Portrait of Ulysses S. Grant

The Battle of Saint Mary’s Church was the last battle in Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. [Wikimedia Commons]

Battle of Saint Mary's Church

June 24, 1864

Fought on June 24, 1864, the Battle of Saint Mary's Church (also known as the Battle of Nance's Shop), was the engagement of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign.

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Prelude to the Battle

Grant in Charge

On March 10, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Grant brought with him, from his successes in the western theater of the war, a reputation for the doggedness Lincoln was seeking. Unlike other Union generals, Grant was tenacious.

The Overland Campaign — Grant Pursues Lee

Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert. He also devised his Overland Campaign to invade east-central Virginia. Unlike previous campaigns into that area, Grant’s offensive focused on defeating Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia rather than capturing or occupying geographic locations. Grant instructed General George Meade, who commanded the Army of the Potomac, “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Grant realized that with the superior resources he had at his disposal, Lee would lose a war of attrition, as long as Union forces persistently engaged the Rebel army.

Overland Campaign

On May 4, 1864, Grant launched the Overland Campaign, when the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers. Although Meade nominally commanded the Army of the Potomac, Grant accompanied the army in the field so he could supervise overall campaign operations.

Throughout the month of May, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia slugged it out in a series of battles including the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5–7), Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8–21), and the Battle of North Anna (May 23–26). Although the Rebels inflicted high casualties on the Federals during those battles, Grant continued his strategy of moving south and east (to Lee’s right) and then re-engaging. Grant’s moves forced Lee to reposition his lines continually to defend Richmond.

Bloodbath at Cold Harbor

Grant’s next objective was Cold Harbor, where he intended to link up with Union troops from the Army of the James. Again, Lee expected Grant’s move, and he ordered his cavalry to hold Cold Harbor until his infantry arrived. On May 31, Major General Philip Sheridan’s Union cavalry seized the vital crossroads at Cold Harbor from the Confederates. The next day, Sheridan repulsed a counterattack by Rebel infantry trying to recover the position. By June 2, both armies had arrived at Cold Harbor and entrenched along a front that extended for seven miles.

On June 3, Grant ordered an ill-advised frontal assault on the Confederate lines and lost nearly 7,000 men, compared with 1,500 Rebel casualties. Grant later commented in his memoirs that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered. For the next ten days, the two armies continued to confront each other until Grant abandoned his strategy of attacking Lee’s army.

On to Petersburg

On May 12, Grant evacuated Cold Harbor and moved Meade’s army across the James River to begin an assault on Petersburg, a crucial supply depot for Richmond and Lee’s army, located south of Richmond. Grant sent Sheridan’s cavalry forces into Louisa County, Virginia to destroy portions of the Virginia Central Railroad, an important Confederate supply line. Grant hoped that Lee would send his cavalry in pursuit of Sheridan, making it easier for Meade to move toward Petersburg.

Battle of Trevilian Station

On June 11, Sheridan’s men engaged Confederate cavalry divisions, commanded by Major General Wade Hampton at Trevilian Station. Initially, the Yankees divided the Confederates, but the tide shifted on June 12, when the Rebel troopers dismounted and repulsed several Union assaults. Federal soldiers destroyed about six miles of railroad track before the Confederates forced them to withdraw and return east.

June 24, 1864 — Cavalry Clash at Saint Mary’s Church

On June 24, 1864, Hampton’s men intercepted two brigades of Sheridan’s cavalry, commanded by Brigadier General David McMurtrie Gregg, at Saint Mary’s Church in Charles City, Virginia as they retreated eastward. The Federals fought a brief holding action, allowing their supply train to escape the Confederates. Gregg’s men then withdrew, bringing the battle to a conclusion.

Aftermath of the Battle

The engagement produced a combined 630 casualties. The Battle of Saint Mary’s Church, also known as the Battle of Nance’s Shop, was the final battle of Grant’s Overland Campaign.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Battle of Saint Mary's Church
  • Coverage June 24, 1864
  • Author
  • Keywords battle of saint mary's church, battle of nance's shop, american civil war, overland campaign, ulysses s. grant, wade hampton, philip sheridan
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 12, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 16, 2021