Battlefield Park acquires Glendale war site

Civil War re-enactors read a historical marker during its unveiling at Glendale Battlefield in 2010.

Richmond National Battlefield Park recently acquired 251 acres of the Glendale Civil War battlefield – one of the largest battlefields in Virginia – from the Civil War trust, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving battlefields across the country. The acquisition will allow the park to expand its mission of preservation to be fulfilled and for the historic landscape to be accessible.

“The ultimate goal is to preserve the landscape so that people understand the battles and what transpired on the land at that time,” said Randy Jones, a spokesman for the Department of Historic Resources. “This site has the power to connect us to future generations during a defining period in our history. “

The Glendale battlefield site was private property for almost 140 years after the Civil War, and the fate of the historic land was uncertain until the 1990s, when Congress issued a report on the nation’s Civil War battlefields. The report discussed the battlefield’s significance and the threat that it could be lost to development and cited its potential for education, recreation, research and heritage tourism. The report helped to spark interest from third-party organizations, such as the Civil War Trust, to preserve the land.

Groups align for preservation
The National Park Service, The Department of Historic Resources, and The Civil War Trust all work together to preserve the land and create a private-public partnership, according to officials from each group.

“The Park Service and DHR are truly invaluable allies in our work, without whom a tremendous number of historic properties would have been lost throughout the years,” said Mary Koik, a spokeswoman for the Civil War Trust. “At the national level, NPS administers the American Battlefield Protection Program, which is a major source of matching grant funding for land preservation; while, individual parks and their staff provide invaluable on-the-ground assistance to help us evaluate properties, negotiate transactions and even interpret historic sites.”

The combined efforts will shed light on the importance of the Glendale battlefield. Little of the iconic story was preserved until the recent acquisition, which encompasses area from the Glendale Battlefield to the Malvern Hill Battlefield.

“Lee lost his cool for the first time during the war at Glendale, so it had really long term significance in what the battle meant,” said David Ruth, superintendent of Richmond National Battlefield Park. “At Glendale for the first time bayonets were used, and most people remember the most intense hand-to-hand fighting they had ever experienced. It stands out as being very significant.”

At the Seven Days Battle, Confederate leader Robert E. Lee had hoped to destroy the Union army early in the war by cutting off its path. However, Lee’s chance at a war-changing victory was defeated,and the battlefield was one of the most intense and bloody scenes during the war.

“As much as you try to understand the battlefield you can’t unless you have the landscape,” Ruth said. “Every aspect of the battlefield is important to how the battle took place and everything topography wise determined how the battle would develop, why it was fought there, and how the battle was fought.”

The Glendale acquisition comes at an important time during the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, and the preservation of the land exemplifies the historic legacy and pride of the battlefield, as well as the strong historic roots of Virginia, Jones said.

“There has been more of an emphasis as an opportunity during this 150th anniversary to really create a legacy for future generations to preserve threatened battlefield sites,” he said. “There’s always been a strong sense of history in Virginia and a third of the battles during the civil war were fought on Virginia land. It’s such a defining event in America’s history and who we are as people.”

Much of the land acquired will be under cultivation and the National Park Services is studying the land in order to determine visitor access programs. The park will start small with special programs and weekend events, such as park caravan tours, Ruth said.

“We’re looking at ways to create public access and try to determine if there will be trails,” he said. “So little of the land around Richmond has been preserved and it is just now that Richmond is succeeding in doing what parks like Gettysburg did in the 1930s. It is exciting for everyone who cares about preservation.”

‘Unique forever’
Civil War battlefield sites have been on the forefront of preservation efforts with the help of Civil War Battlefield Preservation grants that include other sites in Henrico, at Deep Bottom and Malvern Hill.

Funds for the grants total $2,253,663 and are awarded by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which determines the awards based on the evaluation process. Many of the battles in Virginia took place alongside rivers, streams and rural areas that are finite resources, so there is an effort to preserve the open space and aquarian buffers that also will preserve water quality and provide recreation.

The Trust traces its origins to 1987, when a group of historians witnessed the gradual destruction of battlefields in Northern Virginia. Since then, the Trust has permanently protected more than 36,000 acres of battlefield land at more than 120 different sites in 20 states - about half of that acreage in Virginia.

“The Civil War is one of the greatest stories in American history and I think many people recognize the valuable lessons it has to teach us and the way its legacy continues to reverberate today,” said Koik. “Preserved battlefields aren’t just passive landscapes; they’re outdoor classrooms that benefit students of all ages. They can provide recreational space for local residents and offer environmental benefits through their protection. They can even contribute toward the regional economy by drawing additional heritage tourists.”

In order to purchase the battlefield, the Civil War Trust was required to submit an application for a Civil War Grant award. After being selected the Trust matched funds for the state grant to protect the land and save the property.

The Trust often works with land owners and interested sellers, and it either can become the sole owner of the land or work with the land owner to place restrictions on future development of the property.

“When the Trust purchased and preserved this land, our hope was always that one day we would be able to see it included in Richmond National Battlefield Park,” Koik said. “The park is the perfect long-term steward to maintain, interpret and protect this land – and for any site to be included in a national park is the ultimate endorsement of its significance. They have a place in history that is indisputable – a story that makes that community forever unique.”
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