McDonnell announces preservation of historic battlefield at Gaines’ Mill
Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday announced a partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Civil War Trust to preserve 285 acres of land that played a critical role in Virginia’s history. The preservation of the site at Gaines’ Mill, the bloodiest engagement of the Seven Days’ Battles, is being funded by the largest grant ever allocated from the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Transportation Enhancement Grant program for a historic preservation effort.
“Virginia is home to many sites that played a critical role in our nation’s early years,” McDonnell said. “It is imperative that we take every step to preserve as much of this hallowed ground as possible so that future generations can experience the rich history these sites have to offer. I am very pleased that the Commonwealth Transportation Board has partnered with the Civil War Trust to help protect this historic property.”
The scope of this 285-acre preservation campaign dwarfs all earlier efforts to preserve land at Gaines’ Mill. The bulk of previously protected land was purchased in the 1920s by a group of Richmond residents who later donated the land to the Commonwealth. Soon thereafter, the land was transferred to the National Park Service and became the foundation for Richmond National Battlefield Park. Additional portions of the Battlefield were preserved in the 1990’s, when the Richmond Battlefields Association saved 5 acres, and, in 2011, the Trust bought two more acres.
In a ceremony, held today at the Watt House, on the Gaines’ Mill unit of Richmond National Battlefield Park, Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton was recognized for the $1.5 million transportation enhancement matching grant that made the landmark project possible. He cited the unique combination of tremendous historic significance and looming development threats that made this project an ideal candidate for preservation through the transportation enhancement matching grant program.
In its 1993 study, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission gave Gaines’ Mill a Priority I, Class A designation, marking it as one of 11 top candidates for preservation efforts in the nation. The $3.2 million transaction increases the amount of protected land on that battlefield more than four-fold, transforming Gaines’ Mill into a genuine heritage tourist destination.
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 massed twilight assault by 16 Confederate brigades numbering roughly 32,000 men and 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.
During the McDonnell administration, the Commonwealth Transportation Board has awarded over $5 million in matching Transportation Enhancement Grants for Civil War preservation projects. Aside from preservation, a portion of this funding was used to develop a new battlefield application for smart phones and tourist information kiosks at rest areas to help travelers better explore Virginia’s battlefields as we observe the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.