GRANT, Ulysses S. Autograph letter signed ("U.S. Grant Lt. Gen.") as General in Chief, to Major General Ambrose Burnside, "Massaponax Church," [Virginia], 21 May 1864. 1½ pages, 8vo (8 1/8 x 5 in.), in pencil, evidence of mounting in right margin of page 2, otherwise in fine condition.
GRANT PUSHES SOUTH AFTER SPOTSYLVANIA: PRELUDE TO BATTLE ALONG THE NORTH ANNA RIVER
After twelve days in entrenchments facing the enemy across the bloody battlefields around Spotsylvania Court House, Grant's men were again ordered to march further south, beyond Lee's right, in hopes of getting between the Army of Northern Virginia and Richmond. It was clear to both Lee and Grant that the next defensible position by which the Confederates could block the Yankee advance was along the banks of the North Anna River and, much as they had done before Spotsylvania, they set their armies in a race to seize that ground. Two days after the Union Army had left Spotyslvania, Grant sends orders to Burnside specifying his route of march: "You may move as soon as practicable upon the receipt of this order taking the direct Ridge road to where it intersects the Telegraph road, thence by the latter road to Thornburg Cross roads." Grant advises caution, indicating the uncertainty in which his army operated deep in enemy territory: "If the enemy occupy the crossing of the Po [River] in such force as to prevent you using it then you will hold the north side at Stannards Mills until your whole column is past and move to Guinea Bridge. Gen. [Horatio] Wright will follow you and will cover the crossing of the Po for his own Corps. At Guinea Bridge you will receive further directions if you are forced to take that road. If successful in crossing at Stannards your march will end at Thornburg."
Lee, predictably, won the race to the North Anna and formed a solid defensive line south of the river, where he "devised one of the cleverest tactical schemes of his career" (Furguson, Not War but Murder, p. 32). Eventually, realizing that he would be unable to break the stalemate along the North Anna, Grant ordered his army to the south, a movement which climaxed in the bloody battle at Cold Harbor in early June.
Provenance: Elsie and Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 4 December 1981, lot 1136).