After the engagements along Totopotomoy Creek and Bethesda Church, Grant set his sights on another crossroads–one that could ultimately decide the campaign–and it was once again a seemingly innocent crossroads–by the name of Cold Harbor.
As Grant’s cavalry, under the fireball Philip Sheridan, moved toward this road network, the Confederates were not idle either.
Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had shown some of its former offensive spirit with the assaults at Bethesda Church but Lee understood that reinforcements would be needed. Especially in light of news that possible reinforcements–from Major General Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James could be arriving to augment Grant’s forces.
The Virginian though was in a contested discussion with General P.G.T. Beauregard, in charge of Confederate forces in Petersburg.
“If this army is unable to resist Grant, the troops under…Beauregard and in the city will be unable to defend it,” wrote Lee in late May. That seemed to be the deciding factor.
So, finally, on the last day of May, the “Hero of Manassas” consented for the division of North Carolinian Robert Hoke to leave the trenches of Petersburg and head toward Lee’s forces. Interestingly enough, Lee wanted these troops at Cold Harbor–exactly where Grant was headed himself!
And thus, as Hoke’s Division, spearheaded by Thomas Clingman’s North Carolina Brigade was headed toward the crossroads, being picketed as the calendar turned from May to June by Confederate cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee and the few cavalry brigades he nominally commanded.
June 1, 1864, would open the second month of deadly combat in Virginia.
The familiar cry of defending Confederate soldiers would ring out again;
“Here they come!”