Harris Farm Engagement
— Lee vs. Grant - The 1864 Campaign —
On May 4, 1864, Union Gen. George Meade's Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock River to engage Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and to destroy it. The attack began the Overland Campaign, part of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's plan to strike Confederate forces simultaneously though out the South. Some of the bloodiest fighting of the war occurred as Grant and Meade followed Lee south: the Wilderness, May5-7; Spotsylvania Court House, May 8-18; North Anna River, May 23-26; and Cold Harbor, June 1-3. In mid-June, the ten-month siege of Richmond and Petersburg began.
During the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Union Gens. George G. Meade and Ulysses S. Grant (who commanded all Union armies and accompanied Meade) battered Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's defenses. Unable to defeat the Confederates by direct assault, Grant shifted eastward, determined to head south in hopes of drawing Lee out of his Spotsylvania trenches. Suspecting Grant's move, Lee ordered Gen. Richard S. Ewell to uncover Grant's intentions.
On May 19, 1864, Ewell sent his entire corps, reduced by recent fighting to just 6,000 men, on a reconnaissance-in-force toward the Fredericksburg Road (modern Route 208). Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur's North Carolina brigade led the march. About 4 P.M., Ramseur's men encountered a small Union force one mile west of here and slowly drove them back to this point.
Ewell's advance caught Grant off guard. Fearful that the Confederates might seize the Fredericksburg Road and jeopardize his supply line, Grant ordered nearby troops into action. Many of the Union regiments rushed into the battle were untested. They were recently pulled from the defenses of Washington, D.C., to support the Army of the Potomac. A brief, fierce fight ensued that cost the two sides nearly 2,400 casualties, but in the end Ewell relinquished control of the battlefield. Three days later, Grant pushed his army south only to confront Lee once again, along the banks of the North Anna River.
(upper right) Confederate dead being buried on Harris Farm Battlefield Courtesy Library of Congress
(upper right) Dead Confederate soldier, Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield Courtesy Libary of Congress