His ultimate goal in the campaign of 1864 was ostensibly the capture of the Confederate capital, Richmond. Every movement, position and counter attack was intended to push through the Confederate forces. Smaller Union forces under the command of Franz Siegel and Benjamin Butler attempted to carry out missions that were to cut off supplies and reinforcements from General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
While capturing Richmond would have been a great leap towards ending the war, Grant admitted in his writings that this was actually a secondary goal. The primary objective of his campaign in the spring and summer of 1864 was to wage a war of attrition against the rebel troops. He wanted to wear them down, deplete their morale and break what remained of their allegiance to the cause of the Confederacy. While Grant ultimately failed in taking Richmond during the campaign, it could be argued that he did indeed cause a serious drop in morale among Confederate soldiers by causing high rates of attrition and displaying more tenacity to win battles than any Union commander had before him (Rickard 2006).
The start of the campaign began with Grant traveling with Meade and the Army of the Potomac south, in an attempt to cross the Rapidan River and travel through the Wilderness. This Wilderness had been the scene of fierce fighting one year earlier that resulted in the retreat of the Union forces back across the river. Grant was hoping that he could push through the Wilderness before Lee was able to position his troops. Lee beat Grant to the Wilderness and the forces met amid the thick brush and tangles of the forest. Lee was successful in halting the Union advance, but Grant showed considerable determination by refusing to retreat back across the river. Instead, he withdrew from the Wilderness and tried to march around Lee’s army.
Grant set his sights on obtaining control of a railroad junction near a village known as