. . . That evening [June 2], in a tapering drizzle, Grant’s aide Horace Porter picked his way through the troops . . . to deliver orders for the morning assault. He noticed that many soldiers, who usually wore their coats day and night, in sun and rain, now had them off, and seemed to be making repairs to them . . . Then he could see that they were not sewing up rips. They were being calmly realistic, writing their names and addresses on slips of paper and pinning these to the backs of their coats, “so that their dead bodies might be recognized upon the field, and their fate made known to their families at home.”
Excerpt from Not War But Murder: Cold Harbor 1864 by Ernest B. Furgurson
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
December 6, 2017
Dear Valued Friend and Member,
Those boys in blue sure knew exactly what lay ahead of them at Cold Harbor, didn’t they?
Can you imagine, for even a moment, being one of those soldiers, with the odds so stacked against you, knowing you had so little chance for success that you were calmly preparing to die?
Yet, as you well know, when the call came, those fated, brave men went forward with every ounce of strength they had.
My friend, that is exactly – with your help – what the Civil War Trust is doing right now, ironically, on that same hallowed battlefield.
As the clock ticks down to the end of the year, I really did not want to “press my luck” by sending any more pleas for your help in 2017.
But as I write this letter to you, the Civil War Trust has the historic opportunity to save 55 acres of the most important unprotected land anywhere on the Cold Harbor battlefield. And trust me, the odds are stacked pretty heavily against us, too. Quite frankly, I cannot hope to save this hallowed ground without your help and generosity.
First, the history: In his memoirs published after the war, U.S. Grant wrote, “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made . . . no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained. Indeed, the advantages other than those of relative losses, were on the Confederate side.”
I realize that reading about the dreadful fighting at the Battle of Cold Harbor does not make for “light” holiday reading, but it is so important to hear these words that I hope you will forgive me.
When you read the accounts written by the soldiers who survived this horrific battle, over and over they recalled things like, “Men could not live in the fire poured on them from front and flanks,” and “a storm of bullets, shot, and shell that no human power could withstand,” and “it was deadly and bloody work” with men “simply melting away under the fury of our fire.”
Confederate Brigadier General Evander McIver Law wrote perhaps the most famous assessment of this battle: “I had seen the dreadful carnage in front of Marye’s Hill at Fredericksburg, and on the ‘old railroad cut’ which Jackson’s men held at Second Manassas; but I had seen nothing to exceed this. It was not war; it was murder.”
Four of these tracts are small, one is very large, but they are all tremendously important in telling this battle’s story directly on the land where it happened. And all the tracts add significant protected acres to this battlefield, which we are slowly, acre by acre, preserving for future generations.
Let me draw your attention on the map to the two tracts nearest where the “arrows come together,” the place where the Union attacking columns attempted to break the Confederate line.
Historian Gordon Rhea, in his magisterial history of the battle, Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864, describes the ill-fated Union assault on June 3 into this part of the Confederate defensive line when he says:
“The Confederates slaughtered Baldy Smith’s soldiers as they came into range, shredding Stedman’s, Stannard’s, and Marston’s narrow columns from front to back much as a sharpener grinds a pencil.”
Historian Robert E. L. Krick tells us that those three brigades “suffered more than 1,500 casualties in a very brief but disastrous span of time,” attempting to carry that part of the line where the earthworks were shaped like a letter “V”.
Both Krick and Rhea describe this part of the Confederate defensive line as a “trap” for the unsuspecting Union regiments who advanced into it where, in just a few minutes, “the ground was swept with canister and rifle bullets until it was literally covered with slain.”
About 100 yards of the entrenchments that made up the right “arm” of that Confederate “V” still exist on this tract, which connects on two sides with the existing national park, so if we can save this ground, we will be saving those priceless historic resources as well. Just to show you what can easily happen, the northern part of those same entrenchments was leveled by local farming long ago, and is now lost forever.
The threat of careless farming is now magnified many times over by the very real threat of residential development across the large tract that runs north to south on your maps for nearly half a mile. This is one of the larger tracts left to save at Cold Harbor, and, as you can clearly see, it connects separated parcels that were previously preserved by the Civil War Trust and Richmond Battlefields Association, and now owned by the National Park Service.
Again, historian Krick tells us that this tract saw significant action on June 1, with portions of the 6th and 18th Corps sweeping across this land to attack Confederate infantry which was just then entrenching. He says, “the first substantial casualties occurred here when the Federal line drove Confederate skirmishers out of their rifle pits.”
The two other tracts are both small but essential additions to completing the “puzzle” of this incredibly important and threatened battlefield, as residential and commercial development continues to sweep outward into the suburbs of Richmond. If we don’t save this land now, we may never have another chance.
But let me warn you: It will not be easy, and it will not be quick.
Here is the challenge we face: It will cost $2.5 million to preserve these five tracts at Cold Harbor. The price is so high because several of the tracts have modern homes on them that must be purchased and then removed. It is also extremely valuable real estate.
And unfortunately for us, because of where these parcels are located, we do not have access to the usual dollar-for-dollar battlefield matching grants. Those grants can only be used to save battlefield land that lies outside of the “congressionally authorized boundary” of a battlefield, and all of these tracts lie within that somewhat arbitrary boundary.
That is a very harsh reality, but it does not mean all is lost for us. Providentially, we have an excellent, generous, and committed friend who lives in the Richmond area, and he is willing to help save this hallowed ground by committing $837,000, or approximately 33% of what we need!
That means we still need to raise $1,670,000 to save this land. This is obviously a lot more than we normally need to raise, so I know it will take some extra time and multiple fundraising campaigns (unless there is another angel out there who wants to make this effort their legacy) to raise all that we need by September 2018. But we must start immediately – putting this off means risking losing this hallowed ground.
You and I both know the clock is ticking on this hallowed ground. If we don’t save these acres, you can bet a developer will buy them. And you can imagine how much new housing developments or gas stations and convenience stores would ruin the historical integrity of the battlefield!
And while there are no current funds available for the Richmond National Battlefield park to buy this land from us, it is my hope that you and I can eventually sell this land to the park, and get back most of our investment, to re-invest on other tracts of hallowed ground on the outskirts of Richmond.
My friend, as you are deciding on your final year-end giving priorities, I ask you to please consider making your most generous possible gift toward this unique opportunity. Not to downplay the good work being done by any other charity you support, but if you want your generosity to be increased by 33% and help save land at one of America’s most important Civil War battlefields, I hope you will consider sending a final 2017 gift to the Civil War Trust today.
Like those Union boys at Cold Harbor, I know that the task before us will not be easy. But if you’ll stay by my side, I know we will succeed.
Today, in the season of giving, I ask you to give the gift of history, not only for yourself, but also for your children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren who will need to know the story of America, and our history.
And while I wish I could do more to show you my gratitude for your dedication, I hope you will accept the enclosed “Certificate of Grateful Appreciation” that I have enclosed for you. I know it is not much, but please accept it as my sincere thankfulness for all you do for the great cause of battlefield preservation.
You are the hero of our story. It is only through your generosity that we have been able to save as much hallowed ground as we have – now about 48,000 acres – and it is only through your generosity today that we can begin to save these acres at Cold Harbor from complete destruction.
And now, as the year draws to a close, I must end my final letter of 2017 to you by saying that I simply cannot tell you how important your help has meant to me personally, and to this cause.
Please join me in taking advantage of the generous $837,000 matching gift that is on the table by making your gift to help save Cold Harbor today. If you want your gift to be deductible from your 2017 taxes, please donate online no later than midnight on December 31.
I hope to hear back from you soon. Please accept my best wishes for a wonderful Christmas for you and your family, and a prosperous New Year! Thank you very much.
Fighting for our history,
P.S. I honestly don’t know what I would do without you. Thank you a thousand times over for reading my letter to you in this busy time of year, and thank you for considering joining in the campaign to save this land at Cold Harbor!