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Video Feature: Take A Civil War Trust History Hike


One of the biggest preservation success stories of 2012 was the Civil War Trust’s purchase of 235 acres of the Gaines' Mill battlefield in Richmond, Virginia—quintupling the existing 60-acre park.

The Civil War Trust builds such achievements on inspiring history hikes with experts—some of them National Park Service employees—that introduce potential donors to unprotected “hallowed ground.” This video follows one of those hikes.

Last summer, I was privileged to join a Trust group as we explored property where the battle climaxed at Gaines' Mill—land saved later in the year. I hope the video conveys some of the insight I gained—and the methods trip leaders use—to movingly inform participants.

Learn About the Battle

To get the most out of our battlefield hike—glance first at the Trust’s map of the Gaines’ Mill breakthrough so you know the names of the commanders and their locations.

Our hike focused on the yellow tract of newly protected land at the map’s left side. There on the Confederate lines, we heard about Longstreet’s forces marshaled under the command of Pickett, Wilcox, and Hood. We then descended south to cross Boatswain’s Creek on a new trail—where the heart of the battle happened. We followed the charge of Confederates under Hood who were credited with routing the Union forces at the Watt House (where the National Park Service sign above locates the Union's “Final Stand”).

The Trust also has a Gaines’ Mill video for a broader overview of the entire battle.

Legendary Hike Leaders

Two great interpreters led the hike. The primary speaker in the video is Michael Andrus, recently retired after a 30-year-career with the National Park Service at sites including Manassas National Battlefield Park, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Richmond National Battlefield Park and Richmond’s Maggie L. Walker Historic Site.

Edwin C. Bearrs (pronounced bars) also offers insight. He is a combat-wounded veteran of World War II, Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, former chief historian of the NPS, and the director’s special assistant for military sites. He’s won a slew of prestigious awards and is regarded as the preeminent guide to battlefields nationwide.

A Special Start

The video starts with a very special part of the hike. Our walk actually began on the far right side of the map exploring private farmland (where the name “Reynolds” appears on the map). We walked left or west from there into the existing Gaines Mill part of Richmond National Battlefield Park (colored green on the map) before being bussed across to the yellow, newly preserved parcel for a walk back to the Watt House.

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The Civil War Trust is one of my favorite organizations. I only wish I could do more. If you can, please donate. Help save a battlefield. Once they're gone, we'll never have them back again.

And a big Thank You to Ed Bearrs. If you've never been on a battlefield tour with him, you have truly missed something.

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