Northern Virginia: The Army of the Potomac is Ready

April 26, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant confidently reported to Washington from his headquarters at Culpeper Court House, “The Army of the Potomac is in splendid condition and evidently feels like whipping somebody. I feel much better with this command than I did before seeing it.”

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit:

The army reorganization continued: two corps were eliminated with the troops placed in the three remaining corps, and four divisions were eliminated with the troops placed in the remaining 11. Many soldiers resented Grant for making these changes, even though they had been done at the request of the Lincoln administration and ordered by the army commander, Major General George G. Meade.

One of the few changes that Grant made was to replace Brigadier General David Gregg as commander of the Federal Cavalry Corps with Major General Philip Sheridan, an infantry commander who had impressed Grant during the Chattanooga campaign. When Sheridan was introduced to officials in Washington, one told Grant, “That officer you brought on from the West is rather a little fellow to handle your cavalry.” Grant replied, “You will find him big enough for the purpose before we get through with him.”

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside was reunited with his prized IX Corps at Annapolis, Maryland. These 25,000 men would be reinforcing the Army of the Potomac when it began its spring offensive against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. However, IX Corps would stay independent and report directly to Grant because Burnside technically outranked Meade. Grant directed Burnside to “divert all troops you may now have on the way to Annapolis or yet to start, to Alexandria, and send a general there to take charge of them.”

As the army prepared for battle, Meade wrote his wife about the new general-in-chief on the scene:

“Grant has not given an order, or in the slightest degree interfered with the administration of this army since he arrived, and I doubt if he knows much more about it now than he did before coming here… It is undoubtedly true that he will go with it when it moves, and will in a measure control its movements, and should success attend its operation, that my share of the credit will be less than if he were not present… the press, and perhaps the public, will lose sight of me in him.”

Nevertheless, Meade preferred Grant to former General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck: “He is so much more active than his predecessor, and agrees so well with me in his view, I can not but be rejoiced at his arrival, because I believe success to be the more probable from the above facts.” Meade concluded:

“My position before, with inadequate means, no power myself to increase them, and no effort made by others to do so, placed me in a false position, causing me to be held responsible, when in fact I could do nothing. My duty is plain, to continue quietly to discharge my duties, heartily co-operating with him and under him.”

Lt Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit:

Grant wanted the army to begin moving the first week of May, before most of the three-year enlistments expired. The Lincoln administration had anticipated this potential shortfall in manpower by offering generous bounties and furloughs for soldiers who reenlisted. The administration also continued enforcing the conscription law, thereby creating an army of reenlisted men (driven by patriotism and/or bounties), draftees, and hired substitutes.

As he continued preparing, Grant took the time to write his wife Julia on his 42nd birthday (the 27th), “… I am still very well. Don’t know exactly the day when I will start or whether Lee will come here before I am ready to move. Would not tell you if I did know. Give my kindest regards to Col. and Mrs. Hillyer. Kisses for yourself and Jess. I sent $1100.00 to J.R. Jones to day in liquidation of my indebtedness.”

By this time, Grant had secretly scheduled the offensive to begin on May 4. This was nine days behind schedule, but it gave him more time to prepare and for the muddy roads to dry. Grant began issuing specific orders for the upcoming campaign, while many within the Army of the Potomac remained skeptical that he could defeat Lee after so many others had failed.

Near month’s end, rumors began circulating that Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps had returned to Lee’s army from eastern Tennessee and “will move (north) down the Shenandoah Valley.” Grant wrote Halleck that if this happened, “throw all the force you can to head them, taking, if General Burnside should still be north of the Rappahannock, all or as much of his force as necessary.”

On the last day of April, President Abraham Lincoln wrote a farewell message to Grant:

“Not expecting to see you again before the spring campaign opens, I wish to express in this way my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plan I neither know nor seek to know… I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you… If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it. And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain you.”


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 390, 398; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2687-707, 2893-903, 2923-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 414, 419, 425; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38, 42-43; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 481, 490; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177-78

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