Charging substantial Confederate entrenchments
over open ground, Union soldiers were slaughtered by the thousands. Confederate General John Brown Gordon, would later in his
memoirs offer his thoughts on the bravery of the Union soldiers they fought this day.
"...at Cold Harbor, where a supreme effort was made to rip open Lee's lines by driving
through them the stiff and compact Union columns, and where the slaughtered Federals presented the ghastliest scene ever
witnessed on any field of the war, General Grant decided promptly and wisely to abandon further efforts on the north side
and cross to the south side of the James River...Shocking as had been the slaughter of Union troops in their last charges,
costly and hopeless as succeeding assaults must have appeared to the practised eye and sharpened comprehension of Grant's
veterans, they still seemed ready for the sacrifice if demanded by necessity or ordered by the commanding general...
With the "appalling revelry" of the last futile onsets still ringing in their ears, with the unburied bodies of their dead comrades
lying in full view on the blood-stained stretch of wooded swamp and plain at Cold Harbor, these self-immolating men were
calmly and courageously preparing for the next charge and sacrifice. According to General Porter, who was in a position to
know whereof he affirms, there was not the slightest indication of rebellion or defiance of orders, not a trace of stubbornness
or sullenness in the bearing of these battered Federals; but they were quietly sewing to their jackets strips of cloth marked
with their names, in order that their dead bodies might be identified the next day amidst the prospective débris of the coming
In a letter to President Jefferson Davis, General Lee would offer his
thoughts with less obvious emotion.
"HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
June 3, 1864--8.45 p.m.
Hon. SECRETARY OF WAR,
SIR: About 4.30 a.m. to-day the enemy made an attack upon the right of
our line. In front of General Hoke's and part of General
Breckinridge's line he was repulsed without difficulty. He succeeded
in penetrating a salient on General Breckinridge's line and captured a
portion of the battalion there posted. General Finegan's brigade, of
Mahone's division, and the Maryland Battalion, of Breckinridge's
command, immediately drove the enemy out with severe loss. Repeated
attacks were made upon General Anderson's position, chiefly against
his right, under General Kershaw. They were met with great steadiness
and repulsed in every instance. The attack extended to our extreme
left, under General Early, with like results. Later in the day it was
twice renewed against General Heth, who occupies Early's left, but was
repulsed with loss. General Hampton encountered the enemy's cavalry
near Haw's Shop, and a part of General William H. F. Lee's division
drove them from their intrenchments. General Fitzhugh Lee's division
occupies the south side of the Chickahominy as far as Long Bridge,
with pickets extending across to the James.
Our loss to-day has been small, and our success, under the blessing of
God, all that we could expect.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,