President Lincoln assigns command of all US armies to Grant. Lincoln is still the Commander-in-Chief but Grant will send out the orders. The major armies on both sides are still in winter quarters, but the 1864 campaigning season starts soon and General Grant has plans for it. General Nathaniel Banks is to advance on Mobile, Alabama, after finishing up his ongoing expedition to Shreveport, Louisiana. General William Sherman is to attack Atlanta; opposing Sherman will be General Joseph Johnston and the Army of Tennessee. There is also to be a combined campaign, with columns moving into the Shenandoah Valley and a strong army under General Benjamin Butler moving up along the James River to threaten Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, from the rear. Grant himself plans to travel to Richmond overland with the Army of the Potomac, though that army will stay under the command of General George Meade; opposing Grant will be General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
On the road to Shreveport, Union General Nathaniel Banks is defeated at Mansfield, near Sabine Cross-Roads, losing a total of about 2,200 of his 12,000-man force, as well as 20 artillery pieces, 200 wagons, and almost 1,000 horses and mules. Confederate General Richard Taylor’s army of 8,800 has 1,000 killed or wounded. After this, the most decisive battle of his campaign, Banks retreats.
The Army of the Potomac and and the independent Ninth Corps cross the Rapidan River and engage Confederate forces in the dense woodland area called the Wilderness, in Orange and Spotsylvania counties. The Union Fifth Corps, under General Gouverneur Warren, tangles with Confederate General Richard Ewell’s corps on the Orange Turnpike in the morning. That afternoon, Confederate General A. P. Hill’s corps meets US General George Getty’s Sixth Corps and General Winfield Hancock’s Second Corps on the Plank Road. Fighting is intense everywhere, but the dense woods hinder it. Results overall are inconclusive by the time night falls. Both sides rush reinforcements forward during the night.
Hancock attacks A. P. Hill at dawn, and the Confederates withdraw. General James Longstreet arrives with the Texas Brigade of his corps just in time to save the Confederate right flank. Then an intense Confederate attack sputters out after Longstreet is wounded accidentally by his own men. The US Ninth Corps under General Ambrose Burnside attacks the Confederate center and is repulsed. Darkness ends the fighting. Overall, this battle is a tactical draw, but Grant’s men are heartened and cheer when he continues the advance instead of retreating, as the army has done in the past.