The Overland Campaign, which was also known as the Wilderness Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June of 1864 by Lt. General Ulysses S Grant in the American Civil War. Although Grant suffered horrible casualties and multiple tactical defeats during the campaign, it is considered a strategic Union victory, and it maneuvered Lee into an untenable position in Petersburg, VA.
Grant was ready for a war of attrition. The Confederate army was rich in leadership but poor in resources, and Grant’s plan was to bleed Lee’s army to death. Both Union and Confederate casualties were often high, but the union had the resources to replace them. Despite Grant’s superior numbers, however, he had difficulty with manpower. Following the heavy Loss at Gettysburg, Lee’s army had been reorganized, damaging unit cohesion and morale.
Grant, operating on the offensive in enemy territory, had to defend his supply bases and supply lines. Many of his soldiers were on three-year enlistments, and with their tour of duty almost over, were reluctant to participate in dangerous assaults. To deal with these formidable challenges, Grant augmented his forces by reassigning the Washington DC artillery garrison troops to infantry regiments.
The Overland Campaign started when Grant’s forces crossed the Rapidan River on May 4, 1864. Grant was trying to force an engagement with Lee by drawing his forces out or outflanking them. Lee moved out as Grant desired but faster than Grant was ready for, and broke free into the Wilderness, effectively neutralizing Grant’s advantage in artillery.
The Overland Campaign had a lot to do with the Union winning the war, despite the fact that the Union lost several battles (notably, Cold Harbor). It was a tremendous Union strategic victory. By engaging Lee’s army and not permitting them to escape, Grant forced Lee into an untenable position.