One of the most engrossing battlefields I’ve been to, hands down. It’s right around the corner from Gaines’ Mill battlefield, so you can do a double header.
Cold Harbor was one of the last battles of General Grant’s 1864 “Overland” campaign. Lee constantly anticipated Grant’s moves, who time and time again found the Confederate army entrenched between him and Richmond.
Grant once again tried to maneuver around Lee, this time at an intersection known as Cold Harbor. Unfortunately, confused orders and bad maps caused a critical delay, which Lee took advantage of by building his hasty defensive position into a strong fortification. Even worse, the Union army failed to detect the extent of this trench line. So when Grant’s attack kicked off on June 3rd, his army plummeted into one of the most lopsided engagements of the war.
Today, the trench lines of both sides are easily visible, and surprisingly close together. The Confederate line is placed on a low ridge and passes through the woods, not far from the parking lot near the visitors center. You can either take a walking or driving path; I chose to walk.
My trek was rewarded with a series of plaques detailing various small engagements and a close up look at the trenches of both sides. It was especially sad to see a plaque which explained how during a temporary truce, one recovery party discovered a trench with 244 Union dead and only 3 survivors.
The loop takes you through to the Union side and ultimately back to the visitors center. It was a sobering walk. The diary entry of one mortally wounded Union soldier still haunts me: “June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed”.