With some of the bloodiest fighting of the war done at Spotsylvania Courthouse, the two great armies of Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant continued to try to outflank the other. In another race of time, Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill marched his Third Corps of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia south to the North Anna River near Hanover Junction.
His men dug trenches as soon as they got there, and on May 23, the Union troops under Maj. Gen. Gouveneur Warren crossed the North Anna River. Gen. Hill ordered an attack at Jericho Mills around 6 p.m. but it stalled.
The following morning, Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright’s Sixth Corps arrived to assist Gen. Warren’s troops, while Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock’s Second Corps arrived to push out the Confederates on the other side of the river. There was more intense fighting; Gen. Lee’s troops had an opportunity to attack and defeat a divided Union army, but Lee was sick and lay on his cot in his tent, suffering from a high fever. The Confederates failed to take advantage of their positions and strength.
In Georgia, the opposing armies of Gen. Joseph Johnston and Maj. Gen. William Sherman were on the move. Gen. Sherman’s troops were trying to outflank the Confederates on the Etowah River and moving toward Allatoona Pass. Much of the fighting took place by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry against Gen. Sherman’s supply trains in the rear of the army.
On May 25, at New Hope Church, some 25 miles from the railroad center at Atlanta, Gen. Sherman’s advanced units attacked the Confederates in a fierce thunderstorm. The Confederates managed to drive off the assaults, and both sides dug in for a long and protracted series of engagements that would last a week.
In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel had been replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter; his Union army of some 16,000 men left Strasburg (where they had stopped to regroup following their defeat at New Market on May 15) and began moving south on the Valley Turnpike toward Staunton. Opposing Gen. Hunter’s men were some 8,500 Confederates under Brig. Gen. William “Grumble” Jones, who had replaced Maj. Gen. John Breckinridge. Gen. Breckinridge and some of his troops had been sent to reinforce Gen. Lee’s army on the North Anna.
In the far West, on Thursday, May 26, the Territory of Montana was formally established, having been carved from the Territory of Dakota. As darkness fell on this day in Virginia, Gen. Grant ordered Maj. Gen. George Meade to withdraw his Army of the Potomac across the North Anna River. Having been unable to dislodge the Confederates, the Battle of North Anna was over, but the campaign was not.
Gen. Meade moved his army across the Pamunkey River toward Hanovertown, still continuing the strategic offensive. The next day, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry occupied Hanovertown against little Confederate opposition. His troops were now about 18 miles southeast of the leading elements of Gen. Lee’s army.
There was almost constant skirmishing, at Mt. Carmel Church, Dabney’s Ferry, Hanovertown, Little River, Pole Cat Creek, Sexton’s Station and Salem Church. In Georgia, Maj. Gen. Oliver Howard’s corps attacked Gen. Johnston’s Confederates at Pickett’s Mills, northeast of New Hope Church, and was repulsed with heavy losses in the difficult and heavily wooded country.
On Saturday, May 28, most of the fighting in eastern Virginia was done by cavalry as the main bodies of the opposing armies moved east toward Cold Harbor. At Haw’s Shop, one of the Union cavalrymen killed there was Private John Huff of the Fifth Michigan Cavalry. Seventeen days earlier, on May 11, at Yellow Tavern, his pistol shot had mortally wounded Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.
Far from the fighting of the war on this May 28, German Maximilian of Hapsburg landed at Vera Cruz, Mexico, to take the throne, supported by Napoleon III of France, and opposed by Mexican leader Benito Juarez. It was to have a direct influence on the foreign policy of both the United States and the Confederate States.