The Confederacy struggled to maintain control over its shrinking territory and forces, as the Union began a series of aggressive and bloody campaigns. More fighting than before took place in Virginia during 1864, and most Virginia soldiers were now fighting in their home state. Ulysses S. Grant launched the Overland Campaign in May with the ultimate goal of capturing Richmond. The battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and others produced unprecedented slaughter on both sides.

Fighting in Virginia strained the already exhausted military and civilian population. Philip Sheridan decimated the state’s breadbasket in the Shenandoah Valley. Grant cut rail lines and slowly forced the Confederate Army to retreat across the state’s many navigable rivers. By June, the Union Army was entrenched outside Richmond and Petersburg. As food and supplies dwindled, prices skyrocketed. As morale sank and families at home struggled, desertions mounted.

Confederate forces held on throughout the year and, away from the battlefield, semblances of pre-war life continued. The University of Virginia remained open, and offered free tuition and housing to Confederate veterans. Newspapers advertised a surprisingly robust trade in slaves, even as more and more enslaved people fled to Union strongholds. The war had become one of attrition.