The North launches twin offensives

In early May 1864, the primary Union armies of the East and West rolled forward in search of forces commanded by Lee and Johnston. Sherman's army in the West pushed toward Atlanta, Georgia, in hopes that Johnston would use his army to defend the city. Grant, meanwhile, rode with the Army of the Potomac as it began its march on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. (George Meade remained the official head of the Army of the Potomac, but Grant exercised ultimate control over its actions.)

Grant knew that Lee would have to use his army to defend Richmond from invasion. The Union general reasoned that once the two sides met, his force of 115,000 soldiers would eventually crush Lee's army of 75,000 men. But before Grant could use his numerical superiority on an open field, Lee rushed to meet the advancing Union Army in a rugged northern Virginia region known as the Wilderness. Lee recognized that the Wilderness' dense woods, thick underbrush, and winding ravines would make it very difficult for Grant to make full use of his cavalry, artillery, and other advantages in firepower.

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