(Mechanicsville, Va.) - At a news conference this morning, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell presided over a ceremony accepting the transfer of 285 acres of hallowed ground on the Gaines' Mill Battlefield into Richmond National Battlefield Park.
The property was initially purchased by the nonprofit Civil War Trust in 2012, following a $3.2 million national fundraising campaign capped with a matching grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Current integration into the National Park was made possible by money available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a landmark federal conservation program celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014.
"The permanent protection of this important Civil War battlefield is an example of how the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped state and local governments to fund more than 40,000 close-to-home projects over the past half century, including the preservation of more than 20,000 acres of Civil War battlefields," said Secretary Jewell. "Congress should make good on its promise and enact full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that future generations of Americans can learn from the important history lessons played out on these battlefields which have shaped the course of our American story."
Acquisition of the 285-acre McDougle Tract, with its unique combination of large size, historic pedigree and looming development threat, had long been a priority for preservationists when the Trust announced a fundraising campaign to protect the property in late 2011. Thanks to the contributions of Trust members and a generous matching grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia, victory was declared and the Trust took ownership of the land. Since then, the Trust - together with The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit which holds a voluntary conservation easement on the property - has acted as a steward of the land, anticipating its transfer to the National Park Service.
"The scope of this project completely dwarfs all preservation efforts previously undertaken at Gaines' Mill," said Trust president James Lighthizer. "In just one transaction, we were able to quintuple the amount of land - from 65 acres to 350 acres - protected at the site of Gen. Robert E. Lee's first major victory as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia."
Joining Jewell and Lighthizer at the news conference was Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward. She called the Commonwealth's participation in the project a perfect example of the Old Dominion's ongoing commitment to safeguarding her natural and historic treasures. "From the Tidewater to Blue Ridge, Virginia is home to some of the most beautiful and historic places in America," said Ward. "It is an honor to stand side-by-side with the National Park Service and outstanding private organizations like the Civil War Trust to ensure that these landscapes are protected for future generations of Americans."
Reggie Hall, Virginia State Director of The Conservation Fund echoed praise for the public-private partnership that ultimately resulted in the expansion of this National Park. "This project is only the latest illustration of our long-term collaborative work with the Civil War Trust to ensure that the landscapes that shaped America are protected and honored for future generations. We're grateful to the Virginia Congressional Delegation including U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and U.S. Representative Eric Cantor for their continued support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is critical to conservation efforts like this." Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4
The McDougle property is associated with some of the most dramatic fighting that occurred during the June 27, 1862 Battle of Gaines' Mill. Historians believe that the action may have been the largest frontal attack of the entire Civil War.
"Following a series of attacks that failed to dislodge his foe, as evening fell, Lee unleashed 16 Southern brigades - possibly upwards of 32,000 men -against the Federal lines," said park superintendent Dave Ruth. "The assault at Gaines' Mill dwarfed Gettysburg's more famous 12,500-man Pickett's Charge and carried the day for the Confederacy."
This portion of the Gaines' Mill battlefield also played a key role in the development of aeronautical observation in military intelligence. During the battle, both armies had observation balloons aloft - the first such instance in American history - with the Union Intrepid launching from the vicinity of the McDougle tract.
Prior to the purchase of this land by the Trust, the bulk of protected land at Gaines' Mill was bought in the 1920s by a group of dedicated Richmond residents - including legendary historian and Richmond News Leader editor Douglas Southall Freeman. This group, the Richmond Battlefield Park Corporation, purchased 60 acres south of Boatswain's Creek that included a portion of the Union line and the Watt House, a key battlefield landmark. In 1932, the Corporation donated all of the land it had purchased at Gaines' Mill and other nearby battlefields to the Commonwealth of Virginia, creating a state park; four years later, the land was transferred to the National Park Service as the foundation for Richmond National Battlefield Park.
No new land was protected at Gaines' Mill until the second half of the last decade, when the Richmond Battlefields Association saved 3 acres immediately north of the creek, and, in 2011, the Trust bought two more acres further to the east.
The source of funding for this transfer is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a landmark conservation program currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. Since its inception, LWCF has protected more than 42,000 acres of historic, wilderness and other significant landscapes across the nation - in 98 percent of American counties. Recently, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution calling on Congress to fully fund LWCF, which must be reauthorized in the next year to ensure uninterrupted availability for the program.
The Battle of Gaines' Mill, fought June 27, 1862, was the second of the Seven Days' Battles, where the Confederates sought to turn back a Union force that had traveled up the Virginia Peninsula to arrive virtually at the gates of Richmond. After seizing the initiative and forcing his opponent, Maj. Gen. George McClellan to reevaluate his strategy, newly promoted Confederate commander Gen. Robert E. Lee was eager to press his advantage, but a series of disjointed assaults demonstrated the strength of the Union position. Once his ranks were significantly reinforced, Lee ordered a massive twilight assault; only the approaching darkness prevented a complete disaster for the Union. When the smoke cleared, the 15,500 casualties suffered at Gaines' Mill made it the second bloodiest battle of the war, up until that point, surpassed only by Shiloh, Tenn., two and a half months earlier. Learn more about the Battle of Gaines' Mill.
Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation's endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, it has preserved more than 39,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 2,524 acres at Richmond National Battlefield Park. Learn more at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.