On May 21, the Army of Northern Virginia left its intrenchments near Spotsylvania Court House and marched south rapidly in response to Grant’s latest attempt to get around them and assault Richmond.
“The First Corps and its batteries marched by way of Dickerson’s to the Mud Tavern on the Telegraph Road,” historian Robert K. Krick wrote, “thence down that road to the North Anna River. A brief halt for rest was taken at 3 a.m., but two hours later the column resumed the march.”
They were in position on the south side of the river near Hanover Junction by noon on May 22, Krick continued. “The night long march had covered about thirty miles in only eighteen hours, but it had not been nearly as harrowing as many less rapid marches.”
That was because the weather was mild, a moon illuminated their passage and the roads were good.
There was some fighting on May 23 as Hancock’s Corps attacked Rebels holding a bridge across the North Anna at the Telegraph Road and Confederate artillery on the south side of the river joined in.
But Lee withdrew his forces from the river that night and pulled them back closer to Hanover Junction. For the next three days, while the Rebels intrenched again, and Lee hoped to draw Grant into another bloody loss, there was only “very disagreeable sharpshooting & occasional Arty firing,” Krick wrote.
On the night of the 26th, having declined to attack the Confederate positions, Grant began drawing off his forces for yet another march to the southeast.
“….the Union commander came away from the North Anna with the mistaken impression that the Confederates were worn out and on the verge of collapse,” a U.S. Army study concluded. “This incorrect view of the Southern army’s morale may have factored into the tragic Union assault at Cold Harbor that occurred one week later.”
Lee’s army withdrew from its entrenchments along the river and hurried after Grant.
“The marching men were amazingly quiet on May 28,” Krick wrote, “perhaps because they sensed that the war was turning. Most of them had never fallen back nearly this far during the entire war.”
“They marched in such deep silence,” Gen. E.P. Alexander wrote after the war, “that a man with his eyes shut would only have known that any one was on the road by the occasional rattle of a canteen.”
That night the army camped on the south side of Totopotomoy Creek where fighting ensued the next day and the day after that as Grant pressed the Confederate lines.
As they had at Spotsylvania, Rebel artillery tore the Union ranks to pieces and on the night of May 31, the First Corps, with Humphreys’ Brigade, marched for Cold Harbor.
The 13th, according to what records Jess McLean discovered, apparently had lost one man killed from the Winston Guards and one man captured from the Wayne Rifles.
Confederate casualties were estimated at 2,017, according to Alexander, and Union casualties at 1,973.