New Preservation Opportunity at Gaines' Mill and Cold Harbor

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, CWPT President

“Again and again was that position assailed, and again and again we were repulsed by vastly superior numbers. Regiment after regiment sent in to the same attack shared the same fate… Nothing but the thickness of the woods saved us from total destruction… Saturday we were engaged in the work of burying the dead.”
Col. Robert H. Cowan, 18th North Carolina Infantry Reporting on action at Gaines’ Mill, June 27, 1862

“At 6:00 p.m., the Second Connecticut [Heavy Artillery], anxious to prove its courage, moved to the assault in beautiful order… to the foot of the works the brave men rushed but were swept away by a converging fire…
In this position, without support on either flank, the Second Connecticut fought until 3:00 a.m.,
when the enemy fell back.”
Brig. General Emory Upton, U.S. Volunteers Reporting on action at Cold Harbor, June, 1, 1864

Dear Valued Member,

Jim LIghthizer

Two towering, epic Civil War battles, separated by two years… Gaines’ Mill in June of 1862, and Cold Harbor, in June of 1864… fought on nearly the same ground.

Two historic charges, both resulting in staggering casualties.

Gaines’ Mill was Robert E. Lee’s first major victory, against a “base-changing” George McClellan, and Cold Harbor was Lee’s last major victory, against a decidedly different opponent, Ulysses S. Grant.

Two battles which, when taken together, account for more than 33,000 casualties. 

And today, the fate of 8 crucial acres of this hallowed ground hangs in the balance.

As we approach the anniversary of both of these important battles in our nation’s history…

– and as we kick off the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War – I only ask you to do one thing right now:

Please care.

Care enough to take just a moment to look at the maps of these small but crucial properties (Gaines' Mills Map and Cold Harbor Map), and remember that those blocks of color were made up of real, flesh and blood men and boys, many of whom experienced their last moments on this earth at these places.

Care enough to step back from your busy day, and imagine what it must have been like to be a young soldier on either side of Boatswain’s Creek that hot, humid Virginia afternoon at Gaines’ Mill.

And care enough to appreciate the courage it took an inexperienced young man in the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery to make a desperate charge on formidable earthworks. 

I know you do care, my friend, and I thank you for your dedication to the cause of battlefield preservation. And by helping to save these three crucial tracts of important land today, you’ll be insuring it survives, so that future generations can learn to appreciate it as much as you do.

Here’s what happened there:


It was June 27, 1862, Day Three of the Seven Days battles. Union General George McClellan was in flight, preparing to “change his base,” convinced that 80,000 Confederates were about to fall upon his divided army, part of which was north of the Chickahominy River.

For once, McClellan was not that far off.  Lee did have about 60,000 men in his army, and his attack at Gaines’ Mill was the largest one he would launch during the entire Civil War!

That afternoon, the center of that Union defensive line rested near this 1.8-acre tract.  Confederates charged directly across this ground, and the fighting along this front was as intense as anywhere on the battlefield.

In his book Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles, historian Brian Burton relates that, as men fell all around him, a sharpshooter in the 9th Massachusetts candidly recalled, “I had a most sincere desire to be somewhere else.”

Confederate Lt. Colonel R.H. Gray took command of the 22nd North Carolina when its colonel fell, and he later told his father that “no description of a battle I have ever seen approached anything like the reality.”

The battle flag of that regiment would receive 14 bullet holes in this fight, and the flag of the 37th North Carolina would be riddled by 32 bullets.  Literally shot to pieces!

Finally, after several hours of bitter close-quarter fighting, we all know the story that Hood’s Texans were able to break through the Northern line, compelling the Union men to fall back.  One Northern Private added, “The air at this time was too full of lead for standing room.”

If we are successful, this parcel would be the first land saved by the Civil War Trust at Gaines’ Mill on the northern, or “Confederate,” side of the creek.

And according to Robert E.L. Krick, historian at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, the Gaines’ Mill battlefield encompasses roughly 2,000 total acres, but to date, only about 70 of those acres are preserved. We need every 1.8 acres we can get!

Development pressures are beginning to rise again in the Richmond suburbs, so it is absolutely imperative that that we act now to save this land.

Now, let’s jump ahead in time two years. The battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg are all in the past… with those soldiers, we find ourselves back on nearly the same ground at:


There are two pieces of this storied battlefield that we are working to preserve. The first tract is 5.5 acres that is part of the core battlefield for both Totopotomoy Creek and Cold Harbor.

Union V Corps troops were pushed back across this land on May 30, 1864, by Confederates of General Robert Rodes’ division, but the boys in blue held it during the rest of the battle of Cold Harbor, and their breastworks and rifle pits survive on this property to this day.

The second parcel we are working to save is a 0.6 acre tract that is immediately adjacent to land already saved by the National Park Service.

This is the land where on June, 1, 1864, the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery made its own fateful charge, losing nearly 20 percent of its men.

Both of these parcels add significantly to the preservation and the story of Cold Harbor, where in preparation for a later fateful attack, calmly realistic soldiers wrote their names and addresses on slips of paper and pinned them to the backs of their coats. This way, their dead bodies might be recognized upon the field, and their fate made known to their families at home.

Can you imagine for even a moment being one of those soldiers, with the odds so stacked against you, knowing that you had so little chance for success, that you were calmly preparing to die? 

Yet, as you well know, at both Gaines’ Mill and Cold Harbor, when the call came, those fated, brave men went forward with every ounce of strength they had.

My friend, that is exactly what the Civil War Trust is doing right now, on these three crucial pieces of Virginia hallowed ground.

If we don’t protect it now, well, you can imagine how much a new, modern house or convenience store could ruin the historical integrity of the battlefield.

The total price for these eight acres is $808,000, primarily because there is an existing non-historic house on the property at Gaines’ Mill and the 5.5-acre Cold Harbor parcel is zoned for commercial use!

However, we have been able to arrange federal, state and other matching grants totaling $586,000 (fully 72.5%) of that amount – meaning that for every $1 you give to this effort, I can turn it into about $3.60!

Still, I need to raise our $222,000 portion as soon as possible.

Like those boys at both battlefields, I know that the task before us will not be easy.  But if you’ll stay by my side, I know we will succeed.

Remember, every $1 you give will be multiplied by $3.60 – due to the various matching funds we have in place!  That’s like paying $1.00 but getting $3.60 worth of gas – a pretty good deal, I think you’d agree.

One further thing: if you have a Civil War ancestor, would you please make your generous commitment today in their honor?

Even if they never fought anywhere near Gaines’ Mill or Cold Harbor, please rush your maximum donation back to the Civil War Trust today, and make it in memory of one in your family who trod upon any hallowed ground anywhere in America.

I’ll even go one step further: if you can commit $100 to the Civil War Trust today, I will print your name alongside your ancestor’s name in an upcoming issue of our award-winning magazine, Hallowed Ground.

As America begins its commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, can you think of a better tribute to your ancestor than to help preserve land they and their comrades sanctified?

Please, I urge you to help today because:

1. We have a generous match in place which increases the power of your gift $3.60-to-$1;

2. For your contribution of $100 or more, I will honor the sacrifices of one of your Civil War ancestors by listing their name with yours in a future issue of our magazine; and

3. Most important, you will be helping to save some of the most important Civil War battlefield ground anywhere.

Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, and please accept my deepest thanks.

Sincerely Yours,

Jim Lighthizer


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