The Wilderness Campaign of 1864 was one of the most violent and deadly of the American Civil War.
In March 1864, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Ulysses Simpson Grant to lieutenant general and named him supreme commander of all Union forces for the remainder of the American Civil War. In this new position, Grant took the offensive and focused his attention on General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. During the war's first several years, other Union commanders had tried to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Often defeated by the Army of Northern Virginia, the Union soldiers had retreated to the relative safety of Washington, DC. Grant refused to retreat. He realized that the North had a much larger number of men available for duty. He believed that the most effective way to defeat the South was to attack repeatedly. The South did not have the men and supplies to reinforce the soldiers already in the field.
To end the war, Grant repeatedly attacked during the summer of 1864. His first campaign against Lee's Army of Northern Virginia became known as the Wilderness Campaign. Grant's Army of the Potomac, numbering approximately 120,000 men, advanced across the Rapidan River into a place in Virginia known as the Wilderness. It was called the Wilderness due to the large number of trees and dense ground cover in the area. Lee met Grant's army, in the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5 and 6, 1864. Despite having just one-half the number of men that the North had available for the battle, the Confederates succeeded in blunting the Union advance.
Unlike other Union commanders before him, Grant refused to retreat. He ordered his men to flank Lee's army and advance to Spotsylvania Courthouse. The Army of Northern Virginia managed to intercept Grant's force, and the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse lasted from May 8 to May 19, 1864. Again, Lee's men stopped Grant's army. Grant, however, continued to advance, meeting Lee's men at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864. In a little over one hour, the Northern Army suffered seven thousand casualties.
The Battle of Cold Harbor marked the end of Grant's campaign to defeat the South easily. During the month or so of fighting, the North suffered almost sixty thousand casualties to the South's twenty thousand. Despite the tremendous difference in the numbers of men killed and wounded, Grant had a large supply of troops in reserve, and the North was able to recover from these high losses.
Following the Battle of Cold Harbor, Grant advanced towards Petersburg, Virginia, a city located approximately twenty miles south of Richmond. A siege resulted, with the Union's Army of the Potomac virtually surrounding the South's Army of Northern Virginia in Petersburg. The siege lasted for almost ten months. The Northerners finally drove the Confederates from Petersburg in early April 1865. The Army of Northern Virginia surrendered on April 9, 1865.