Mark Grimsley. And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. xxi + 283 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8032-2162-8; $18.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8032-7119-7.
Reviewed by David Dean (Department of History, Arizona State University)
Published on H-CivWar (February, 2004)
The Hardest Campaign
Mark Grimsley's book And Keep Moving On is a study of the six weeks of combat endured between the armies of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant in the Overland Campaign of 1864. Grimsley examines this sequence of the war within its wider political and social context in order to extend our understanding of the campaign's significance. What he achieves is an excellent narrative that explains theater operations against the political backdrop of the 1864 presidential election and the relationship between major battles, subsidiary offensives, diversionary raids, and naval operations that compose the overall campaign.
This is the first book-length work to examine the Virginia Campaign of May and June 1864 as a unified whole. Other books like Noah Andre Trudeau's Bloody Roads South: The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May-June 1864, Gordon C. Rhea's The Battle of the Wilderness, 1865-1865 and The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864, William Glenn Robertson's Back Door to Richmond: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, April-June 1864, and Richard R. Duncan's Lee's Endangered Left: The Civil War in Western Virginia, Spring of 1864 are examples of the extensive coverage available on the component operations.
Grimsley is an associate professor of history at Ohio State University. His other works include The Collapse of the Confederacy, Civilians in the Path of War, and the notable The Hard Hand of War. And Keep Moving On is a polished gem in the pocket of this rising military historian and an excellent addition to Civil War studies.
In May of 1864, Grant burst upon the Virginia Theater with three separate offenses that began almost simultaneously. Some 6,000 troops under Franz Sigel moved into the Shenandoah Valley; Benjamin F. Butler and 36,000 men in the Army of the James started up the Peninsula from Fort Monroe; and Grant, traveling with nearly 120,000 Federals in the Army of the Potomac, crossed the Rapidan River to engage Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The operations were designed to defeat the Confederate forces in Virginia while simultaneously depriving Lee's army of needed reinforcements and supplies.
After the main Union drive became entangled in the Wilderness, Grant broke off the conflict and sidestepped to the east in an effort to turn Lee's right. The Army of Northern Virginia had suffered over 11,000 casualties in the Wilderness, but it won the race to Spotsylvania Court House and was waiting entrenched when Grant's forces arrived. After eleven days of intermittent but heavy fighting, the climax came in a fourteen-hour battle on May 12, when Federals temporarily overran a section of Lee's lines known as the "Bloody Angle." The stalemate cost Lee untold casualties. Especially painful to Lee was the death of the dashing "Jeb" Stuart, mortally wounded on May 11 in a cavalry fight at Yellow Tavern in Virginia.
Grant continued his southeastward movements as he parried with Lee. Early in June, Grant reached Cold Harbor, a strategic crossroads not far from Richmond; but again, Lee's men blocked the advance. Grant's frontal attacks on the strong Confederate works were to no avail. In just over a month of nearly continuous action, the Army of the Potomac was reeling from its losses. Yet Grant was undeterred. Knowing that Lee had incurred proportionally higher casualties than the North, Grant justified the sacrifices against the greater objective of ending the war.
After Cold Harbor, however, Grant altered his strategy. He secretly began shifting his army across the James on the night of June 12. Columns of men filed across a pontoon bridge more than 2,500 feet long and headed for the vital rail junction at Petersburg twenty-five miles south of Richmond. Seizing Petersburg and its railroads would force Lee to come out of his works and meet the Federal army in open combat.
The Federal transfer caught Lee by surprise and almost outflanked the Confederate Army from Richmond. Grant's new movement might have easily succeeded had Butler's Army of the James not been a victim to its commander's ineptitude. General P. G. T. Beauregard assembled some 3,500 soldiers, militia, and shopkeepers in front of Butler's advance. This scared Butler into withdrawing his army to a thin stretch of land lying between the James and Appomattox Rivers known as Bermuda Hundred. Beauregard promptly entrenched his men across the narrow opening to the peninsula leaving Butler bottled up from further action.
Beauregard then pulled back in order to check Grant's approach to Petersburg. Beauregard's defense of Petersburg during the four-day attack, June 15-18, saved the city. The arrival of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia convinced Grant to switch to siege operations against Petersburg, thus ending the thrust, flank, and parry engagements of the Overland Campaign.
Throughout the narrative, Grimsley demonstrates that the clash of titan generals in the early summer of 1864 is more than a duel between Lee and Grant. Instead, Grimsley argues that the Virginia Campaign was a much larger enterprise designed to defeat Lee's Army and end the war. It was composed of not one Union offensive (Grant versus Lee) but four: Grant along the Rapidan, Butler at Bermuda Hundred, Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley, and George Crook/William Averell in southwest Virginia--and the cavalry raids by Phil Sheridan to Yellow Tavern and August V. Kautz severing the Weldon and Petersburg Railroad. The campaign's most striking feature was the sheer number of Union offensives, which worried the Confederate high command and strained its resources more than Grant's pursuit of Lee (p. 238). Indeed this was the hardest campaign, "putting in the shade all others" (p. 162).
In the final chapter, Grimsley's assessment of the Overland Campaign is an excellent denouement to the battle narratives of the previous chapters. Here Grimsley evaluates the significance of the Virginia Campaign as it fails to achieve the "brilliant final act" of the war. Still, the author shows how Grant achieved success within the wider context of defeating the Confederacy. Additionally, Grimsley explains how the performance of Grant and Lee factors into the enduring myths that surround the Civil War.
Grimsley's book, And Keep Moving On, is a strong addition to the literature of the Civil War, and is particularly helpful as a one-volume overview of the 1864 Virginia Campaign. Additionally, Grimsley's evaluation of Grant and Lee's generalship as well as their subordinates are well argued and sure to contribute to the assessment of Civil War command and strategy.
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David Dean. Review of Grimsley, Mark, And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864.
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