Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1864

Army of the Potomac crosses the Rapidan, setting the stage for Civil War's showdown

On this day, the Army of the Potomac embarks on the biggest campaign of the Civil War and crosses the Rapidan River in Virginia, precipitating an epic showdown that eventually decides the war. In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant became commander of all the Union forces and devised a plan to destroy the two major remaining Confederate armies: Joseph Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee, which was guarding the approaches to Atlanta, and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant sent William T. Sherman to take on Johnston, and then rode along with the Army of the Potomac, which was still under the command of George Meade, to confront Lee.

On May 4, the Army of the Potomac moved out of its winter encampments and crossed the Rapidan River to the tangled woods of the Wilderness forest. Grant had with him four corps and over 100,000 men. The plan was to move the Federal troops quickly around Lee’s left flank and advance beyond the Wilderness before engaging the Confederates. But logistics slowed the move, and the long wagon train supplying the Union troops had to stop in the Wilderness.

Although there was no combat on this day, the stage was set for the epic duel between Grant and Lee. In the dense environs of the Wilderness, the superior numbers of the Union army were minimized. Lee attacked the following day—the first salvo in the biggest campaign of the war. The fighting lasted into June as the two armies waltzed to the east of Richmond, Virginia, ending in Petersburg, where they settled into trenches and faced off for nearly nine months.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Haymarket Square Riot

At Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, a bomb is thrown at a squad of policemen attempting to break up a labor rally. The police responded with wild gunfire, killing several people in the crowd and injuring dozens more. The demonstration, which drew some 1,500 Chicago workers, ...read more

Rusk reports on Viet Cong strength

At a press conference, Secretary of State Dean Rusk reports that Viet Cong forces have grown to 12,000 men and that they had killed or kidnapped more than 3,000 persons in 1960. While declaring that the United States would supply South Vietnam with any possible help, he refused ...read more

Four students killed at Kent State

At Kent State University, 28 National Guardsmen fire their rifles into a group of students, killing four and wounding 9. This incident occurred in the aftermath of President Richard Nixon’s April 30 announcement that U.S. and South Vietnamese forces had been ordered to execute an ...read more

David Frost interviews Richard Nixon

On this day in 1977, British journalist David Frost interviews former President Richard Nixon. In the televised interview, Nixon answered questions regarding the Watergate scandal and his resignation, admitting that he had let the American people down through his role in the ...read more

Nigerian aircraft crashes in crowded city

On this day in 2002, an EAS Airline plane crashes into the town of Kano, Nigeria, killing 148 people. The Nigerian BAC 1-11-500 aircraft exploded in a densely populated section of the northern Nigerian city. The Executive Airline Services twin-engine plane took off from Kano at ...read more