For Immediate Release: 11/19/12
Commonwealth of Virginia, Civil War Trust Announce Completion of Landmark Gaines' Mill Preservation Effort
Public-private partnership protects 285 acres on the bloodiest of the Seven Days’ Battlefields
(Mechanicsville, Va.) – This morning, representatives of the Civil War Trust, the nation’s largest battlefield preservation organization, and the Commonwealth of Virginia came together to celebrate the successful completion of a $3.2 million campaign to protect 285 acres of hallowed ground at Gaines’ Mill, the bloodiest engagement of the Seven Days’ Battles and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s first major victory as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. During the ceremony, held at the Watt House, on the Gaines’ Mill unit of Richmond National Battlefield Park, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton was recognized for the $1.5 million transportation enhancement matching grant that made the landmark project possible.
“I firmly believe that this monumental achievement at Gaines’ Mill ranks among our organization’s top three preservation success stories,” said Trust president James Lighthizer. “Prior to this, only 65 acres of this crucial battlefield had been protected — with just one purchase, we have more than quintupled the amount of land at Gaines’ Mill preserved forever.”
According to Sec. Connaughton, the unique combination of tremendous historic significance and looming development threats made this project an ideal candidate for preservation through the transportation enhancement matching grant program. In its 1993 study, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission gave Gaines’s Mill a Priority I, Class A designation, marking it as one of 11 top candidates for preservation efforts in the nation. The $1,521,443.07 grant awarded by Sec. Connaughton is among the largest ever allocated from the Virginia transportation enhancement program for a historic preservation effort.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia is committed to making the permanent protection of historic and scenic landscapes like this one an important part of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War,” said Connaughton. “A hallmark of this philosophy is our ongoing collaboration with the Civil War Trust, a partnership that is creating a legacy that will last for generations to come.”
The scope of this preservation campaign, first announced in the waning days of 2011, dwarfs all earlier efforts at Gaines’ Mill. The bulk of previously protected land was purchased in the 1920s by a group of dedicated Richmond residents — including legendary historian and Richmond News Leader editor Douglas Southall Freeman — calling themselves the Richmond Battlefield Park Corporation, who purchased 60 acres south of Boatswain’s Creek that included a portion of the Union line. In 1932, the Corporation donated all of the land it had purchased at Gaines’ Mill and other nearby battlefields to the Commonwealth of Virginia, creating a state park; four years later, the land was transferred to the National Park Service as the foundation for Richmond National Battlefield Park. No new land was protected at Gaines’ Mill until the second half of the last decade, when the Richmond Battlefields Association saved 3 acres immediately north of the creek, and, in 2011, the Trust bought two more acres further to the east.
Because the entire 285-acre parcel lies within the authorized boundary of Richmond National Battlefield Park, the Trust intends that the land will be turned over to the National Park Service for long-term stewardship and interpretation. This and other Trust-owned properties in the Richmond area will be transferred as part of a larger initiative announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and NPS Director Jon Jarvis during an event at the Glendale Battlefield in February 2012.
“The inclusion of this truly historic land will be a tremendous boon to the Park,” said superintendent Dave Ruth. “It will open up new opportunities for us to tell the incredible stories of this region during the tumultuous days of the Civil War era. For the first time, visitors will be able to retrace the dramatic Confederate charge of June 27, 1862 — by many accounts, the Robert E. Lee’s largest assault of the war.”
During the course of the Battle of Gaines’ Mill — a rare instance where the Confederate army held a considerable numerical advantage — new Southern commander Gen. Robert E. Lee launched a number of attacks that failed to dislodge his foe. However, at 7:00 p.m., historians believe that Lee may have unleashed upwards of 32,000 men in 16 brigades in a powerful assault against the Federal lines — an attack that dwarfs the 12,500-man Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. This portion of the Gaines’ Mill battlefield also played a key role in the development of aeronautical observation in military intelligence. During the battle, both armies had observation balloons aloft — the first such instance in American history — with the Union Intrepid launching from this vicinity.
Delegate Chris Peace, a long-time vocal advocate of battlefield preservation initiatives in the Old Dominion, was among the event’s distinguished guests. “Civil War battlefields like Gaines’ Mill are not only powerful reminders of our region’s rich past, but they are also dynamic engines that help drive Virginia’s future,” said Peace. “These incredible sites draw many thousands of tourists each year, injecting vigor into our economy and providing proven and measurable benefits to our communities.”
Virginia Director of Historic Resources Kathleen Kilpatrick elaborated further on the numerous benefits of battlefield preservation. “By working through public-private partnerships like the one we recognize today, we are able to make tremendous strides in setting aside some of our Commonwealth’s most historic sites. Once preserved, these hallowed grounds provide inspirational and enlightening outdoor classrooms for students of all ages and, in many cases, safeguard sensitive environmental resources as well.”
Although its campaign to protect this land at Gaines’ Mill has concluded, the Trust is currently engaged in active fundraising efforts to save significant battlefield properties at Appomattox, Va., Bentonville, N.C., Cedar Mountain, Va., Chancellorsville, Va., Fredericksburg, Va., Kelly’s Ford, Va., Perryville, Ky., Petersburg, Va., Sailor’s Creek, Va., and Second Manassas, Va. To learn more about current fundraising projects and the Trust’s ambitious sesquicentennial preservation effort, Campaign 150: Our Time, Our Legacy, please visit www.civilwar.org/campaign150.
The Battle of Gaines’ Mill, fought June 27, 1862, was the second of the Seven Days’ Battles, where the Confederates sought to turn back a Union force that had traveled up the Virginia Peninsula to arrive virtually at the gates of Richmond. After seizing the initiative and forcing his opponent, Maj. Gen. George McClellan to reevaluate his strategy, newly promoted Confederate commander Gen. Robert E. Lee was eager to press his advantage, but a series of disjointed assaults demonstrated the strength of the Union position. Once his ranks were significantly reinforced, Lee ordered a massive twilight assault; only the approaching darkness prevented a complete disaster for the Union. When the smoke cleared, the 15,500 casualties suffered at Gaines’ Mill made it the second bloodiest battle of the war, up until that point, surpassed only by Shiloh, Tenn., two and a half months earlier.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 34,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 17,190 in Virginia. Learn more at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.