On the 24th May 1864 Grant gifted Lee the kind of opportunity that rarely happens in a campaign: to wreck the other’s army.
After the bloodletting of May 5-12th, that cost Lee 22000 casualties and Grant 34000,'weakening both armies by 33% and 25% respectively, Grant again disengaged and moved South towards Richmond. Lee had followed and had been reinforced with 7 small Brigades from his capital.
Grant had inadvertentally straddled his large army across the North Anna river.
Lee saw the way to take advantage of his smaller numbers and punish the Federal II Corps, Grant’s best. He could throw 30000 men at the 24000 that were over the V in the river separating Grant’s two halves of his army. Hancock’s 24000 could not be reinforced, because of the V of the river, so he readied his assault.
On the afternoon of the 24th Lee fell violently sick with diarrhoea. He lay helplessly for hours while the opportunity to assault, before the Union commanders realised the sure situation were in.
The reason Lee’s defensive strike could not be undertaken was simple: the attrition of the last 19 days had robbed him of a subordinate able to manage it.
Time and opportunity passed. Grant and Hancock’s isolated Corps were extremely lucky.
We all know the loss of a quarter of Grant’s force would never have changed his resolve to “fight it all out, even if it takes all Summer”, but another battering would have diminished his potential to do so sooner.
The Enfield rifle-musket helps win a battle today in 1854
On the 5th November 1854 a smaller British and (yes) French army beat off an assault by the Russians at Inkerman in the Crimea. It was known as “The Soldier’s Battle” as men fought small engagements due to poor visibility in dense fog.
The Russians had massed 32000 men on the Allied flank and headed for the 2700 man 2nd Division, commanded today by the aggressive Pennefather. Instead of falling back in the face of superior numbers, he advanced. The British had their rifles to thank this day as they took a terrible toll on the musket armed Russian Infantry, who were hemmed in by the valley’s bottle neck shape. The British 2nd Division pushed the Russians back onto their reinforcements and should have been routed by the Russians’ numbers, but the fog and the British Light Division saved them. Three successive Russian commanders were killed in this engagement.
The Russians other 15000 men approached and assailed the Sandbag Battery, but they were routed by 300 British defenders vaulting the wall, blunting the lead Battalions, who were then attacked in the flank. More Russian attacks ensured the Battery exchanged hands several times.
The British 4th Division was not as lucky. Arriving on the field, its flanking move was itself flanked and its commander, Cathcart, killed. This enabled the Russians to advance, but not for long. They were soon driven off by French units arriving from their camps and made no more headway.
The battle was lost and they had to withdraw.
This was the last time the Russians tried to defeat the Allied troops in the field. Despite this reverse, however, the Russian attack had seriously stalled the Allies from capturing Sevastopol. They had to instead, spend one harsh winter on the heights overlooking the city, before it fell in September of 1855.
The British suffered 2573 casualties, the French 1800 and the Russians 11959.