Richmond National Battlefield Park to commemorate the 1864 Overland Campaign

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Date: April 14, 2014
Contact: Elizabeth Paradis Stern, 804-226-5023

RICHMOND, Va.–In the summer of 1864, the families and loved ones of almost 100,000 American servicemen received news that their husbands, sons, fathers, and friends had been killed or wounded on a Virginia battlefield, or were missing—captured or maybe one of the countless unidentified dead hastily buried on the battlefield. In five weeks of fighting between May and June, tens of thousands of American soldiers were casualties of what became known as the Overland Campaign, a series of battles fought across a broad swath of central Virginia, from Fredericksburg to Richmond to Petersburg. As the siege of Petersburg and Richmond began in June 1864, the outcome of the war was far from certain—for the future of the Union, the Confederacy, and four million African Americans.

From late April through June 2014, Richmond National Battlefield Park and partners throughout central Virginia will commemorate the Overland Campaign, focusing especially on the battles of Totopotomoy Creek and Cold Harbor.Highlights include a lecture at the Virginia Historical Society with University of Virginia Professor of History Gary Gallagher entitled, "The Spring of 1864: A Season of Hope for the United States and the Confederacy," as well as Reverberations, an innovative community outreach program that will link battlefields at three national parks in Virginia with communities around the nation that sent loved ones to fight with Union or Confederate armies.

Additional guest speakers include historian and author Gordon Rhea, and Dr. James I. "Bud" Robertson, Jr., noted Civil War scholar and author and Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech.Programs will also be offered by the Fort McHenry Guard Fife and Drum Corps, as well as park rangers, NPS preservation specialists, historians, and living history volunteers.They will offer a mixture of battlefield walking tours, living history demonstrations, family activities, and a variety of other anniversary-themed programs exploring the campaign and its impact on the course of the Civil War. For battlefield enthusiasts, the opportunity to take "real time" tours, on the actual ground at the precise time of the anniversary, is a special privilege—a modern way of saluting the men who fought there so long ago.

A full visitor guide can be downloaded here.

Planned programs include:

May 24 -- Reverberations

Reverberations– Cold Harbor and "Sister" Communities

Richmond National Battlefield Park, in conjunction with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and Petersburg National Battlefield, will commemorate the Overland Campaign with an innovative community outreach program. Each park is adopting "sister communities," North and South, and will send historians to those communities to link their history to that of the parks' 1864 battlefields.

At the Cold Harbor battlefield, Richmond National Battlefield Park will offer a luminary program in the evening from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., lighting one candle for each of the 3,500 soldiers who lost their lives during the June 1864 battle.The park's tour road will be closed so that visitors can walk through the candlelit landscape at their own pace.Due to limited parking on site, visitors will park at Fairmount Church (6502 Creighton Road, Mechanicsville, 23111) and shuttles will take visitors to the park.Please wear comfortable shoes for walking.Visitors may bring flashlights, but are asked to refrain from using them in the luminary area.Rangers will be on hand with flashlights if needed.

Reverberations – Litchfield Litchfield, Connecticut, was the home of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, which suffered terrible losses in its first battle at Cold Harbor.  Activities in Litchfield include a living history camp and presentations, and a tour of Civil War sites in the area.  That evening an illumination will be held on the town green where the men assembled to leave for Virginia.  Names of the 140 men killed on June 1 at Cold Harbor will be read by descendants.

Reverberations – Charleston Charleston, South Carolina sent several units to fight in Virginia, and many figured prominently at Cold Harbor, some in their first battle there. Fort Moultrie National Monument in Charleston, SC will be the scene of several activities, including a guest speaker and a children's program about soldier life during the day.  That evening luminaries will represent each South Carolina unit that was part of the Army of Northern Virginia in the Overland Campaign.  Dr. Eric Emerson, Director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, will be a featured speaker.

Note: additional details about Reverberations can be found online at:


Commemorating the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek – Programs at Rural Plains

Thursday, May 29:

An Overview of the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek

Brief overview tours will explore the story of Battle of Totopotomoy Creek, especially actions that took place at Rural Plains.

"Defiant Sheltons: The Story of a Virginia Family Caught Between the Lines" Explore the story of the Shelton household as the armies arrived on their doorstep and their home became a military outpost and target during three days of battle along Totopotomoy Creek.

Friday, May 30:

An Overview of the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek Brief overview tours will explore the story of Battle of Totopotomoy Creek, especially actions that took place at Rural Plains.

The Battle of Totopotomoy Creek: Prelude to Cold Harbor Dr. Bob Bluford, who is authoring a new book on the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek, will discuss the battle that immediately preceded the Battle of Cold Harbor.

Action Along Totopotomoy Creek on May 30, 1864 Kicking off with artillery fire, this ranger-led tour will explore the action along the Totopotomoy on May 30, 1864, at the time and in the place where it happened, including the Confederate artillery assault on the Shelton House at Rural Plains, which served as a Union signal station.

Saturday, May 31:

"In the Footsteps of Robert Robertson" Lt. Robert Robertson of the 93rd New York Infantry served near the Shelton House during the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek and was seriously wounded on May 31. He recorded in his diary his experience at Rural Plains during the fighting along the Totopotomoy.This ranger-led tour will explore Lt. Robertson's experience at the time and in the place where his story unfolded.

An Overview of the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek Brief overview tours throughout the day will explore the story of Battle of Totopotomoy Creek, especially actions that took place at Rural Plains.


The Battle of Cold Harbor – Programs at the Cold Harbor Battlefield

Saturday, May 31 and Sunday, June 1:

Leadership Divided: Grant, Meade, and Lee in the Overland Campaign Lecture/talk with historian and author Gordon Rhea will contrast the leadership styles and challenges faced by commanders on both sides during the Overland Campaign.

Not War But Murder? Not Murder, but War?: The Battle of Cold Harbor as a Moral Debate A ranger-led battlefield tour exploring worth and justness during a time of "hard warfare".

Rapid Entrenching at Cold Harbor – 1864 This tour with NPS historian and fortifications specialist David Lowe will explore the extraordinary entrenching that took place at Cold Harbor.

Cold Harbor: A Soldier's Perspective Interactive tour exploring the fighting at Cold Harbor through discussions of the diaries and letters left by participating soldiers.

Grant's Greatest Regret? Myths and Realities of the June 3rd Assault A ranger-led battlefield tour examining the historical memory, mythology, and reality of the famous June 3rd, 1864 Union assault at Cold Harbor.

"The African American Experience:Slaves and Freedmen in Hanover County An overview of slave life and culture in the area during the war and the extraordinary story of the successful escape by a Hanover County enslaved family, beginning in 1862 and ending as the armies concentrated in the area in May and June 1864.

The Military's Use of Music in the Civil War with the Fort McHenry Guard Fife and Drum Corps and Popular Music from the Civil War Era with the Fort McHenry Guard Fife and Drum Corps

"The Battle of Cold Harbor" with featured speaker Gordon Rhea Exactly 150 years after the Battle of Cold Harbor began, historian Gordon Rhea will explore its impact on the course of the Overland Campaign and the war itself. Rhea is the author of a highly acclaimed series of volumes on Overland battles, including the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Yellow Tavern, North Anna, and Cold Harbor.

Candlelight Tours of the Cold Harbor Battlefield Park rangers will guide candlelight tours through the Cold Harbor battlefield. Beginning at 8:15pm, visitors can walk the battlefield and visit with volunteers portraying Union and Confederate soldiers and private citizens. The candlelight tour is appropriate for all ages.

Battle near Beulah Church on the morning of June 1, 1864 Historian and author Gordon Rhea will discuss the attack of Confederate infantry against Federal cavalry positions near Old Cold Harbor and Beulah Church on the 150th anniversary of the event. Parking information for this program will be posted on the park website as details become available.

Operations around Polegreen Church – June 1, 1864 Historian and author Gordon Rhea will explore military operations around Polegreen Church, which was destroyed as fighting raged along Totopotomoy Creek and in the Cold Harbor area.Program offered by the Polegreen Church Foundation.

The Union Attack on June 1 Ranger-led walking tours exploring the Union attack on the evening of June 1, 1864, at the time and in the places where the action occurred.

U.S. Postal Service Cold Harbor Special Postage Stamp Cancellation Station

Beyond the Park Boundary: Opening Actions of the Battle of Cold Harbor These free 45-minute bus tours will explore sites connected with the first two days of the battle east of the park. These will be "windshield" tours departing hourly from the Cold Harbor visitor center area.

An Overview of the Battle of Cold Harbor Brief walking tours will explore the story of Battle of Cold Harbor and its impact on the course of the Civil War.

"Visit the Past" Camp Tours These tours will explore the armies' camps and aspects of the period, including brief stops looking at life for soldiers and command staff in camp, Civil War-era photography, engineers, and music.

Fields of Fire: Infantry Tactics in 1864 / Cannon's Roar – Artillery at Cold Harbor These demonstration programs will focus on infantry tacticsand the use of artillery at Cold Harbor—they will repeat at various times throughout the day.

Family Activities Children's activities include History Hunt at Cold Harbor, Britain's Toy Soldiers, and Junior Ranger.

Tuesday, June 3: The Morning Attack of the Union 2nd and 18th Corps Early-morning tours -- and rare opportunities -- to explore lands outside of the park boundary where the 2nd and 18ths Corps attacks took place early on June 3, 1864.Both tours will repeat later in the morning.

An Overview of the Battle of Cold HarborBrief walking tours throughout the day will explore the story of Battle of Cold Harbor and its impact on the course of the Civil War.

Commemorating the Battle of Cold Harbor An evening ceremonial program will commemorate the Battle of Cold Harbor and will feature remarks by Dr. James I. "Bud" Robertson, Jr., noted Civil War scholar and author, and Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech.

Saturday, June 7:

Misery in the Trenches: The Soldiers' Ordeal at Cold Harbor This ranger-led tour will explore the soldiers' experiences of living, fighting, and dying in the trenches during the two weeks that the armies were at Cold Harbor.

Aftermath of Cold Harbor Ranger-led program looking at aftermath of Cold Harbor, the stories of the men who fought, died, and were buried at Cold Harbor and ultimately at national and southern cemeteries.


Other Special Programs, Lectures, and Bus Tours

April 29 -- 7:00 p.m.: "No Turning Back: An Overview of the Overland Campaign" NPS ranger program at Henrico County's Varina Library, 2001 Library Road, Varina, 23231

May 7 – 5:30 p.m.: "The Spring of 1864: A Season of Hope for the United States and the Confederacy" Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society with University of Virginia Professor of History Gary Gallagher; sponsored by Richmond National Battlefield Park.

May 23 – 12:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.: Battle of North Anna (bus tour) A bus tour of the key North Anna sites that will include a visit to the Jericho Mill portion of the battlefield, on the 150th anniversary of the action.Tour will meet at the Cold Harbor Visitor Center (5515 Anderson-Wright Drive, Mechanicsville, 23111).Cost: $30.Reservations: 804-335-8100

May 28 -- 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.: Battle of Haw's Shop (bus tour) Tour will cover Grant's and Lee's movements from the North Anna River to Totopotomoy Creek.Stops include cavalry actions at Hanover Court House, Pamunkey River Crossings, Pollard's Farm and Haw's Shop.Tour will meet at the Chimborazo Visitor Center, 3215 E Broad St, Richmond, 23223).Cost: $30.Reservations: 804-335-8100

May 30 -- 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: May 30 Anniversary (bus tour) A visit to key sites on the precise 150th anniversary of their day of fame.Tour will include Bethesda Church battlefield, Polegreen Church, Matadequin Creek battlefield, and exterior visits to two privately owned Civil War era homes.Tour will meet at the Hanover County Government Center (7497 County Complex Rd., Hanover, 23069).Cost: $25.Reservations: 804-335-8100

June 14 -- 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Grant's Army moves from Cold Harbor to Petersburg (bus tour) A bus tour that travels the historic roads used by Grant's army a century and a half before.The tour will visit significant sites connected with that stealthy march toward the river.On the south side of the James, the tour will focus on sites related to the Union army's march, and initial assaults on Petersburg.Tour will meet at the Cold Harbor Visitor Center (5515 Anderson-Wright Drive, Mechanicsville, 23111).Cost: $40.Reservations: 804-335-8100

June 29 – 8:30 p.m.: "Voices from the Storm: The Overland Campaign" Outdoor multimedia program using live narration, dramatic readings, images, lighting, and images to explore the many facets of the Overland Campaign, its interrelationship to the political, social, and military situation at the time, the impact of leaders and leadership, the ordeal of civilians – both free and enslaved – and the changing human experience of battle as manifested during the battles that took place from Wilderness and Spotsylvania, to Cold Harbor, to Petersburg.Taking place at Historic Tredegar, the program is a joint project of Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park, Richmond National Battlefield Park, Petersburg National Battlefield, and the American Civil War Museum.

July 26: "War Returns To Gravel Hill: A Day of African American History, Genealogy, and Battlefield Tours" Park staff and local historians will hold sessions on Gravel Hill's history, the 1864 battles, and African American research and genealogy in the morning.The afternoon will feature tours of Gravel Hill Baptist Church, family cemeteries, and the battlefields of Darbytown Road and Fussell's Mill.


Richmond National Battlefield Park protects 13 Civil War sites in Hanover, Henrico, and Chesterfield counties.Experiencing the park's battlefield sites and five visitor centers usually takes a full day.The main park visitor center is located at Historic Tredegar (470 Tredegar Street in Richmond) and provides museum exhibits, audio-visual programs, and orientation services to help plan a visit to the battlefields.For additional information, please contact Richmond National Battlefield Park at 804-226-1981.Park information and updates about programs and events are also available on the park's website at and on Facebook (


Last updated: June 28, 2017

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Richmond, VA 23223


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