Union troops lose another foot race with the Confederates in a minor stop on the long and terrible campaign between Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. During the entire month of May 1864, Grant and Lee had pounded each other in Virginia along an arc swinging from the Wilderness forest south to the James River. After fighting in the Wilderness, Grant moved south to Spotsylvania Court House to place his army between Lee and Richmond. Predicting his move, Lee marched James Longstreet's corps through the night and beat the Federals to the strategic crossroads.
For 12 days the two armies fought in some of the bloodiest combat of the war. Finally, Grant pulled out and again moved south, this time to the North Anna River, where he probed the Rebel lines on the high banks of the river, but found no weakness. He moved south again, this time to Totopotomoy Creek. Once again, Lee and his men beat him there and stood ready to defend Richmond from the Union army.
Grant was getting frustrated. After the Totopotomoy, Grant slid south to Cold Harbor, just 10 miles from Richmond. His impatience may have gotten the best of him. At Cold Harbor, Grant would commit the foolish mistake of hurling his troops at well-fortified Confederates, creating a slaughter nearly unmatched during the war.