No NPS? No Problem!—North Anna Battlefield Park

The North Anna earthworks are some of the best preserved in the entire Eastern Theater.

The North Anna earthworks are some of the best preserved in the entire Eastern Theater.

Day Four in a series coinciding with the federal government shutdown

Oft-overlooked, in the history books and by battlefielders, is the North Anna battlefield—scene of one of the biggest Civil War battles that never happened.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. Ulysses S. Grant, punch-drunk exhausted from the grueling pace he’d set for his army, stumbled into a trap set by Robert E. Lee, who was so delirious with illness that he was unable to spring it in time. 

It was May of 1864. The Overland Campaign had opened with a brawl in the Wilderness on May 5, and the armies had been fighting, marching, and maneuvering for weeks non-stop, much of it in the pouring rain. Most recently, they had just slipped away from Spotsylvania, and they would soon find themselves in Cold Harbor. Their encounter along the North Anna would prove minor in comparison—which is why North Anna so often gets overshadowed and sometimes forgotten entirely.

A monument to the fallen of both sides sits next to the trailhead at the parking lot.

A monument to the fallen of both sides sits next to the trailhead at the parking lot.

The overarching story of the Overland Campaign, of course, is the war of attrition Grant waged against Lee. At North Anna, moreso than during any other phase of the campaign, it’s clear to see the toll of that campaign on not just the armies but on the commanders themselves. These two men were literally sick and tired, and that played a dramatic role in the encounter between their armies.

While much of the battlefield is lost, a portion of it has been preserved by Hanover County as a park—and let me tell you, the North Anna Battlefield Park is well worth the stop. There is a well-marked, well-interpreted trail that leads out to Ox Ford, the commanding position that served as they lynchpin for the entire Confederate line. The best part of the battlefield, though, is that it has some of the best-preserved earthworks anywhere along the line of the Overland Campaign. Some of them are absolutely stunning to see (for folks who like earthworks, anyway).

The original road trace that led down to Ox Ford

The original road trace that led down to Ox Ford

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5 Responses to No NPS? No Problem!—North Anna Battlefield Park

  1. Edward S. Alexander says:

    Chris is absolutely right about this being a must-visit for anyone who wants to see earthworks. Those preserved here rival any down at Petersburg, and unlike the latter–where the soldiers had months to continuously improve their position–these are the product of just a few days work. A big turnaround for a Confederate army that mocked their “king of spades” two years earlier.

  2. I first explore the inverted V trenchline in the mid 1970’s when it was still privately owned. It was quite the experience to come upon the west face, unknowingly at the time, taking the path of Ledlie’s ill fated assault. From there, walking down the original Ox Road was like stepping back in time. Years later I was delighted to give my time in an advisory capacity to General Crushed Stone and Hanover County in establishing this park. We were all very fortunate to have historian J. Michael Miller providing his expert knowledge. Mike was the only historian that had put extensive time into researching this aspect of the Overland Campaign. It is due to him that we have the expertly written interpretive signs throughout. If you have not yet done so, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of his book, Even To Hell Itself.

  3. I really enjoyed my visit to North Anna. I’m glad it has been preserved as there is some development really close to it.

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