Day Four in a series coinciding with the federal government shutdown
Oft-overlooked, in the history books and by battlefielders, is the North Anna battlefield—scene of one of the biggest Civil War battles that never happened.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. Ulysses S. Grant, punch-drunk exhausted from the grueling pace he’d set for his army, stumbled into a trap set by Robert E. Lee, who was so delirious with illness that he was unable to spring it in time.
It was May of 1864. The Overland Campaign had opened with a brawl in the Wilderness on May 5, and the armies had been fighting, marching, and maneuvering for weeks non-stop, much of it in the pouring rain. Most recently, they had just slipped away from Spotsylvania, and they would soon find themselves in Cold Harbor. Their encounter along the North Anna would prove minor in comparison—which is why North Anna so often gets overshadowed and sometimes forgotten entirely.
The overarching story of the Overland Campaign, of course, is the war of attrition Grant waged against Lee. At North Anna, moreso than during any other phase of the campaign, it’s clear to see the toll of that campaign on not just the armies but on the commanders themselves. These two men were literally sick and tired, and that played a dramatic role in the encounter between their armies.
While much of the battlefield is lost, a portion of it has been preserved by Hanover County as a park—and let me tell you, the North Anna Battlefield Park is well worth the stop. There is a well-marked, well-interpreted trail that leads out to Ox Ford, the commanding position that served as they lynchpin for the entire Confederate line. The best part of the battlefield, though, is that it has some of the best-preserved earthworks anywhere along the line of the Overland Campaign. Some of them are absolutely stunning to see (for folks who like earthworks, anyway).