the 21st SC. He was later captured at Petersburg and survived Elmira. He lived to be 83.

  18. I recently discovered my ggggrandfather Allison Blackden (Blagden) was a member of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. I found a book written by members of that unit titled simply The First Maine Heavy Artillery by H. Shaw. They were late to the fighting as they were protecting Washington until Pres. Lincoln decided they were more useful at the front. My ancestor was wounded on May, 19, 1864 so I’m not sure if he fought at Cold Harbor. Later in the war the 1st Maine suffered the most casualties at Petersburg; 632 men. My ancestor was discharged in 1865 and moved to Pennsylvania where he is buried.

  19. My GG grandfather owned the property on which both battles of Cold Harbor were fought. He operated an inn on the property.. His name was Isaac Burnett. The Union Headquarters were right behind the Inn. Isaac Burnett’s Tavern was turned into a hospital and his daughters were forced to take care of the wounded Union Soldiers. Grant’s soldiers stole all the pigs, cows, chickens and other livestock on the property. The blood dripped through the ceiling from the 2nd floor. They occupied the property for eleven days. When they moved across the James River to Petersburg, they left the tavern and farm in complete disarray. Isaacs son ,my G surrendered with Lee at Appomatox.

  20. My g-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Beall, was a corporal in Co. C of the 7th Regiment of the 7th Maryland Infantry, a part of the famed Maryland Brigade, and fought under Gen. Grant from the time he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac. He was there for the “Battle of Cold Harbor” and ten-days later on June 22nd, as the Union Army beseiged Petersburg, he was wounded — a mini-ball passing through both thighs. He was transported to Finley Hospital in Washington, D. C. where he remained February. He recovered enough before the War ended to be transferred to Co. D of the 11th Regiment of the Veterans Reserve Corp from which he was mustered out. He later went West, served for a time as a teamster at Ft. Harker in Kansas, rode with Buffalo Bill, herded cattle on the Chisholm Trail, married, took a homestead in Ellsworth county, Kansas. When the Cherokee Strip opened in Oklahoma Territory, his oldest daughter was 21 and she and her father made the run and staked a claim in Grant county in her name (he being ineligible because of having homesteaded in Kansas). Even later, he joined his only son in Rosebud co., Montana, where the son took a homestead and Ben purchased a railroad section. Both returned to Oklahoma where Ben passed away on February 20, 1928, in Nash in Grant county. What an amazing legacy he left us, his family, of courage, stamina, adventure and achievement, overcoming odds that would have crushed many of us.

  21. Three great, great uncles were in this and all of the major battles fought by the 14th TN Infantry who were with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. They were each captured and/or wounded during their service but all three made it home unlike four other grew great uncles from Indiana on the union side. They weren’t in Cold Harbor like my confederate uncles but were in different battles throughout the entire war. Unfortunately my uncle, Fielding Webb Gilliland, of 23rd Indiana Infantry, was killed at Kennesaw Mountain – the only one of many ancestors killed in this war.

  22. My g g grandfather was captured in the Battle of Cold Harbor. John Francis Smith. Company E. Third Virginia Cavalry. He survived the war, led a productive life, and died in 1911.

  23. My husband’s Grandfather, Robert Emmett Burns, entered the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3rd. He had been taken prisoner in December, 1863, at Bell Island, Richmond, VA. His exchange on April 5th allowed him to reenter the fighting. He served in the 97th New York Infantry, Company G. He was wounded in the right ankle at Weldon Railroad in August; a wound that affected him the rest of his life. After the war, he went on to be Police Judge in Dodge City, Kansas from April, 1882 through early 1892 and then on to Probate Judge in Payne County, Oklahoma. Through various circumstances, he died on November 13, 1918 in California and is buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

  24. My GG Grandfather William Cantwell served with the 21st Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Co. I. He was at Cold Harbor but was listed as deserted on June 2, 1864. He was later discovered in a field hospital with dysentery. He was the oldest soldier in his company being the age of 42 when he enlisted in 1862. Prior to his being listed as sick at Cold Harbor, he served faithfully at Drewry’s Bluff & Fredericksburg. He also survived Burnside’s famous “Mud March” in the winter of 1862. He was honorably discharged in July of 1864. He lived another 30 years in his home in Norwich CT.

  25. I regret this assault more than any I ever made. Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant, who was honest enough to admit it and wise enough to not repeat it.

  26. My Great Grandfather, David Henry Brown, from NY was part of the Army of the Potomac and was in this battle. He took care of the horses that pulled the canons.He was part of Cowans Battery. His brother, Robert was also in the war.

  27. My great-grandfather’s brother, Thomas Dudgeon, died in one of the charges at Cold Harbor. His body was never identifed. He is presumed to be one of the unknowns buried in the National Cemetery there.

  28. My great great uncle, Joseph Weaver/Webber, was a member of the 8th NY Heavy Artillery. He died on June 3, 1864 at Cold Harbor leaving four children orphans. His wife died prior to his enlistment which was to be for three years. The grandparents and other relatives raised his children.

    • Very interesting! My GG Grandfather who served with the 21st Connecticut Volunteers was not fit for duty at Cold Harbor which may well have saved his life. His son William Jr (1860-1938) Gave up his children when his wife (my great grandmother Mary Gallagher died at the age of 27. Her parents raised them on their farm in Easthampton MA. Their grandfather Daniel was also a Civil War veteran, serving with the 9th Connecticut (Irish Ninth) Volunteer Infantry. He saw hard service in Louisiana in the Port Hudson campaign as well as in 1864 as part of the Army of the James. War has always exacted a terrible toll for entire families!

  29. My GG Grandfather Edward G. Appel fought at Cold Harbor. He served with Company B 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers.

  30. My ggggrandfather, John Brown, and his son, Dann Brown fought in the battle of Cold Habor. Dann was killed at Enon Church. They were both with Ohio 6th Vol. Cavalry.

  31. My name is Gene Marshall from Australia ,my Great Great Grandfather fort in the American Civil War .This is what I know about him from Myheritage family tree. He fort at Cold Harbour.
    Birth: Jan. 6, 1845 Death: Jul. 6, 1929 Husband of Mary E. Marshall. He served with the 4th Delaware Infantry, Company G during the Civil War. He was 18 when he enlisted. A Delaware farmer who signed up with Capt. McClary. He was home sick during May-June 1864 and mustered out June 3, 1865, with the rest of the regiment. Family links: Spouse: Mary E. Marshall (1846 – 1912)* *Calculated relationship Inscription: husband of Mary E. Marshall Burial: Methodist-Episcopal Church Cemetery Leipsic Kent County Delaware, USA Plot: 54 Created by: Russ Pickett Record added: Jul 10, 2003 Find A Grave Memorial# 7673758
    Military Service
    4th Regiment Infantry Letter written by George W. Johnson Jr. Organized at Wilmington, Del., June to November, 1862. Ordered to Baltimore, Md., September, 1862. Attached to Defenses of Baltimore, 8th Army Corps, Middle Dept., to December, 1862. Busteed’s Independent Brigade, 4th Army Corps, Dept. of Virginia, to May, 1863. King’s Independent Brigade, 4th Army Corps, to June, 1863. Unattached, 4th Army Corps, to July. Unassigned, King’s Division, 22nd Army Corps, Dept. of Washington, to January, 1864. Tyler’s Division, 22nd Army Corps, to May, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 5th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to August, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 5th Army Corps, to June, 1865. SERVICE.–Duty in the Defenses of Baltimore, Md., until December, 1862. Ordered to Yorktown, Va., arriving there December 28, and duty there until July, 1863. Expedition from Gloucester Point to Gloucester Court House April 7, 1863. Reconnaissance from Gloucester Point to Hickory Fork April 12. Expedition from Gloucester Point into Matthews County May 19-22. Expedition from Yorktown to Walkerton and Aylett’s June 4-5. Dix’s Peninsula Campaign June 24-July 7. Expedition from White House to South Anna River July 1-7. Baltimore Store July 2. Moved to Washington, D.C., July 8-14, and duty in the defenses of that city and at Centreville and Fairfax Station until October, 1863. Guard Orange & Alexandria R. R. until November 16. Ordered to Delaware November 16. Duty in the District of Alexandria, Va., until May, 1864. Ordered to join Army of the Potomac in the field May, 1864. Rapidan Campaign May 29-June 15. Totopotomoy May 29-31. Cold Harbor June 1-12. Before Petersburg June 16-18. Siege of Petersburg June 16, 1864, to April 2, 1865. Mine Explosion, Petersburg, July 30, 1864. Reserve, Weldon R. R., August 18-21. Poplar Springs Church September 29-October 1. Yellow House October 1-3. Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher’s Run, October 27-28. Warren’s Raid on Weldon R. R. December 7-12. Dabney’s Mills, Hatcher’s Run, February 5-7, 1865. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Lewis Farm, near Gravelly Run, March 29. White Oak Road March 30. Gravelly Run March 31. Five Forks April 1. Fall of Petersburg April 2. Pursuit of Lee April 3-9. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. Moved to Washington, D. C, May 1-12. Grand review May 23. Mustered out June 3, 1865. Regiment lost during service 4 Officers and 80 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 79 Enlisted men by disease. Total 164.

  32. My gr grandfather Daniel Kelly Trant, 2nd cpl enrollment ofcr Co. I Jeff Davis Legion and Co. B, 4th Al Cavalry Loves Cavalry, May 1-Aug 1864. Letter of Capt. B.B. McKenzie titled BEFORE THE BATTLE, (Cold Harbor) placed in DKTrant file in Archives, Montgomery, Al. This letter names a number of men and officers in their fight of June 1,2,3 1864 at Cold Harbor. This letter also includes the story of the Black Horse Cavalry. 1 June 1864 engaged at Hawes Shop, 2 June 1864 engaged at Gaines Mill, 3 June 1864 wooded line. The companies mentioned : CO I,Troy, Al: Co K Lt Bray, Eufala, Ala; Co B 4th Ala. Daniel Kelly Trant was injured by a very bad burn on one leg and used a cane in order to walk. He was paroled in High Pt NC and walked all way home to Dale Co., Al. Was Justice of Peace in civilian life. See all records in Anc.com

  33. My GG Grandfather William B Marshall who fought at Cold Harbour , died July 6 1929 at the age of 84.
    After the war William and Mary raised 11 children on a farm.I think my father knew him.

  34. My 2nd great grandfather, Joseph Lockhart Peebles, fought at the Battle of Cold Harbor in Company D of the 12th Georgia Battalion Light Artillery. The 12th Artillery Battalion was organized at Augusta, Georgia, in May 1862, with men from Ramsey’s 1st Georgia Volunteers Regiment. In June 1862, it was assigned to the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and was active at Fort McAllister, Fort Sumter, and Battery Wagner. Then in May 1864, the battalion was transferred to General C. A. Evans’ Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia. Serving as infantry it fought at Cold Harbor, was with Early in the Shenandoah Valley, and took part in the Appomattox operations. The unit surrendered with 6 officers and 125 men. Its commanders were Lieutenant Colonel Henry D. Capers and Major George M. Hanvey. My GG grandfather was wounded at Appomattox, taken prisoner, later paroled and eventually returned to his wife and family on the farm in east Georgia. He died of natural causes in 1921.

  35. My great uncle. John H. Hewitt was just 20 years old 1844- 1864 when he was killed in the Civil War. Died at Cold Harbor.

  36. My ggg grandfather was enlisted in June 1861, became a part of the 4th Texas Regiment in December. A sergent in Co.K, he was listed as killed in action on June 27,1862 at Coal Harbor, VA. The 4th Texas Regiment became part of John Bell Hoods’ Texas Brigade. Their first real battle came on June 27, 1862. Of the 500 members of the Brigade going into battle, my ggggrandfather was one of 21 killed. I am forever amazed at the size of this battle. I found a website with maps and lists all the companies and where they were located. Lots of history out there on this battle.

    • Can you share the web site. I would be very interested.

    • If your GGG grandfather was killed in action on June 27, 1862, it wasn’t at Cold Harbor. That campaign and battle took place from May 21 – June 3, 1864. Perhaps you are thinking of the Battle of Gaines’ Mill (June 27, 1862) (the primary engagement of Seven Days Battle). The Texas 4th Regiment participated in both places, but at Gaines’ Mill it was assigned to Field’s Division, in the Brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. John Gregg. Take care.