Tuesday, Jul 3, 2012
Richmond National Battlefield Park’s commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Seven Days’ Battles concluded on Sunday after a weekend of programming at the park’s Glendale and Malvern Hill battlefields that coincided with the 150th anniversary of the last of the Seven Days.
At the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862, Confederate attempts to cut the Union army off in its retreat to the James River were unsuccessful, despite fierce fighting in close quarters. The following day, repeated but disorganized Confederate assaults were unable to take the strong Union position on Malvern Hill’s high ground in the final and largest of the Seven Days battles. All told, the armies fought five major battles in six days, driving the Union army away from the gates of Richmond and resulting in more than 35,000 combined casualties.
A highlight of the weekend was “African Americans Caught in the Vortex,” an oral history program presented in cooperation with the community of Gravel Hill. During the Battle of Glendale, Gravel Hill was a free African American community situated between the contending armies. One hundred fifty years after that battle was contested, rangers described what happened during the course of the battle while descendents of the Gravel Hill community shared the experiences of their ancestors.
Living history and tactical demonstrations on the Malvern Hill battlefield included placing, for the first time since the battle was fought, cannon on the main Union line as well as the two main Confederate artillery positions. Fire from all three positions gave visitors unique and historic insight into how the positions chosen by the armies’ commanders 150 years ago affected the course of the battle.
Battlefield interpretative programs, including real-time walking tours and roundtable discussions between park staff an visitors, abounded and were very well attended. Brigadier General John Mountcastle, former commander and chief of military history at the United States Army Center of Military History, compared and contrasted leadership during the Seven Days’ Battles with that of the modern military.
“Staff dedication to this special time and place became apparent when, after the crowds left on the final day of the event, they chose to remain on the Malvern Hill battlefield,” said David Ruth, superintendent of Richmond National Battlefield Park. “Under a full moon, they reflected not only on the events of 150 years ago, but basked in the satisfaction of anniversary programming that shared the diverse stories of both battlefield and home front with nearly 7,500 visitors over the course of the commemoration.”
In addition to managing major events on six days over a nine-day span, park staff were forced to deal with Mother Nature as well, as heat indices in excess of 110 degrees on both days spawned strong storms Friday and Saturday evening that downed trees and left visitor facilities (and many employee homes) without power. Among the significant storm damage that forced the closure of three of the park’s sites on Sunday was the loss of two “witness trees” at the Rural Plains Unit that were present during the 1864 Battle of Totopotomoy Creek. Damage assessment and storm cleanup will continue this week.