The Civil War Trust has teamed up with the state to complete a $3.2 million campaign protecting 285 acres at Gaines' Mill, where Gen. Robert E. Lee had his first major victory as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The preservation greatly expands the number of protected acres at Gaines' Mill, the bloodiest chapter in the Seven Days' Battles, making it a "monumental achievement" in the trust's history, president James Lighthizer said.
"Prior to this, only 65 acres of this crucial battlefield had been protected," he said in a statement prepared for the formal announcement. "With just one purchase, we have more than quintupled the amount of land at Gaines' Mill preserved forever."
The entire 285 acres are within the boundary of the Richmond National Battlefield Park, so the trust will turn over the property to the National Park Service for long-term stewardship and interpretation for visitors.
The preservation was completed with a $1.5 million transportation enhancement matching grant from the state. The property's historic significance and the looming prospect of development made it an ideal candidate for the funding, said Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia's secretary of transportation.
"The commonwealth of Virginia is committed to making the permanent protection of historic and scenic landscapes like this one an important part of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War," Connaughton said in a statement.
Gaines' Mill is full of history — from Lee's powerful assault against Union lines just outside the capital of the Confederacy to the use of observation balloons by both sides, a first.
The battle was fought on June 27, 1862, and was the second of the Seven Days' Battles in which the Confederates sought to blunt federal forces that moved up the Virginia Peninsula with their sights set on Richmond.
Historians believe Lee unleashed upwards of 32,000 men in 16 brigades, far overshadowing the 12,500-man Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. The 15,500 casualties made it the second bloodiest battle of the war to that point, topped only by Shiloh, Tenn., 2½ months earlier.
In its 1993 study, the Civil War sites Advisory Commission rated Gaines' Mill a Priority I, Class A designation. That made it one of the 11 top candidates for preservation in the U.S.
A group of prominent Richmond residents purchased 60 acres of the battlefield nearly a century ago. The land was donated to the state and ultimately the National Park Service. The trust's campaign to raise $3.2 million for the 285 acres was launched in 2011.
"The inclusion of this truly historical land will be a tremendous boon the park," Superintendent Dave Ruth said. "For the first time, visitors will be able to retrace the dramatic Confederate Charge of June 27, 1862 — by many accounts, Robert E. Lee's largest assault of the war."
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the nation. It has preserved more than 34,000 acres of battlefield in 20 states, more than half of that in Virginia.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap .