The Overland Campaign was a series of battles in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War. It took place during May and June of 1864. Union general Ulysses S. Grant wanted to defeat the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E. Lee, and to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The battles were some of the bloodiest battles of the war.
In the spring of 1864, Grant had been appointed to command all Union armies. Grant's plan to end the war had several parts. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's Atlanta Campaign and Grant's Overland Campaign were supported by other campaigns. They were all intended to keep Lee from reinforcing his main army. George Meade was still in (nominal) command of the Army of the Potomac, but there was little doubt Grant was in direct control of the army's movements.
Grant ordered General Franz Sigel to advance down the Shenandoah Valley[a] to prevent reinforcements and supplies from reaching Lee's army. Grant ordered Benjamin F. Butler's Union Army of the James to cut the rail lines between Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. This interrupted Lee's main supply line. Grant wanted to force Lee to attack even though Lee had no reinforcements and few supplies.
The campaigns were all to start at the beginning of May. The Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River on May 4, moving south towards The Wilderness[b] before Lee could attack them. But Lee attacked while Grant's army was still trying to move through the tangled forest. The Battle of the Wilderness started the campaign.
- In North America as well as many other places, "up" usually means going north; "down" means going south. Generally when someone says they are going "down" a valley, they usually mean moving in a southerly direction. However, the Shenandoah River flows from south to north so in this case going "down" the Shenandoah Valley would be traveling north.
- Virginia's Wilderness covers about 70 square miles (180 km2). Also called the "Wilderness of Spotsylvania", it occupies parts of modern Spotsylvania and Orange Counties in Virginia. Early settlers to the area had cut down most of the mature trees for powering the furnaces that processed iron ore. By the time of the Civil War, a thick tangled second growth forest had replaced the older forest. Not only were many parts of impossible to get through, visibility was very poor and there was no room for armies to maneuver. Despite this, two battles were fought here; the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. In both battles the fighting caused fires to start that trapped soldiers, especially those who had been wounded, many of whom were burned alive.
- Christopher Klein (7 May 2014). "Grant's Overland Campaign, 150 Years Ago". History in the Headlines. A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- David W. Hogan Jr, The Overland Campaign, 4 May — 15 June 1864 (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2014), pp. 10–16
- "Grant's Overland Campaign: History & Summary". Study.com. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- J. Rickard. "U.S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign". Military History Encyclopedia on the Web. HistoryOfWar.org. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- "north". The Free Dictionary. Farlex. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- Charles R. Knight (Summer 2010). "Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market". Civil War Trust. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- "Just How Wild Was the Wilderness?". Civil War Trust. Archived from the original on 27 October 2016. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- "The Wilderness; Spotsylvania and Orange Counties, Virginia". Civil War Trust. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- "The Overland Campaign of 1864". Civil War Trust. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2016.