Save 285 Acres at Gaines' Mill
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, CWPT President
Note to Jefferson Davis, Richmond, evening, June 27, 1862
“Mr. President, it is my pleasing task to announce to you the success achieved by this army today… We sleep on the field, and shall renew the contest in the morning.”
—General Robert E. Lee
Telegram to Edwin M. Stanton, Washington, 12:20am, June 28, 1862
“If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.” —General George B. McClellan
Dear Fellow Preservationist,
Over the years, I have heard from some Civil War Trust members who say they wish I would write shorter letters, get right to the point, and give in one page all of the most important facts about an effort to save a piece of hallowed ground.
For those folks, here you are:
Today I write to you about one of the top three most important pieces of hallowed ground you and I have EVER attempted to save – at one of the most important unprotected battlefields in America!
THE BATTLEFIELD: Gaines’ Mill, Virginia, part of the Seven Days’ Battles of 1862 and Robert E. Lee’s first major victory as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, where to date only about 67 acres of this 3,000+-acre crucial battlefield have been saved.
THE LAND: We will save 285 acres, still highly sought after by developers, which encompasses nearly all of the attack of the Confederate right wing under General James Longstreet.
THE COST: $3.2 million total, but with $1 million in grants anticipated from the Commonwealth of Virginia, plus another $1 million already committed from other donors in our capital campaign, we need to raise the final $1.2 million to save this land! Every dollar you give will be multiplied by $2.67!
THE DEADLINE: We need to raise all funds so that we can close no later than July 15, 2012, less than nine months from today!
So… if that is enough information for you to make your decision to join in one of the most exciting and important battlefield preservation efforts ever attempted by the Civil War Trust, then I thank you in advance for your generosity. If, however, you’d like to know even more about this land, its incredible history and how we’re going to save it, please read on…
There’s no doubt that this is one of the greatest battlefield preservation opportunities you and I will ever have, even as I fully realize that – in this still-stagnant economy – it presents one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced.
After years of interest in this particular piece of hallowed ground property, and after many months of intense negotiations, the Civil War Trust now has a signed contract from a landowner who agrees to sell us 285 acres, or the entire western flank of the Gaines’ Mill battlefield – and he wants to close by July 15, 2012!
There are several reasons why this is one of the most important preservation efforts we have ever attempted:
1. Gaines’ Mill is one of the most important battlefields in America, where only a fraction of the hallowed ground has been saved up til now. Back in the late 1920s, a group of dedicated Richmond residents got together and bought 60 acres south of Boatswain’s Creek, where the Union lines were, and where there was considerable fighting. This land is now owned and managed by the National Park Service. More recently, the Richmond Battlefields Association saved another 5 acres and, earlier this year, you and your fellow Trust members saved another 2 acres. This new acquisition of 285 pristine acres more than quadruples the preserved area of this battlefield!
2. Gaines’ Mill is a crucial battle of the Seven Days’ Campaign, as it was Robert E. Lee’s first major victory at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia. In the 1993 Congressional report on America’s disappearing battlefields, Gaines’ Mill was listed as one of the Top 11 most highly threatened battlefields in the entire country, with less that 20% of the main battlefield preserved!
3. At the climax of the battle, Lee launched an assault all along his lines. This would turn out to be Lee’s largest assault of the War, more than two times larger than Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg!
The enormous historic significance of this property is its connection to those Confederate infantry attacks on the afternoon of June 27, 1862. The Union Fifth Corps occupied the high ground on the southern side of Boatswain’s Creek. (A portion of that is what is now preserved by the Richmond National Battlefield Park).
R. E. Lee hurled forward all the troops at his disposal in a direct frontal assault across nearly two miles of ground. The most powerful portion of Lee’s available force struck Daniel Butterfield’s Union brigade.
Historian Robert E. L. Krick tells us that, “Five brigades from James Longstreet’s division — Pickett’s, Pryor’s, Wilcox’s, Featherston’s and Jenkins’s — moved forward from the protection of Powhite Creek. They charged over completely open, undulating farm fields — across the broadest section of land we are working to preserve. In the process they took very heavy casualties from Butterfield’s small arms fire and the supporting Union artillery on the high ground behind Boatswain’s Creek.
“The Confederate accounts are nearly unanimous regarding casualties. They agree that the tremendous majority of the killed and wounded fell dead during the initial charges north and west of Boatswain’s Creek. Writing a few weeks later, an Alabamian described it: ‘Up to the crest of the hill we went at a double quick, but when we came into view on the top of the ridge we met such a perfect storm of lead right in our faces that the whole brigade literally staggered backward….The dead lay in heaps….Just for one moment we faltered….and we swept forward…over the crest and down the slope….’ Once these brigades reached the ravine and Boatswain’s Creek, they enjoyed a degree of shelter.”
Historian Stephen Sears, in his book on the Peninsula Campaign, says that, “Longstreet's front was the most difficult that any Confederate general faced that day. It was closest to the Chickahominy and therefore under harassing fire from the Federal guns south of the river. From his starting point, behind a low ridge west of the Federals, he faced a quarter mile of entirely open ground, part of it planted in wheat, sloping down to Boatswain's Swamp and the first Yankee line of fieldworks. On the hillside behind the swamp were two additional tiers of defenders. "I was, in fact," Longstreet remarked in his report, "in the position in which the enemy wished us to attack him."
It was after this battle that Union General George B. McClellan sent his famously insubordinate telegram to the War Department in Washington, saying “If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.” These last two sentences of his telegram were censored by the horrified telegraph officers on the other end.
Even beyond its obviously tremendous historic value, I will tell you that if we are successful in saving this key part of the Gaines’ Mill Battlefield, I would count this among my “Top Three” biggest personal achievements during my tenure as president of this organization. This piece of hallowed ground is simply that important.
And, just as we have done at the other remaining Seven Days’ battlefields of Glendale and Malvern Hill, saving this ground will set the stage for even more preservation possibilities in the near future.
But going even one step further, saving this absolutely crucial piece of the battlefield will act as a further barricade against encroaching development. If we don’t save this land, mark my words, it WILL get carved up for a future subdivision of big houses someday. Imagine that – a subdivision of houses on the bloody hallowed ground of Gaines’ Mill where the dead once lay “in heaps”!
I understand that in this still-tight economy, many people are stretched to the limit and must be careful in the amount of charitable contributions they can make.
But a “silver lining” of these tough economic times is that a speed bump has also been temporarily shoved in front of many developers, giving us several opportunities to save many acres of supremely significant battlefield land that might otherwise have been lost, like these 285 acres at Gaines’ Mill.
And to the extent you can budget your giving for the rest of this year, I hope you will agree that together you and I are making tremendous strides in achieving the mission you want to accomplish: Saving America’s most important and threatened hallowed ground.
One quick glance at the battle map I have sent to you today should tell you as much as I could say in ten letters. This is supremely important, blood-soaked, must-have hallowed ground and this is exactly the reason why we have mounted a capital campaign – to raise the big money needed to save the most important hallowed ground in America.
For your gift of $100 or more, I will do something that the Trust has done with great success at several other battlefields around the nation, such as The Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg, the First Day at Chancellorsville, Harpers Ferry, Parker’s Cross Roads and more:
For your donation of just $100 or more today, I will include your name
on a permanent display that will stand on this hallowed ground.
(Above: Donor sign in place at the Slaughter Pen Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia)
You read that right; this offer is not just for those “heavy hitters” among us; everyone who gives $100 or more to this effort will have his or her name included on this commemorative display!
Those who are motivated to give a higher donation will have their name listed in a progressively larger size; we’ve done that before, and I think it’s a fair thing to do. I hope you agree.
This is my humble way of offering you a small piece of on-site Civil War immortality, and identify for future generations those 21st century heroes like you who came together with the Civil War Trust to save the land where 19th century heroes hallowed the ground forever.
Each gift gets us that much closer to ultimate victory. This is one of those very rare chances to do something that we can be proud tell our grandchildren about…something that will live on forever.
Now, I place the future of this “Top Three” hallowed battlefield in your hands. Look at the resources below for more detailed information on this transaction, one of the most important we have ever attempted, including incredible photos and exclusive videos of historian Bobby Krick recorded on the property...
…but even more than all of this, decide today that you want to add “Longstreet’s Attack at Gaines’ Mill” to the growing list of victories that make up your personal battlefield preservation legacy.
I hope that you just chose to join in the Trust’s historic, unprecedented and absolutely necessary effort to save this key part of the Gaines’ Mill battlefield. Please let me hear back from you today. Thank you.
With boundless appreciation and gratefulness, I remain, your friend,
P.S. Again, before you make your final decision to support this crucial campaign, I hope you will investigate the tremendous amount of information on our website at www.civilwar.org/GainesMill11. Detailed maps, photos of the land we are saving and much more, describing the historic significance of this hallowed ground. I don’t know of any other non-profit in America that provides supporters like you with so much information before asking for a gift. I urge you to learn all about this historic transaction, then make your donation now, either on-line or by mailing back your gift. Many thanks.
P.P.S. Let me say it again: I understand that each person is doing what they can financially. I just pray that you will be able to help once again today, so we can continue this unprecedented run of success. I am so proud to be engaged in this crucial work with you, and of all we have achieved together, for the good of our nation. I can only hope that you are proud to be a member of the Civil War Trust. Thank you and God bless you.