Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Visit to 1862 Battlefields and Return Trip to Cold Harbor

This past weekend I attended wedding festivities in the Richmond area. Having a little "down time" before the ceremony on Saturday, I managed to secure a "free pass" to tour some Civil War battlegrounds not far from our hotel. My father-in-law (a.k.a. "the Colonel") was nice enough to accompany me, and we were soon on our way to visit a few sites belonging to the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

As followers of my Facebook and Twitter feeds have probably seen by now, I first stopped to explore Beaver Dam Creek and Gaines' Mill. I've always been more of an early war enthusiast, so I was excited to finally tour the location of two of the Seven Days' Battles. Much of the Beaver Dam Creek field is unfortunately lost, but the National Park Service has saved a key piece of the terrain along the stream. Gaines' Mill was more extensively preserved, and I walked the loop trail with the Colonel to get a feel for the Union position and Confederate assaults, including John B. Hood's famous attack. We were really the only people out on the battlefields that morning, which provided time for quiet reflection and study.

A view across Beaver Dam Creek. At this location on June 26, 1862, Confederate troops under A.P. Hill and D.H. Hill attacked a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves positioned on the east bank (left). The modern footbridge crosses the creek and takes visitors to the traces of the historic Cold Harbor Road and the site of the Union line near Ellerson's Mill (now gone).

The Watt House served as HQ for the Union V Corps commander, Gen. Fitz John Porter, during the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27, 1862.

Looking down the slope towards Boatswain's Swamp at Gaines' Mill. Late on June 27, Confederate regiments under Hood charged up this hill and helped to break the Federal line as part of a massive frontal assault by Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Looking at the position of the 5th Massachusetts Battery at Gaines' Mill. Confederate soldiers, including Hood's brigade, surged across the field from the right and overwhelmed the Union line. Overall, the Federals lost 23 guns at Gaines' Mill. A desperate charge by the 5th U.S. Cavalry failed to halt the onslaught.

Being so close, I also decided to return to the Cold Harbor battlefield, which I had visited back at the end of May for the 150th anniversary of the battle. Part of my tour this summer focused on finding the ground where my ancestor, Pvt. William Baumgarten of the 102nd Pennsylvania, fought on June 3, 1864. (For details of the 102nd's role, see my previous post.) Readers may remember that my iPhone lost power, and I was unable to snap pictures just as I was placing the 102nd Pennsylvania's position.  I also went to Cold Harbor National Cemetery back in May, but once again, couldn't take any photos. Not so this past weekend. I made sure that my phone was fully charged and set out to capture some meaningful images related to William's participation in the battle.
The 102nd Pennsylvania advanced on the Confederate line over ground to the northwest of Tour Stop 3 (courtesy of National Park Service).
Looking towards the area where the 102nd Pennsylvania likely advanced on June 3, 1864.

The Pennsylvania Monument stands guard over graves at the Cold Harbor National Cemetery. 
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania erected the monument in 1909 to honor those regiments from the Keystone State "which participated in the operations from May 31 to June 12, 1864, incident to and during the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia, June 1-3, 1864."

One side of the Pennsylvania Monument lists the infantry regiments that fought at Cold Harbor, including. . .
. . . the 102nd Pennsylvania.

The morning tour of three battlefields was a pleasant surprise. When I left for Richmond last Friday, I wasn't sure whether I'd have the chance to visit some of the nearby Civil War sites. In the end, not only did I get to see two 1862 battlefields for the first time, but I also had the opportunity to reconnect with my family's Civil War past at Cold Harbor way earlier than I had anticipated. Not bad for a bit of spare time before attending a wedding. Then again, such things are often possible in the Commonwealth!

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