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Richmond National Battlefield Park

Richmond National Battlefield Park - BEST Placess to Picnic

3215 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23223

Phone
Visitor Information
(804) 226-1981 ext. 23

Explore the Embattled Capital, 1861 to 1865

Richmond's story is not just the tale of one large Civil War battle, nor even one important campaign. Instead, the park's resources include a naval battle, a key industrial complex, the Confederacy's largest hospital, dozens of miles of elaborate original fortifications, and the evocative spots where determined soldiers stood paces apart and fought with rifles, reaping a staggering human cost.

Places to Picnic

  • Chesterfield County Park

  • Fort Harrison Visitor Center

  • Hanover County Park

History

The Civil War (1861-1865) remains the central, most defining event in American history. Richmond, Virginia, was at the heart of the conflict. As the industrial and political capital of the Confederacy, Richmond was the physical and psychological prize over which two mighty American armies contended in bloody battle from 1861 to 1865. At stake were some of the founding principles of the United States as the growing nation divided over the existence and expansion of slavery. 

Only after the new Confederacy fired on a federal fort in Charleston harbor and Lincoln had called for troops to preserve the Union, did Virginia join the Confederacy. As war began, neither side anticipated the brutal clashes and home front destruction that brought death or injury to more than one million Americans and devastation to a broad landscape, much of it in Virginia.

Cannon boomed within earshot of Richmond. All of its residents saw their lives transformed. Wartime Richmond, swollen by government, the military, refugees, prisoners, and the wounded, lived with anxiety and hope. Martial law and rationing were routine. Disease claimed thousands.

Landowners outside Richmond saw their farms converted into battlefields. Previously unknown place-names like Cold Harbor, Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill, and New Market Heights attained national significance for the key battles that were fought in the vicinity of Richmond. Naval military history was made at the battle of Drewry's Bluff. 

Robert E. Lee fought his first battle as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia at Beaver Dam Creek in 1862; Ulysses S. Grant's army experienced unprecedented futility on the bloody fields of Cold Harbor. Titans tangled repeatedly here. Earthworks scarred miles of farmland. Wheat fields became killing fields. Cemeteries started dotting the landscape.

On April 4 and 5, 1865, President Lincoln made a remarkable visit to Richmond as he pressed to conclude the war that had cost over 620,000 lives "with malice toward none, with charity for all."  His assassination days later portended a less charitable course for the aftermath.

Today, the park preserves more than 1900 acres of Civil War resources in 13 units, including the main visitor center at the famous Tredegar Iron Works and the Chimborazo Medical Museum, on the site of Chimborazo Hospital.

Things to Do

Richmond National Battlefield Park is one of 390 parks representing important examples of our country's natural and cultural heritage. Each unit of the park is identified by distinctive brown signs, and each is interpreted by National Park Service historical markers.

Whenever possible, spend some time walking in each of the thirteen park areas; it is the best way to understand the battlefields. Many of the sites have short self-guided trails that take you past historical features, such as earthworks and structures. Some of these resources are extremely fragile. Help us to preserve them for future generations by staying on the designated trails.

Places to Go

Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works
The park's main visitor center occupies one of the surviving buildings that made up the Tredegar Iron Works � the Confederacy's leader in the production of artillery, ammunition and war-related materials. Inside are three floors of exhibits including interactive map programs, displays on the Richmond military and home front along with the park's orientation film to Richmond's battlefields. The grounds contain machinery and related exhibits that address more than 100 years of iron making at Tredegar. Within walking distance are sections of the rebuilt James River and Kanawha Canal, Brown's Island where women and children produced ammunition, and Belle Isle, site of a prisoner-of-war camp for thousands of Union troops.

Chimborazo Medical Museum
Chimborazo became of one of the Civil War's largest military hospitals. When completed it contained more than 100 wards, a bakery and even a brewery. Although the hospital no longer exists, a museum on the same grounds contains original medical instruments and personal artifacts. Other displays included a scale model of the hospital and a short film on medical and surgical practices and the caregivers that comforted the sick and wounded.

Chickahominy Bluff
On the morning of June 26, 1862 more than 20,000 Confederate infantrymen gathered here prior to their advance across the Chickahominy River. Nearby on horseback sat General Robert E. Lee, watching and listening for the movement beyond the river signaling the opening of his offensive east of Richmond known as the Seven Days battles. An audio exhibit atop the overlook platform offers an introduction to the fighting on June 26. The site also contains the remains of Confederate earthworks built to defend Richmond.

Beaver Dam Creek
The park preserves a section of the two-mile front that Confederates unsuccessfully attacked on June 26. The bold advance, combined with the arrival of "Stonewall" Jackson's command, convinced Union commander George B. McClellan to order a withdrawal to high ground near Gaines' Mill. Take the short trail beginning at the parking area that leads across the creek through an area where Southern casualties were particularly heavy. Exhibits along the way describe the fighting from both the Union and Confederate positions.

Gaines' Mill
On June 27, 1862 Union and Confederate soldiers fought the bloodiest battle of the Seven Days. In one day 15,000 men fell killed, wounded or captured. The historic Watt House still stands and served as Union General Fitz John Porter's headquarters. Follow the one-mile walking trail along Boatswain Creek past the site where Hood's Texas Brigade broke through the line and helped force the collapse of the Union position. Along the trail are historic markers, a monument to General Wilcox's Alabama brigade and a battlefield overlook that reveals a landscape little changed since the battle.

Cold Harbor Battlefield and Visitor Center
Cold Harbor is the best known battlefield in the park. For two weeks, May 31 -  June 12, 1864, the armies of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant tangled in a complicated series of actions. A determined Confederate defense turned away a massive Federal attack on June 3 and helped convince Grant to maneuver south and advance on Petersburg. The visitor center includes an electric map program for Cold Harbor and Gaines' Mill, exhibits, and a small bookstore. A one-mile drive parallels and crosses significant stretches of both the Confederate and Union entrenchments, all of which are original to 1864. A series of walking trails, ranging from one mile to nearly three miles, takes visitors through the site in greater detail. Numerous signs enhance the visit.

Garthright House
The historic home is believed to date (in part) from the 1700's. A witness to both Gaines' Mill and Cold Harbor, the house saw service as a hospital. Although it is not open to the public there are exterior exhibits. Directly beside the house is the Hanover County Cold Harbor Park, which includes a walking trail through some of the reserve Union positions from the 1864 battle, and a picnic area. The Cold Harbor National Cemetery across the street contains nearly 2000 Civil War era burials, including most of the Union dead from the two large area battles. There are monuments there to Pennsylvania and New York soldiers, as well.

Glendale Battlefield and Visitor Center
The park visitor center is located within the walls of the national cemetery and is open seasonally. It has an electric map program, a small room of exhibits, and restrooms. Visitors touring the last two battlefields of the Seven Days (Glendale/Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill) are encouraged to stop for orientation at the visitor center. The adjacent cemetery holds nearly 1200 graves, many of them Union soldiers who died in the battles of June 30 and July 1, 1862. At present there is no developed access to the park's property at Glendale. A printed driving tour pamphlet that covers both Glendale and Malvern Hill is available for sale and is especially useful during the season when the visitor center is not open.

Malvern Hill Battlefield
On July 1, 1862, a large portion of the Confederate army made poorly coordinated attacks up the slope of Malvern Hill into the face of a strong Union defense. The power of the Federal artillery and the natural strength of the hill contributed to the Confederate defeat in the final battle of the Seven Days Campaign. Today Malvern Hill is the best preserved battlefield in the Richmond area. An extensive walking trail covering nearly two miles has access from two parking lots, allowing visitors to examine the site from nearly every perspective. An audio podcast walking tour is available by following the links at this website.

Fort Harrison and Adjacent Sites
A seven mile drive links several key sites along Richmond's outer defenses. In September 1864, Fort Harrison stood as the strongest fort in the city's earthen defenses. Union troops crossed the James River and struck the line on September 29, capturing Fort Harrison. Confederate defenders succeeded in holding the adjacent defenses (places like Fort Gilmer, Fort Gregg, Fort Johnson, and Fort Hoke) after heavy fighting. Six months of semi-siege warfare followed, during which Union soldiers built a corresponding line of fortifications. Exhibits all along the lines describe these events, with the enormous earthen walls as a fitting backdrop. Short walking trails exist inside Fort Harrison and Fort Brady. A small visitor center beside Fort Harrison is open seasonally and offers an orientation and restrooms. This area is the most suitable spot in the park for bicycling.

Drewry's Bluff
Constructed between March and May 1862, Fort Drewry, known as Fort Darling by Union forces, on Drewry's Bluff stood as a vital bastion blocking the progress of the U. S. Navy up the James River toward Richmond. A decisive battle on May 15, 1862, permanently ended the Union naval threat to the capital city when defenders defeated the USS Monitor and four other warships. Eventually the Confederate States Marine Corps Camp of Instruction and the Confederate States Naval Academy operated at the bluff. Today the fort survives intact, with a one mile walking trail and numerous exhibits. A viewing platform offers a sweeping vista of the James River and the May 15 battlefield.

Parker's Battery
Located on the edge of the Bermuda Hundred peninsula between Richmond and Petersburg, this site is a typical stretch of the Confederate "Howlett Line" that stood from May 1864 into April 1865. Named for the artillery company that defended the spot, Parker's Battery has a short walking trail through original fortifications. A monument commemorates Parker's "Boy Company," most of whose members hailed from Richmond.

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