In your opinion, should Grant have tried another tactic at Cold Harbor instead of the assault? If so, what options do you think he should have explored?
After the failure of the last good chance on June 1st, he should have done what he ended up doing anyway. You would have thought that even he would have learned the futility of assaulting well prepared defensive positions after the May 18th assault at Spottsylvania.
The original idea—an assault at dawn on June 2nd—was not a bad one. The problem was that the delays in getting Second Corps in position on the left delayed things by 24 hours, in which time Lee shifted troops and dug works. Given the delay, the idea of an assault should have been cancelled, perhaps in favor of a continued move against the Confederate right flank.
Here are a couple posts from the ECW archives, one by me and one by Dan Davis, that address the June 3 attacks:
“Grant: ‘I should change Spotts if I was able, and could improve N. Anna and Cold Harbor'” by Chris Mackowski: https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/06/05/grant-i-should-change-spotts-if-i-was-able-and-could-improve-n-anna-and-cold-harbor/
“U.S. Grant and the Shadow of Cold Harbor” by Dan Davis:
Given morale and physical condition of the armies and the numbers of men and guns on the ground, I think that any assault by either side would fail. So I won’t consider changes in minor tactics for another head-on assault.
My alternative may also have proved impossible. but it is an alternative: Utilize part of the Army of the Potomac to maintain close contact with the Confederate Army and attempt to pin the infantry to their entrenchments (say, General Meade and the II, V, IX Corps) while General Grant himself takes a combined Cavalry-Infantry Task Force (Sheridan and two or most of three cavalry divisions and VI, XVIII Corps) around the Confederate left to draw out the Confederate Cavalry and Early’s Corps and try to crush them. Grant would have to go; only he could compel the strong personalities to move quickly and work together. A big resupply risk, I agree, but if he could win a major tactical victory, then I think Lee would withdraw south of the Chickahominy and into the Richmond defenses.
Can’t see going around the Confederate right for a turning movement; the Federals are on the York Peninsula and that ground is too constricted for a western advance by rivers and the already existing Richmond defenses. There remains the deep strike south of the James, against Petersburg.
I think Grant’s decisions visa vis Spotsylvania and especially Cold Harbor perfectly highlight the difference between the terms ‘genius’ and ‘tenacious’. Given what Grant had decided as far as tactics and strategies and maneuvers in those battles, no one can rightly label him a ‘genius’, though I have seen that term applied to him in other circumstances. But the fact that he kept after his ultimate goal despite what befell his forces at Cold Harbor is the very essence of ‘tenacity’.
What should he have done differently? Well, in my best Monday Morning Quarterbacking analysis, I say “he should have done something else”. How’s that? But a lot of things have been written and said about delaying the attack from June 2 to June 3. Various sources have reported that delay to be due to difficulties in getting troops into the proper positions, and some others have attributed it to Grant simply wanting to give his exhausted troops a day of rest. If there is ONE thing that Grant as commander SHOULD have done, regardless of what he would decide, is to have seen to it that a proper reconnaissance had been performed. His army would pay a terrible price for that lack of fundamental foresight…
I think the recon failure is a valid point. I wonder how much of that can be attributed to the badly-designed leadership structure involving Meade and Grant.
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