A New Tool to Bring Back the Past
A common question asked by visitors to Richmond National Battlefield Park is, "What did the battlefields look like?" To help answer that question and to guide planning, the park recently completed the Gaines' Mill Cultural Landscape Report and Archeological Survey. The report focuses on 60 acres of the June 27, 1862 battlefield now managed by the park service. Gaines' Mill was the costliest of the Seven Days battles before Richmond and some of the severest fighting took place on park land owned by Sarah Watt in 1862. The Watt House still stands within the park.
The 192-page report is an important tool supporting park efforts to preserve battlefield resources and make them available. First and foremost, it documents the landscape's appearance in 1862. Included are maps showing the historic location of fields, woods, roads, fence lines, buildings and orchards. It is worth noting the ground occupied by the Watt Farm was far more open in 1862 than it is today. Other elements of the report include a thorough site history, landscape archeology (the first professional survey at the Gaines' Mill battlefield), an analysis of landscape characteristics and features, and a discussion of management issues and options for re-establishing the 1862 landscape.
The park is already acting on the report's recommendations. Last winter an archeologist used its 1862 landscape map to locate the site of one of the Watt farm outbuildings. Even more noticeable is the clearing of two acres of woods near the Watt House to recreate the open fields that stood during the battle. Long term plans call for cultural landscape reports for each of the park's major battlefields with work commencing this summer at Malvern Hill and Glendale.
As stewards of America's heritage, it is critical that the National Park Service base resource management on solid scholarship. The Gaines' Mill Cultural Landscape Report provides park managers with a vital tool to make informed decisions while preserving one of our national treasures.
Copies of the report are available for review at park headquarters (3215 E. Broad Street, Richmond).