Richmond National Battlefield Park commemorates the importance of the city as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The park consists of 10 units, including the sites of the battles of Malvern Hill, Gaines’ Mill, and Cold Harbor, and the Chimborazo Medical Museum at the former site of the Confederate hospital of the same name.
It is recommended that you start your tour at the Civil War visitor center at the old site of the Tredegar Iron Works, the South’s most important iron foundry which turned out crucial weaponry for the Confederacy. Spend some time checking out the various exhibits and artifacts, and perhaps catch a ranger talk or two. There may also be Living History programs available—be sure to check the park’s web site for schedules.
Since a complete tour of the park involves an 80-mile drive, you probably want to plan a multiple day stay. If you have a limited amount of time, you should definitely check out the visitor center and then drive to the famous sites of the Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, and Cold Harbor battles.
The battle of Gaines’ Mill involved the heaviest fighting of the famous 1862 Seven Days’ Battles between General Robert E. Lee and Union General George McClellan, in which Lee succeeded in repelling Federal forces away from Richmond, saving the capital and changing the course of the war. Malvern Hill, the last of these battles, saw heavy losses for the Confederates, but ultimate victory in forcing a Union withdrawal.
The 1864 battle at Cold Harbor was part of an overall Union surge of troops all across the South, known as the Overland Campaign. This included the battles of Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg. At Cold Harbor, Confederates successfully blocked Grant’s path to Richmond by building a six mile long massive entrenchment, which was assailed by Union troops for two weeks. At the end of the battle, combined casualties for both sides were over 16,000. Although victorious in the battle, the Confederates could ill afford such losses, and the army was eventually worn down by Grant’s continued assaults at Petersburg and Appomattox.
— Tracey McIntire
If You Go
Although not officially part of the national battlefield park, be sure to check out infamous Belle Isle—site of the internment camp for Union prisoners of war. It is within easy walking distance of the visitor center at Tredegar Iron Works. The National Park Service sometimes offers ranger-led hikes and interpretations of this area—check their web site for dates.