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Civil War Trust

Scouting Gaines' Mill

Site Report on the Longstreet's Attack Property

BY DAVID DUNCAN, DIRECTOR MEMBERSHIP AND DEVELOPMENT, CIVIL WAR TRUST

In anticipation of our upcoming effort to preserve a 285-acre portion of the Gaines' Mill battlefield, Director of Membership and Development David Duncan, and Director of Internet Strategy and Development Rob Shenk visited the site with NPS historian Robert E. L. Krick.  David submitted the following report of the visit to Trust president Jim Lighthizer.

Duncan at McDougall
David Duncan scouting the Civil War Trust's target property at the Gaines' Mill battlefield (Rob Shenk)

Jim, here is my brief report of the site visit that Rob Shenk and I made to the 285-acre “Longstreet’s Attack” Gaines’ Mill property on Friday, October 7, 2011.

We met with historian Robert E. L. Krick and proceeded to the property we are acquiring. There, on site, Rob videotaped – for use on our website – several segments of Bobby relating the incredible historical significance of this property. He described how Confederate James Longstreet’s brigades advanced across these pristine, open fields to engage Union troops under Dan Butterfield on the south side of Boatswain’s Creek. This photo (below) shows a portion of that vast ground, and how absolutely unspoiled it remains to this day.

Duncan's GM images
Longstreet’s forces advanced from left to right in this photo, taken looking north. (David Duncan)

Next, we decided to strike out across the field, currently planted in soybeans, to follow in the footsteps of the Confederate attack. We covered the same ground where Confederates came under fire from the Union forces on the other side of the creek, as well as from Union artillery south of the Chickahominy River. As we approached the downslope on the northern side of the creek, we hit a dense stand of woods, also pictured above. (By the way, Bobby – describing the battle action – said that this was the first time that he had ever had the chance to walk this hallowed ground from this direction!)

Duncan at Boatswain's Creek
IPad in hand, David Duncan crosses the swampy ravine of Boatswain's Creek as NPS historian Bobby Krick looks on. (Rob Shenk)

Using the GPS on an iPad to track our progress through the woods and steeply sloped banks, we worked our way to Boatswain’s Creek and, by using a conveniently placed fallen tree, crossed over onto the contiguous 60-acre tract of the Gaines’ Mill battlefield owned by the National Park Service. (I think we may safely say that this was the very first documented instance of an iPad crossing the creek!)

Shenk and Krick at McDougall
Direct of Internet Strategy and Development Rob Shenk and Bobby Krick cross the Trust's expansive target property at Gaines' Mill. (David Duncan)

Bobby told us about the desperate fighting on the southern bank of the creek, including the fact that Dan Butterfield was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his action on this ground. We then sloshed back across the creek, retraced our steps up the slope and through the battlefield. Although it will be hard to see Rob and Bobby in the photo above, I include it so that everyone can get a little sense of how big this 285-acre tract truly is. Try to envision this land covered with hundreds of dead and wounded Confederates! Some key points about this breathtaking battlefield that I believe will interest to our members:

  • At 285 acres, this site is 37 percent larger than our purchase of the Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg, but it is $3.2 million instead of $12 million! We should stress that we intend to buy this outright, with the help of $1 million in grants from Virginia, and incur no debt.
  • This was a big battle, with more than 90,000 men engaged on both sides. Lee's assault at 7 p.m. was conducted by 16 brigades, about 32,000 men, all along the 2-mile line at Gaines’ Mill, making it the single largest Southern attack of the War, bigger even than Pickett’s Charge.
  • Prior to us working to save this land, only 60 acres of this more-than-3,000-acre battlefield had been preserved by the National Park Service, another 4 acres was saved by the local Richmond Battlefield Association recently, and we saved a small 1.8-acre parcel earlier this year. Obviously, this 285-acre effort, if successful, will more than quadruple the preserved portion of this battlefield, and give the interested public the chance to walk the path of this Confederate attack for the first time since the War!
  • With the exception of a few stray power line poles, this land absolutely retains its integrity, and future visitors to this site will be able to easily envision Longstreet’s brigades advancing across this field. We also found a great, non-intrusive location where we can put the donor signs recognizing those who donate to save this land. Please let me know if you have any questions about this report. Thank you.

 

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