Richmond Battlefields Plan Events Into July That Offer Innovative Insight Into “150 Years Ago”

Watt House, Gaines Mill Battlefield

There's more than a month of great events coming up as the anniversaries arrive for battles during the unsuccessful 1862 Peninsula Campaign and Seven Days Battles to capture Richmond. Visitors will explore parts of the battlefields that are not regularly open to the public and witness unique presentations that blend living history and National Park Service ranger-led interpretaton. Activities on June 23rd and 24th at Gaines' Mill, where the Watt House above is located, will be particularly rich. Courtesy photo.

Richmond will be a major target for Civil War and history enthusiasts through 2015, so if you’re smart—you’ll entertain the idea of dropping in on this former capital of the Confederacy. There is almost endless insight and activity available in a city surrounded by battlefields, comfortable in its iconic regional identity, and richly rewarding as a place to recall the Old South while reveling in the New.

Case in point—one hundred and fifty years ago, battles of the Peninsula Campaign that took place around Richmond shaped the rest of the Civil War. More than 200,000 Americans waged war to capture the Confederate capital and after tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, the Union Army failed to take Richmond.

Those 1862 battles “impacted the way the war would be fought for the next three years,” said David Ruth, superintendent of Richmond National Battlefield Park. The battles also affected “the residents of Richmond and central Virginia who were forever changed—from farm families that lost everything to African-Americans seeking freedom with the Union Army.”

Continuing through July 11, the Richmond Region will commemorate the 150th anniversary of this period which ended with the emergence of Robert E. Lee and climaxed with the Seven Days Battles. Various units of the Richmond National Battlefield Park and historic sites will offer visitors unparalleled opportunities to walk in the footsteps of history, experience Richmond’s story from multiple viewpoints and discover what made these battles so significant.

At Gaines’ Mill ("which saved Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862:" Wikipedia), Glendale, and Malvern Hill visitors will explore battlefield landscapes not regularly open to the public and witness unique presentations that blend living history and National Park Service (NPS) ranger-led storytelling on the dates, in the places, and at the times where and when the historic events took place.

Programs at The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, Gaines’ Mill and Glendale will explore the untold stories of self-emancipation by thousands of African-Americans during the Peninsula Campaign, and the free African-American community at Gravel Hill that was caught in the middle of one of the Civil War’s largest battles.

There will be weapons demonstrations and exhibits about Civil War ballooning and telegraphy, as well as scavenger hunts that invite children to explore science and technology through activities that will engage and fascinate audiences of all ages.

Jack Berry, president of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau says, “Approximately 10 percent of the Richmond Region’s 6 million annual visitors experience a Civil War site as part of their trip, and research shows that the typical Civil War visitor stays longer in Virginia than the average visitor.” Download the excellent 2012 Civil War Visitor's Guide by the city and National Park Service.

The city has dedicated an entire Web site to the battles along with a full schedule of events. Special travel/hotel packages have been created to take the edge off the price.

Keep in mind that the list below only highlights major events, but the entire schedule at these locations include an amazing number of diverse activities during the entire day, including very special opportunities to visit often off-limits parts of battlefields and take imaginative ranger-led tours that pair expert commentary with living history demonstrations. Be sure to click on this site, and then scroll a little down the page and click on “Comprehensive schedule of events from May 9-July 11, 2012” to download a pdf of the calendar.

In addition, beyond these events at the Battlefield Parks, the Richmond Region has an entirely different calendar of fascinating events and entertainment opportunities that go on throughout the year.

Setting the Stage

Much of what you’ll see at the battlefields during these events was dictated by the May 15th battle of Drewry’s Bluff. The U.S. Navy’s failure to take the Confederate capital by water ensured that ensuing assaults would be conducted by land. By late May 1862, Gen. George B. McClellan’s Union army – 120,000 soldiers – was just miles from the city. The next six weeks would turn out to be crucial.

Up to Date Events

Catch up with these and other events in the next six weeks.

June 3/ Sunday

The National Park Service and Henrico County (located just north of the city) will host Seven Pines and the Peninsula Campaign: Photography Begins to Tell the Tale of the Civil War (check out Richmond’s Web site for specific links to the activities). On Sunday June 17, the NPS and the Virginia State Capitol will present a tour beginning in the Capitol Building called Life in the Confederate Capital City in the Summer of 1862.

June 19-July 11/ Seven Days Campaign Programs


The climax of the Peninsula Campaign came at the end of June with a series of battles between McClellan and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was appointed commander of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1. These engagements, which came to be known as the Seven Days Battles, were among the largest of the war and saved the Confederate capital of Richmond for the next two years.

June 19/ Tuesday/ Virginia Historical Society

The Civil War at a Crossroads: The Seven Days with University of Richmond President and Civil War scholar Dr. Ed Ayers. On Saturday, June 23, NPS and the American Civil War Center will present Voices from the Storm, Richmond 1862, a special outdoor multimedia program at Historic Tredegar on the banks of the James River created from the images and voices of the people who lived 150 years ago. These important reminiscences illuminate the struggles, hopes and transformations during the summer of 1862. Bus tours on Sunday, June 24 and Friday, June 29, will explore the full Seven Days campaign.



June 23-24, Saturday, and Sunday/Living History Weekend at Gaines’s Mill Battlefield

This weekend is an excellent example of the depth of the programming, which includes exhibits, demonstrations of life and activities in camp and on the battlefield as well as infantry, artillery and cavalry demonstrations. The day also will feature Reconnaissance from Above: Balloons in the Civil War, a demonstration of the use of balloons during the summer of 1862.

These activities are ongoing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


—At the nearby Cold Harbor Visitor Center, NPS ranger orientation, exhibits and maps illustrating the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, and book sales.

—At Gaines’ Mill, on‐site demonstrations of the innovation of balloons and their use during the Civil War.

—On‐site visitor orientation and interpretation near the shuttle stop around the Watt House at Gaines’ Mill.

—Living history programs and demonstrations of life and activities in camp and on the battlefield in June 1862.

—Interactive family and children’s activities and demonstrations.

Saturday’s hourly schedule shows how packed these events are with great insight.

10 a.m. – 11 a.m.


“Civilians Caught in the Maelstrom: The Story of Sarah Watt and Other Hanover Civilians” – an NPS ranger‐led walking tour of the Watt House area.

11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

“The Confederates Break Through: the Battle of Gaines’ Mill” – an NPS ranger‐led talk illustrated with living history infantry, artillery, and cavalry demonstrations.

Noon – 12:45 p.m.

“Gaines’ Mill Through the Soldiers’ and Civilians’ Eyes” – an NPS ranger‐led walking tour with historic vignettes offered by military and civilian living historians.

1 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.

“The Confederates Break Through: the Battle of Gaines’ Mill” – an NPS ranger‐led talk illustrated with living history infantry, artillery, and cavalry demonstrations.

2 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.

“Gaines’ Mill Through the Soldiers’ and Civilians’ Eyes” – an NPS ranger‐led walking tour with historic vignettes offered by military and civilian living historians.

3 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.

“Reconnaissance from Above: Balloons in the Civil War” – demonstration of the use of balloons during the summer of 1862.

4 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.

“The Confederates Break Through: the Battle of Gaines’ Mill” – an NPS ranger‐led talk illustrated with living history infantry, artillery, and cavalry demonstrations

June 26/ Walking tours on Tuesday

Beaver Dam Creek anniversary commemorative exploration. Explore the battle that saw the launching of Lee’s offensive against the Union Army.

June 27/ 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gaines’s Mill

Lee’s first victory and renowned historian Ed Bearss will tell the tale of the battle. NPS Ranger-led walking tours will take visitors along the paths of the armies, in the places and at the times when the specific actions occurred. Additional tours will explore the story of Sarah Watt and other civilians caught in the maelstrom.

The Confederate Army’s best opportunity – one that was ultimately lost – was at a crossroads in Henrico County called Glendale. The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Glendale takes place on Saturday, June 30and will feature numerous special events. African-Americans Caught in the Vortex explores Gravel Hill, the only free African-American community situated in the middle of the contending armies. Opportunity Lost; The Final Confederate Push at Glendale Falls Short is a walking tour that begins at the Whitlock Farm and finishes along the Willis Church Road corridor.

July 1, Sunday

The final battle of the Seven Days, the Battle of Malvern Hill, ended in a Union victory but by the next day, Confederates held the field as McClellan withdrew his army towards the James River and the protection of U.S. Navy. Events commemorating the 150th anniversary of this battle will take place Sunday, July 1. Highlights include The Battle of Malvern Hill: A Breakdown in Leadership and Communications: a Recipe for Disaster. From cannon fire to infantry attacks, this program will be a unique interplay of narration by an NPS park ranger and living history demonstrations illustrating how the battle unfolded.

On July 11/ The Virginia Historical Society

Gary Gallagher, of the University of Virginia, will conclude the series of events with his presentation More Important Than Gettysburg: The Seven Days Campaign as a Turning Point. (Gallagher is the the UVA John L. Nau III Professor of the History of the American Civil War.) He will discuss the situation after the Seven Days, the ramifications of McClellan’s failure to take Richmond, and where the armies moved from Richmond as a result.