Save Two Battlefields — Where Soldiers in Four Battles Fought & Fell
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
Dear Friend and Valued Supporter,
Two battlefields... four battles ... and a chance to turn every $1 you give today into over $10.00 worth of must-have hallowed ground.
For those of us who love saving our country’s Civil War history, it does not get much better than this.
Today, I ask you to play a leading role in saving these threatened 86 acres – including 37 acres that have already been surveyed for a “McMansion” subdivision – at the Battles of First and Second Kernstown in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia . . .
. . . as well as essential battlefield land that troops charged over, fought through, and died on at both the battles of Gaines’ Mill and Cold Harbor on the outskirts of rapidly developing Richmond!
And to be able to do all of this with more than $1.6 million in matching funds – creating a $10.12-to-$1 multiplier of your gift (one of the biggest matches we have had in a long time). I just pray that my words and my passion today will be enough to convince you to join me in this historic effort.
Let’s start at the First Battle of Kernstown, Sunday, March 23, 1862, the opening battle of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s campaign through the Shenandoah Valley.
Attempting to tie down the Union forces in the Valley, Jackson received incorrect intelligence that a small Union detachment at Kernstown was vulnerable. In fact, it was a full division more than twice the size of Jackson’s force.
Jackson’s initial cavalry attack was forced back and he immediately reinforced it with a small infantry brigade. With his other two brigades, Jackson sought to envelop the Union right on Sandy Ridge. But additional Union brigades countered, and the Confederates were driven from the field. Realizing that the day was going against him, Jackson told an aide, “We are in for it.”
Although the battle was a tactical defeat for “Ol’ Jack,” it was a strategic victory for the South, preventing the Union from transferring forces from the Valley to reinforce the Peninsula Campaign against Richmond. The First Battle of Kernstown is also a rarity; it is considered Stonewall Jackson’s only major defeat.
A former private in the Stonewall Brigade recalled Kernstown as “one of the hardest battles of the war.” An Indiana soldier went even farther: “Most of the boys were in more or less of the great battles fought subsequently, but I’ll warrant that none of them was ever under a hotter fire than when in front of the stone wall at Kernstown.” A Union officer further added that “the infantry fire, to the extent of the line, was as heavy as it was at Antietam, Gettysburg or the Wilderness.”
So the idea that Kernstown was some little early-war skirmish that was simply a warm-up for the bigger battles to come is refuted by the best authorities there are – the survivors of the battle who actually fought there.
Today, you and I are in our own hot battle at Kernstown, a fight to save 73 acres of hallowed ground, including 37 acres that were recently sold to a developer as a prime investment opportunity already platted for a subdivision of huge, modern “McMansions” on 5-acre lots!
Fortunately, this particular developer was willing to talk to us (many of them will not, as you well know), and he is giving us one last chance to buy the land. But if we can’t raise the money, he will develop it, to recoup his investment.
As you can see from your battle map, it would be a preservation disaster if these parts of the Kernstown battlefield were carved up into private houses. Not only would it erase key sections of the battlefield forever, it would significantly degrade the rest of the battlefield that we and other groups have worked for years to preserve. These tracts are considered so important that the local Kernstown Battlefield Association has agreed to put in $50,000 to help preserve these tracts and enhance the park that we helped create 15 years ago!
But before I get too carried away, let’s head down to the Virginia Peninsula for another major 1862 battle, at Gaines’ Mill.
Long recognized as General Robert E. Lee’s first major victory, Gaines’ Mill was the battle that really began to turn the tide of the Union Army’s first “On to Richmond!” effort under General George B. McClellan.
Looking at your map again, please note the central, crucial position of the 13 acres that we are working to save, right in the center of the battlefield! All day on June 27, 1862, wave after wave of Confederates – Mississippians, North Carolinians, Georgians, Virginians, Louisianans, and likely even some Alabamians and South Carolinians – pushed over this ground in what became the largest assault of the entire war.
Hour after hour, Lee’s generals fed men into this maelstrom along Boatswain’s Creek, as casualties mounted against stiff Union defenders. Late in the day, overwhelming numbers of Confederates, and a legendary charge by John Bell Hood’s brigade, caused the Federals to give way.
But I hope it does not take more than one glance at this Gaines’ Mill map for you to grasp the absolute necessity of securing this land now, while we have a chance. There is still much of this battlefield that can – and must – be saved, but don’t kid yourself: We are racing developers here, too. Not long ago, one of those developers said that it’s not a question of ‘if’ development is coming to this part of the Richmond suburbs, it’s only a matter of ‘when.’ That means you and I must get there first, and gain control over critical parts of the battlefield before the developers beat us to them.
For the next battle, we will stay on this same hallowed ground, but jump forward in time to June 3, 1864, when the Army of the Potomac once again contended with the Army of Northern Virginia on this very same ground, this time, at the Battle of Cold Harbor.
At dawn, soldiers in the Second Corps – after grimly pinning notes on their uniforms identifying themselves to burial parties – desperately assaulted these Confederate lines, and were slaughtered by the thousands. In his memoirs, General U.S. Grant said that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered.
As you can see, these 13 acres are sited at an absolutely key, central part of the battle line. And as you and I work in the coming years to save much more of the crucial Cold Harbor battlefield, these acres – if we can save them today – will become our keystone, around which we will build out the rest of the battlefield.
I have to wonder if the Confederates who occupied these acres in 1864 might have stumbled across the hastily buried bones of a brother or comrade who fell at Gaines’ Mill just two years before? As they dug in to await the Federal assault, did the veterans of Gaines’ Mill have a sense of déjà vu from fighting on the same ground?
As one of the biggest and most significant battles of the entire Civil War, as well as a rare tactical defeat for Grant (just as First Kernstown was a rare tactical defeat for Stonewall Jackson), every acre that you and I can save at Cold Harbor is worth our highest and best effort.
Finally, let’s swing back out to the Valley once more, this time on July 24, 1864, for the Second Battle of Kernstown.
Believing that Lt. General Jubal Early’s army was no longer a threat, Maj. General Horatio Wright suspended his pursuit, and ordered two Union corps to return to Washington, where they were to be sent to Grant, who had moved on to Petersburg.
Early, who was under orders to prevent those reinforcements from being sent to Grant, attacked the Union force that remained in the area. Fighting on the same ground that was contested in 1862, this time it was the Confederates who drove three Union divisions from the field, including a brigade commanded by future-president Rutherford B. Hayes. Early followed up this victory by burning Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
As a result of this battle, Grant returned the two corps to the Valley, and appointed General Philip Sheridan as commander of the Union forces there. That, as we all know, had a direct impact on the outcome of the war.
That’s a lot of history, my friend ... four hugely significant battles on two priceless, hallowed battlefields, and today, you and I can save it all. If we had to pay full price for these 86 acres, it would cost $1,796,450 ... but we don’t have to pay full price. Through a combination of federal, state and other matching funds, the Civil War Trust can save this hallowed ground for $177,475…
... that is a $10.12-to-$1 match of your donation, and it means that we can prevent the desecration and destruction of this hallowed ground, saving it forever so that future generations can learn from it, for just $2,064 per acre!
To put it another way, I need your help today to raise the final 9.9 percent we need to secure the 90.1 percent of the matching money we have lined up to save this land.
I am sure you are aware of the phrase, “Getting the biggest bang for your buck.” Well today, I hope you agree this gives you a “ribcage-rattling-artillery-boom” for your buck.
Today, to build on our tremendous past successes at the Kernstown and Cold Harbor/Gaines’ Mill battlefields, will you help me turn every $1 donated today into $10.12 of crucial hallowed ground?
At these four battles combined, 34,000 soldiers fell as casualties. What do you think is the best way to remember their sacrifices – preserved battlefield land that stands as a living memorial for all time, or housing subdivisions, self-storage operations, and other modern encroachment?
Would you come away from Shiloh with the same appreciation for that battle if there was a housing development between the Hornet’s Nest and Pittsburg Landing? How about if there was a cluster of McMansions between the Wheatfield and Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg?
It is up to us to save these places, so that the next generations coming up behind you and me will have a place where they can learn about the courage, valor and gallantry of American soldiers.
You can make that happen, and I can multiply every $1 you send by $10.12. I really need to raise our $177,475 portion of this terrific match as soon as possible, hopefully in the next 45 days.
Please, be as generous as you can today, and accept my deepest appreciation, in advance, for all that you are doing to help preserve our nation’s rich history and heritage.
Most sincerely yours,
P.S. Please allow me a moment to make a shameless plug: Visit the Civil War Trust’s website to learn more about the Kernstown and Cold Harbor / Gaines’ Mill battlefields, and your role in saving them! Go to www.civilwar.org/twobattlefields15 to see maps, photos, articles and more!
Make an informed giving decision – read the rich history associated with these battlefields, the heroes, the maps, the flags, the photographs – and decide for yourself if you want to be part of the team that is working to save this site forever. Thank you!