Starting on May 1st, Federal troops returned to Alexandria, Louisiana where heavy skirmishing will persist for several days.
A broad spring offensive was undertaken by the North on May 4th as Union forces crossed the Rapidan River in Virginia, and three Federal Armies pushed deep in Georgia.
Also on May 4th, the controversial Reconstruction Act passed in the U.S. House.
From May 5th through the 7th, Union and Confederate forces clashed in the Battle of the Wilderness. For three days, the two forces fought in the dense forest, sometimes setting fires that consumed wounded soldiers on both sides. Casualties were heavy, the Union suffering some 17,000 dead and wounded, while the toll for the South was around 11,000. In previous contexts, this would have constituted a Union defeat and would have sent the Army of the Potomac scurrying for the safety of Washington. But Grant, instead of marching north, disengaged and moved south around Lee's flank towards Spotsylvania Courthouse, his goal being the interposition of his army between Lee and Richmond. The movement surprised the Union troops who, when they realized that they were on the march instead of retreat, broke into song while marching. It was the first glimpse of the brutal, grinding strategy of attrition which would, over time, result in the eventual destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Also on May 5th, US General Benjamin Butler came ashore east of Richmond with nearly 40,000 troops of the Army of the James. They made a weak attack on the Southside Railroad on May 6th but his troops were beaten by George Pickett.
On that same day, U.S. General William W. Averill leaves Logan Courthouse intent on destroying Southern railroads in Virginia and Tennessee.
On May 6th, the Atlanta Campaign opens with a Northern attack on Tunnel Hill. They easily overwhelm the defending Confederate Regiment.
Between May 7-13, Union General Sherman attacked Joseph Johnston at Rocky Face Ridge, near Dalton, Georgia. In actions at Buzzard Roost, Resaca, and Snake Creek Gap Sherman maneuvered around Johnston's flank, forcing him to move further south.
Also on May 7th, the Army of the James briefly seized the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad before pulling back.
Between May 8th and May 19th, southwest of Fredericksburg, Grant and Lee clashed again at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Like the Wilderness battle a week before, the results were inconclusive, and Union casualties were double those of the Confederates. Fighting was desperate and included an incredible 24-hour hand-to-hand fight at the Mule Shoe on May 12th, also called the "Bloody Angle." Again, casualty totals would have indicated another defeat on the Union. But Grant, again, disengaged and continued to move south in the attempt to turn Lee's flank.
On May 9th, Union cavalry under General Phil Sheridan were detached from the Army of the Potomac to conduct a raid on Richmond, the CSA capital. On May 11th after raiding a Confederate forward supply depot at Beaver Dam Station, and incidentally freeing 400 Union troops taken captive in previous battles. Sheridan's column, over 10,000 troopers in a line over 13 miles long, met a 4,500-man Confederate cavalry column under the remarkable J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern. Despite the disparity in numbers, the Southerners resisted stoutly for three hours. But during a countercharge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry, a dismounted Union Private John A. Huff, turned and fired a .44 caliber pistol at Stuart, mortally wounding him. Whatever the results of the battle, his death, like Stonewall Jackson's the year before, was in effect a major defeat.
On May 13th, the first U.S. soldier was interred at the new burial grounds at Arlington National Cemetary, within sight of Robert E. Lee's Virginia home.
On the 15th, a rag-tag force of Confederates commanded by John Breckinridge attacked U.S. forces under Franz Sigel near the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, near the town of New Market in the Shenandoah Valley. The attack, which included a formation of students from the Virginia Military Institute, forced Sigel out of the Shenandoah Valley. One of the participants in this fight was George S. Patton, grandfather of the famed World War II General. U.S. Grant, furious at the defeat, replaced Sigel with David Hunter.
On the 17th, at Adairsville, Georgia, Confederate troops under William J. Hardee fought a delaying action against elements of Sherman's Army, which included Major Arthur MacArthur, father of another famous World War II General. The forces skirmished again the next day at Woodlands, near Barnsley Gardens.
On May 25th and 26th, Union General Sherman, in an attempt to outflank Confederate forces under Joseph E. Johnston, fought to battles at New Hope Church and Dallas in Georgia. Again, Union casualties were nearly five times that of the Southerners, but did not prevent Sherman from continuing to move towards Atlanta.
May 31st saw the beginning of the fight which would be Robert E. Lee's last victory in the Civil War, at Cold Harbor. This crossroads, only 10 miles from Richmond, had initially been seized by Union cavalry and held until arrival of the infantry. On June 2nd, the remainders of both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia arrived. Lee ordered the construction of an elaborate series of fortifications stretching 7 miles in length. Grant assaulted the lines on June 3rd and was repulsed with great loss of life. But on June 12th, Grant managed to disengage, march southeast and cross the James River to threaten the vital rail junction at Petersburg. It was a tactical win for Lee, but a strategic defeat as it failed to stop Grant from eventually advancing, and incurred more irreplaceable losses for Lee.
- Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living. I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh. I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me. Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying. I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.