On May 31, 1864, the Battle of Cold Harbor began east of Richmond in present day Mechanicsville on the same ground as the Battle of Gaines Mill two years earlier. As they were digging in, and as a portent of things to come, Union soldiers overturned soldiers' remains from the previous battle that had been hastily buried in shallow graves.

From this important cross roads, Grant planned an attack on Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. In response, Lee ordered the building of a complex, 7-mile long set of entrenchments. The heaviest fighting occurred on June 3rd as Union troops advanced through pre-dawn darkness and fog toward the Confederate line and were decimated by fire from the entrenchments. Fearing what might happen from the Union's past history of deadly, futile assaults on Lee's fortifications, many Union soldiers wrote their names inside their uniforms before battle so their bodies could be later identified.

This tragic battle lasted nearly two weeks and resulted in more than 18,000 casualties. Many of the casualties occurred because Grant and Lee could not agree on a truce so that wounded soldiers could be removed from the battlefield. The wounded soldiers were left lying on the open field in Richmond's hot summer sun for four days. Few survived.

Visiting the Cold Harbor Battlefield

Your best bet to tour The Battle of Cold Harbor is to start at Cold Harbor Battlefield at Richmond National Battlefield Park. Here there is a staffed park office, guided tours by park rangers, exhibits, and a gift shop. Cold Harbor features some of the most well-preserved Confederate entrenchments you'll find. There are three easy walking trails and a driving tour that take you past the entrenchments. You can pick up a touring map at the park office. There is also a map of the trails and driving tour on the kiosk outside the entrance to the park office as well as an online battlefield tour map. Cold Harbor Cemetery, the resting place of over 2,000 Union soldiers, and Garthright House, which served as a Union field hospital during the battle, are located just up the road from the Battlefield Park but are not currently open to the public.

Visit Civil War Trust and National Park Service for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: An easy, one-mile walking trail passes through the heart of the June 1st battlefield.

cold harbor confederate trenches cold harbor battlefield garthwright cemetery

Unable to stand up, let alone go out for fear of a sharpshooter's bullet, living day after day and night after night in fear and unsanitary conditions, trench life was brutal for the Confederate soldiers at Cold Harbor.

cold harbor battlefield garthwright house

Mrs. Garthwright hid in the basement and watched blood drip through cracks in the floor above while her home was used as a field hospital by the Union army during the Battle of Cold Harbor. Nearly 100 Union soldiers were buried here in the front yard but were moved to Cold Harbor National Cemetery across the street two years later.