The spring of 1864 ushered in a previously unseen and terrible brand of warfare. General Ulysses S. Grant, now General-in-Chief of all Federal forces, designed a multi-theater offensive that sent General William Sherman into Georgia, General Nathaniel Banks to the Red River, General Franz Sigel into the Shenandoah Valley, and General Benjamin Butler up the Virginia Peninsula toward Richmond. The final portion of the offensive would pit General George Meade against General Robert E. Lee with the directive to focus on the destruction of Lee’s army.
Grant viewed Lee as his most dangerous opponent and decided to accompany Meade in Virginia. By the end of April, Grant had concentrated some 120,000 men along the Rapidan River to confront Lee’s 65,000. On May 4, the Federals crossed the Rapidan at Germanna and Ely’s Fords and entered the Wilderness. Grant hoped to push the army through the dense forest to confront Lee in the open terrain beyond.
Lee, however, judged Grant’s intentions and moved his army to confront him in the Wilderness. The Battle of The Wilderness opened six weeks of nearly constant marching and fighting. The armies clashed at Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna, Totopotomy Creek, Cold Harbor, and Trevilian Station. By the time the campaign ended, the two armies were in stalemate, east of Richmond around Cold Harbor, where, despite 88,000 combined casualties, Grant already planned his next move—a daring plan to cross the James River and capture Petersburg. It was a signal to both armies that Grant would not quit until there was no more fighting left to do.