Save Three Richmond Battlefields
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
Normally, I could give you three or four good reasons why you should want to help the Civil War Trust save a significant piece of hallowed ground.
But today, I don’t have three or four good reasons:
I’ve got ten GREAT reasons why I think you will want to jump in to our latest historic effort.
Reason #1: Right now, we have a chance to save 69 key, crucial acres at three separate but adjacent battlefields outside of Richmond, Virginia, one of America’s most highly threatened areas.
In fact, not long ago, a Richmond developer was quoted in a local newspaper saying that “it’s not a question of ‘if’” he and others like him will soon be looking to develop the remaining unprotected battlefields around Richmond, “it’s a matter of ‘when’.” (We can’t say they haven’t warned us!)
Reason #2: In saving these 69 acres at the battlefields of Glendale (also known as Frayser’s Farm), Malvern Hill and First Deep Bottom, I can turn every $1 you give today into $4.94, using a variety of matching grants we have secured. Is an instantaneous 494% return on your preservation-dollar investment a good thing in this day and age? I sure think so.
Reason #3: Those matching funds total an enormous $1,070,300 – picture, if you can, 535 bundles of one hundred $20.00 bills stacked up on your table – if you and I can raise the final $271,675 to take advantage of them. (Total purchase price is $1,341,975 in part because we are getting an important post-war home on one of the properties – more on that exciting news in a moment.)
Reason #4: We will be adding crucial acreage to Glendale, First Deep Bottom and Malvern Hill where we have already been enormously successful in the past – in short, we will be building on our previous victories.
Reason #5: We will also be saving irreplaceable acres at major parts of all three battlefields – rich with history – which many local and state decision-makers want to see saved, creating a deep reservoir of good will that could help in the future!
Reason #6: As I mentioned, the hallowed ground near Richmond contains some of the most highly threatened Civil War battlefields in America. This is because long-dormant developers – like sleeping ogres who have awakened, ravenous – are back to their old ways of snapping up large tracts of open land, finagling rezonings, wrangling permits to start housing developments and new roads, etc.
In fact, the land at First Deep Bottom was actually platted into house lots, ready to go onto the market, before the owner decided to sell to us instead. There’s even a small paved cul-de-sac on the property; usually, that would be a terrible intrusion, but as it now provides a safe, protected place for visitors (and buses) to pull onto the property to experience the battlefield, it may actually turn out to be a good thing.
Reason #7: According to the congressionally authorized study that we use to prioritize our efforts, Malvern Hill is a “Priority I.1 Class A” battlefield, one of only eleven sites in America to hold this top-most ranking. In this case, however, being at the top of the list means Malvern Hill is one of those battlefields “most in need of urgent and immediate preservation action.”
Reason #8: By saving just one acre and the post-war home (built on the wartime foundations of the “Crew House”), we are setting the stage for a major new visitor interpretive center at Malvern Hill, enhancing the experience of EVERY visitor to that battlefield in the future!
Reason #9 (and I’m going to spend a few moments on this, because it is so important): All of these tracts are covered in extraordinarily significant history.
On your enclosed two-sided battle map, I urge you to look first at the map that shows the Confederates advance upon the Federals at Glendale, on the afternoon of June 30.
Historian Robert E.L. Krick tells me that “every foot of the property saw action” during the fight. The entire acreage encompassed within this parcel was immediately behind the Union battle line on June 30, 1862, before the action began. McCall’s division of Pennsylvania Reserves (one brigade under a little-known general at the time named George Gordon Meade) was in these historic woods, at the western edge of the tract.
When the Confederate attacks arrived from the west in the afternoon, those Pennsylvania regiments maneuvered on this ground under fire, rushing from point to point in reaction to various threats. Eventually, Micah Jenkins’ and Dorsey Pender’s Confederate brigades managed to slice through and make a permanent break in the Union line. Those Confederates seized at least the southern half of this parcel. Federal counterattacks from the east, especially one launched by Dana’s brigade of Sedgwick’s division, blunted those Confederate threats long enough for daylight to wane.
Also, it likely was here, in the twilight, that Confederate infantry ambushed Dana’s brigade. A 19th Massachusetts officer reported that the Confederates “rose from the ground, at a distance of only a few yards, and poured a volley upon us at so short a range that our men’s faces were in many instances singed by the flash of the enemy’s muskets and on the right of our regiment some of our men crossed bayonets with the enemy.”
A Union surgeon, Dr. Nathaniel Frederick March, later recalled that on the day after the battle:
“…I remained at Willis Church with a large number of our wounded… I was directed by General Jackson to report to General Lee. I found General Lee in company with Generals Longstreet, Magruder and Hill on the New Market Road…At the time I approached they were discussing the battle of the previous day. General Longstreet asked me if I was present. I replied that I was. He asked what troops were engaged. I replied…McCall’s, which fought just where we then were. General Longstreet said, ‘Well, McCall is safe in Richmond [captured]; but if his division had not offered the stubborn resistance it did on this road we would have captured your whole army. Never mind; we will do it yet.’”
That “stubborn resistance” which may have saved McClellan’s army, happened in large measure on the land you and I have the chance to save today.
On the other side of your map, please note the small but incredibly important one-acre tract known as the Crew House. Just how important is this ground? Hold onto your hat…
At Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, the last of the Seven Days battles, the Union army’s defensive position at the crest of the hill pivoted at the Crew House. Two divisions of Northern infantry supported a line of cannon stretching from the valley of Western Run westward to the steep bluff called Malvern Cliffs.
The Crew House stood on the edge of those “cliffs,” facing the James River to the southwest. At the Crew House, the Union line made a ninety degree turn, with Sykes’s division of the Fifth Corps bending south to face due west, controlling the valley of Crew’s Run and the approaches to Malvern Cliffs.
When the Confederates attacked the crest of the hill late on July 1, they initially focused on the gentler approaches away from Malvern Cliffs. After suffering enormous losses, they shifted their efforts around to the steep western side of the hill. Many of the attacks launched by R. E. Lee’s brigades in the growing twilight aimed at the bend in the Union line, and at the Crew House. Union cannon roared from the yard of the house. The last Confederate attacks, at dusk and even later, reportedly managed to reach the outskirts of the house complex before being repulsed.
During the battle, division commander Gen. George W. Morell used the Crew House as his headquarters, though it also saw emergency duty as a field hospital. The following day Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder took the building for his own headquarters. One of Magruder’s staff memorably described the scene: “We proceeded to the small enclosed garden facing James River…and we found our progress to the steps of the front porch obstructed by the Federal dead. The wounded had all been moved, but there were a dozen bodies lying in the small enclosure, and in order to open our way, it was necessary to remove three dead men before we could reach the porch.”
Unfortunately the original house burned just after the Civil War. The owners rebuilt the house in about 1870, apparently reusing the original foundation, and it is that version that stands today as the chief landmark on the Malvern Hill battlefield.
As I said before, in this case, not only do we save the one acre that was literally the “pivot point” of the Malvern Hill battlefield, but acquisition of this property will set the stage for new visitor interpretive center in the existing structure. Trust me; there are many people at the local, state and federal level who are counting on us to make this happen – and they are putting up big bucks in matching funds to help us. We can’t drop the ball on this one.
Then quickly, because I am running out of space in this letter, we are adding key additional land to the 227 acres at First Deep Bottom we have already saved. This was a key battle in the 1864 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, as the Union army sought to divert Confederate attention away from the planned detonation at the Crater. More than 1,000 casualties were inflicted in this often-overlooked action.
Finally, Reason #10 why I hope you will be a part of saving these hallowed acres today: I believe that by saving our country’s history – primarily for the benefit of future generations – well, that makes you a hero, in my eyes. And how many times in our lives do we get to do something that is so personally meaningful to us?
At the end of the day, I hope you will agree that, even in these difficult times, the Civil War Trust is still the most effective and efficient organization of its kind in America, and we do what we say we are going to do with your donations.
As evidence of that, here is a press release and copy of a letter I recently received, from Ken Berger, President and CEO of Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator is one of America’s largest watchdog groups evaluating the efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and transparency of non-profit organizations like the Civil War Trust.
As you can see, the Civil War Trust has received their highest-possible “4-Star Rating” for the 4th year in a row, a difficult-to-attain distinction that only 6% of the 6,000 charities they rate have achieved.
I don’t tell you all this to brag. I only bring it up so that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision when you make a charitable gift. And the fact of the matter is that the Trust could not consistently earn these top ratings without your generosity. Your support makes everything possible, and you are the reason for our success. (If I could pin four stars on your shoulder, I would do it!)
So if you are looking for the biggest bang for your charitable buck (we can turn it into $4.94 at Malvern Hill, Glendale and First Deep Bottom if we act fast), want to save absolutely key parts of your country’s history, prevent future destruction of hallowed ground, build on our past successes and set the stage for future victories, then I humbly suggest that this may be the group for you!
Whatever you decide to do, I thank you for your dedication to our great cause, and look forward to saving even more of America’s priceless hallowed ground with you in the rest of the year.
Yours in preserving America's history and heritage,
P.S. Before you even think about making a donation to this important effort, I urge you to visit our appeal pages on our website at www.civilwar.org/glendale13 and www.civilwar.org/malvernhill13. There you will get to see more photos and maps of the property than I could ever afford to print and put into an envelope (trying being a good steward of the funds you entrust to us).
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible. Thank you once again for all you do.