. . . 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.”
Ulysses S. Grant
Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
March 16, 2018
Dear Valued Friend and Member,
As you look at the special maps of the Cold Harbor and Gaines’s Mills battlefields that I have sent to you today, I have good news . . . and then I have better news.
The good news is that two of the tracts on this map, which I sent to you and your fellow members back in December, are now SAVED, thanks to you!
Those tracts, noted in blue, add significantly to the preserved land you have helped to save at these major battlefields.
The better news is that we have just secured a contract on the new crucial 28-acre tract, noted in orange, that not only saw action during both battles, but also helps to connect the Gaines’s Mill Battlefield with that of Cold Harbor, getting us one step closer to preserving both supremely hallowed grounds.
There are also three other tracts, noted in our usual yellow, that still need our help. The updated numbers for all these tracts now total $2,722,000 for 81 acres. (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 federal 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 these tracts lie inside that somewhat arbitrary boundary.
That is a very harsh reality, but it does not mean all is lost for us. As I mentioned to you in my December letter, we have a generous and committed benefactor who lives in the Richmond area, and he is now willing to help save this hallowed ground by committing up to $1,200,000, or fully 44% of what we need!
I am also thrilled to report that you and your fellow members generously responded to my year-end plea for help with a wonderful $294,000, which made it possible for us to declare those first two tracts “saved forever.” (I do love the sound of those words; don’t you?)
All of this is wonderful news, but . . . it means we still need to raise $1,522,000 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. So we cannot let up for a minute – putting this off means risking losing this hallowed ground.
The clock is ticking on this hallowed ground. If we cannot save these acres, you can bet a developer will buy them! And you can just imagine how much new cookie-cutter housing developments or gas stations/convenience stores would ruin the historical integrity of the battlefield, just as we are making great strides to save it!!
And while there are no current funds available for the Richmond National Battlefield Park to buy this land from us once we save it, it is my fervent hope that you and I will be able eventually sell these acres to the park and get back most of our investment, to re-invest on other tracts of hallowed ground on the highly threatened outskirts of Richmond.
I don’t know about you, but for me, Cold Harbor stands out as one of the most tragic episodes of the entire Civil War.
I’ve quoted it before, but this passage from historian Ernest “Pat” Furgurson’s book Not War But Murder: Cold Harbor 1864 always hits home:
“. . . 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.’”
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 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. The odds are stacked heavily against us, too. I’m not 2018 pinning my name on my back, but frankly, I cannot hope to save this hallowed ground without your help and generosity.
When you read the accounts written by the soldiers who survived this horrific battle, many on the very ground we are saving, 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 Law wrote one of the most famous assessments 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.”
Historian Robert E. L. Krick calls this latest 28-acre tract that we have added to our efforts not only “significant” to the June 1862 Battle of Gaines’s Mill, but also “vitally important” to the June 1864 Battle of Cold Harbor – and believe me, there are not many pieces of ground in America that played a role in two major Civil War battles!
He really zeroes in on the fighting that this tract witnessed on both June 1 and 3, 1864, with the primary line of Confederate defenses running right through this tract. He says that “John Gibbon’s Federal division, specifically Tyler’s gigantic all-New York brigade, attacked toward this spot. The 8th New York Heavy Artillery famously spearheaded that effort. The regiment was employed that morning as infantry. It was crushed, losing an incredible 475 men killed and wounded.”
He further says that this land “is one of two places where the lopsided slaughter occurred that has come to define Cold Harbor for modern Americans.”
Unfortunately, the Confederate entrenchments and a large artillery fort on this property were farmed out of existence many years ago, Krick says, but “by and large, the ground retains its integrity, and it is an extremely significant piece of battlefield land in the story of Cold Harbor.”
But let me just tell you that the threat of careless farming is nothing compared to the very real threat of residential development across large swaths of this battlefield. The improving economy has opened the development floodgates in this part of the Richmond suburbs.
My friend, as you are deciding on whether to make the Cold Harbor battlefield part of your preservation legacy, I ask you to please look at the other maps in the packet that I have sent to you today.
I wanted to show you what we could accomplish at Gaines’s Mill and Cold Harbor by showing what you and I have already accomplished at the other Richmond battlefields of Glendale and Malvern Hill.
I have sent you a “then and now” view of each battlefield, showing you what was saved in 1987, and what you and your fellow Civil War Trust members have saved as of today. I hope you will agree that in each case, it is miraculous!
Instead of hundreds of acres of subdivisions and fast-food shops, we have saved hundreds of 2018 acres of hallowed ground, sanctified by the soldiers who fought there . . . instead of doing nothing while developers destroyed our history, you have stood up to defend it . . . and instead of saying that this is “someone else’s problem,” you and your fellow preservationists have made the sacrifices needed to save these priceless, blood-soaked acres.
Today, I ask you to stand up defend this hallowed land at Cold Harbor once again, not only for yourself, but also for your children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren who need to know the story of America, and our history.
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.
Please accept my sincere thankfulness for all you do for the great cause of battlefield preservation. I cannot tell you how important your help has meant to me personally, and to this cause.
You are the hero of this miraculous preservation story, where a small group of private citizens has banded together and, through your generosity, accomplished something that has never been done before in American history: preserving more than 48,000 acres of hallowed battlefield land!
Please join me in taking advantage of the generous $1,200,000 matching gift that is on the table by making your gift to help save Cold Harbor today. I hope to hear back from you within the next week. Thank you very much.
Fighting for our history,
P.S. They say pride is a sin, but when I look at those “then and now” maps, I can’t help it – my heart swells with pride, and I really hope yours does, too. You and I have done something for our country that has never been done before, something that will last forever, and something that will stand as your legacy, for which future generations will thank you: We have saved these key parts of our nation’s history from being destroyed. I think that’s pretty remarkable, and I hope you do, too. Now, please help me to continue filling in the maps for Cold Harbor and Gaines’s Mill, so that soon, they too become complete battlefields!