Preserved Forever: 29 Acres at the Site of Cold Harbor Tavern
Thanks to an enduring passion for preservation from its members — alongside supporters like the HTR Foundation, the National Park Service and the Commonwealth of Virginia — the American Battlefield Trust is proud to announce a long-awaited preservation victory on the 29-acre property once home to the “Old Cold Harbor Tavern” and across which two separate battles unfolded. Adjacent to the previously saved 50-acre tract that had been designed for a sportsplex, this land's future is now certain.
Despite succumbing to a fire in the early 1900s, the Cold Harbor Tavern had amassed over 100 years of memories and had particular importance during the Civil War. Its position in the southeastern corner of the intersection of the Gaines’ Mill and Cold Harbor Battlefields guaranteed the tavern’s front-row seat to combat...
In late May of 1862, as he led his troops into Virginia on his Peninsula Campaign, Union Gen. George B. McClellan made his headquarters at the tavern, likely working from tents set up within the tavern yards.
A month later, in late June 1862, Confederate forces had taken control of the crossroads. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson also made camp at the tavern and remained in the vicinity for the duration of the fighting that took place in the area. On the night of June 27, 1862 — following Confederate victory at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill — Jackson and Confederate cavalry chief Gen. J.E.B. Stuart reportedly slept beneath a tree in the tavern’s yard.
From May 31–June 12, 1864, combat raged across the tavern’s surrounding acres in the Battle of Cold Harbor, with the climax of battle sweeping over this 29-acre tract. Gen. James B. Ricketts, who earned a medal for meritorious service during Cold Harbor, also made the tavern his headquarters at least once over the course of the battle.
In the days following the Union defeat at Cold Harbor, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock oversaw the progress of the 2nd Corps from a spot near the tavern, a 6th Corps physician set up a field hospital “among the trees in the yard” and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant himself stopped at the site on June 3 while surveying the state of his troops.
Suffice it to say, this tavern became a familiar sight to soldiers of both sides.
Also operated as a hotel, the Cold Harbor Tavern — estimated to have been built prior to the Revolutionary War — belonged to the Burnett family at the time of the Civil War. In addition to managing the building, they also farmed the surrounding 150 acres. For this family, the war uprooted their lives. But they were not alone.
Veterans, drawn to the places where they once fought, toured these hallowed grounds in the years following. There is record of them spotting the tavern in 1896, but it wouldn’t be around for much longer, as it burned down in the early 20th century.
While the Trust wishes the wartime structure was still standing, another dilapidated, semi-modern structure tarnished the battlefield landscape. So, with intent to revert these 29 acres to more closely resemble their historical appearance, President David Duncan, Chief Land Preservation Officer Tom Gilmore, and Land Stewardship Manager Matt George — along with a professional demolition crew — rolled up their sleeves and removed this eye-sore!
Now, what will become of these 29 acres? The Trust plans to continue its stewardship of the site and is developing plans for interpretation so that future generations can walk in the footsteps of the many soldiers and civilians who endured a whirlwind of chaotic events at the intersection of the Gaines’ Mill and Cold Harbor Battlefields.
In the meantime, you can travel back in time via digital animation! To transport virtual audiences to the 1860s, the Trust leaned on innovative technology and historical accounts to recreate the Civil War-era Cold Harbor Tavern and make it accessible on screens worldwide.
In addition, the Trust has created our first Instagram Augmented Reality filter for the Cold Harbor Tavern, allowing you to interact with our digital replica of the structure on your mobile device anywhere you want. How does it work?
- Make sure you have the most up-to-date version of the Instagram app on your mobile device.
- With your mobile device, click the icon below. This effect is also accessible through the @AmericanBattlefieldTrust Instagram account under the effects tab with the "three stars" symbol.
- The Instagram effects will immediately open and you will be prompted to place the model in an open area, like your floor, tabletop or outdoor space.