This Week in the American Civil War: May 4-10, 1864

MN150Logo_OL_FNLInformation courtesy of the

Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force

( and “Minnesota Civil War 150” on Facebook)


Major Highlights for the Week

Wednesday May 4, 1864

Soon after midnight, the Federal Army of the Potomac moved out from its position north of the Rapidan River in Virginia to start upon the memorable Overland Campaign. It was the beginning of the big Federal push in Virginia that culminated in the siege of Petersburg and finally to the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces at Appomattox Courthouse eleven months later. By late in the day, Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant had 122,000 Federal troops present for duty, with the Second Corps, Fifth Corps and Sixth Corps across the river via Germanna and Culpeper Mine fords, with the Ninth Corps coming up. Grant moved quickly around Lee’s right flank where his troops were met by 66,000 Confederates rushed up from the Orange Court House-Gordonville area to meet them.

Federal Major General William T. Sherman prepared to put his 98,000-strong army into motion from the Chattanooga, Tennessee area towards Atlanta.

Thursday May 5, 1864


In Virginia’s wilderness, the Federal Fifth Corps faced the Confederate Second Corps on the Orange Turnpike. The first great battle of 1864 commenced. The Federal Sixth Corps joined in the effort but was driven back. By late morning, the two corps were in the throes of full-scale combat. In a separate afternoon engagement, the Federal Second Corps, under Major General Winfield Scott Hancock fought A.P. Hill’s Confederates who came in from the Orange Plank Road. Desperate but indecisive fighting proved to the Federals that the enemy opposed them in force and to the Confederates that they had to attack Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant’s full army. Both armies entrenched east of the Germanna Plank Road during the night.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis informed General Robert E. Lee of Federal Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s landings on the James River and it appeared that the two major drives were heading towards the capital in Richmond.

Friday May 6, 1864


The entrenched armies of Grant and Lee awaited each other in the dawn of the Wilderness. On the Federal right along the Orange Turnpike, two Federal corps drove westward early in the morning, while Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps inched ahead on the Orange Plank Road. For most of the morning the firing rolled on with no great advantage by either side. Toward noon, Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps struck the Federal line on its left flank and rear. Hancock’s men reeled back and more Confederates drove in.

In late afternoon another Confederate attack by Longstreet’s men was halted at the Union breastworks while Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry opposed Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s men near Todd’s Tavern. Towards sunset, Major General John B. Gordon’s brigade swept the Federal right flank, proceeding rapidly and successfully until darkness.

The casualties were staggering. Of 122,000 Federals engaged, 2,246 were killed; 12,037 wounded and 3,383 missing for a total of 17,666. The Confederates fared no better. They engaged 66,000 and lost approximately 7,500. 

Saturday May 7, 1864


In Virginia, the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia paused in the Wilderness, but Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant had instructed Major General William T. Sherman to move against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and head into the interior of Georgia, who was soundly entrenched at Dalton. Sherman’s force of nearly 100,000 men was divided into three armies – Army of the Cumberland, Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Ohio. To oppose the Federals were nearly 60,000 Confederates in their defensive positions.

At a concert by the U.S. Marine Corps band in Washington, D.C., President Abraham Lincoln declined to make a speech but instead proposed three cheers for Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant “and all the armies under his command.”

Sunday May 8, 1864


Throughout the night, men had marched in Virginia’s Wilderness. When Major General Gouverneur K. Warren’s Fifth Corps neared Spotsylvania Court House, in what he thought was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s right flank, they found that Confederate Major General Richard Heron Anderson’s troops got there first. Fighting revealed the new line. Both sides received reinforcements and by late afternoon, the Federals assaulted the entrenched Confederate lines. The attack failed and during the night both sides established new lines.  The various fights of the day went by the names of Todd’s Tavern, Corbin’s Bridge, Alsop’s Farm and Laurel Hill. On the south side of the James River, Federal cavalry skirmished at Jarratt’s Station and at White’s Bridge.

Federal Major General William T. Sherman’s army in Georgia continued its movement with demonstrations against Rocky Face Ridge and fighting at Buzzard Roost and Dug Gap.

A disturbed President Abraham Lincoln awaited the news in Washington, D.C.

Monday May 9, 1864

No heavy fighting occurred at Spotsylvania Court House but there was plenty of skirmishing, sharpshooting and the continued reinforcement of the lines. In the morning, Federal Major General John Sedgwick was killed. Brigadier General Horatio G. Wright assumed command of the Sixth Corps as Sedgwick’s replacement. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces were entrenched in the Wilderness in an irregular position somewhat resembling a horseshoe.

Federal troops in Georgia pressed hard against the Confederate positions near Dalton, Buzzard Roost and Rocky Face Gap, testing the Confederate defenses.

Federal Major General Benjamin F. Butler ordered his whole army out against the Richmond-Petersburg lines of communications south of the James River. The advance moved slowly despite little opposition. Fighting was recorded at Fort Clifton, Ware Bottom Church, Brander’s Bridge and Arrowfield Church. Then confusion set in. Butler ordered the army back to its original lines the next morning.

Tuesday May 10, 1864


Three corps from the Army of the Potomac attacked Confederate Major General Richard Heron Anderson’s corps northwest of Spotsylvania late in the afternoon and early evening. Assaulting the entrenched Confederates twice, the Federals were thrown back, even though some reached the parapets. At the salient in the center of the Confederate line, Emory Upton’s division of Brigadier General Horatio Wright’s corps struck at 6 p.m. and breached the Confederate lines, but were repelled when the position was reinforced. The first major day of the Spotsylvania battle ended in the repulse of repeated Union assaults after making small dents in the Confederate lines.

In Georgia, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston learned of Federal efforts to turn his left flank at Resaca and Snake Creek Gap. Demonstrations and skirmishes continued. Major General William T. Sherman now decided to swing his entire army by the right flank through Snake Creek Gap.

Where Minnesota Regiments were the week of May 4-10, 1864 

Active units:

2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Participated in the battles at Tunnel Hill and Rocky Face Ridge as part of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.

3rd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Pine Bluff, Arkansas until October 10, 1864.

4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty in Huntsville, Alabama until June 22, 1864.

5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Alexandria, Louisiana until May 13, 1864.

6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at various Minnesota outposts for garrison duty until June 9, 1864.

7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty in Paducah, Kentucky until June 19, 1864.

8th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On frontier duty at various points in Minnesota: Anoka, Princeton, Monticello, Kingston, Manannah, Paynesville, Fort Ripley, Sauk Center, Pomme de Terre, Alexandria and Fort Abercrombie until May 24, 1864.

9th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Stationed at Rolla, Jefferson City, LaMine Bridge, Warrensburg, Independence, Knob Noster, Kansas City, Waynesville and Franklin with headquarters in Jefferson City until May 15, 1864.

10th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Companies E and D were on duty at Island No. 10 until June 15, 1864. The remaining companies were on duty around Columbus, Kentucky until June 19, 1864.

2nd Regiment Minnesota Cavalry – On duty at Fort Snelling and at frontier posts throughout Minnesota until May 24, 1864.

Brackett’s Battalion of Minnesota Cavalry – Left Fort Snelling May 2 and was on duty at Sioux City, Iowa until June 4, 1864.

Hatch’s Independent Battalion of Cavalry – Companies A, B, C and D moved to Fort Abercrombie. Companies A and B assigned to garrison at Fort Abercrombie.  Company C assigned to garrison at Alexandria and Pomme de Terre. Company D on patrol duty from Fort Abercrombie to Pembina.  Companies E and F on frontier duty. The battalion would remain in these duty locations for the duration of the war – until April 26, 1866.

1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery – Moved to Rome, Georgia via Clifton, Tenn.; untsvilleHuntsville and Decatur, Ala.; and Big Shanty, Ga. arriving on June 9, 1864 to join the Atlanta Campaign.

2nd Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery – Veterans were on furlough through June 5, 1864. Non-veterans attached to Battery I, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where they escorted cattle and horses to the army in the field until July 14, 1864.

3rd Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery – Various sections of the battery were stationed at Fort Snelling, Fort Ridgely, Fort Ripley and Pembina until June 5, 1864.

2nd United States Sharpshooters, Company A – Participated in the battles of the Wilderness, Laurel Hill, Po River and Spotsylvania Court House during Grant’s Overland Campaign.

Inactive units: 

1st Regiment Minnesota Cavalry “Mounted Rangers” – Formally mustered out of service on December 7, 1863. Inactive.  

1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Mustered out of Federal service on April 29, 1864. Inactive.

About civilwarweek

Member - Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, Civil War reenactor and historian since 1993, holds Bachelor's Degree in History from Concordia University-St. Paul, currently pursuing Master's Degree in History at St. Cloud State University and is author of the forthcoming book, "Muskets and Memories: A Modern Man's Journey through the Civil War."
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