General Ulysses S. Grant’s spring campaign against General Robert E. Lee stalled at Cold Harbor after weeks of brutal fighting and heavy casualties. Determined to keep the pressure on the Southern commander, Grant crossed the James River on June 14 to capture Petersburg, setting in motion the longest active campaign of the war.
On June 15, Federal forces attacked Petersburg which was lightly defended by Confederates under General P.G.T. Beauregard. Despite initial success, Federal commanders did not press their advantage and Lee was able to reinforce Beauregard. Failing to capture Petersburg by assault, Grant tried to cut Lee’s supply lines resulting in the Battles of Jerusalem Plank Road and First Reams Station. July found the armies locked in trench warfare. Grant’s effort to break the stalemate failed following the Battles of First Deep Bottom, the Crater, and Second Deep Bottom, so he tried to cut the supply lines again. In August, he met with some success at Globe Tavern and finally cut the Weldon Railroad after the Second Battle of Reams Station, leaving Lee but one line to supply his army.
Grant next focused on extending his lines and launching joint operations against Richmond and Petersburg. Lee repulsed both offensives, but the battles of New Market Heights, Peebles’ Farm, and Boydton Plank Road further drained his manpower. The slow pace of operations during the winter was broken by the Battle of Hatcher’s Run on February 5-7, stretching Lee’s lines still further. Desperate to resume the offensive and break free from the Petersburg lines, Lee attempted to break through the Federal position at Fort Stedman on March 25 but was ultimately repulsed. The attack cost 4,000 Southerners, making it impossible for him to adequately defend his entire line, and set the stage for Grant’s victory.