One Company Against Two Corps

June 3 always brings recollections of the 1864 battle of Cold Harbor. There, at least 1,100 Union soldiers were killed and 4,500 wounded in a bloody attack that Confederates easily repulsed in less than an hour. (7,000 is the usual number given for Meade’s casualties.)

The assault force numbered as many as 40,000 in three corps (Hancock’s II; Wright’s VI and Smith’s XVIII). The Confederates were outnumbered, but standing behind strong parapets, they easily mowed down the attackers.

For one imaginative pictorial take on the battle, there’s Alfred Waud’s “Battle of Cold Harbor.” The drawing appears in Joseph T. Derry’s Story of the Confederate States (Richmond, 1895). Take a look:

Georgia-born Derry (1841-1926) was a Confederate veteran, professor of classical languages and a prolific author. He is best known for Georgia, volume 6 of Confederate Military History (1899), but he also wrote Story of the Confederate States, a general war-history.

This latter volume includes a number of illustrations one usually sees in books of this era. One of them is Waud’s well-known “Jackson Attacking the Right Wing at Chancellorsville.” (It’s in Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White’s That Furious Struggle.) One Waud picture that you won’t see elsewhere—at least I haven’t—is this one, showing eighteen Confederates holding off parts of two Union infantry corps; judging from their flags, it’s the II (trefoil/three-leaf clover) and V (Maltese Cross).

As a pictorial representation of Lee’s soldiers holding off “overwhelming numbers” in the last year of the war, Waud’s illustration is hilarious. (My guess is that Derry commissioned it specifically for that purpose. Derry lived out his years in Atlanta; Waud died at Marietta, north of the city, in 1891.)

3 Responses to One Company Against Two Corps

  1. Waud’s depiction of the outmanned, but prevailing Confederate military comports to the Southern view at the time and, I believe, a forerunner to the Lost Cause mentality.

  2. Is it a lost cause to defend ones Constitution and Bill of Rights? What good is a government that trashes their own Constitution? Historians that ignore the writings of our founding fathers and the government they established are guilty of propagating the lie of the victors.

    Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court in speaking about President Jefferson Davis stated, ” If you bring these Confederate leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, Secession is not rebellion, we cannot convict him of treason.” This is why no southern leaders, soldiers or civilians were EVER charged with treason.

    I wear the badge of being a lost causer with pride because a government that does not abide by its Constitution leads to tyranny.

  3. Well, I have read reports of Confederate officers complaining that Grant was just wasting his troops in suicidal charges, and that Confederate moral was actually rising given 500 Confederate casualties versus 5000 Union at Cold Harbor. However, Lee said that he thought that Grant executed his strategy quite satisfactorily. In my opinion, though, Grant’s casualties were a liability to Lincoln’s reelection. If it was not for Sherman and the Western Campaigns against Atlanta and Mobile, I think Grant would have destroyed the Army of the Potomac as an offensive force and cost Lincoln the election. One wonders if Grant had simply contained Lee without doing Laurel Hill five times and Cold Harbor and let Sherman rip through the heart of the Confederacy victory could have been had without making 50% of the Army of the Potomac casualties.
    However, for the Lost Causers: if Lee had not been sooo aggressive in the prior years and not attack whenever possible, Grant’s attritional strategy might not have been very effective given a larger Confederate army.

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