Totopotomoy Creek

Picture 43Excerpted from Hurricane from the Heavens by Daniel T. Davis and Phillip S. Greenwalt:

Grant later wrote, “The streams were numerous…with impenetrable growth of trees and underbrush” as his army crossed the Pamunkey onto the Tidewater Peninsula of Virginia. The Union commander in chief had described this area of Virginia perfectly.

That next stream was actually a creek, called Totopotomoy, and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had constructed formidable breastworks to defend Richmond.

Caught near the lines was a home that spoke of more peaceful times; even joyous ones. The Shelton House, had once witnessed the marriage of Patrick Henry to Sarah Shelton within its walls. The family was told to evacuate, as the house was in range of Confederate artillery.

What led the armies to Totopotomoy Creek? After the crossing of the Pamunkey River (click here to read about move toward the Pamunkey River) following the inconclusive Battles of North Anna, the Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant once again turned Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia’s right flank.

Upon arriving across the Pamunkey, Grant’s army began to slowly advance westward, with sharp cavalry actions at Haw’s Shop and Enon’s Church. Sensing an opportunity to take the offensive, Lee would order elements of the Second Corps to advance and push back Union forces operating in the sector of Totopotomoy Creek; these blue-clad soldiers happened to be the V Corps under Major General Gouverneur Warren.

Albeit initially successful, the Union forces held and the Confederate offensive filtered out. In response, Grant ordered Union troops forward to break the Confederate lines around Totopotomoy Creek but only one corps; the II under Major General Winfield S. Hancock was able to temporarily breach the strong defensive network after navigating the Virginia waterway.

Map of action fro May 29 - May 30th, including the action at Totopotomoy Creek (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Map of action from May 29 – May 30th, including the action at Totopotomoy Creek
Map designed by Hal Jesperson

After realizing the futility of further assaults against impregnable Confederate defenses, Grant began sidling troops southeast, around Lee’s right flank once again.

Another round between Grant and Lee was about to begin. Like the Shelton family at Rural Plains on the Totopotomoy Creek Battlefield, another family was about to see their lands devastated with the detritus of war. Another few thousand names would be added to the casualty roles. Another never-ending days of combat was set to begin.

The Overland Campaign was headed toward Cold Harbor and a one-month anniversary of continued fighting.

To read more about the actions at Totopotomoy Creek, follow the link to Hurricane from the Heavens, part of the Emerging Civil War Series, published by Savas Beatie LLC, by clicking here.


1 Response to Totopotomoy Creek

  1. This is an excellent description of the lead-up to Battle of Cold Harbor! If I remember correctly, the Shelton family was trapped in their cellar as the fighting swirled around the house.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!

%d bloggers like this: