150th commemoration planned for Glendale, Malvern

Richmond National Battlefield Park Chief of Interpretation Beth Stern
“In the business of preservation,” wrote Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) President Jim Lighthizer in the spring issue of Hallowed Ground, “sometimes we have to play the long game.”

This month, visitors to the 150th-anniversary commemoration of the Seven Days’ Battles will reap the benefits of the “long game” to which Lighthizer referred: the CWPT’s painstaking, years-long acquisition of land parcels on the site of Henrico’s Glendale Battlefield. On June 30 and July 1, visitors will have a chance to walk in the footsteps of soldiers through the scene of the conflicts at Glendale and Malvern Hill – perhaps even trace the footsteps of ancestors who fought there – and enjoy living history demonstrations and interactive activities on the anniversary dates of the battles.

At a 150th-anniversary preview event held in April, Robert E.L. Krick, historian at Richmond National Battlefield Park, told visitors to Glendale that the CWPT has preserved the battlefield parcel by parcel virtually from scratch in recent years.

“It’s like watching a child grow up,” Krick said of Glendale’s gradual expansion, which got a substantial boost in February when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the park would receive $4 million for land acquisition.

“It might be the most unimpressive battlefield you’ve ever seen,” said Krick of Glendale, nodding toward the wooded expanse that obscures the original lines of sight and noting the relatively small numbers of troops engaged in the conflict. “But many historians argue that Glendale was one of [General Robert E.] Lee’s best opportunities of the war to win a really big victory.”

Describing the Living History Weekend that will mark the anniversaries of Glendale and Malvern Hill, and which will enable visitors to hear story-telling and explore battlefield landscapes not usually open to the public, Krick noted that the event will provide just a taste of what will be possible once long-range plans for Glendale are set in motion. Indicating wooded areas that will someday be crisscrossed with trails and lined with cannon, Krick said with a smile, “The Bicentennial will be awesome!”

Glendale to Malvern
Fought on June 30, 1862, the battle of Glendale (also known as Frayser’s Farm) was the fifth major engagement of the Seven Days Campaign, in which Confederate forces repelled the attempts of Union troops to travel up the Virginia Peninsula and capture Richmond.

After reaching a point just seven miles from the city, Union forces under Gen. George B. McClellan were regrouping and withdrawing toward the river as General Lee assumed command and began to drive them back from the outskirts.

As Krick explained at the preview tour, in fact, June 28 was actually one of the most important days of the “Seven Days,” even though no real battle was fought. That was the day that McClellan made his move to the river, getting a 24-hour head start while Lee spent the day sending out cavalry to see where McClellan had gone.

With the Union troops strung out in three columns, Lee had a chance to intercept them at the Glendale crossroads and cut them off from the James. But Lee was unable to marshal his forces for the attack, and the Union retreated to a strategic defensive position at nearby Malvern Hill.

As a result, many historians consider Glendale the penultimate battle of the Seven Days, pointing out that had the day gone differently, the entire history of the war – and perhaps the nation – could have changed.

Authenticity
At the Malvern Hill site today, the wide vistas stand in stark contrast to the thick woods at Glendale. “This area was dense woods 15 years ago,” said Krick, indicating acreage that has been cleared to restore the 1862 pattern of field to forest.

Clearing the battlefield has been a slow process, he explained, because the task requires a stump-grinder and costs $8,000 per acre. But when the vista first opened up to the vast expanse that can be seen today, Krick said he told the clearing crew, “We’re the first people since 1862 to see guns on both sides of the battlefield.”

The restoration of that view is a source of great pride among historians such as Krick and officials of the National Park Service officials and CWPT (which was also instrumental in the acquisition of Malvern Hill battlefield land).

“Visitors want authenticity. People want to see what the soldiers saw, “ said Krick. Gesturing towards swaths of blackened grass from a recent prescribed burn at the park, he noted, “Apart from the scorched earth, this looks like more of a battlefield than anywhere else in Richmond.”

With a smile, he added, “Malvern Hill never looks as menacing as they expect,” and noted that the number-one question from visitors is, “Where’s the hill?”

Following the July 1 commemoration events -- which will include a park ranger’s “play-by-play” narration of the unfolding battle – Krick hopes to send visitors away with a better comprehension of the conflict and the significance of the Federal retreat.

“Six days earlier [in 1862],” he reminded his listeners, “it looked like the Union Army would be celebrating the Fourth of July in the streets of Richmond.”

Rare opportunities
According to Beth Stern, Chief of Interpretation for Richmond National Battlefield Park, the Glendale and Malvern commemoration events will present several one-of-a-kind activities for history fans. At Malvern, for instance, re-enactors will be on the field as a park ranger provides a full narration of the battle, in a program entitled, “The Battle of Malvern Hill: A Breakdown in Leadership and Communications: a Recipe for Disaster.”

“The choreography of narration and living history,” said Stern, “will be unique.”

Among opportunities at Glendale will be the closing of Long Bridge Road to allow an interpretive platform for events, a ranger-led walking tour exploring the “Uncommon Valor of the Common American Soldier,” and a program that focuses on the untold stories of the free African-American community at Gravel Hill that was caught between the clashing armies.

“I’m really excited to bring to life these stories we haven’t really heard about,” said Stern of the program, which will trace narratives of self-emancipation among the thousands of African-Americans caught up in the 1862 events.

The Malvern and Glendale events will represent the wrap-up of 60 days of Civil War Sesquicentennial events in the Richmond region, to be capped by a July 11 lecture about the Seven Days Campaign at the Virginia Historical Society.

“It’s a rare opportunity for us to understand,” said Stern, “what it means to have people fighting on your land, on the place where you work and laugh and love.

“That’s what the Sesquicentennial does for us,” said Stern. “It allows us to tell these stories.”

For details of the June 30 - July 1 Living History Weekend at Glendale and Malvern Hill, call 226-1981 or visit http://www.nps.gov/rich.
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