Another first-class Civil War history from Furgurson (Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War, 1996, etc.), this one a blow-by-blow analysis of a gory, rarely studied battle that he believes was pivotal in determining the future strategies of Grant and Lee.
Typically overlooked for more famous engagements, the battle of Cold Harbor pitted a coarse, barely-on-the-wagon Grant (newly appointed as General of the Armies by President Lincoln) and thousands of inexperienced troops (led by quarrelsome, bickering commanders) against an ailing but indefatigable Lee and his lean-and-mean Army of Northern Virginia. After two weeks of bloody trench warfare in June 1864, Grant lost upwards of 16,000 men, earning him the “butcher” sobriquet that would follow him for the rest of his life (causing him to downplay the battle in his memoirs). For the Confederates, whose losses have been estimated as less than a third of the Union’s, Cold Harbor was what Furgurson calls “Lee’s last great victory,” during which Lee thwarted Grant’s attempt to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond and refined the strategies that would help him prolong the war into the following year. In telling the story of the battle, Furgurson begins in March, with Lee fighting a series of skirmishes as Grant enters the field with the Army of the Potomac. Grant proceeds to ruffle the feathers of that army’s imperious commander, Major General George Meade, and ignores logistical difficulties that would later cause thousands of green troops to be in the wrong places at the wrong time at Cold Harbor. Furgusorn includes depictions of the foul-mouthed, pint-sized Phil Sheridan, the recklessly brave George Armstrong Custer, the cross-dressing Confederate spy Frank Stringfellow, and numerous eyewitness accounts of “fire which no human valor could withstand.”
A horrific, neglected Civil War battle lives again in a demanding, nonstop assault of facts, anecdotes, vain heroics, and wasted lives. (15 maps, unseen)