The Largest Battles of the Civil War

Source: MPI / Archive Photos via Getty Images

4. Battle of the Wilderness
> Total forces engaged: 162,920 (Union: 101,895)
> Location: Spotsylvania and Orange counties, VA
> Date(s): May 5-7, 1864
> Union Casualties: 17,000
> Confederate Casualties: 13,000

The third of the major battles that took place in May 1864, the Battle of the Wilderness opened a Union march toward the Confederate capital of Richmond under the direction of Gen. Grant – who by then had been named Union General-in-Chief, the supreme commander of all Union forces. The two sides met in the dense woods of central Virginia and after 48 hours of brutal combat, neither side could declare victory. Grant was not dissuaded and continued his march toward Richmond.

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

3. Battle of Gettysburg
> Total forces engaged: 165,620 (Union: 93,921)
> Location: Adams County, PA
> Date(s): July 1-3, 1863
> Union Casualties: 23,049
> Confederate Casualties: 28,063

The Battle of Gettysburg ended Gen. Lee’s attempt to invade the North, force a negotiated end to the war, and earn international recognition for the Confederate States of America as an independent nation. Lee and his surviving troops, many of them wounded and riding wagons in agony, limped back southward. But Union Gen. George G. Meade lost a vital opportunity to pursue and trap Lee, and the war raged on for two more years.

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2. Battle of Cold Harbor
> Total forces engaged: 170,000 (Union: 108,000 Union)
> Location: Hanover County, VA
> Date(s): May 31-June 12, 1864
> Union Casualties: 12,737
> Confederate Casualties: 4,595

March 1864, a month that saw three major Civil War battles with more than 100,000 engaged forces, ended with the start of another major skirmish in Hanover County, Virginia, just north of the Confederate capital of Richmond. Though Gen. Lee’s troops outmaneuvered those of Gen. Grant, forcing the Federals to withdraw, the Confederates failed to hunt down Grant’s remaining troops. They were then able to cross the James River and march toward Petersburg, part of Grant’s Overland Campaign and a primary objective of Union forces throughout the Civil War.

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1. Battle of Fredericksburg
> Total forces engaged: 201,000 (Union: 123,000)
> Location: Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, VA
> Date(s): Dec. 11-15, 1862
> Union Casualties: 12,500
> Confederate Casualties: 6,000

Twenty months after the Battle of Fort Sumter, the official start of the Civil War, about 200,000 Union and Confederate Total forces engaged in the largest and one of the bloodiest of the war’s battles. Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside quickly redirected his forces to insert his army at the lower Rappahannock River between Gen. Lee’s forces and the Confederate capital of Richmond. The Confederates routed the Federals, however, forcing Burnside’s troops to retreat back across the river in an embarrassing defeat. The Battle of Fredericksburg also involved two firsts: the first instance in American military history of a river crossing under fire and the war’s first instance of urban combat.

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