“Never, before or after, did the fates put such a prize within our reach,” Confederate memoirist E.P. Alexander wrote of the Battle of Glendale. But for many visitors to Richmond National Battlefield Park, the Glendale battlefield is merely a green square on the park map—a place frequently mentioned in passing by rangers during other Seven Days battlefield tours, or in brief summations of the final week of fighting in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign that occurred just outside Richmond. Glendale is often a site on the “windshield tour” of the Seven Days battlefields—a site with minimal pedestrian access, limited land restoration, and, therefore, only a seasonal visitor center.
When following in the footsteps of McClellan’s Federal troops or Lee’s Confederates who fought their way south and east around the Confederate capital during the final week of June 1862, visitors will usually spend their time exploring the Gaines’ Mill battlefield (the site of Lee’s first major victory as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, on June 27); skip through the actions at Goulding’s Farm, Savage’s Station and Glendale; then conclude their visit with a long stop at the breathtaking battlefield at Malvern Hill—the site of the dramatic July 1 culmination to the Seven Days battles.
While it is unfortunate that the integral events and scenes of the June 28th and June 29th fighting receive such little attention from the average visitor, it is somewhat understandable, as most of these sites are (tragically) lost landscapes, invaded by modern highways and developments, or in the hands of private landowners.
The Glendale battlefield, however, has been more fortunate than these other sites in that a significant amount of the core landscape still exists. Thanks to the dedicated members of the Civil War Trust and a small handful of willing sellers, approximately 500 acres of the Glendale battlefield have been preserved in recent years. However, until this February, the National Park Service did not have the funds to acquire 327 acres of that land from the Trust, while portions of the battlefield still have yet to be preserved at all. It is easy to see, then, how the site of this important battle—however compelling, with its 7,000 casualties and its notoriety as one of Lee’s “three greatest missed opportunities of the Civil War”—has become a mere blip on the radar screen of the majority of visitors to the Richmond battlefields.
The February 1st visit of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis to the Glendale battlefield–along with Governor Bob McDonnell–marked a significant turning point for the future preservation and interpretation of Glendale, with Secretary Salazar announcing a $4 million in federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to acquire and preserve at least 385 acres of battlefield in the Richmond area, the majority of which are located at Glendale itself. The new land will be added to the approximately 2,100 acres that currently comprise Richmond National Battlefield Park. It is currently uncertain as to when the National Park Service will formally acquire the new acreage – although the process is already underway – and begin drawing up cultural landscape reports and an interpretive plan and trail for the battlefield at Glendale. But certainly the Secretary’s visit earlier this month is a major step toward the conversion of the Glendale battlefield into a major visitation spot for tourists and residents in the Richmond area.
The announcement follows the Obama administration’s plan to promote economic growth and employment opportunities across the nation through heritage tourism. The Secretary’s announcement also coincided with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Glendale Visitor Center, located in the Glendale National Cemetery Lodge, which celebrated the official opening of the newly-designed exhibits at that Visitor Center. The exhibits seek to better place the Battle of Glendale within the larger context not only of the Seven Days, but also of the political and military implications of the Peninsula Campaign as a whole, and the legacies of that campaign and the Seven Days battles that culminated it within the larger Civil War.
The high turn-out of local community members and stakeholders from private, state, and federal entities at the historic Willis Church, where the Secretary conducted a town hall meeting about the promotion of heritage tourism in Virginia prior to his official announcement, revealed the public’s interest in the Glendale site and its tourism potential. However, attendees noted that, in addition to contributing approximately $8 million to the local economy and supporting more than 130 jobs in the Richmond area, the battlefields that comprise Richmond National Battlefield Park, such as Glendale, also illuminate the larger history of our nation. “The history of Virginia is the history of our country,” stated Governor Bob McDonnell. By encouraging “all Americans, and visitors from across the world, to come to the Commonwealth to learn about this incredible history,” McDonnell noted, historic sites such as the Glendale battlefield have the power both to teach and to enrich the local community on numerous levels.
The staff of Richmond National Battlefield Park were thrilled with the Secretary’s announcement, and look forward not only to placing Glendale “on the map,” so to speak, for RNBP visitors seeking to gain a better understanding of the Seven Days battles, but also to ensuring that the Glendale battlefield becomes far more than merely a green square on that map.