As May 1864 faded into June, Grant’s Overland Campaign was clearly headed for some sort of climax. Grant had forced Lee back to the outskirts of Richmond. With Lee’s lines along, and south east of, Totopotomoy Creek being too strong in Grant’s estimation, he moved yet again south and east to flank Lee’s right. On May 31, Union cavalry took Old Cold Harbor while Confederate cavalry held New Cold Harbor. Both locations were only ten miles from Richmond.
Lee planned to seize New Cold Harbor on the morning of June 1 from the Union cavalry holding it. Bungled command arrangements and a fierce defense from the entrenched Union cavalry gave sufficient time for the infantry of Wright’s corps to come up and hold New Cold Harbor.
At the end of the day Grant launched an attack by Wright’s and Smith’s corps. Although beaten back the assault had made some success, typified by the relatively similar casualties, 2200 for the Union and 1800 for the Confederates. Thus encouraged Grant would try again, but not until June 3, attack orders for June 2 falling by the wayside due to the exhaustion of reinforcing Union troops of Hancock’s corps after making a long night march from the right of the Union lines to the Union left, Grant planning to attack Lee’s right around Old Cold Harbor. Lee and his army thus had the gift of a day to complete their fortified lines around Old Cold Harbor, a fact that Union veteran troops regarded as ominous.