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 Posted: Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 11:51 pm
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PvtClewell
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Excuse me while I bring this thread back to the battle ... and it could be lengthy.

Since the last time I posted on this thread, something very interesting happened. Because I had some pertinent questions about Cold Harbor to which I could find no satisfactory answers, I decided to e-mail the Richmond National Battlefield Park at their posted e-mail address to see if they could help me. The e-mail contact was listed as Mike Andrus.

My three questions were:

1. Did Grant's June 3 assault actually occur in 'waves?'
2. Was it incumbent upon Grant to ask for a truce to recover his casualties?
3. Was Grant speaking generally about the assault of June 3 or was he regretting putting in the 'final wave?'

If I was going to hear a reply, I expected it to come from Andrus.

About four days later, I did receive a reply, but to my excitement, it came from Robert E.L. Krick the historian for the Richmond National Battlefield Park. I suspect most of us are familiar with the Krick name. His father, Robert K. Krick, is a noted scholar, author and authority on the Virginia Civil War battlefields. Bobby's not too shabby, either.

Anyway, here are Krick's responses in the order I sent the questions:

Your e-mailed questions about Cold Harbor have reached me for a reply. To
answer your specific questions:

1. Grant's assault on June 3 on the southern end of the battlefield was
supposed to be one large attack, but the army's brigades and divisions were
deployed in a way that actually turned the episode into a little bit of a
wave attack. For example, Barlow's division of the 2nd Corps attacked with
two brigades, and had its other two brigades following. Eventually all
four became engaged, but they were not elbow-to-elbow across a four brigade
front. The same applies for Gibbon's division farther north. I doubt that
the Union leaders thought of this as a wave attack. They probably viewed
it as keeping reserves on hand to exploit any breakthrough, or to reenforce
the first line when it ran out of momentum.

2. It was indeed incumbent on Grant to arrange a flag of truce to recover
his casualties, if he wished to do that. By all accounts there were
virtually no Confederate dead or wounded between the lines. They were
nearly all 2nd Corps casualties. There were several days of negotiations,
as you say. Lee was unwilling to grant an informal flag of truce on a
portion of the line. He demanded that it be done officially, up and down
the line, at a certain time. Because of the difficulty in exchanging
notes, it took several days for Grant and Lee to agree on precisely when to
have the truce. This same subject had arisen at Sharpsburg in September
1862, and Lee's response to McClellan at that time was identical, although
in that case there were Confederate casualties in the mix, not just Union
ones. Gordon Rhea published a fairly detailed article on the subject of
the Cold Harbor Truce in North and South magazine perhaps two years ago.

(I asked this third question a day after I received Krick's answers to the first two questions)

3. The question of precisely what Grant meant by his much-quoted sentence of
regret is still up in the air, and probably always will be. He may have
been speaking of June 3 as an entity; or, perhaps he meant his orders for
renewing the assaults on June 3 after they had failed. Although the
heaviest action was over by about 6.00 a.m., he kept issuing orders to
continue all the way until nearly noon. Most of his subordinates did not
attempt renewed attacks, but I've always wondered whether or not Grant even
realized that. He was extremely unconnected with the events of the day,
which was pretty much inevitable when trying to manage a front that was
seven miles long. You probably have seen his midday dispatch to Washington
in which he reported that the attacks were not very successful, but that
fortunately casualties were light.

My own view is that he probably referred to the June 3 attack in its
entirety when he wrote about regret, but the possibility does indeed exist
that he meant the later orders to continue pressing forward.

I'm glad you are so interested.

Robt. E. L. Krick
Historian
Richmond Natl. Battlefield Park


Me again. I also found the issue of North and South to which Krick was referring. It comes from the Vol. 7, No. 1 issue of January 2004. It's an 8-page analysis titled 'The Truce at Cold Harbor' written by Gordon Rhea.

On the subject of truces to recover casualties, Rhea writes: "The question of how to recover injured men trapped between lines was something of a novelty for the armies in Virginia. Battles in the Old Dominion had generally lasted but a few days, ending when one side abandoned the field and left its wounded to the care of the victor. Sometimes, when armies remained close together, local commanders convened informal 'truces' covering discreet sectors of the field...nothing was done to establish a formal procedure, and army heads never sought army-wide truces...During the three weeks that Grant and Lee fought at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and the North Anna River, neither commander asked for a truce to remove wounded men from the battleground."

Rhea later writes about the difficulty of Grant asking Lee for a truce: "Two days of negotiations, marred by miscommunications and delayed transmissions, had finally generated a procedure for a truce and a workable timeframe. In later years, writers criticized Grant as heartless and Lee as too formalistic. Neither description is accurate. Grant initiated (my italics) the idea of a truce on June 5, offering a plan and announcing at the outset his readiness to accept a reasonable counterproposal. The generals consumed June 6 with a flurry of exchanges that were unduly prolonged, not because of stubbornness, but because of honest misunderstandings and the difficulties of communicating across active battle lines...Neither general looked his best during this laborious exchange, but both were striving in good faith to solve a knotty problem."

Were there more than two survivors? Rhea writes: 'No one kept count of the wounded men still alive. Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana wrote two days later that only two injured soldiers were recovered, along with 432 dead. Dana must have been mistaken, as numerous first-hand reports from various parts of the field document the removal of wounded men. Those who were brought back had terrible tales to tell. One survivor related that he "quenched his thirst by sucking the dew from such grass as he could pull at his side, and had allayed the pangs of hunger in the same way."'

I guess if we have pertinent questions about a battle, we are free to e-mail the NPS at a particular battlefield. They are, after all, there to serve us. Sometimes you just might get lucky and hear from the head honcho himself.

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