Gaines’ Mill

Due to some technical difficulties I’ve fallen behind with my posts. To keep things fresh I’ll post a short post on the last two battlefields visited today, forming part of the Richmond National Park area, then catchup on yesterday’s battlefields. The Richmond Battlefield Parks are actually a series of battlefields and historical sites in and around Richmond with most being east of Richmond. I’ve decided to visit three main sites in the outer Richmond area. The first I will cover is Gaines’ Mill, from the 1862 Seven Days Campaign.

Gaines’ Mill was one of the early battles of the Seven Days Campaign, fought soon after Lee had taken command. Unfortunately the battlefield park, like many others in the Peninsula Campaign, covers only a portion of the battlefield. Despite the limited area it was a very enjoyable visit.

The battlefield is focuses on the Confederate right flank. One of the more obvious features of the battlefield is the historical Watt House, which isn’t actually open to the public. Unfortunately, the picture below isn’t that great given the lighting on the day.

The house sits behind the Union front line. In front of the house, behind where I’m standing, is Boatswain Swamp and beyond this the Confederate positions. Behind the house is Turkey Hill.

This photo provides greater perspective. Watt Lane is bordered by split rail fencing, in the distance is Watt House. Boatswain Swamp is down the slope on the left of the photo running parallel to the lane. Union troops used the historical fences to create hasty fortifications in the woods to the left.

As you can see Watt House sits on is reasonably flat area but the slope down to Boatswain Swamp is surprisingly steep. The Confederate attacks came across this swamp, which lies in a gully, and up the Union slope eventually exiting the woods on the left.

Interpreting the signs the wooded area that now covers the area of the swamp and hillside I believe the wood is historical, but expanded. With such things interpreting the original terrain verses the current can be confusing. Given the location of Watt House I imagine the woods were “farmed” so thinned and generally open.

Above, in the area of the Union line that ran along and in the woods. The slope runs down to the swamp on the right. The Watt House plateau to the left. John Bell Hood’s Brigade of Texans crossed the swamp a little further from where this photo was taken.

When I visited the swamp was more of a creek, but as I moved further south the creek widened to a narrow but notable swampy area where Longstreet’s troops crossed, shown below.

Slightly further along, still heading south, was the following memorial to the Alabama Brigade of Longstreet’s Division. Again, the lighting was not kind to my photography.

The memorial reads:

“Brigadier General Cadmus M. Wilcox. Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade, Longstreet’s Division, Army of Northern Virginia, CSA. Near here on June 27, 1862, three Confederate brigades under General Cadmus M. Wilcox ascended this hill, broke the Union line and later assisted in capturing a battery of artillery. Wilcox’s own Alabama Brigade spearheaded the charge. Losing nearly 600 men killed and wounded of the 1850 soldiers in the four regiments.”

Finally, Union artillery, which were able to fire through gaps in the trees at Confederates across the swamp. These guns represent the 5th Massachusetts Battery that engaged Confederates breaking through, before retiring themselves.

“They rushed through the woods over the brook, now filled with dead bodies, closing their ranks as fast as our fire mowed them down…The woods were full of smoke, and the bullets buzzed round our heads like a swarm of angry bumblebees…My horse had a bullet in its flank and one sergeant’s horse lay dead on the ground.” Lt. Charles A. Phillips 5th Massachusetts Battery.

A small battlefield park, but one that highlighted some very interesting aspects of this battle.

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