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From the Rapidan to Petersburg: The Overland Campaign and the First and Second Battles of Petersburg

*Covers Grant's advance from the Rapidan to besieging Petersburg, including the entire Overland Campaign and the battles before the siege of Petersburg in May-June 1864.
*Includes pictures of the battles' important generals.
*Includes several maps of the battles.
*Includes accounts of the fighting written by generals and soldiers.
*Includes a Bibliography of each battle for further reading.
*Includes a Table of Contents.

The Overland Campaign that pitted Robert E. Lee against Ulysses S. Grant is one of the most famous campaigns of the Civil War, and perhaps its greatest chess match. While Grant sought to destroy Lee's Army of Northern Virginia along the way to Richmond, Lee aimed to defend his capital while staying alert for a golden opportunity to strike a decisive blow against Grant's Army of the Potomac. The result was an incredibly costly campaign that saw 4 major battles and near continuous fighting in May and June 1864.

At the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864), Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee had fought to a standstill in their first encounter, failing to dislodge each other despite incurring nearly 30,000 casualties between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Despite the fierce fighting, Grant continued to push his battered but resilient army south, hoping to beat Lee’s army to the crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House, but Lee’s army beat Grant’s to Spotsylvania and began digging in, setting the scene for on and off fighting from May 8-21 that ultimately inflicted more casualties than the Battle of the Wilderness. In fact, with over 32,000 casualties among the two sides, it was the deadliest battle of the Overland Campaign.

After Spotsylvania, Grant and Lee both raced to the next natural defensive line, the North Anna River, where Lee sprang a trap for Grant by establishing an inverted V as a defensive line, with the salient touching the North Anna River. As fate would have it, Grant would fall into Lee’s trap, only for Lee to be debilitated by illness at the crucial moments, allowing Grant to realize the potential mistake and avoid a major pitched battle.

By the time the two armies reached Cold Harbor near the end of May 1864, Grant incorrectly thought that Lee’s army was on the verge of collapse. On June 3, 1864, sensing he could break Lee’s army, Grant ordered a full out assault. 7,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded as 30,000 Confederate soldiers successfully held the line against 50,000 Union troops, losing just 1,500 men in the process.

Refusing to attack Lee in frontal assaults, and aware that Lee dared not venture out to counterattack, Grant nearly captured Richmond in mid-June by stealing a march on Lee’s army and crossing the James River. With that, Grant’s forces had a golden opportunity to capture Petersburg, a critical railroad hub and supply line for Richmond, before Lee even realized where they were. All that stood in their way was an elaborate set of defensive fortifications manned by just a few thousand men under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard, who had been the Confederate hero of Fort Sumter an First Bull Run but had fallen out of favor well before June 1864.

As it would turn out, the fog of war, poor luck, and a skillful impromptu defense by Beauregard and his men, which at times consisted of young boys, old men, and wounded veterans, stopped Benjamin Butler from taking Petersburg on June 9 and then stopped Grant from taking Petersburg from June 15-18. Amazingly, Beauregard managed to defend Petersburg while being heavily outnumbered, at times having less than 15% of the armies opposing him.

From the Rapidan to Petersburg covers all of the drama and fighting during the months of May and June 1864, when the stakes were never higher. You will learn about the Overland Campaign and the first battles for Petersburg like never before.

Important places

Petersburg (59)


Petersburg (59)


Virginia (2,431)


United States (64,950)

Other geographical areas

Appalachian Mountains (1,111)