ECW Podcast: Only a Matter of Time: Crunching the Numbers at Cold Harbor

Ulysses S. Grant always regretted that last assault at Cold Harbor, which has since become the stuff of myth. Just how many casualties were there at the battle? Dr. Nathan Provost joins the Emerging Civil War Podcast to talk about his recent dissertation, which delved into the numbers for a clearer-eye view of one of Grant’s most controversial—and misrepresented—battles.

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1 Response to ECW Podcast: Only a Matter of Time: Crunching the Numbers at Cold Harbor

  1. None of this is news to anyone familiar with the Civil War. If there is anyone with even a moderate interest in the War who doesn’t know that Grant was then able to slip across the James to the South, and the siege of Petersburg, they need to be brought up to speed asap. But minimizing the loss of soldiers, in this case almost entirely Union, to emphasize strategic gains as the important issue, is a cheap maneuver. As always, Grant, and Meade et al, were perfectly happy to sacrifice huge numbers of lives to achieve their goals, without asking the question “Is this really going to work”? Any school boy would have reviewed that battlefield and those entrenchments and said, “Let’s try something else”. The debacle at Cold Harbor is far worse than Pickett’s Charge because there was no strategic rationale behind it other than a full frontal assault of his entire army against a deeply entrenched enemy. After the first failure, Grant ordered two more charges and was refused by his commanders and his soldiers; he then refused to acknowledge defeat, allowing the dead and wounded to be attended, for three days, a breach of wartime protocol of major proportions. He was no doubt sending troops south over those three days while his fallen soldiers suffered or rotted. Contrary to any of the nasty rumors common these days, Lee was following protocol; not doing that would have put his own soldiers at significant risk. There are more details to this than space or time allow here, but it’s very sad that efforts to glorify Grant include minimizing the tragic and unnecessary loss of lives at Cold Harbor. Grant was called “the Butcher”, not by Southerners but by Notherners, and no amount of tap dancing is going to remove that stain.

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