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Panel to discuss Overland Campaign

Everything hung in the balance in 1864 — the Civil War’s year of decision.

On May 4, Ulysses Grant and the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River and launched the Overland Campaign, attempting to crush Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and gain the ultimate victory.

This was the first time the two great generals of war would meet head-to-head, in a struggle neither side could afford to lose — and neither side would.

For the next eight weeks, Union and Confederate forces engaged in a series of grinding, relentless battles, resulting in massive casualties on both sides. Indeed, the human cost was almost unfathomable.

The National Park Service estimates that more than 70,000 men were killed, wounded or went missing during the operation; other sources place the number closer to 100,000. Even though the staggering losses dampened the Northern war effort and jeopardized President Lincoln’s re-election bid, Grant’s hard-fought campaign proved to be the thrust the Union needed to win the war.

Reverberations of the Overland Campaign were felt throughout the country, including Mississippi, a state that had sent a number of Confederate regiments to the far away battlefields of Virginia.

From Natchez and Adams County, the Natchez Fencibles and two companies of the Adams Light Guard were part of the 12th and 16th Mississippi Regiments, respectively. These units fought in that series of battles that left a blood soaked trail from The Wilderness to Spotsylvania Court House, to the North Anna River and Cold Harbor, and ultimately Petersburg.  Familiar Natchez names soon appeared on the seemingly endless casualty lists, recording the deaths of those who had fallen during what was described as “a grueling contest of endurance and guile.”

As part of the Park Service’s continuing commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Natchez National Historical Park is presenting “Grinding, Relentless War: The Overland Campaign of 1864” at 7 p.m. today at the Historic Natchez Foundation.

A panel composed of nationally recognized historians will discuss the series of battles and the impact the campaign had on the home fronts, both North and South. Participants include Frank O’Reilly, historian, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park; Grady Howell, the recognized authority on Mississippi’s Confederate Regiments; and David Slay and Jake Koch, Rangers with the Vicksburg National Military Park. O’Reilly will present an overview of the epic 40-day contest of strategic maneuvers and tactical combat.

Koch will provide a Northern perspective based on his research of Ohio units while Howell and Slay will focus on the contributions and participation of the Mississippi Regiments, with specific references to those containing Natchez companies.

Please join us on the eve of Memorial Day weekend as we look back to May, 1864, and commemorate the year of decision and the Overland Campaign. The event is free and open to the public.

 

Jefferson Mansell is a historian at the Natchez National Historical Park.

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