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2014 July 4: America’s Civil War Battlefields

July 5, 2014

The U. S. National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) “promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil.  The ABPP focuses primarily on land use, cultural resource and site management planning, and public education.  Battlefield preservation enables current and future generations to better understand the connection between military conflicts and important social and political changes that occurred in American history.  Saving the site of every military conflict that occurred on American soil is impractical; however, the ABPP is committed to helping states and local communities preserve the most important battlefields for future generations.”

The ABPP website includes battle summaries by state and by campaign.  The site also has links to national parks with Civil War themes, such as the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, the African American Civil War Memorial, the Robert E. Lee Memorial at Arlington House, and the Clara Barton National Historic Site.

Using the Battle of Cold Harbor as an example, we find that the Battle Summaries page lists:

  • Other Names: Second Cold Harbor,
  • Location: Hanover County, Virginia,
  • Campaign: Grant’s Overland Campaign,
  • Dates: May 31-June 12, 1864,
  • Principal Commanders: Ulysses S. Grant and George G. Meade [US], and Robert E. Lee [CS],
  • Forces Engaged: 170,000 total (US 18,000, CS 62,000),
  • Estimated Casualties: 15,500 total (US 13,000, CS 2,500),
  • Description: [too long to copy here, check out the website],
  • Result(s): Confederate victory,
  • CWSAC Reference #: VA062,
  • Preservation Priority: I.1 (Class A), and
  • National Park Unit: Richmond National Battlefield Park.

The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought near what is now Mechanicsville, Virginia, over the same ground as the Battle of Gaines’s Mill a year earlier (June 27, 1862).  The 1862 battle is often referred to as the First Battle of Cold Harbor, and the 1864 battle as the Second Battle of Cold Harbor.  Union soldiers in 1864 were disturbed to discover skeletal remains from the first battle while digging entrenchments.

The photograph below was taken by John Reekie “several months” after the Battle of Cold Harbor, according to Edward Bailey Eaton, who published it in Original Photographs Taken on the Battlefields During the Civil War of the United States.¹ The Library of Congress, which has the wet collodion negative, dates it as being created in April 1865.²  Whatever the date, the skeletal remains could potentially be from either battle.

Cold Harbor 665
1.  Original Photographs Taken on the Battlefields During the Civil War of the United States, by Mathew B. Brady and Alexander Gardner (Hartford, Conn.: [Edward Bailey Eaton], 1907); available in the UWRF University Archives and Area Research Center, E 468.7 .E14 1907.
2.  ” [Cold Harbor, Va., African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed in the battle],” John Reekie, photographer, is available digitally from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (LOT 4167-B).

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