Not War but Murder - Cold Harbor, 1864


On the morning of Friday, June 3, 1864, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and George G. Meade brought their overland campaign against Richmond to its climax in an all-out assault on Robert E. Lee's entrenched Rebels at Cold Harbor, less than ten miles outside the Confederate capital. The result was outright slaughter?Grant's worst defeat, and Lee's last great victory. Though Grant tried afterward to forget the battle, and historians have often misunderstood its importance, Cold Harbor remains what Bruce Catton called ...
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2000 Hardcover 1st Edition New in New dust jacket 9.90 X 6.80 X 1.40 inches 328 pp; Excellent book. Dust jacket protected in clear Brodart cover.

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2000 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Pristine condition! Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 352 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade.

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On the morning of Friday, June 3, 1864, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and George G. Meade brought their overland campaign against Richmond to its climax in an all-out assault on Robert E. Lee's entrenched Rebels at Cold Harbor, less than ten miles outside the Confederate capital. The result was outright slaughter—Grant's worst defeat, and Lee's last great victory. Though Grant tried afterward to forget the battle, and historians have often misunderstood its importance, Cold Harbor remains what Bruce Catton called "one of the hard and terrible names of the Civil War, perhaps the most terrible one of all."

Now Ernest Furgurson, an eloquent narrator and analyst of the war, tells the harrowing story of this pivotal conflict. Like his earlier account of the Battle of Chancellorsville, his latest work is rich in detail and revealing anecdotes: Federal generals consume a champagne lunch while more than a thousand of their wounded lie untended on the field. The Confederate Congress votes itself a 100 percent pay raise while bread prices skyrocket in the South. An angry Union surgeon saws off the leg of a malingerer. Yankee and Rebel soldiers, slipping between the lines after dark to rescue the wounded, find themselves in the same hole and negotiate a private truce.

Furgurson explores the minds of both privates and commanders, showing how friction between the overconfident Grant and the irascible Meade proved disastrous; how Lee, with fewer than half as many troops as Meade, repeatedly outmaneuvered Union forces; and how Northern election-year politics influenced Grant's strategy, pressing him to try to win the war with one final head-on attack.

Cold Harbor was awatershed moment of the Civil War. After Grant's defeat, the struggle dragged on; the war of maneuver became a war of siege, and stand-up attack gave way to trench warfare—tactics that would become familiar in France half a century later. Above all, Cold Harbor was the most uselessly bloody, one-sided battle of the war, whose terrible human cost is captured in one chilling diary entry, scrawled by a mortally wounded soldier: "June 3, Cold Harbor. I was killed."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Doing an end run around Thomas Rhea's three-volume analysis of the Wilderness Campaign, journalist and historian Furgurson (Ashes of Glory; Chancellorsville 1863) addresses the climax of the operation: the Union attack on the Confederate entrenchments at Cold Harbor, Va., on June 3, 1864. Instead of breaking through to Richmond, the reinforced Army of the Potomac lost over 10,000 men, most of them in a single morning. Confederates called it the easiest victory of the war. In the North, Cold Harbor confirmed Grant's reputation as a butcher heedless of casualties--an image that endured until very recently. Furgurson, however, fixes primary responsibility for the debacle on convoluted command arrangements that left Gen. George Meade in direct command of the Army of the Potomac, but had Commander-in-Chief Grant in the field looking over his shoulder. Meade, increasingly resentful at being eclipsed, took fewer and fewer pains in planning the details of operations. The result was a haphazard attack on Confederate troops who had become masters at field entrenchment. Furgurson concludes that Lee's skillful handling of his smaller army maximized Union mistakes throughout the Wilderness Campaign, and led to his last great victory at Cold Harbor. This book does not prove the point, but it does make a solid case that will impress scholars--and it does so in prose so direct and compelling that even those without a previous interest in the Civil War are sure to be drawn in. Fergurson's engagement with the people he writes about comes through in every line, making one of the most wrenching incidents of the war grimly immediate. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
On June 3, 1864, the Union Second, Sixth, and Eighteenth Corps assaulted Confederate breastworks at Cold Harbor outside Richmond, VA. The resulting bloodbath amounted to U.S. Grant's worst defeat and "Bobby" Lee's final great victory. In his latest book, native Virginian and Baltimore Sun correspondent Furgurson (Chancellorsville, 1863) vividly retells the well-known story of how the friction between Grant and his insecure direct subordinate, George Meade, poisoned the Army of the Potomac's whole chain of command. By contrast, he depicts Lee as a commander beset by poor health and impossible logistical problems who brilliantly deployed his meager forces and soundly thrashed his overconfident adversary, thereby saving the rebel capital and extending an unwinnable war by nearly a year. The book is rich in word pictures and engaging anecdotes if not in untilled history. Furgurson considers the wounded left to suffer with the dead between the lines while Lee and Grant quibble over protocols of recovery; the disastrous affect of poor maps and impassable terrain on the Federal assault; and Grant's immediate need to bring Lincoln a battlefield victory before the 1864 presidential election. Furgurson's contribution is his evocative retelling of a great American military tragedy. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Internet Book Watch
Ernest Furgurson's Not War But Murder is recommended for avid followers of Civil War history:it focuses on Cold Harbor events, recounting the bloody campaign there and providing the first book-length analysis of the battle. 1864 history and military events come alive in a survey which includes underlying influences. Dorothy Dunnett's Gemini (45478-0, $27.50) provides a work of historical fiction so powerful and packed with details that it's recommended here as supplemental reading for any interested in 1400s Scottish history. This concludes her 'House of niccolo' series exploring the early Renaissance world and provides a powerful, compelling work which includes much background research on the time and place.
—Internet Book Watch
Jay Winik
Ferguson writes with passion and immediacy. Civil War buffs and all seeking to understand the gritty reality of war will relish his harrowin account.
Weekly Standard
Kirkus Reviews
Another first-class Civil War history from Furgurson (Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War, 1996, etc.), this one a blow-by-blow analysis of a gory, rarely studied battle that he believes was pivotal in determining the future strategies of Grant and Lee. Typically overlooked for more famous engagements, the battle of Cold Harbor pitted a coarse, barely-on-the-wagon Grant (newly appointed as General of the Armies by President Lincoln) and thousands of inexperienced troops (led by quarrelsome, bickering commanders) against an ailing but indefatigable Lee and his lean-and-mean Army of Northern Virginia. After two weeks of bloody trench warfare in June 1864, Grant lost upwards of 16,000 men, earning him the "butcher" sobriquet that would follow him for the rest of his life (causing him to downplay the battle in his memoirs). For the Confederates, whose losses have been estimated as less than a third of the Union's, Cold Harbor was what Furgurson calls "Lee's last great victory," during which Lee thwarted Grant's attempt to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond and refined the strategies that would help him prolong the war into the following year. In telling the story of the battle, Furgurson begins in March, with Lee fighting a series of skirmishes as Grant enters the field with the Army of the Potomac. Grant proceeds to ruffle the feathers of that army's imperious commander, Major General George Meade, and ignores logistical difficulties that would later cause thousands of green troops to be in the wrong places at the wrong time at Cold Harbor. Furgusorn includes depictions of the foul-mouthed, pint-sized Phil Sheridan, the recklessly braveGeorgeArmstrong Custer, the cross-dressing Confederate spy Frank Stringfellow, and numerous eyewitness accounts of "fire which no human valor could withstand." A horrific, neglected Civil War battle lives again in a demanding, nonstop assault of facts, anecdotes, vain heroics, and wasted lives. (15 maps, unseen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679455172
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/30/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.59 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Ernest B. Furgurson, author of the widely praised Ashes of Glory and Chancellorsville 1863, is a native of Virginia and a descendant of Confederate soldiers. He was on the staff of the Richmond News Leader before beginning a long career as Washington and foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. He and his wife live in Washington, D.C.
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Read an Excerpt


From June 3, 1864, to this day, for those who know anything about the American Civil War, the name Cold Harbor has been a synonym for mindless slaughter.

U. S. Grant admitted that he never should have ordered the all-out attack against Robert E. Lee's entrenched troops there on that Friday, and afterward he did his best to pretend that it had never happened. One of Lee's staff colonels called the one-sided Southern victory "perhaps the easiest ever granted to Confederate arms by the folly of Federal commanders." When the North realized how seriously the Union army was bloodied there, the muttered barroom description of Grant as butcher swelled into the public prints. Speaking as newspapers ran long lists of the dead and wounded, Abraham Lincoln, who would have fired any previous commander after such a debacle, grieved that "it can almost be said that the 'heavens are hung in black.' " His closest friend in the press, Noah Brooks, reflected the mood in Washington when he wrote that "those days will appear to be the darkest of the many dark days through which passed the friends and lovers of the Federal Union." A hundred years later, Bruce Catton called Cold Harbor "one of the hard and terrible names of the Civil War, perhaps the most terrible one of all."

Those words, among the many written about Cold Harbor, remain true. It was Grant's worst defeat, and Lee's last great victory. Thousands of soldiers who survived agreed with Confederate general Evander Law that "It was not war, it was murder." But it was much more than one head-on attack and ruthless repulse.

The Cold Harbor campaign, from the Union army's crossing of the Pamunkey River to itsdeparture for the James, was more than two weeks of infantry and cavalry clashes, each sharp enough to stand in history as a separate battle if it had come at some other time and place. The climactic fight of June 3 was more complicated than alleged by earlier writers, and it lasted longer than the ten minutes, twenty minutes, or one hour so often reported by veterans who witnessed only their own part of the struggle.

Too often brushed past as barely a chapter in the story of the 1864 overland campaign, Cold Harbor demands much closer study than most historians have given it. The West Point Atlas of American Wars, for example, devotes six maps to First Bull Run, where about one-fourth as many casualties were suffered on both sides as at Cold Harbor. It covers the Wilderness with nine maps, and Spotsylvania Court House with eight. Cold Harbor proper gets one half-page, small-scale map, in which the action covers about two inches at the upper margin. That is roughly the same proportion of attention that Grant gave to Cold Harbor in his official report of the campaign and his memoirs. Less than 10 percent of the published Official Records of the overland campaign, from the Rapidan River to the crossing of the James, are from the Confederate side, a fact that has strongly influenced later assessments of what happened.

Strategically and tactically, Cold Harbor was a turning point of the Civil War. After it, the war of maneuver became a war of siege; stand-up attack and defense gave way to digging and trench warfare, the beginning of tactics that became familiar in France half a century later. And psychologically, Cold Harbor provided a case study of command relationships that should be taught in every military academy. When Grant arrived from the West to become general-in-chief of all Union armies, he believed that the prowess of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was a myth that could be shattered by unrelenting pressure. As it turned out, his relations with George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, and Edwin M. Stanton, secretary of war, may have been as crucial to what happened as his misreading of their stubborn enemy.
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